ForumCategory: Looks at Books (and Poems)Follow Up On “An Introduction to Art Song for Writers”
admin Staff asked 1 month ago

I promised to put up some more resources for you about art song. There is so much exploration you can do on your own if you just type “art song” into your favorite search engine but I realize a little guidance and some links can be useful.

I was, unfortunately, unable to find a single resource which I think would be a good intro to art song in general (though you may certainly start with Wikipedia, no shame in that, as it does provide a kind of overview.) I found a little online presentation which may be interesting – but it only focuses on the German composers and not very extensively at that. There are some nice music selections and a well-done animated video of one of the most famous art songs, „The Erlking“ which you should definitely consider watching. You can find the presentation here.

Hannah asked about contemporary poets and poets of color. When it comes to contemporary poets (i.e. the ones really writing now) you kind of have to look for individual poets and see if anyone has set them. In those cases, sometimes there are collaborations between composer and poet (like the one Patricia Hampl mentioned with composer Alvin Singleton.) Hannah asked about contemporary poets and poets of color saying it would be interesting to hear voices that speak more similarly to how we speak today. I’m not sure if this was an accidental conflation of “contemporary” and “of color” but just in case there is any doubt: there are plenty of poets of color that were from the turn of the century or first half of the century and also earlier. Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou, the latter of which Hannah specifically mentioned, overlapped, time-wise, with, say, e e cummings and William Carlos Williams who were on my program (see below on why the former two were not included). When it comes to actual contemporary writers: I didn’t realize that it felt to anyone like the way people spoke back then was all that different from today, but it is interesting to hear that it might be the case, and I will bear that in mind for when I expand this recital into full length.

I would like to add a note on performing songs to the words of writers of color, however, because I struggled with this idea as I put together my recital and then didn’t realize the issue may not be entirely obvious to you, which is why I didn’t even mention it during the concert: There are only so many pieces to texts by poets of color I can sing because, remember, there is a performative aspect to this and I’m not a person of color. I’m not sure how to deal with this except to try to find pieces where the text is more universal but sometimes trying to fit in a text by an artist of color which is appropriate for a white person to perform feels like white-washing because so much is stripped away. To put it into some context: In my dissertation on American music for Czechs I spent a lot of time trying to explain the complex admiration/appropriation of white American composers for/of African American artists and their music from whence, even Bernstein admits, the true American voice developed, even within the realm of classical music. I used the opera Porgy and Bess by the Gershwins as an example – the mixed reactions it got from African American reviewers of the time perfectly incapsulates the complexity of America’s relation to its own heritage. Even the Gershwins, though, who were very much men of the 1920s, as their opera attests, demanded that white singers never sing their opera! I would love to perform the cycle Songs of Separation by William Grant Stills, for instance, because I love that cycle but it would feel to me like ruining something I like (and I’m sure everyone would agree I shouldn’t sing the last song of this cycle, to a text by Langston Hughes, which contains the repeating line “I am a black Pierrot” – which is also the climax of the cycle, so a lot would be lost without it.) When you add performance to the mix, you simply open a whole new venue for appropriation, because all performing is appropriation – after all, when you perform you take into your own body someone else’s experience and ideas. I think we can all agree that there are certain contexts within which performing someone\’s experience may minimize that experience. This is an idea which is not new, I realize. To me, this is specific to performing, though some extend it to writing, too, so I guess this is something for you, as writers, to think about as well.

Here are a couple on-line art song databases:

The Art Song Project: This is a database by a piano-vocal duo that records all sorts of (mostly lesser-known and previously unrecorded) songs from all different eras and in different languages and makes them available online.

Song of America: This is a project started by baritone Thomas Hampson which provides information about, as well as recordings of, American art song, complete with a little video presentation about teaching American history through art song.

For those of you who are interested in listening to lesser-known music, I do recommend Spotify, which you can download for free. They sometimes have recordings I cannot find elsewhere. But – YouTube is also vast, as you know. Sometimes the quality of the recordings on YouTube is not that good (a lot of beginning singers putting up their performances) but at least it can give you an idea. At your local library, you will find books in English dealing with art song but these are not readily available, here. All I have at home, if anyone cares to borrow, is: American Art Song and American Poetry (Ruth Friedberg and Robin Fischer) and the book on Emily Dickinson and music I mentioned, Musicians Wrestle Everywhere (Carlton Lowenberg).