Full Fathom Five – Unterseher

SATB, divisi, unaccompanied

A rich, deep, underwater slow-motion feeling is the basis this setting this famous song exploring the nature of memory from “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare. It is more easily sung with a medium to large ensemble.

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When our loved ones are gone, our memories are what remain. But while those memories may appear to be frozen in place, they slowly change. This passage from THE TEMPEST uses undersea images to explore the process of that change. While the term “sea-change” usually refers to the sudden and complete changes that happen on the surface, it takes on a different meaning for me when we look to the sea floor. Molecule by molecule, micro-organism by micro-organism, our substance moves out into the surroundings, but yet the image remains. The shape is the same, we see the image in our memory, but it is not the actual thing anymore. This is a slow movement, at some point we can see that the memory has become something entirely different than the reality was, but isn’t all experience filtered one way or another? How do we know which one is more true, our perception of now or our memory?


The tempo should be very slow, as close to the marked tempo as possible while still retaining the phrase shape and direction. Stagger breathing techniques are a must. The words should remain very clear, but the sound should be as if it were coming from a great distance. The rhythms derive entirely from the speech patterns.


William Shakespeare, THE TEMPEST, Act 1 scene ii

Full fathom five thy father lies
Of his bones are coral made
Those are pearls that were his eyes
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them.
Ding-dong, bell.


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About Reginald Unterseher

Reginald Unterseher is Music Director and Composer-in-Residence at Shalom United Church of Christ, Richland, Washington. His works are published by Oxford University Press, Walton Music, and through NW Choral Publishing at www.reginaldunterseher.com. He is the Washington State Music Teacher’s Association’s “Composer of the Year” for 2013. Mr. Unterseher’s compositions are regularly performed throughout the world and have been featured at ACDA and MENC conventions in the US as well as at Carnegie Hall in New York City. He currently serves as Repertoire & Standards Chair for Men’s Choirs for the Northwest Division of the American Choral Director’s Association, and is in demand as a choral and vocal adjudicator and clinician. Mr. Untereseher is a past Artistic Director of Consort Columbia (now Mid-Columbia Mastersingers), founder and past Chorus Master of Washington East Opera, and an active member of Male Ensemble Northwest.