Renewed Art Song Exploration in Norfolk
The Academy of Music is host to a series of four art song classes, the first on Saturday, September 25th. In two packed hours Shirley Thompson, who has had a long career, both on the stage and in the classroom and studio, shared information and insights into German lieder, focusing on the music of Franz Schubert (1797-1828), Robert Schumann (1810-1856), Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) and Hugo Wolf (1860-1903). This class was both a survey covering 100 years of German lied using recorded songs and a master class where Ms. Thompson worked with singers and pianist Robert Brown, gently challenging them to find new meaning and depth of interpretation in the songs.
Schumann's Waldespräch was sung by soprano Claudio Wooten. Two songs by Brahms followed: Von ewiger Liebe was sung by mezzo Lisa Relaford Coston, and Wiegenlied, sung by Barbara Paul. Wie lange schon war immer mein Verlangen by Wolf was sung by Karen Scott Hoy.
It was interesting to watch the interchange between some of Tidewater's best art song performers and Ms.Thompson as they worked together to find a way to best convey the meaning of a song text. Mr. Brown at the piano was an integral part of accomplishing this task.
For example, Wolf's Wie lang schon is less than three minutes of music, including a lengthy piano postlude. It is the story of a woman who has her lifetime yearning for a musician as a lover fulfilled. He appears and bows and plays his violin. Certainly a simple story, but Wolf's setting creates a charming, humorous experience for the listener, especially in a well-done live performance. My historic recording by the Wolf Society does not communicate the humor but a modern one with Dawn Upshaw as vocalist does.
Last season when soprano Gigi Paddock and pianist Ruth Winters performed this little gem at Art Song of Williamsburg, the blissful look on the singer's face and then her fear and horror at the possibility of wrong notes and timing of her new beau's violin playing were clear to the audience.
Ms. Thompson's first reaction to the performance in class was that both singer and pianist had done their parts far too well. She began exploring with them how best to communicate that the woman in the song is a bit ditzy and her boyfriend has a very great possibility of halting tempos and wrong notes.
The experience led us to the conclusion that there is no final best interpretation. A song is a written entity that must be brought alive by singer and pianist at each performance. Ideally, in the brief span of a few minutes the singer and listener connect so that a quality communication takes place. The art of making this happen is worth all the effort. Art song is truly one of our finest expressions of creativity.
Letter from Academy of Music Graduate Heather McLewin
Dear Friends and Family,
Greetings from Baltimore! Thank you so much for your help with my farewell concert. The support I received there blesses me tremendously. The funds were used to cover the expensive cost of textbooks. I am very busy and my classes are going well: music theory, ear training daily, diction, technique and sight singing among other things.
I am taking keyboard, stage movement, singing in English, Italian, private voice and a studio class. In chorus we are learning Beethoven's Mass in C minor.
The environment here is wonderful. The high standards inspire me with the passion to rise to them. There is room to grow and I feel empowered to work as hard as I can. Though competition is particularly strong in the vocal department, the people are still very friendly and supportive.
I have an excellent private teacher. His studio is one of the best in the school. Except for me, his students are all doctoral or masters students. Not only am I the sole freshman, but I am the only underclassman! It is somewhat intimidating but mostly very exciting and motivating.
I know I am in a wonderful place to build on the priceless foundation I received in Hampton Roads. Thank you so much for your investment in me!
Breaking news: Heather has been invited to fill a recant vacancy in the chorus for Peabody's production of Cendrillon (Cinderella). She is already into staging rehearsals and is glowing from the honor, since freshmen are seldom ready for mainstage operas.
The Academy of Music's Cabaret
On November 9, 2004 the Academy of Music Vocal Students' Cabaret was held at Enrico's Ristorante. Among my favorite songs were two from Blue Mountain Ballads by Paul Bowles (1910-1999): Cabin and Sugar in the Cane with texts by Tennessee Williams. Ruth Winters sets the mood with the strutting stride piano as John Gorman begins,
"I'm red pepper in a shaker
Bread that's watin' for the baker…
If you touch me God save you,
These summer nights are hot and blue."
Mr. Gorman perfectly expressed this sassy, sultry blues and the audience responded enthusiastically.
This showcase gave the singers a chance to present songs of all sorts. Mame Maloney, who works at the Academy, sang an arrangement of the Hank Williams song Cold. Cold Heart and Sentimental Journey made famous by Doris Day. Gil Hoy is a natural song stylist and his interpretation of Mr. Cellophane from the musical Chicago set a standard for cabaret performance.
Ann Scott's lovely voice regaled the audience with All Through the Night and Moonfall.
The young Sarah Faringer, in costume and with winning gestures became Second-Hand Rose. Didi Grainger, looking lovely in a black fur-trimmed dress sang La Vie en Rose made famous by Edith Piaf, and a lively rendition of La Diva de l'Empire by Satie.
