for baritone voice and chamber quintet

Written: 2006
Duration: ca. 9'
Instrumentation: baritone voice (Range: G2 – F4) (may be gently, tastefully amplified if necessary or desired), flute (doubling small cup gong pitched E-flat), B-flat clarinet (doubling B-flat bass clarinet and medium cup gong pitched G-flat), violin (doubling small cup gong pitched F), violoncello (doubling medium cup gong pitched D), percussion.
Percussion Instrumentation: 2 large cup gongs pitched G and B-flat, B-flat tingshas (Tibetan finger cymbals – alternatively, a B-flat crotale pitched one octave lower—sounding two octaves higher—may be used, struck with a brass mallet. Or, as a last resort, tingshas pitched 'D' above the written B-flat may be used), 2 bongos, snare drum, tenor drum or deep snare drum (with snares), field drum (no snares needed), small concert bass drum placed on its side, quica (may be played by another player—see note in mvt. III), hi-hat, medium suspended cymbal, sizzle cymbal, finger cymbals, temple blocks, high wood block, medium tambourine (head not needed), medium triangle, medium cowbell, castanets (mounted).
 Note: 7 cup gongs and tuned to specific Western pitches and 1 set of tingshas (tuned if at all possible) are are necessary for this piece. See the following page at Bill Holab Music for more information.
 Written for the American Modern Ensemble
World PremiereAmerican Modern Ensemble, May 17 and 18, Tenri Cultural Institute, NYC, 2008.
 PublisherBill Holab Music

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Eating Variations is based on a series of witty poems with the same title by Ron Singer. The work as a whole is essentially a satire on food faddism and depicts different aspects of eating. The way I chose to set these poems is light-hearted, perhaps lighter in spirit than Singer originally intended, but with a serious, dark side.

The first movement, My Body, a Temple, incorporates the sounds of Tibetan Singing Bowls (also called Temple Bowls or Cup Gongs) and is loosely, harmonically inspired by Khöömei, or Tuvan Throat Singing and David Hykes’s Harmonic Choir recordings; both of whom use a style in which the singer produces overtones on top of the fundamental notes. Perhaps mercifully, I do not require the baritone to use this technique, but instead, use the flute to produce false overtones in a couple of spots.

In the second movement, The Hog, the instruments mimic pig sounds with scratchy, grunting noises from the violin and cello and clarinet multiphonics. A round-sounding whole-tone scale is used and there is a Polka-like accompaniment in the percussion.

The third movement, Even the Dyspeptic Must Eat, uses upward and downward runs in the bass clarinet to impart a roller coaster-like sense of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, a condition in which there is recurrent return of stomach contents back up the esophagus. This is reinforced with a slow, background groove in the drums.

The cello part in the fourth movement, The Dietary Moralist, is inspired by Dave Eggar, a cellist who can play his instrument like a guitar and sing at the same time. In this movement, I ask the cellist to play in a somewhat folksy style and sing out of tune back-up vocals—to me, reminiscent of a 1960s musical Hippie Sit-in. The main vocalist is backed by the well meaning but out of tune "band." To paraphrase an interesting email exchange with Singer, we agreed that in this context, the vocalist might represent a contemporary version of a certain species of 60's hippie—say, a particularly zealous fair trade coffee purveyor, and that this Malvolio type is singing along with a group of kindred spirits. This movement is not a literal portrayal of the text, which is quite serious in tone, and stretches the meaning more than the other movements. Perhaps my interpretation may instead be viewed more as commentary on the text.

In each passing decade, people are sure of their eating habits, and the carefree, assured, commercial America of the 1950s was no different. In the last movement, The Happy Medium, I envision a father-like doctor figure squarely explaining to a patient how to eat. The perky background music is meant to evoke a 1950s TV commercial, or perhaps a short, black and white educational grade school film.

Press Quotes

Subtle and intricate musical settings that truly define the words “art songs”... intricate, idiomatic to the text, very colorful, and brilliantly wedded to the subtle nuances of vocal expression. A fine release. (4 Stars).
— Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition
Review of World Premiere... Ron Singer’s five texts cover such meritorious subjects as potential cannibalism at McDonald’s (“The Hog”), regurgitation (“Even the Dyspeptic Must Eat”), and the conundrums of why we bother to eat in the first place (“The Dietary Moralist”). Baritone Robert Gardner, crooning like a deadpan philosopher, made the most of Paterson’s clever settings.
— Bruce Hodges, MusicWeb International
Paterson entertainingly tackles Ron Singer’s “Eating Variations,” employing comical self-seriousness at one point and, later, a sing-song, folksy tone.
— New Jersey Star Ledger
Our audience was enthralled from the first moment, interrupted us with their joyous laughter throughout, and wouldn’t stop clapping when it was over. Robert Paterson’s Eating Variations has been a pleasure to prepare and a thrill to perform.
— Syzygy Ensemble
bringing a playful dose of satire to the forefront... the collection is a witty commentary... Each song could be easily blended into a theatrical performance.
— Buffablog