Precise Notation Helps Make Tan Dun’s "Water Passion" Good to the Last Drop

We know what whole notes look like, and we can recognize the curly fanciness of the treble clef and the flags on eighth notes. But the question on the minds of so many music lovers as they exuded excitement over Ravinia’s Chicago premiere of Tan Dun’s Water Passion last week was just exactly how the exotic sounds created by the chorus are expressed in the score so that the piece can be performed by different ensembles in different venues around the world. So Los Angeles Master Chorale music director Grant Gershon shared a page of his manuscript showing the “notes” that communicate to the singers how to evoke their overtones. The symbol, looking like the hardest problem on a math test or a hieroglyph from Stargate, demonstrates the fluidity of the music with “no beginning, no ending, only continuing. In his Chicago Tribune review, John von Rhein offered high praise for the production as “an important event,” which ushered in Ravinia’s summer-long celebrations of the vocal legacy of Robert Shaw and music inspired by water to accompany the new aquatic sculpture, Chorus, at its grand entrance. The water music continues Thursday June 16 when the Chicago Sinfonietta performs Handel’s Water Music with the new fountain displayed in its full glory.


Click the images below to view larger versions of the notation.

'Water Passion' Notation 'Water Passion' Notation