• Jennifer Tham

Watery sounds : Miniwanka, soundscapes, watercolour choirs

Updated: Apr 28

Many songs have been written about water; some of them for choir.

One of the most fun is Miniwanka, R Murray Schafer's choral soundscape of the moments of water. Probably because there is no wrong way to sing CHUCK! or nibinibi or BRRRRRRRAASHSHHSSSOHHOHSSS ... unless it's bel canto.




Water never dies.

The SYC picked up Miniwanka again at our most recent sing-along, 24 years after we first performed it. Zoom lag improvised natural polyphony: voices chasing each other in outer space, in virtual canon.

Watery sounds teach us what we can do with (to?) our voices.

And Schafer brings back the joy of consonants. SPLoSH!

(More on Consonants Are Our Friends in a later post. Remind me.)

But—isn't there more? Isn't it time to move beyond mimicry? Time to perform an idea of water?

Jennifer Tham, "umbrella songs" from the choral suite Curious & Curiouser; watercolour rendition
Jennifer Tham | umbrella songs

To find out, I wrote some watery songs for the SYC, word-sounds that travel through space the way water works with paint to dilute and blend.

I called these umbrella songs:

an umbrella octet sings these songs from the middle of the stage, surrounded by a watercolour choir, who catch and carry the words.

Stage layout for Jennifer Tham's "umbrella songs", written for the SYC Ensemble Singers
Jennifer Tham | umbrella songs (stage layout)

Sound travels like water—faster or slower, far or not so, depending on

obstacle and surface,

allowing the container to

suggest its form and shape.

Word-sounds from the umbrella octet flow outwards, getting caught—painted—by the watercolour choir, a canvas of word-paintings.

During our Zoom call, the singers asked about catching and releasing sounds—

Must Nic wait for ZY to sing before she does? (See annotations on stage layout.)

What if JR—who has good ears—is the only one singing on stage left?

My response—let sound behave as sound does, changing through space, over time.

We only have to receive (words), and re-sound...

Snippet of SYC Zoom Chat, 20 June 2020
SYC Zoom Chat snippet

A splatter, random.

One or two droplets.

Diluted paint.


Different paper, different smudge = Different hall, different spread.

Q: How does the song end?

A: I don't know. Water never dies.

Yeah, interesting to see how this one turns out.

81 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All