This past January I took out my score of Francis Poulenc’s Petites Voix,: 5 Choeurs faciles pour 3 voix d’enfants (Songs for Children: 5 Easy Pieces for young voices) to prepare for rehearsal and quickly felt regret for making this repertoire choice. It’s chromatic, dissonant, contains difficult interval jumps and seems to pick random pitches out of the air and expect singers to find them. Truly, I thought Cantala and I were sunk. But here we are, just before our May concert, and I am thrilled about how these 5 “easy” pieces have entered my heart, dug a bore, and set up camp. I believe they have done the same to many other Cantala Singers too. How sneaky! So how is it that 4 months later it has become one of my favourite choral pieces of all time? Let’s discuss 5 reasons why Petite Voix is a choral gem.
The poetry is descriptive and vivid (by Madeleine Ley). As you sing, a sweet picture is captured of a moment in a child’s life. It could be as simple as describing as returning home from school and setting up the dinner table, or hearing children play outside while you are inside sick, or trying to play with a hedgehog that won’t come out to play. The feelings of these children are brought to life under Poulenc’s music.
Rhythm. Ridiculously busy French text in very quick tempi make for lots of fun. Trying to speak with marbles in your mouth might be easier….
Contrasting harmonic palette. If you are a painter you would refer to music harmony as colour-my favourite part of being a musician- and when performing Poulenc you don’t want for colour. Sometimes its melodic and consonant and other times deathly dissonant and chromatic. It makes one wonder why Poulenc was so drawn to chromaticism as it’s quite prominent in all his treble choral work.
Bold dynamic contrasts. One beat is subito forte, the next subito piano. There is something to do dynamically on every note of this piece. Poulenc is very specific and very dramatic with his dynamic markings.
Articulation. Legato and staccato are prominent in these pieces. Poulenc contrasts these textures brilliantly. We have had to practise individual staccato phrases many times. Getting 15 singers to sing a series of staccato notes, all the same length, is quite tricky!
Petite Voix is the main centerpiece in our upcoming may concert but we are also performing other Poulenc pieces, including the Ave Verum Corpus and the Ave Maria (from Poulenc’s opera Dialogue of the Carmelites). These pieces will be complemented by Duruflé’s Tota Pulchra Es, a Motet for women’s voices, and Fauré ’s Cantique to Jean Racine-yet another classic choral gem.
Other program highlights include the Missa Brevis in D (Britten), Always Keep This Close (Zachary Moore), Karjan Kottiinkutsu (Tormis) and quintessential Canadian rock out piece, Überlebengross (Hatfield).
Tickets are $20 and they are available online at www.cantalawomenschoir.com.
Let the part begin