"I usually write spoken word to where it's supposed to be spoken and not sung, so it was a challenge for me."
The McPherson High School Women's Ensemble debuted a new song last night, one with lyrics written by one of their own classmates, senior Emma Ellet.
"This is actually very different than what I usually write," Ellet said. "I usually write spoken word to where it's supposed to be spoken and not sung, so it was a challenge for me."
Nicholas Griggs, McPherson High School's choral music director, had asked Dr. Brad Vogel, chair of the Department of Music at Tabor College, to compose an original piece for the Mac High’s women's choir.
Vogel took a partial sabbatical this year to focus on composing. Of the 16 requests he received for compositions, he chose four, including Griggs' request for the McPherson’s women's choir.
On a visit to McPherson, Vogel met with the choir to gauge their sound, range and ability. While there, the group discussed what themes they wanted the song that he would write for them to convey.
"What we arrived at was they wanted something that was particular to them, something empowering and encouraging to women," Vogel said.
A student suggested asking Ellet to compose the text for the song, showing the teachers her other work.
"It was an honor to be chosen for it," Ellet said. "I'm not a composer at all, so I didn't know how this would be put together."
Ellet's first attempts tried to use a more choral, hymn-like structure.
"I started writing and I thought, 'I can't do that,'" Ellet said. "With women's empowerment and all the stuff that's going on in the world today, I just wanted to really convey that in a poem."
The high school senior came up with a poem titled "Untamed."
"I was really impressed with what she did. The language is very picturesque; she chose strong words for what she's conveying," Vogel said. "Having a good text is an asset for a composer."
Vogel took Ellet's words and composed an a cappella song in four-part harmony for women's voices.
"She wrote a great text about being strong and confident and it led to a piece of music that was different than anything I'd written before," Vogel said. "It's a really strong, driving piece."
The choir has been rehearsing the song for weeks, working through its key changes and modulations.
"It's really ethereal," Griggs said. "It's got an unrest to it and it's unsettled the whole time."
The song will become part of the repertoire the women's choir sings in competitions.
"We've been working — laboring — making sure we can execute it appropriately," Griggs said. "I think the girls are just now trying to make it their own."
"Untamed" has emotional imagery which the choir will work to show through their harmonies.
"There's some really meaty stuff happening. You can tell when there's torment, you can tell when there's indecision," Griggs said. "It'll just be different, it'll be very unique, which is what I think it is intended to be."
Ellet, who does not sing in the choir, has been surprised at the reactions to her writing.
"It's being taken a lot farther than I thought it would," Ellet said.