The Sparrow Song (2005)
for SS chorus, piano, and percussion, 5 minutes
The text of this piece sets an ancient Greek song, and is an ancient version of trick-or-treat.
Instrumental ensemble: children's chorus SS, piano, perc (triangle, drum)
The Sparrow Song is based on ancient Greek lyrics which describe children visiting a house, asking its owner for food, drink, and sweets, and threatening dire consequences if these are not provided, including the children making off with the homeowner’s goat. "Trick-or-treat," as we know it, is a modern invention, but there is apparently ancient precedent for our yearly American ritual. Curiously, a tradition similar to the one described in this song still takes place in modern Greece on and around New Year’s Day, which I observed at first hand while living there from 2001-02. Throughout Greece, it is the tradition for children to go from shop door to shop door in village or town, serenading the proprietor with a New Year song while playing a triangle. The shopkeeper then gives the child a coin for the song, and the child moves on to the next "victim." This choral setting pays homage to that tradition by quoting the song itself and by using triangle in the chorus.
As remote as the ancient Greeks and their world may seem to us, this ancient version of trick-or-treat shows that humanity is, for the most part, the same from age to age, and it is in this spirit of fun and frolic that The Sparrow Song is presented.
I am grateful to the Cantate Chamber Singers, Gisèle Becker, Music Director, for making this commission possible through my position as Composer-in-Residence with Cantate; additionally, most grateful thanks go to my wife, Sarah Ferrario, who not only introduced me to this ancient song but provided a wonderfully buoyant English translation for musical setting.
--Andrew Earle Simpson