Listen - SAB


Getting started

Especially for the WCG edition here in Flanders, Bikkembergs wrote the song Listen for different line-ups, so every choir is bound to find its favourite line-up. Don't be alarmed when you suddenly hear it from the bell tower where you live: there is even a version for carillon. Although the basic text of the song Love's Philosophy is by Percy B. Shelley, here and there, you can hear Woniya waka, a phrase that the composer borrowed from the North American Dakota Indians and that refers to the Holy Spirit as an all-encompassing primal force in nature. A striking match with Shelley's text and tribute to nature. Accompanied by piano, body percussion and shamanic drum. 


Listen praises the beauty of nature and encourages us to become part of a grand, all-encompassing whole. The text is a tribute to the love that finds its origin, its being and effects in the natural forms and elements. Love that we not only celebrate with our voices but for which we open up and activate our whole body.


The song draws on the poem Love’s Philosophy by the English romantic poet Percy B. Shelley. In fact, it contains the two verses. Well before his time, Shelley was an outspoken environmental activist and understood that man and nature are very much intertwined. The text of the chorus is his own creation and is made up of proverbs and truths of the Native American Indians. Woniya waka (note the pronunciation: Won-nee-yah wah-kahn, the end n is not written down, but is pronounced - translation: the Holy Spirit, but spirit in function of the all-inclusive air, wind, primal force or deity in nature) is a Dakota statement. 


The score contains many stimuli that can be used to get acquainted with the music. Start as soon as possible with the two-measure rhythm of the shamanic drum. This underlies the entire work. This rhythm is not easy and will take time before it is thoroughly felt; then you can switch to body percussion. Pay close attention to the pace - not slower, not faster - that illustrates the right presence in the song.

Whistling, whispering, wind noise, buzzing, overtone development and body percussion are elements to start working with the score musically; allow the impact of natural simplicity sink in you before you continue with the song.


Listen is composed of two simple building blocks: the sequence of C - D - Eb - F chords on a do-pedal note is the underlying basis for both the whistling, the prelude and interlude, as well as for the complete chorus. The auditory perception of this sequence can be practised with simple exercises before translating it into music.

The second element is the melody of the verse, which consists of a recurring four-measure sentence that transposes a minor third higher twice. Pay close attention to the small rhythmic and melodic details which vary because of the text. Let the piano pay particular attention to the half- and fourth notes in the accompaniment - the eighth notes in the right hand need only be touched gently and softly - for these represent the onset of the lower voices in the polyphonic setting. When the soprano does not sing the melody, she plays a descanting role here: in other words, remains colourful with a sense of baroque.

Both the verses and the chorus sound best in a beautifully carried legato; only for the build-up with Woniya waka at the end of the chorus may the legato slow down slightly and be performed more rhythmically.

by Kurt Bikkembergs, composer Listen

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