Duration: c. 6 minutes
Year of composition: 2015
Telefona, co-composed with John Boggs, combines polyphonic choral writing with driving percussive vocalizations inspired by Turkish folk music and hip hop.
This studio version of Telefona was created by layering numerous recordings of singers John Boggs and Rose Fuller. However, Telefona was originally written for the 303 Choir, a group of non-auditioned middle and high school students from Colorado that “performs positive music being created in all musical genres by artists with ties to the Mile High City … music that can educate, uplift, and inspire the young and growing artists’ hearts of Denver’s youth.” The piece was premiered in 2015 by 303 Choir and the adult choir Columbine Chorale.
A note from the composers:
“We thought the phrase ‘peace be with you’ was well-meaning and universal. But in choosing to use that phrase in many different languages as the basis for this piece, we sent ourselves on a journey of soul-searching and self-doubt. We plunged headlong into the pitfalls of translation, had heated debates with linguistics professors, and were visited by the silent ghosts of extinct languages. Ultimately, we emerged on the other side of a deep rabbit hole a bit shaken up, but with a new perspective on our own (unwitting) naïveté. Languages are not interchangeable, and for us to have considered this phrase “universal” betrayed our own ethnocentrism.
Sometimes if you say a word over and over again, your brain can temporarily lose track of its meaning and it just sounds like gibberish. We realized that this has happened to ‘peace be with you’ on planet Earth. The phrase, which we learned goes back to the Old Testament and probably before, has undergone a many-thousand-year game of Telephone. We’ve collectively said the phrase so many times that it has ceased to have much tangible meaning.
That is exactly the journey that ‘peace be with you’ takes in this piece, Telefona. It begins in Esperanto, a language invented by Ludwik Lazarus Zamenhof, a Polish Jew who set out to create “an easy-to-learn, politically neutral language that would transcend nationality and foster peace and international understanding between people with different languages.” It then progresses through a few other languages in which it has a long cultural history. Soon, though, the translations start to short-circuit, distorting into varying states of gibberish.
And yet, despite the collapse of the words, the music holds strong. We hope that it abstractly expresses, even through its twists and turns and moments of darkness, our sincere desire for us all to live in Peace with each other. And perhaps: to inspire the listener to ponder what the word Peace really means.”
-Conor Abbott Brown and John Boggs