We’re thrilled to have composer Len Ballantine debut his new work, “To Be Continued…” with the choir on Nov. 27 at our Yuletide Cheer concert. Len has a long history with the Peterborough Singers including previous commissioned works — and the choir treasures the connection with such a talented musician. To get some insight into Len’s new work we asked him to share his thoughts in a Q&A.
Q: What does it mean for you to debut your new work, “To Be Continued…” at our first concert since the pandemic began?
A: I was thrilled and humbled to be asked to write this music for the Peterborough Singers, especially noting it would mark the long hiatus endured by the choir. For me, the challenge was finding a message that would fit honestly with the present time and yet offer a glimmer of hope for the future.
Q: What was it like for you to work on this piece during a time when choirs couldn’t sing?
A: I was aware of that every time I worked on the text and then the music throughout the summer. It gave a certain poignancy to the task, for sure. There also was a sense of ‘when are we going to be able to get back to normal?’ Plus, I knew that once the choir got going again you would have only a limited time to learn the work. So, lots of compositional decisions were influenced by these factors.
Q: How has music helped you get through the pandemic? (And have you discovered any new passions in the past months, say, cooking or bread baking?!?)
A: Actually, I discovered how rich the Internet was in this regard. Listening to music has always blessed me, and I love an eclectic range of styles depending on my mood. But the added pleasure of watching the best musicians, artists and conductors perform music, with camera shots in sync with the score for best results . . . that was a really therapeutic experience for me during such a dire time. (And no, I married a gourmet cook, so my passion only extends to how the dishwasher is loaded after one of Heather’s fabulous meals.)
Q: Yuletide Cheer is a holiday tradition, and of course the choir will sing some Christmas favourites. What do you see as the connection of “To Be Continued…” to Christmas?
A: The connection of the new work to Christmas is by way of a parallel theme, a related theme. The message of Christmas is traditionally summarized as one of peace, love and hope. The purpose of ‘To be continued…’ is to reveal just how that Christmas theme is expressed right before our very eyes every day in the world around us. The story continues. This is not the end, not the beginning, just somewhere in the middle where continuation of life is assured and sustained.
One of the names of Jesus is ‘Emmanuel’, meaning ‘God with us’. In the message of ‘To be continued…’ we find hope in the endless possibilities of the created order. God is still ‘with us’, still creating, recreating and renewing. The present moment, as bleak as it may seem, will give way to something new and restored and beautiful because that’s how this thing works. It’s a very hopeful way of looking at life.
Q: There’s quite a dash of humour in one movement. What made you include a whimsical side?
A: I love the notion of the Swedish Chef of Muppets fame, slicing and dicing and tossing salad bits into the air. I like to see the Creator in the same way, taking delight and enjoyment from tossing seemingly random bits of matter into the mix. Only, this cosmic salad is made of molecules, particles, photons and electrons. That is exactly why whimsy makes sense to me in the context of this work.
Q: Speaking of whimsical, the choir gets to sing about things like “photon particles.” Are you a closet scientist?!?
A: Not at all. But I am curious about how stuff fits together, and I’m really pragmatic about my craft and the way I approach composition. So, science and its conclusions really impact my worldview and my faith.
Q: The choir is very excited to perform “To Be Continued…” for our audience — and to have our audience with us again. What do you hope the audience will take away from your new work?
A: I’ve been really conscious of what it means for your audience to finally be able to get out of their hideaways and attend live events. I want them to take hope from this work. I want them to know that this present moment is not the end, but rather part of a marvellous ongoing expression of creativity, which is, in a phrase, ‘To be continued…’.