lo dello: the dance

Program Notes:

Hannah Cohoon is one of the earliest known female composers in the United States, and when I discovered this instrumental tune, it was unnamed and without any text. When setting the tune for voices, rather than adding a lyric, I decided instead to honor the tune by imagining a scene in which a romantic couple in Hannah Cohoon’s day hear the tune while meeting for the first time at a dance. I researched Shaker-era nonsense syllables and discovered “lo del lo,” which is satisfying to sing and felt to me like shifting weight from one foot to another, as one would do while dancing.


The rhythmic treatment of the old tune is brought into the modern musical vernacular with the use of repeated tied rhythms over the barline, anticipating the downbeat like popular music often does. This nod to pop should be wholeheartedly embraced in order to connect this centuries-old lovers’ romance to the parallel meet-cutes of today: locking eyes with a mysterious stranger across a roomful of dancing bodies was as relevant for Hannah Cohoon in the 18th century as it was for Tony and Maria in West Side Story, as it was in Netflix’s Bridgerton, as it was for Cinderella, and as it is for us now in modern clubs.


lo dello: the dance is constructed like a film soundtrack to this imagined scene. The descriptive boxed text throughout the score is provided to help the performers imagine the dramatic narrative, so that even though the audience won’t know the exact specifics of the scene, they will still be taken on a highly emotional journey through extremes of dynamic, tempo, and intention.


This is part of Jen’s series “Three Arrangements of Works by Early Female Composers”


SATB a capella



3 minutes

Original Instrumental Tune By Hannah Cohoon

Arrangement by Jennifer Lucy Cook