Shaw / Parker - What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor - Columbia High School, Decatur, GA 1973





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Published on Feb 18, 2013

This very poorly created and edited recording is provided only for historical and nostalgic reasons. No formal recordings were ever made of the Columbia High School Choirs.

These are the only extant examples of what was an outstanding choral music program in the mid-1970's, and are only meant to give some idea of the considerable efforts taken to develop the singers and the programs made by the choral music directors, in particular the work of Madison D. Short, Jr. (1928-1990), who did his keyboard studies at Juilliard before tuberculosis ended his concert career. He was an award-winning Choral Clinician and Director, and was the author and designer of an unique choral sight-singing method.

1973 Columbia High School Advanced Boys' Chorus

What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor?
arr. Robert Shaw, Alice Parker

Spring Concert
May 24, 1973
Columbia High School, Dekalb County, Decatur, GA

Notes: The original recording was made on a primitive hand-held cassette tape recorder using very poor quality tape. Considerable efforts at noise reduction and enhancement were made to this recording, and due to the very unfortunate interference by the audience at the end during a comical effect by the singers, the entire ending had to be augmented by grafting and using sections from earlier in the work. This has resulted in an ending that does not quite coincide with the composers' intentions. In order to make the performance listenable, this drastic step was undertaken. Apologies are in order for this unfortunate, but necessary licence.

Analog Recording: Joseph Valles, Annette Valles, May 24, 1973
Digital recording transfer and editing: Jonathan Smith and Joseph Valles, 2013

B&W photos from the Columbia High School Yearbook, Aquila, 1972-1975

From discussions about this performance, at the facebook group: Madison "Reb" Short was my high school choral director :


Shaw / Parker played a secret joke with the way this composition was written. They introduced sudden ritardandos that are very difficult to execute properly, such as at 1:07, 1:14, so that the chorus is very likely to stumble over these sections and APPEAR DRUNK! Is that not a clever thing to do, to set musical pitfalls and trip wires to cause the effect of being drunk by making the chorus take a pratfall? However, what clear to me is that we executed these perfectly. You hear the up-and-down wave-like action of these moments, but we never lose our balance! Listen to other choirs, they have major problems here.

Another point where it is very difficult to get right is at 1:20. Here the two tenor and two bass lines are using different tempos. The tenor is completing the previous ritarded rhythm, while the bass has already started the next one, which is faster. For a second or two the lines overlap, but we still KEEP them distinct! You can hear the tenor delay as they complete their line, but it is still crisp and ends perfectly, independent of the bottom line! When they then join the new rhythm, the tenor responses (the "poop-poop"'s) are so exact, they very strongly define this section which is in three quarter time, as opposed to the 4/4 of the rest of the piece. It's probably meant to imitate the naval bos'n's pipe.

The very complex lines starting at 1:47 and ending at 2:00 need to be 100% correct if the parts are to stay together, since each part has some very different singing to do, sometimes crossing over into another part's range. This is probably the most exciting section of this arrangement, to have this "braided" effect, like a sailor's rope.

The sudden change in rhythm at 2:27 is hard to get right, but we nailed it! The stop at 2:30 is treacherous for the tenors because they have to reach to the lowest part of their range, but they did a great job there, without a mistake.

With lots of places to mess up, complex rhythms, sudden changes of tempo, parts extending out of comfort ranges, and the speed we took the piece, we performed this without a single mistake AND maintained a high level of ensemble and musicality . This is definitely the "bee's knees", as they say.


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