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Choral Score Study: The Sounding Sea

The Sounding Sea is a very exciting piece that starts off slowly and builds to an energetic
and powerful climax. Eric Barnum uses many new and original techniques to help express the
essence of the sea and go from one extreme to the other, from being wild and violent to being
The piece was written around 2009 and is described as an a cappella, classical, and
experimental piece. With the unusual techniques for singers being used and the constant change
in meter I feel this piece fits well under experimental.
Eric William Barnums music is generally very intricately tied to the text of his pieces
While his pieces could sound somewhat classical a closer look would reveal more experimental
techniques to help express the text or the meaning or subject of the text. He has been
commissioned by many choirs to write pieces for them and has studied voice, and composition at
a few schools in the United States.
Eric Barnum wrote this piece for the Iowa State Singers, after being commissioned by
Dr. James Rodde, the current director.
Barnum wrote this piece with the idea of a boat heading towards land and leaving the sea
behind as it reached the beach.
The author of the text for The Sounding Sea is George William Curtis, an American poet
from New England during the 1800s. The original poem O Listen to the Sounding Sea is mostly
used, although a few lines are left out. The mood of the text is that the sea is rough and
persistent and driving, yet still very beautiful.
The text in the piece is quite repetitive but this is how Barnum built up tension and
excitement. The rhyming scheme for the original work is ABAB, however because certain lines
were left out in the song there really is not any rhyming scheme.
The imagery of the waves crashing against the remorseless shore gives a sense of the
roughness and power of the sea. Curtis also uses alliteration right in the title of the piece, The
Sounding Sea.
My interpretation of the text is more that Curtis is trying to portray the persistence of the sea
against the remorseless shore, its a force that will continue forever, even after our death. Curtis
could be talking about the sea or many things, even just persistence in everyday life.
Eric Barnum actually describes what he was trying to portray with this pieces.
The Sounding Sea really acts like a journey toward land from way out in
the ocean, if you can imagine it. It starts off pretty rough, with big waves, crashes
and sprays. The waves get a little smaller and your sail catches the wind. You hear
the thump of the waves hitting the hull with the stomps of the ensemble. There is a
big transition, as if your boat glides up onto the beach, and then instead of riding on
the waves, you start watching them, looking at the soft rolls, listening to the ripples.
And you start sinking into the rhythm of the hoarse murmur of the sea as it comes in

incessantlyindifferently. and there is peace. and you shut your eyes, and
maybe the only thing you think to do is breathe and be thankful.

This piece is a single movement but seems to have little form. In my analysis the
simplest form I came up with was an ABBC form. There are a few main sections or at least
a few different significant sections with different feels to them the first at measure 16 with
the 8/8 time signature, this section repeats once or twice and becomes recognizable
because of the hemiola with the soprano and altos against the tenors and bass. A second
recognizable section is at measure 28 with the time switching between 6/8 and 4/4 every
bar. Right after that section returns and ends the entire feel of the song changes, releasing
the build up of tension at measure 52.
The form of the text compared to the musical form is more stable. The musical form
seems a little confusing and with the repetition of the text, and Barnum leaving out some
lyrics its evident Barnum was decisive about which words he wanted to use.
The harmony usually changes every two beats or halfway through the measure,
depending on the time signature, however it also does change every beat at times or even
stays the same for multiple measures, especially near the end.
There is not much modulation in this piece just one definite key change at measure
62 where it seems to change into D major.
There are a few times when repeating chords, or even moving between chords,
helps build tension within the piece and move the piece forward.
The texture of the piece starts off polyphonic and mainly is throughout the piece but
there are times of homophony usually to help build tension or energy, see measure 48-51
for homophony in all four parts.
This is obviously a choral piece but does have elements of call and response such
as a t measure 53-61 and some imitative use at measure 10-12.

The melody is held in all four parts at different times starting in the tenor and bass
while the soprano and alto respond at measure 1-4. However, the bass and tenor lines have
recurring themes at measure 16 and returns at measure 32. Another recognizable and
recurring melody is at measure 12, that melody and the second half of it is heard again at
measure 28 and 46 and a slightly modified version in all voices at measure 48.
The soprano and alto lines have melodies above the bass and tenor themes at
measure 19 which recur as well.

The rhythm of the piece emphasizes many words but one specifically is listen.
From the beginning of the piece all the way through Barnum keeps it on the downbeat and
even uses accents to help bring out the word more.
He uses hemiolas throughout the piece such as at measure 16-24 between the bass
and tenor and soprano and alto lines.
The help emphasize other text Barnum also changes meter a lot, sometimes even
every other bar. To help make sure the right words are getting stressed.
using the words to create sea sounding elements, for example slides, whispers,
and rhythms.

Other Expressive Elements

Barnum uses the words and many different techniques such as slides, whispers and
rhythms to help create sea sounding elements. The stomping, at measure 29, helps express the
waves crashing against a hull of a ship. The blowing helps gives the effect of waves running on
the shore. Barnums uses dynamics creatively to help imitate the sound of waves effectively on
the word sea at measure 6-9.
A specific point Barnum brings up is at measure 64, the altos have a small slide on the
word me. Barnum put a lot of thought into this once specific part and describes the slide as if
you were pulling someone closer to you to get warm, expressed through his own experience.
The tempo change and the blowing and the dynamic change give a feeling of peace near the
end, assisted by the blowing giving a relaxing seascape sound.
Vocal Considerations
Range for Soprano: D - G1
Alto: A-1 D1
Tenor: D G1

Bass: G-2 D
A few things to consider for singing is that all parts divisi at one point and there are a
few big leaps of an octave. There are also quite a few areas of repetition of the same note
or even just of the same couple of notes, especially near the end at measure 78 to the end
in the altos. There are also a few long phrases so singers should have plenty of support and
breathing areas to continue through those parts. Sliding is also happening throughout the
piece and should be approached carefully and evenly.