Four Voice Canon #15 (“Shape Note Canon”)


Date: 2002.


Place: New Hampshire.


Comments: Primarily “notational” work, included as part of #13, as an illustration of realizing the four voice canon in conventional music notation. In a sense, all of the other canons are represented by this score.



Four Voice Canon #15 (“Shape Note Canon”), is for any ensemble. It is intended as a notational template for live ensembles, or smaller groups of musicians working in the recording studio, to make their own versions of the piece. It is a companion piece to Four Voice Canon #13 (“DIY Canon”), an even more abstract version of the work.


The score for #15 is a canonic realization of a simple four element permutation list. The notation illustrates a mensuration canon (in the way that idea is used in my other four voice canons), along with some simple suggestions about dynamics, tempi, and accents.


For example, this score indicates that the piece may start at one tempo and speed up gradually to a faster ending tempo. This is just one version of what may happen: the tempo might change in the opposite direction, it might follow a sinusoidal kind of curve, or there might be no tempo change at all. The indication of dynamics in this score is intended, similarly, as one of several possibilities.


The “shapes” may be realized in a wide variety of ways. Interpretation is left to the musicians: each of the four shapes indicates some distinct musical event (pitch, pitch class, sound, action, idea). Graduated pitches (from the slowest voice to the fastest) may be used (so that, for example, each shape represents a timbral family). Shapes are not associated with particular staff lines. In the score, staves are used so that the “shapes” can be shown to rise gradually in pitch (for each voice) over the course of the work, but this is only a suggestion


Some specific realization suggestions:


·         a guitar version where each voice plays on only one string, each shape indicates a different natural harmonic (with a guitar tuning of the players’ choice).

·         a version for celli in which each shape indicates a different type of sound (pizzicati, gliss, mordant, harmonic, arco, etc.), and each voice starts at the low end of the cello and moves to the high end over its duration. A guitar variation might be for each voice to remain on one string, using four different types of sounds (e.g bend, squiggle, harmonic, tap), rising on that string over the course of the work. These ideas, or variations, would work with other instruments as well, in many different ways.

·         a vocal version where each shape is a type of word, or sonic idea, or pitch, or some combination.

·         a percussion version where each shape corresponds to a different instrumental family, and each voice is in a different register.

·         versions where the shapes are realized as rhythmic values. (These last two suggestions describe Four Voice Canon #5).


In this last case, since all voice are “the same,” players (especially in recording), might find it simpler to play from the notation for voice 1.


Live ensembles are encouraged to consider the possibility of varying the score for different performances, or of leaving certain aspects undetermined for spontaneous choice by the performers.


Other rhythmic ratios may be used, either adding to (up to any number of voices) or substituting for the ones in the score (in that case, the performers should probably write out the new part). If so, the four voice canon “mensuration” structure should be respected (see Four Voice Canon #13 for an explanation of how that works). Simpler (2-, 3-, 4-, 5-voice) versions may be made as well.


Interruptions to the “process” are welcome.



Larry Polansky

Lebanon, NH