Premiered on May 28, 2010, The Serpent Speaks is a piece of music for jazz sextet + 2 actors, setting Robert Siegel’s poem of the same name. The piece reflects on the fall of man in Genesis 3.
I first read Robert Siegel‘s The Serpent Speaks in 2007, as my love of poetry was just being sparked. Though I was immediately interested in setting the poem to music, it wasn’t until receiving a Fellowship at the Trinity Forum Academy that I had the time and resources I needed to realize the project.
My setting of The Serpent Speaks blurs distinctions between composition and improvisation using a mixture of verbal cues; traditional, and non-traditional notation. The style blends free and contemporary modal jazz with spoken word.
Check out the project’s website!
The Serpent Speaks Poster is by Daniel Domig
Each of the musicians involved in creating this piece has his/her own interesting projects going on. Click on a name to check out the artist’s website.
BC Elements (What’s This?)
This is a copy of the score, if you’re interested in the notation of the piece, and how improvisation was incorporated. Please note that the poem text is copyrighted by Paraclete Press, so you’ll need special permission to use them.
We heard “The Serpent Speaks” premiere and wish we could hear it again! The power of jazz arises from a power to convene, and James Hall has convened a breathtaking synergy in his trombone, sax, guitar, traps, percussion, bass and voice readers. We anticipated it would be avant garde jazz, but we all found the piece delightfully accessible, expressive, a broad palette of sound in support of Siegel’s provocative poem, brilliantly written and sensitively played. I who had not read the poem before hearing this setting cannot imagine it without this happy marriage to Hall’s affectionate, transparent treatment. His arrangement honors the players as much as the poem, melding seamlessly scored passages with improvisation. Their respect for each other, for James and for the poem itself lent a redemptive ambiance to the dark but ultimately hopeful text.
-David Covington, Guitarist, Vocalist, & Songwriter
…at times I felt I was listening to the music of the spheres…the whole struck me as symphonic.
Robert Siegel, Author of the poem, The Serpent Speaks
James Hall and Robert Siegel are a perfect match in The Serpent Speaks, a beautiful symphonic composition in sound and word. The music by Hall is a modern jazz alliance with Siegel’s dramatic poem about the fallen world. Using two percussionists, a saxophone, a guitar, a bass, and Hall’s own lyrical trombone, the music intertwines with two voices, female and male, to make for a powerful statement about human misery and hope. Word and sound blend together in an artistic marriage that is greater than the sum of the parts. There is rhythm; there is meditation; there is drama; and there is love.
– William Edgar, Jazz Pianist, Professor, Westminster Seminary