By Kimberly Raschka Sailor | February 3, 2016
The Book of Rounds is a passion project that makes musical simplicity complex, resulting in a beautiful exploration of a familiar form. The October Project presents an hour-long masterwork that manages to show delicacy and strength simultaneously, leaving listeners enraptured through its classical choral stylings.
Rounds are intended to be simple and accessible. This is why our earliest nursery songs follow this form, permitting our youngest singers to catch on to patterns quickly. Rounds are good for repetitive working songs to keep a steady pace and output. They're great for marches, chanting, and dances, too, often with simple lyrics or themes for the same fundamental purpose: it's easy for all to join-in on the experience. Due to its length, canon-style layering, and varied meters, careful construction was necessary for The Book of Rounds to succeed within its round-based boundaries. The work is tied together through uplifting, affirming messages that encourage us to live mindfully and in the present. It's worth singing, and worth studying, too.
The music for The Book of Rounds was composed by Emil Adler, and the lyrics were penned by Julie Flanders, both of whom founded the band October Project (along with Marina Belica, who co-produced the recorded release). Of interest to a cappella fans, the arrangements are the work of Keiji Ishiguri, an alumnus who directed both The Whiffenpoofs and Redhot & Blue at Yale University. The featured vocalists also hail from Yale, with voices from October Project coming and going as the rounds progress. The twenty-one songs are divided into three chapters, two of which are arranged for a cappella performances, while the third chapter offers piano accompaniment.
From a performance standpoint, the awesome strength of The Book of Rounds is how customizable it is for choirs. Whether you've got a handful of voices or a hundred voices, you can make this (largely SATB) score work for you, just as the nature of a traditional round is intended. It can also be sung one round at a time, or as a whole. The first seven selections (Chapter I of the full score) are available for purchase as a beautiful booklet from Hal Leonard for $5.95, which is an incredible value for a multi-piece score that's 56 pages in length. Chapters II and III are available for purchase through the group's web site, as well as a collection of all twenty-one rounds in simple, single-line form. The Book of Rounds will be especially worthwhile to learn if your ensemble has a sparrow-voiced soprano who appreciates a good floating descant. The Hal Leonard publication opens with Beauty, one of the pivotal songs from the work that features arresting harmonies and captivating lyrics. For choirs wishing to explore the other chapters, tribal-beat Joy is another standout that delights with its groove and body percussion possibilities. And for listeners staying the course for the full hour, you'll get to experience the feeling of continuity between beginning and end. After the last track (Ready) asks us, "Will you be ready then?", the music can start anew with "Now in this moment, it's time to start over..." in Grace. Modern a cappella music rarely becomes this contemplative and personal, this moving and invitational.
With their repetitive nature, rounds inherently ask us to listen closely, to hear important words and phrases over and over again as a means to make an impact. In The Book of Rounds, we're treated to twenty-one delightful, sensitive pieces that blissfully break the mold in our contemporary a cappella scene, interweaving new and old to create a refreshing offering of ethereal music.