Brooms of Steel

2014 | for SATB choir and Nordic fiddle | 3’

Brooms of Steel is a strophic adaptation of an Emily Dickinson poem that illustrates and celebrates the harsh stillness of winter. I’ve long admired Dickinson’s ability to craft inventive metaphors for simple scenes, and here she is at her best-- imagine the kind of mind it takes to spin the rays of the weak winter sun into backup battalions for a snowed-in house or paint fruit packed in a cellar as “playing” in comparison to the perfect stillness outside. This setting, however, is anything but still; instead, it pairs crystalline open harmonies with a virtuosic fiddle reel meant to evoke the whistling winter wind.

Brooms of Steel is also, in part, a result of my recent fascination with the hardingfele, or Hardanger fiddle. The Hardanger fiddle is a Norwegian folk instrument similar to the violin, but with intricate patterns on the neck and body and a set of sympathetic strings running underneath the fingerboard to enhance the overtones. These strings are tuned to different pitches depending on regional preferences and a given piece’s key and style, lending certain notes a drone-like ringing rich in overtones. I’ve used the choir to simulate this effect with a standard violin, “tuning” them to a traditional hardingfele tuning and voicing them in open chords based on the harmonic series that sound when one of the sympathetic string’s pitches appears in the fiddle part.

view score

Like Brooms of Steel
The Snow and Wind
Had swept the Winter Street—

The House was hooked
The Sun sent out
Faint Deputies of Heat—

Where rode the Bird
The Silence tied
His ample— plodding Steed

The Apple in the Cellar snug
Was all the one that played.

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