Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tonight's the Night!

OK, yes.  I have been neglecting my poor little blog.  I promise that will change!

It's a good feeling to begin the day of a performance feeling comfortable with all of the music.  Tyson Deaton and I have spent this week putting everything together and merging our interpretations.  There have been arguments (as there almost always surely will be) and we have had to call the composer of one of the pieces to mediate.  But, everything has been settled now, we're on the same page and I feel like it's going to be a very good program.

One little note to my audience tonight.  The first half of this program is very heavy, dramatic, and maybe a little long.  It deals with war and death.  I just want you to know that the second half is lighter, more hopeful and much shorter.  If you make it through the first half, you're home free!

So, come on out and enjoy an evening of great poetry, good music and two good musicians (if I do say so myself)!!

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Brand New Song

I just love the smell of new music on the computer.

Today I received the finished score of "To a Stranger," a piece I commissioned from composer David T. Little.  The commission was made possible by a very generous grant from the Walt Whitman Project (Greg Trupiano, Artistic Director) in Brooklyn, and pianist Tyson Deaton.  It's a unique piece that, I think, captures the meaning of this poem.

The piece came with an interesting note from its composer saying,
In an odd way, this song is as much a stranger to me as the characters it discusses are to
each other. That is, I can’t say that it is recognizably my music, to the same extent that
another piece of mine would be. Still, as I was writing, I had a strange feeling that we
knew each other—this piece and I. That I knew what was to come next, though I didn’t
always know why; that the piece and I knew each other’s secrets, though it still felt slightly
foreign. Though this is nothing like I had ever experienced before, I suppose it’s fitting,
given Whitman’s words.
When I spoke with David this afternoon in a little Lincoln Center cafe in New York, we discussed how the piece captures a "subway moment" of one person seeing another and in an instant the thoughts expressed in the poem shoot through their head.  I'll talk about this more when I discuss the poem in a few days, but that moment was very much on Little's mind while he composed.  I think the music captures the formation of those thoughts and I can't wait to dive into it when I return to Knoxville.

It's a rare treat to begin work on a piece of music days after its completion.  I look forward to continuing the collaboration with David, Tyson and Carol!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Text Discussion #12: When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd - Memories of President Lincoln

William Neidlinger only sets the first verse of "Lilacs" in his song "Memories of Lincoln."  Rather than wade through all sixteen verses here, I am only going to discuss the verse Neidlinger set.  Some great criticism of the whole poem can be found here, and the whole text can be found here.

Lilacs at sunset in Ft. Tryon Park, New York.
Photo from berk2804 on flikr.
When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd,
And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in
          the night,
I mourn'd, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilacs blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.

A Change in Personnel

A quick little update regarding personnel for one of the performances.  Due to an unforeseen conflict, Carol Zinavage will not be able to perform with me on October 14.  Because of scheduling conflicts with the hall, among other requirements, I was not able to reschedule for a date where we were both free.  So, Tyson Deaton will now play this performance.  Carol will still prepare the program with me and remains a vital part of the team I've assembled for these performances.

A HUGE thank you goes out to Andy Wentzel and the faculty at UT for being flexible with me on this issue!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The First Rehearsal

I mentioned earlier that today was the first rehearsal for the recital with piano.  Well, it happened, and it was good!  It went much better than I had expected.  Those expectations aren't knock against the fantastic Carol Zinavage, I mean it to say that with repertoire like this, one never knows what putting the pieces together is going to be like.

Fortunately, we were both prepared and got through the Rorem, Richard Pearson Thomas AND the Urqhart sets in about an hour and a half.  If you're familiar with the Rorem pieces, you know they are very difficult individually for both the pianist and the singer.  Putting the two parts together is even more difficult due to the way they are sometimes set against each other and the close harmonies that result.  The Thomas pieces are even more problematic with the thick textures and complex rhythms and harmonies.

With "new" music, it's always interesting to go into a first rehearsal like this.  Usually there are few recordings available, if any, or those that are available are not good resources because (speaking generally) one performer is not prepared, the recording used an older edition of the score, or the quality of the recording is so that you can't really get anything from it.  So, you're going in a little blind, which isn't always a bad thing.