Art song was also represented by Claudia Wooten who sang three short whimsical songs by Eric Satie and later a set of three colorful Spanish songs by Enrique Granados. It was amazing to see how much feeling could be communicated by the arch of an eyebrow or the movement of the face by this accomplished recitalist.
Rachel Haskell, who sang songs by Maury Yeston and Ned Rorem, studies with Karen Scott Hoy, as do Wilma Gerald and Pam Sherman.
Mrs. Hoy has been a major force in developing and promoting art song on this side of Hampton Roads. It was a pleasure to hear Kristin Ryan and Susan Kaufman
who study with Kathleen Franz, who was also present. Charlene Dimalanta
who teaches piano at the Academy played a musical interlude and accompanied several vocalists.
Thanks to everyone who offered us their musical talent to create such an entertaining evening. We look forward to many more.
Christmas Gift Suggestion: Samuel Ramey's Ev'ry Time We Say Goodby on Sony, SK 68339, with Warren Jones, piano. The Bowles songs discussed here and music by Cole Porter, Samuel Barber, Stephen Foster, Charles Griffes and George Gershwin.
Karen Scott Hoy Gives French Art Song Workshop
at the Academy of Music, October 23, 2004
To close what had been an excellent exploration of melodie, Anthony Colosimo, a senior at Christopher Newport University, sang Francis Poulenc's whimsical Le Bestaire, a cycle of six art songs written in 1918 on quirky texts by Guillaume Apollinaire. With Chuck Woodward at the piano the performance was polished, even though singer and pianist had only worked together during this master class.
Mrs. Hoy chose four composers to illustrate characteristics of French repertory: Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924), Claude Debussy (1862-1918), Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) and Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947). After a brief biography of each, with recordings to illustrate, she presented characteristics of the songs that emphasized how the music was unique to each composer.
Schubert's songs, translated from the original German into French, became a sensation in France and out of this popularity came a demand for songs by French composers. Fauré's songs were described by Mrs. Hoy as subtle and discreet, harmonically complex, tonally ambivalent, with less cadence and more flow to the vocal lines than the German models, using small intervals which require only a moderate vocal range. This quality attracts many singers to Faurés songs.
Debussy was the great innovator, bringing to his songs new concepts of harmony, tonality, tone color and form. His use of unusual scales and modes, like the whole-tone scale, became a basic tool of the Impressionists. His songs change meter and rhythm often, thus concealing the beat, resulting in the sense of having no bar line. The music seems to have a continuous, unbroken line with which he "paints" pictures of natural things, such as mist, rain, dusk, sunlight through leaves, the sea and the moon. With his music Debussy intensified the mood and clarified the meaning of the poetry.
Ravel loved to solve musical problems in his intellectual and innovative way. He chose satirical or fantasy texts, many with a Spanish flavor. A fine craftsman and miniaturist, he stated "My objective is perfection. Art, no doubt, has other effects, but the artist should have no other aim." He pushed tonality to the breaking-point, using dissonant, crisp harmonies. Carol Kimball, in her book Song says "He composed difficult, virtuosic piano accompaniments and often gave the piano the main musical interest of his melodies."
Reynaldo Hahn was born in Venezuela in 1874 but made a brilliant career in Paris. He is now best known for his elegant and charming songs (ninety-five in number) which are very melodic, require a limited vocal range using small intervals. He works to capture the mood of the poem rather than to set individual words, using interesting but not complex harmonies.
In the masterclass portion of the workshop, Debbie Harris sang W.A. Mozart's Oiseaux, si tous les ans, an example of the early German models that attracted French composers. The voice becomes scolding and a little sad discussing the coming of cold weather but perks up as the birds of the song seek warm climates so their loving can continue all year long.
Didi Granger sang Fauré's Au bord de l'eau (At the water's edge) with the flowing melody illustrating a text of two lovers sitting on the bank of a stream. The water flowing by is like their letting go of the world to focus on their love. Pianist and singer were complimented on their tempo, "A bit faster than written but it works well, it keeps your lovely flow going."
Regina South, a student at CNU sang Debussy's Nuit d'Etoiles (Starry night). Regina sees it as a happy song, a memory of past loves. At the original slower tempo it became a bit heavy for the voice. Chuck suggested that they try it with a little faster tempo. He concluded "performed faster, the stars twinkle."
Fauré's Ici bas! was performed by a talented high school student, mezzo-soprano Rachel Haskell. The text tells us that down here things fade, but the singer is searching for a land where this does not happen. Ms. Hoy suggested that she lay aside the music and focus on the hopeful quality of the text. This freed her performance as did a tempo adjustment.
Once again Didi Granger sang a Fauré song, Dans les ruines d'une abbaye: in the ruins of the cemetery two lovers come to enjoy being alone. Only at the end of the song is it revealed that they are actually two little birds who flit about and make love. Both teacher and student worked to find a place in the song where the singer can breathe. Regina South then sang Si mes vers avient des alles (If my verses had wings) by Reynaldo Hahn. Here they worked on the subtle elements of communicating French song. The change in the repeated performance was very pleasing to hear.
