So last Friday night, while madly cramming all the pitches and texts of six new songs for a choir rehearsal the next morning, I discovered one the most interesting (and annoyingly difficult) choral works I’ve ever come across. Its sound is raw and unrestrained, the text is obsessive, and to do the piece justice, a certain intensity and wildness is necessary. You’ve guessed it! It’s a Spanish chant for killing a snake for sacrificial purposes inspired by Afro-Carribean religious cults! It’s called “Sensemayá.” Before I proceed, the link to the song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BI4nAJMWlA and the English translation of the Spanish text is available at the bottom of this post for your convenience and because I know no Spanish whatsoever.
And what does this have this have to do with The Scarlet Letter you ask? Well, during rehearsal the next morning, I discovered the brutality of song’s text when our director read through the English translation and noticed its innate deviant and supernatural nature when our director asked for nasality during the chanting ideas for a more witch-like timbre. And then it occurred to me: brutality, deviance, the supernatural, witches! Scarlet Letter! And if you want to get more specific, Puritan society!
When pairing this incantation with Scarlet Letter‘s Puritan society, in a manner similar to the Almost Synesthesia Project, it can be said that the vocalists, or in this case, chorus represents Puritan society. Both entities try to dispose of people, things, and ideas with evil connotations, such as the snake in the world of the song, or religious minorities, witches, and adulterers in the Scarlet Letter world, with the purpose of making society a better place. However, in their attempts, both the chorus and Puritan society embody exactly what they despise. The chorus grotesquely delights over the fact that the snake will be unable to do any of its everyday practices like eating, breathing, biting, etc. and expresses desire to ax the snake until it dies, which paints the chorus as psychotic, cold-blooded killers, not too far from how they perceive the snake. On the other hand Puritans take pleasure in scourging minorities like Antinomians, Quakers, and Indians (41), throwing stones at Hester and Pearl for Hester’s act of adultery, which contradicts their ideal sinlessness utopia.
Well, that’s all for now I suppose.
- The snake has eyes of glass;
- The snake coils on a stick;
- With his eyes of glass on a stick,
- With his eyes of glass.
- The snake can move without feet;
- The snake can hide in the grass;
- Crawling he hides in the grass,
- Moving without feet.
- Hit him with an ax and he dies;
- Hit him! Go on, hit him!
- Don’t hit him with your foot or he’ll bite;
- Don’t hit him with your foot, or he’ll get away.
- Sensemayá, the snake,
- Sensemayá, with his eyes,
- Sensemayá, with his tongue,
- Sensemayá, with his mouth,
- The dead snake cannot eat;
- the dead snake cannot hiss;
- he cannot move,
- he cannot run!
- The dead snake cannot look;,
- the dead snake cannot drink,;
- he cannot breathe,
- he cannot bite.
- Sensemayá, the snake . . .
Sensemayá, does not move. . .
Sensemayá, the snake. . .
- Sensemayá, he died!