KOYOPA – Oxlajuj Baqtun

Koyopa’ (lightning) was commissioned for the large forces of the Dutch Great Radio Choir (Groot Omroep Koor). Its size allowed me to subdivide the choir into one half standing on the left hand side of the stage, the other half on the right hand side, facing each other to create stereophonic dialogue. Four soloists (out of the choir) are in the middle at the front. The three percussionists are on a slightly raised platform at the back of the stage.

The lyrics.

Except for the last poem (Koyopa’), the preceding verses were written especially for this composition by the Guatemalan poet Humberto Ak’abal. They are a philosophical – some would say ironical – take on a naïve concern shared by New Age people with ‘the end’ of the Maya calendar on 21 December 2012. The Dutch radio broadcaster NTR thought it appropriate to draw attention to the event and commissioned me to write this composition to commemorate the event. I seized the opportunity to highlight what remains of a once great culture in Central America. As Ak’abal is a native speaker of Maya K’iché (together with roughly a million and a half of his fellow countrymen and -women) he writes poems in both his mother tongue and in Spanish, Guatemala’s official language. He duly honoured my request to help me in the pursuit of a suitable text in the slowly disappearing Maya tongue. Our collaboration  developed into a most enjoyable and inspiring exchange of ideas and suggestions, not least in respect of the pronunciation, down to the detail of the individual words in this enigmatic language.  Maya K’iché has a distinct guttural quality unlike the prevailing European languages. In a parallel text in the score I have tried to provide an approximation for Dutch singers to help with the pronunciation.

Finally, with Oxlajuj being 13 and Baqtun the Maya time unit of 144000 days, multiplication adds up to roughly 5126 years. As the last cycle started on 11 August 3114 BC, and allowing for the adjustment in the Maya counting system (1 Baqtun or B’ak’tun = 394.3 years), the calendar ultimately leads us onto 21 December 2012 AD, when the cycle starts again… hence Ak’abal’s reference to the spiral in the first verse.

Koyopa’ was commissioned by the NTR broadcasting organisation with financial assistance from the Nederlands Fonds Podiumkunsten (Netherlands Performing Arts Fund).