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Proverb

Versus8 have made a name for themselves by performing several Reich premieres in Latin America,
including the first full performance of this composer’s monumental “Drumming” in Mexico and the
first performance in Latin America of his Mallet Quartet. One of the reasons why we developed a
friendship when we were together in school was through our mutual appreciation of Reich’s music.
When planning a collaboration with them, I was sure that we would performing something by Steve
Reich.

“Proverb” is very rarely performed, and I think it’s one of this composer’s strongest works. Reich
rarely writes for voice or strings, citing a dislike for the richness in the tone, which in his mind
obscures intonation. He prefers percussive sounds and simpler timbres, such as a clarinet. In my
opinion, the few works he has written for voices are some of his best and most interesting.

The three soprano lines are meant to be sung in a smooth, legato, straight-tone style, reminiscent of a
16th century motet in the Roman style (think Palestrina or Victoria.) The two tenor lines are clearly
reminiscent of a Perotin organum (or at least, what people in the 80s and 90s thought this music
sounded like.) A heftier sound is appropriate with clear delineation of the rhythmic figures. The voices
are almost always doubled by electric keyboards as a way to allow singers to fade out towards the ends
of their notes to manage their breath. You are not expected to sing full note values throughout. When
the note values are short enough or when everyone is singing the lines at the same time, place final
consonants at the beginning of the next word and don’t re-articulate the letter t between “it” and
“takes”.

The indicated tempo is much slower than anything performed by Reich himself. Here is the premiere
recording of this piece by Theatre of Voices, overseen by Reich: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=I5lgAUHVFC4. We’ll take a tempo closer to his. This piece is sometimes done with microphones,
but we will be performing it without mics, so please adjust dynamics accordingly. I was initially
concerned about performing it without mics until I heard an acoustic performance by SWR Stuttgart
Vocal Ensemble that was absolutely incredible. They also took it even faster than Reich’s recording.

Typos in the score:


m. 465, Vibr. 1: The last quarter note is missing. There should be a chord there (the same chord as the
rest of the measure)
m. 633, Sop. 1: The last quarter note is missing. There should be a C# with the text “How”

Keyboards:
We are using a single keyboard for each part split in half, rather than four keyboards.
Keyboard 1: play the right hand up 2 octaves and the left hand down 2 octaves.
Keyboard 2: play the right hand up 2 octaves and the left hand in the octave that’s written.