During the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's recent tour to the Upper Mid-West, I had a lot of time to think about texture in music. We were singing the same concert music in six cities, in six states, on six concerts in 10 days, plus one extra little side stop. The venues were all very different and we had to be very careful to adapt to the acoustics in each new place. We had to listen louder than we sang so that our conductors could help us balance the parts and bring out the colors, the variations, and textures of the music.
Texture in a musical composition refers to the various musical lines and the different timbres of the instruments of the orchestra or voices in the choir. Because many compositions are complex with many, many parts, the choir and orchestra must follow the conductor as he manipulates the sound to define which parts should stand out or be featured and which should fade into the background and just provide accompaniment. The experience of seeing and hearing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in person is often likened to standing in front of a wall of sound. The power and brilliance of the sound can be overwhelming. First time audience members really have no words to describe their experience. That said, we really do try to deliver nuance and contrasts in the sound so that we DON'T just create a huge wall of sound. If people only knew how deliberately we restrain ourselves to sing softly with no vibrato and save the big stuff for the glorious climaxes!
Without attention given to balance the parts and to define featured musical lines, the complex texture in a piece could come across sounding about as interesting as a cement block wall. That is certainly not the goal of our conductors, or any conductor worth his salt. Attempts should be made to identify which parts should stand out and which parts should provide foundation or accompaniment. And there should be lots of variety! That's what makes the music interesting to listen to and keeps the customers coming back for more.
The music we sang on tour reflects the vast repertoire of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. We sang hymns and anthems, classical masterworks, folk songs and spirituals, songs from the stage and screen, patriotic songs and the most famous signature songs of the choir. The set of Master Choruses we sang obviously needed the most attention to make the textures work properly. The "Gloria" by Dvorak starts off brilliantly at forte with no introduction. The first statement has each of the voices starting the theme two beats apart, then they come together singing "Gloria" with great enthusiasm. But the dynamic level does not stay at forte for long. The next section begins with the basses very low at a pianissimo. The contrast here is huge. The other voices echo very softly and from there the counterpoint gets busy and exciting until the end when all of the voices come together homophonically for the big finish.
The challenge with this piece is to keep the textures clearly distinct while so much is going on. When all goes well, this piece is brilliant and glorious. We enjoy singing it. Each song on the concert had its unique challenges with texture. Some of the songs were soft and fluid, some were powerful and majestic. Some were rhythmic and exacting, others were relaxed and fun-filled. Our conductors were there through it all holding us to our commitment to excellence. Please check out some of our performances on our YouTube channel.