With that, I'm happy to provide a positive update and say that I'm very happy with today.  Being much further ahead of where you thought you were is always a pleasant surprise!!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Composer Spotlight - Gerald Busby

Gerald Busby is an absolutely delightful person, if you ever get the chance to meet him.  That opportunity came to me sort of by accident.  After I had decided what I was going to program on this Whitman recital, I had to get the music.  Most of it was available through the invaluable Glendower Jones at Classical Vocal Reprints.  However, Gerald's piece, "Behold this Swarthy Face," was not, and Glendower did not know whom I should contact to get it.  So, I put out an inquiry on Facebook to see if anyone knew how to get in touch with Gerald.  Nothing.  I searched online.  The material available didn't have any contact info that I could use.  He did have a Facebook page, but it didn't look as if he used it much, and I wasn't even sure if it was really him or not.  After exhausting the options I figured I had, I decided to email Thomas Hampson.  It was his album, after all, that introduced me to the work, so I guessed that he might be able to give me some guidance.  I found an email address for his NYC office and fired off a message, expecting to wait several days for a response since he was just a little busy with an international superstar career.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Musings on Preparation

I've spent the past month making the initial preparations of the music for this recital and have reached the point where I'm ready to start putting things together with a pianist. In fact, I'll have my first rehearsal with the wonderful Carol Zinavage on August 5.  We'll have about seven weeks (probably 7-14 hours) to put everything together before I have to travel out of town for another engagement.  When I return, we'll have four days (probably 2 hours) before the performance to brush up the work of August and September.  That might not sound like a lot of time, but in this business where operas can be rehearsed and performed in the span of two weeks, it's plenty.  (To highlight the luxury of time, I will have even less time with my other pianist, Tyson Deaton.  We will probably have 4-6 hours of rehearsal together before we give our first performance in February.  Because of that, we've been in constant communication on the music, discussing what we've learned from our solo practicing.  I'll have the advantage of having already performed the music when we have our first rehearsal, which will lighten the burden of our rehearsals.)

With that, I thought I would take a moment and share some thoughts on preparation and the music so far.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Text Discussion #11: Reconciliation - Drum Taps


Word over all, beautiful as the sky,
Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost,
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night incessantly softly wash again, 
          and ever again, this soil'd world;
For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead,
I look where he lies white-faced and still in the coffin--I draw near,
Bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Concert Dates Announced

Here are the dates for the Whitman recitals.  I'm very excited about these concerts and am looking forward to the prospect of adding a couple more to this schedule.

All but one date will feature the entire program.  Due to time constraints, the concert in Pembroke, NC will have a shortened program.  Those details will be available closer to the performance.  Carol Zinavage will play the concert in Knoxville and Tyson Deaton will play the other dates.

October 14, 2010: Knoxville, TN
February 17, 2011: Hartsville, SC
March 2, 2011: Pembroke, NC

See this page for more information!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Text Discussion #10: Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night - Drum Taps

Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night
(word in italics indicates cuts by Richard Pearson Thomas)

Vigil strange I kept on the field one night;
When you my son and my comrade dropt at my side that day,
One look I but gave which your dear eyes return'd with a look I shall never forget,
One touch of your hand to mine O boy, reach'd up as you lay on the ground,
Then onward I sped in the battle, the even-contested battle,
Till late in the night reliev'd to the place at last again I made my way,
Found you in death so cold dear comrade, found your body son of responding kisses,
          (never again on earth responding,)
Bared your face in the starlight, curious the scene, cool blew the moderate night-wind,
Long there and then in vigil I stood, dimly around me the battle-field spreading,
Vigil wondrous and vigil sweet there in the fragrant silent night,
But not a tear fell, not even a long-drawn sigh, long, long I gazed,
Then on the earth partially reclining sat by your side leaning my chin in my hands,
Passing sweet hours, immortal and mystic hours with you dearest comrade--not a tear, not a word,
Vigil of silence, love and death, vigil for you my son and my soldier,
As onward silently stars aloft, eastward new ones upward was your death,
Vigil final for you brave boy, (I could not save you, swift was your death,
I faithfully loved you and cared for you living, I think we shall surely meet again,)
Till at latest lingering of the night, indeed just as the dawn appear'd,
My comrade I wrapt in his blanket, envelop'd well his form,
Folded the blanket well, tucking it carefully over head and carefully under feet,
And there and then bathed by the rising sun, my son in his grave, in his rude-dug grave I deposited,
Ending my vigil strange with that, vigil of night and battle-field dim,
Vigil for boy of responding kisses, (never again on earth responding,)
Vigil for comrade, swiftly slain, vigil I never forget, how as day brighten'd,
I rose from the chill ground and folded my soldier well in his blanket,
And buried him where he fell.