A performance of Servitude will take your audience on a compelling and emotional journey. If you are looking for beautiful, film-like repertoire to enliven your next choral/orchestral performance then this 21 minute work by Billingham will have your audience talking.
The Poem – Notes by Jonathan L Billingham
It seems appropriate that Servitude was conceived on a hot February night beneath the gleam of a midnight moon. Sitting on the front verandah of my parent’s home in Taree, a gentle breeze rolled in from the Manning River and I tentatively penned the vision that passed before my mind’s eye.
A little dark boy
Outside a high picket gate
Was waiting for his father
In the heat of the noonday sun
He sat with the dogs
And the flies round about
As the dust from the street
Fell softly (softly, softly) upon his skin
… His only coat
Sunday, 15th February 2009
The poem’s form is simple, presenting a situation, complication, decision, response and consequence. The underlying allegory that unifies the poem is intended to function alongside a message that promotes practical love to anyone in need. The title Servitude implies that we are all a servant of something or someone.
Servitude’s musical framework is entirely governed by the poem, Servitude. The through-composed narrative is set to a through-composed musical narrative. The characters and locations in the poem each have their own themes and leitmotifs. Leitmotifs are musical ideas (or motives) that are associated with characters, events, objects, and locations or even emotional, theological or philosophical frameworks.
The composer Richard Wagner pioneered leitmotivic compositional writing through his operas. The technique is still used today, especially in film music and stage musicals. Howard Shore’s film score for the The Lord of the Rings has led to resurgence in the leitmotif as a compositional, story telling device.
Most of the leitmotifs in Servitude are fragments of more substantial themes that are enunciated at some point in the work. Themes and leitmotifs are assigned to ‘the little dark boy’, the tall pale man, the ‘men of the court’ and the Father. A chorus that occurs three times throughout Servitude is orchestrated differently each time, corresponding with the emotional perspectives of the various characters as long for and imagine ‘the garden by the lake’.
The hopelessness of the boy and the frenzy he is thrown into is accompanied by music that features driving rhythmic patterns from bar 118 to bar 128.
Out of reach like the clouds, as they rolled as they rolled by red
Sat the latch on gate moving nowhere, nowhere, nowhere ‘bove his head
So the boy jumped high
Till his hand neared the bolt, neared the bolt, neared the bolt…
These lyrics, when forced into a sharp and powerful ostinato passage, mirror the frantic actions of the boy just before he impales his arm upon the white picket fence, from which he then dangles helplessly, screaming in pain.
A similar ostinato manipulation of lyrics is used later in to musically illustrate the tall pale man as he unsuccessfully attempts to enter the garden using ‘grit and common sense’ rather than through the gate that the Father has already opened.
The EnsembleSoprano Soloist