Reviews of Gordon Bok's Music

Support the Arts

  - Heather Stevick, Junior, Camden Hills Regional High School, Rockport, Maine

"On Feb 16, students from the Camden Hills Regional High School Chorale, Concert Choir, Women's Choir and Chamber SIngers performed a selection of songs by local artist Gordon Bok.

In preparation, Gordon spent several days at the school working with us on the music. Though we had worked on the songs well in advance, it was surprising how much more life and substance the songs took on when they were explained by the cheerful, soft-spoken song-writer. He wanted to make sure that we understood the songs, not just that we could sing them cleanly.

Most of Gordon Bok's songs have some back-story. Some are based on real customs. Some came in dreams. When asked how he came up with one of his songs, he replied quite seriously, "An interview with an otter." So not all the stories are especially profound, but they nevertheless add to the understanding and expression when we sing.

Bok also worked hard to make us understand the style of the songs and them appropriately. Some songs, those about wind and waves, are smooth and legato, while other songs have to be clipped.

In fact, there are some places where our choral training makes it difficult to sing in the correct style. At one point, he decided that we were paying too much attention to our music and not enough attention to the song itself, so he made us put down our music and figure out what to sing solely from the echo pattern of the song.

At the same time Gordon was very open to variations in some songs. One had a descant added, while another incorporated staggered breathing. In both cases, he spent time contemplating how the changes affected the song, and in both cases he praised the changes.

Gordon Bok is not at all possessive of his music; he shares it freely and allows for new interpretations. His songs usually deal with nature, and most of them have a natural quality to the sound. There are songs with sections like bird chatter, a song inspired by the sound of the wind, and a song with overlapping lines which conjure up visions of ocean waves. This last, the Windcalling chant, relies on nature for its performance, too. The song has eight verses, one for each wind, and whichever is the prevailing wind on the day of the concert begins the song.

Gordon Bok's music is powerful- it speaks even when neither singer nor the composer know the meaning of the lyrics. Several songs are written in a language that not even he understands. He dreams songs in different languages without remembering their translations. But the words communicate anyway. For example, the Women's Choir song Dura Haia, insprired by the sound of the wind, ahs lyrics that very well be the wind itself singing.

Gordon Bok is a man speaks to otters, who dreams songs and hears melodies on the wind. He can take nature and turn it into music as deceptively simple as its subject, and then share that music, letting it develop as we sing it and discover new meanings behind the notes. It has been an honor to work with him."