Sang is a piece for large chorus with santur and percussion. The main text for Sang is a story from the Shahnameh, the 10th century Persian epic by Ferdowsi. Here is a translation of that story, by Dick Davis:
Going forward in the darkness, the army heard a voice from a black mountain nearby, which said, “Whoever takes stones from this mountain will be sorry for what he holds in his hand, and whoever takes nothing will be sorry and look for a balm to ease his heart’s pain.” The soldiers listened to the voice, and wondered what the words could mean, since whether they took stones or didn’t, they couldn’t see what their future sufferings would be. One said, “The pain will be because of sin, that’s the regret for taking stones along the way.” Another said, “We should take a little; everyone has to suffer some pain.” Some took stones, some took none, some out of laziness took only a few.
When they left the land where the water of life was, and found themselves on the plain once more, the road was no longer dark and each man looked at what he’d tucked in his sleeves or his tunic, and so the deceiving riddle was revealed. One found his clothes filled with rubies, another with uncut gems, and they were sorry they had taken so few and hadn’t taken emeralds as well. But those who had ignored the precious stones and taken nothing were even more sorry.
In addition to this text, sung in Persian, I incorporated three texts from the Hebrew scriptures. The first is God’s promise to the Persian King Cyrus in Isaiah 45: “I will give you the treasure of darkness and riches hidden in secret places.” I found other Biblical references to the transformation of stones to jewels, of dust to gold, and I decided to thread these texts (in Hebrew and Septuagint Greek) into my telling of the Shahnameh story.
I hope the piece illustrates how Persian, Hebrew, and Greek (and by extension Islamic, Jewish, and Christian) are intertwined cultures whose shared roots go back to the Zoroastrian revelations, and perhaps even earlier than that.
While I spent time studying and listening to traditional Persian music in my preparations for writing this piece, and with the guidance of the musicians who performed the premiere, Manoochehr Sadeghi and Pejman Hadadi, I spent a good deal of time with the radif, a compendium of ur-melodies that is a unique source of material for traditional performers, I did not attempt to write a “Persian” piece, which, after all, would be a ridiculous undertaking for an American, even one whose father grew up in Tehran, as mine did.
Instead, my goal was to embody the story in sound as vividly as I can, so that even if you don’t understand a word of the text, the narrative has an impact. And I tried to create a structure that allows the improvising traditional instrumentalists to fully engage their unique artistry in communicating that story, asking not simply for traditional virtuosity, but giving them shared conceptual responsibility for bringing the piece to life.
Sang was commissioned by the Los Angeles Master Chorale for a project called LA is the World, and premiered at Disney Hall in June of 2007 under the direction of Grant Gershon. I cannot post the recording of the actual performance, but here are two demo recordings which include Pejman Hadadi on percussion and Manoochehr Sadeghi on santur performing some of their music along with my draft recording of the choral music. You do not hear the santur improvisation that connects the two segments of the piece in live performance, but I hope these rough recordings will nonetheless give you an idea of the complete piece.
Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. I believe this piece could be effectively performed by chorus with instruments other than santur and percussion. Please contact me if you would like to talk about mounting the piece.
- Instrumentation: percussion (pitched) percussion (unpitched) choir
- Ensemble Size: large ensemble
- Duration: 5-12 minutes
- Electronics: No Electronics
- Video: No
- Year: 2007