2. Brussels Sprouts
3. March of the Stalks
SATB (divisi), Bb trumpet, and percussion (1 player)
Recording credit: All movements below are performed by Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble, conducted by Loren PonténEat Your Vegetables! - Set Two-perusal2
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Pristine, purple ovoids,
Glossy, gleaming, bursting with life,
Your beauty demands respect.
Doesn’t aubergine sound much more elegant than
2. Brussels Sprouts
Masquerading as exotic European vegetables
You don’t fool me.
You’re nothing but undergrown, miniature
3. March of the Stalks
What are we having for lunch?
I think it’s celery,
Be sure to buy a big bunch.
Try it with peanut butter,
Stuff it with cheese,
‘Cause that’s good too.
Oh, yea verily,
We’ll have plenty to munch.
– Joanne Gunnerson (2009)
As with Eat Your Vegetables – Set One, this second set is a collection of three brief pieces for choir and instruments (trumpet and percussion in this case) based on a humorous set of poems by Northwest educator & poet Joanne Gunnerson. Also, like the first set, each of the three poems focuses on a different vegetable: eggplant, Brussels sprouts, and celery, respectively.
In this set, I extended and developed the idea of what I’ve come to call “hybrid parodies,” which mix together one or more stylistic and/or formal elements in a single piece, either juxtaposed or superimposed, or both. The first movement, “Ultraviolet,” combines stylistic elements of Japanese koto music (heard in the mallet percussion) with muted jazz trumpet ballads ala Miles Davis. The second movement, “Brussels Sprouts,” combines elements of Spanish and Flamenco music with parodies of opera choruses. And the final movement, “March of the Stalks,” parodies all manner of march styles and forms, jazz, swing, and doo-wop, as well as adding a touch of Charles Ives, with kazoos thrown in for good measure, and a couple of other surprises as well.
In terms of subject matter, “Ultraviolet” presents eggplants as edible, exotic objets d’art of great beauty worthy of adoration, and poses the question, “Doesn’t aubergine sound much more elegant than Just Plain Eggplant?” implying that “eggplant” is not a worthy moniker for such a sophisticated vegetable. The striking sound of the vibraphone and marimba imitating Japanese koto arpeggios based on Asian pentatonic scales, combined with the glossy sheen of the muted trumpet and the shimmering harmonic clusters in the choir, enhance the exotic portrait of this glossy edible ovoid.
Continuing the what’s-in-a-name? theme of the first movement, the eponymously titled “Brussels Sprouts” presents the poet’s disdain with the notion of miniature cabbages “masquerading as exotic European vegetables.” That disdain spills over into the choir, which eventually engages in a polemically charged debate over the controversial naming convention.
As with the first set, the first two movements were commissioned by Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble in Seattle, conducted by Loren Pontén, and the third movement was commissioned by Gary Weidenaar and the Central Washington University Chamber Choir. In the spirit of the final movement of Set One, “RAH!,”—which extolled the virtues of the lowly rutabaga—“March of the Stalks” is a merry homage to celery, that crunchy, fibrous platform for peanut butter, cheese, and other culinary bling intended to make the otherwise bland—and to some, acrid-tasting—vegetable palatable. The music even explicitly evokes the sonic implications of the celery stalk with percussion instruments, including cabasa, guiro, vibraslap, and ratchet, all played by members of the choir. As was the case with Ms. Gunnerson’s paean to rutabagas, I find myself to not be a fan of celery, yet…I endeavored to compose music that would celebrate the tasteless, stringy wonder as if it were my favorite vegetable of them all and not simply a substitute for dental floss with a disagreeable taste. I hope you enjoy Eat Your Vegetables! – Set Two!
– John Muehleisen
Program notes written on April 5, 2021