Featured Composer, Edward F. Davis
This weekend we're thrilled to give the world premiere of a piece written by composer Edward F. Davis. The piece, entitled "Sir Loin, the Noble" sets a 17th century poem depicting a hilarious story of “The Knighting Of The Sirloin Of Beef By Charles The Second.” We interviewed Edward to learn more about his musical career and the creative process behind his piece.
Tell us a bit about your musical background. Well, I’ve been immersed in music since, literally, before I was even born. My mother was an opera singer for many years, and she was a few months pregnant when she performed the role of Curiatius in Domenico Cimarosa’s Gli Orazi e i Curiazi at the Rome Opera House. My stage debut, before I even lost my umbilical cord!
I actually sort of avoided having anything to do with music for many years, mainly because I never thought I’d ever be as successful as my parents (my father is a conductor and the music director of the Lyric Opera of Chicago); I refused to take piano/any other instrumental lessons, and apart from singing in choirs throughout middle and high school, I actively did not want to pursue music in any sort of academic capacity. All of that changed, however, when I got to Knox College and sang in the Knox College Choir (KCC). We sang Frank Martin’s Mass for Double Choir my freshman year, and I was so blown away by it that I knew, from then, on that I was destined to do something with music, especially choral music, though of what I wasn’t quite sure yet.
My first experience with composing came in the spring term of my sophomore year at Knox. I took an American Literature class where I made the life-changing discovery of my favorite poet, Emily Dickinson, and one of her poems in particular, I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—, inspired me so much that I decided to try setting it to music for a cappella chorus. The actual process of writing that music was such a thrill, and when I showed the final product to Laura Lane, director of the KCC, she loved it and encouraged me to keep at it, and kept at it I have! How did you get involved with WPCS? I initially heard about WPCS because so many friends of mine from the Knox College Choir have been involved in it! Currently, four present (Lily Wirth, Kate Cochran, Tony Hinirch, Joe Kerley) and two past (Devan Cameron, Sarah Kurian) members are Knox grads. The first WPCS concert I attended was “A Christmas Rose” in 2009, and it was a riveting experience. Their repertoire and musicianship were of such a professional caliber, I had a hard time believing these people were volunteers, and that they charged nothing for their concerts! I’ve attended every one since. I mentioned to Mark after their last concert, “Assembling the Masses,” that I was a composer and would love to try writing something for their voices, and a couple months later I got an email asking if I could do just that!
Where did you find the hilarious text for Sir Loin? I’d love to say that I found it in an antiquated volume of Christmas poetry or something romantic like that, but as it happens, it was the result of an incredibly long internet search that ended on a website called “Christmas Poetry, Prose and Recordings”! Once there, a poem called “The Knighting Of The Sirloin Of Beef By Charles The Second” particularly caught my eye. I should mention that whenever I write anything for voices, I always start with the text. I love poetry, and if the text doesn’t speak to me in some way, it’s almost impossible to write music for it. This poem, as silly as it is, was fascinating to read; various musical ideas came to me, quite naturally, as I read along, and that’s how I knew I’d be able to write something worthy of WPCS.
What was your thought process when composing Sir Loin? Well, as I see it, the text, and thus the piece itself, is in four sections, and as I composed, I wanted to make sure these four sections were suitably depicted: The first section describes King Charles as he treads through the bitter cold of winter in 17th century England; the second is a feast that takes place when Charles returns home from the hunt; the third is Charles’s proud and, no doubt, alcohol-induced speech where he proclaims his loin of beef worthy of knighthood; and the fourth is, well, even more feasting, in celebration of the newly dubbed Sir Loin!
I wanted these sections to be very different from each other (although the two “feast” sections are almost identical musically), but I still wanted the piece to feel consistent and transition smoothly. To accomplish this, I wrote a melody that is repeated, yet varied, in each section, sung by the sopranos each time except during Charles’s monologue, when the king himself delivers it.
What is your favorite moment in the piece? I’m particularly proud of the two feasting sections that I mentioned earlier. In order to depict a boisterous party, I made the section extremely rhythmically driven, so I have the men and women singing in two very different rhythms that, together, create an accent on every eighth note. It’s an idea I “borrowed” from the final sacrificial dance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. I also love King Charles’s solo, to be sung at the concert by Brian Butler. I heard him sing it last week, and he definitely does it a very regal justice!
You can check out more of Edward's music on his Facebook page!