The third workshop with Agnes Fuller Wynne on British and American songs was held on November 20 and will be reviewed in the next issue. The final program in the series will be presented on January 8, 2005. We hope to see you there.
Agnes Mobley Wynne Teaches American and British Song
In the third workshop and masterclass in a series of four organized by Karen Scott Hoy at the Academy of Music, Agnes Mobley Wynn presented a brief overview of music by British and American composers on January 20, 2004
Ms. Wynn quoted her son Clinton: "Teachers teach you what they know, not necessarily what you need to know." She invited us to ask questions as she gave an outline of the differences and similarities of British and American song. "British songs reflect power with aristocratic formal grandeur even if they are settings of folk or church music." American music, by contrast, has incorporated folk songs of other countries, music of American Indians and African-Americans." Our composers do not have to be born into the intelligentsia - if you have talent you can succeed." Spirituals and hymn tunes have greatly influenced American art song as has blues and jazz.
The song Hark I Hear the Harps Eternal, with its part singing taken from Alice Parker's Appalachian Sketches was used to illustrate the beautiful simplicity of American song.
For this review I turned to Carol Kimball's book Song, A Guide to Style and Literature for a brief overview of British song. Kimball notes that the Elizabethan period was a high point. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was the poet and John Dowland (1563-1626), Thomas Campion (1567-1620), Henry Lewes and others composed the music. More than 20,000 songs have been set to Shakespeare's texts.
Henry Purcell (1659-1695) was the last great English composer until the twentieth century. "Purcell's songs endure as the cornerstone of British vocal music...his one true opera Dido and Aeneas is the last great English opera until Benjamin Britten. Many of his best-known and most-performed songs are found in his five operas..."
In the Victorian period (1838-1901) parlor songs with sentimental texts, strophic form and with only a tenuous relationship between text and music were widely popular and commercially profitable. Edwardian song composers Roger Quilter (1877-1953), Percy Granger (1882-1961), John Ireland (1879-1962), Gustav Holtz (1874-1934) and Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) shaped music of the twentieth century. There was cross-fertilization of English music by German romanticism, French impressionism, neoclassicism and modernism. This developing diversity can be heard in songs by Peter Warlock (1894-1930), Gerald Finzi (1901-1956), Frederick Delius (1862-1934) and George Butterworth (1885-1916).
Into this fertile mix came Benjamin Britten, the most prolific and famous English composer of the twentieth century. "His original and appealing songs to texts of the highest quality demand a singer of intelligence and musicianship."
Ms. Wynn gave a sketch of Ralph Vaughan Williams' (1872-1958) life to illustrate British composers and did the same for Americans Samuel Barber (1910-1981), Lee Hoiby (B.1926), Charles Ives (1874-1954) and as a contemporary, very active composer, our own local Adolphus Hailstork (b.1941). Her sung demonstrations of Dr. Hailstork's works included a setting of an Apache text translated as Go Now to Your Dwelling Place composed for her stepson's wedding, as well as Christmas Everywhere and A Woman's Song. Hailstork plumbs emotional depths with these complex, interesting settings that satisfy our modern understanding of issues of vulnerability and shared humanity.
In the masterclass that followed Didi
Granger sang Vaughan Williams' When Icicles Hang by the Wall
and explained before she sang "I love this song. I like the words,
the tempo. There is something funky and old fashioned about it." She
was directed to "Try singing at a slower tempo that illustrates
the sense of cold." The piano setting uses "cold" keys played in a
detached way, ably performed by Rachel Crumbly, pianist for the workshop.
Ms. Wynn suggested that looking at the audience and connecting is
necessary. "Don't feel judged, feel supported."
Later Ms. Granger sang The Daisies by Samuel Barber. Here they worked on singing through consonants to maintain a well shaped legato line. Ms. Granger's way of singing the song with a slight Irish brogue was very effective.
Barbara Paul sang The Call by Vaughan Williams. Ms. Wynn: "We could understand your words, the emotion shows through the lush musical foundation. "Your 'fs' and 'th' eat up your breath. By working on word emphasis you highlight certain phrases - elongate and live in those phrases.
Ann Scott sang John Duke's (1899-1984) I Carry Your Heart with text by e.e.cummings. There was an enormous excitement in the singer's expression. Ms. Wynn: "A song I do not know and it is just gorgeous. A good example of rule-breaking by an American composer. The chromaticism does not let the voice settle anywhere. You have a ton of breath; use it on selected passages. Pull back on the last 'heart' to almost a whisper. Think of being onstage and the influence of musical theater. Slow tempo allows the words to come through."
The sweetness and clarity of Ms. Scott washed over us with incredible power as she repeated the song. One can conclude that Ms. Wynn's own sense of drama and her romantic feel for the music informs her skill as a teacher.
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