THE ESSENCE OF GRAVITY

for Mixed SATB Choir

Photo Credits: top Left, © Laurence E. Windsor; top right, unknown; bottom left, © The Wright Place to Visit; bottom right, © Alfred Eisenstaedt, Life.

Photo Credits: top Left, © Laurence E. Windsor; top right, unknown; bottom left, © The Wright Place to Visit; bottom right, © Alfred EisenstaedtLife.

Written: 2004-05
Duration: 18'
Instrumentation: mixed SATB choir (a cappella with occasional divisis, SSAATTBB)
Commissioned by Robert Geary and the Volti choir of San Francisco
PremiereVoltiRobert Geary, director, San Francisco and Berkeley, CA, spring 2005.
PublisherBill Holab Music
 
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Program Note

In The Essence of Gravity, I use a few key words, phrases and phonetic sounds rather than an elaborate text. Since there are so few words, I designed the text myself, and it is made up almost entirely of onomatopoeia words. The word ‘gravity’ in the title not only refers to the force of attraction by which objects tend to fall toward the center of the Earth, but also to a sense of seriousness. Each movement reflects one or both of these definitions.

The first movement, Echoes of War, contains words and phrases that make me think of war. A type of weapon called a “gravity bomb” also inspired me. This weapon is delivered by aircraft and does not contain a guidance system; it follows a ballistic trajectory. Until the later half of World War II this described all aircraft bombs, and the vast majority until the late 1980s.

The second movement is entitled Love and Kisses. Although love is an undeniably heavy subject, this movement is intended to be much more playful than serious. Perhaps it is more about the emotional pull that people have on each other.

Before I composed the third movement, Infinite Oceans, I walked along San Francisco’s Baker Beach and Lands End. Although I’ve been to the ocean many times, I am always struck by the seemingly infinite-sounding tides and lonely-sounding foghorns I often hear in the distance. This movement is inspired by the gravitational pull of the moon, the primary force responsible for the ocean’s tides. This movement also alludes to the stories of the mythological Greek Sirens that lured sailors to their deaths with their beautiful singing.

Although many people might not think of machines as evoking a sense of gravity, they seem important in ways that may not be readily apparent. Without machines such as the Space Shuttle, we would not be able to explore outer space. For better or worse, they are integral to our modern way of life. In this sense, the fourth movement, Machines, pays homage to the machines that enrich our lives by allowing us to defy gravity.

The Essence of Gravity was commissioned by Robert Geary and the Volti choir of San Francisco.

From a review of the second performance by the Volti choir of San Francisco: ...an enjoyable performance... This cute but sophisticated work deserves publication, and it should prove popular with other ensembles. Volti commissioned the piece in 2005, and this performance struck me as more secure than the premiere. The repeated performance is an encouraging development because too many worthy new works disappear after their first airing.
— Thomas Busse, San Francisco Classical Voice, Music Director of San Francisco’s City Concert Opera Orchestra
From a review of the premiere performance by the Volti choir of San Francisco: “Paterson’s music was characterized by generous word painting and a predilection for arpeggiated diminished seventh chords. He experimented effectively with some “extended techniques” for chorus, such as “sh” sounds to represent water rushing.
— Aaron Einbond, San Francisco Classical Voice