Friday, July 10, 2009

Programs I, II, III

Two days into our summer recital series, I can tell you we're all having a great time!

The performances are going well, and we love doing our new programs.

For the first two weeks (July 9-18) we have three different recital programs.
Program I (July 9 & 18) features some Purcell songs sung by Catherine followed by selections from Dichterliebe sung by Mark. Catherine has a beautiful set of mainly Irish folk songs, followed by some English art song hits done by Mark. We end with a Musical Theatre set based on a theme of "remembering".

The program we did today was Program II, which we repeat on Thursday, July 16. Mark begins the concert with the wonderful song cycle A Shropshire Lad by George Butterworth. Powerful stuff. Catherine then sings a beautifully selected set of songs in English by a variety of composers. It is such an amazing collection of wonderful poetry in stunning settings. The two singers then alternate to cover most of the Old American Songs of Aaron Copland. I find it so interesting to hear this set of songs shared between soprano and baritone. Catherine and Mark have chosen well songs that suit each of their personalities. A bit of Sondheim rounds out Program II.

Tomorrow's recital will feature more English art songs for baritone followed by several German Lieder sung by Catherine. She is performing music from two German composers: Clara Schumann and Franz Schubert. Exquisite and thrilling songs. In particular, I continue to be amazed at how Schubert creates a whole world in each of his songs. At the end of each one, I truly feel like I've been taken away somewhere. If there is time tomorrow, I may play a piano solo or two (TBA, I will likely choose something according to what the moment feels like). Then the program ends with some more Musical Theatre selections: this set's theme can be described as "tearjerkers". I plan to pass the Kleenex box around. This program which we call Program III will be repeated on Friday next week, July 17.

More info to come regarding the specifics of July 23, 24. We're really excited to be presenting a special guest artist/friend of "the Poet Sings", Rachel Mallon, soprano, who will be performing with me on our final concert on July 25. Again, more details on the program will come to this space soon.

Right now, some rest & focus before the next show...

So much fabulous music!


The Poet Sings - facebook event

Another source of info on this 2009 summer series:

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Preparing for the summer concert series

Our 2009 concert series begins on Thursday this week! 

The process of preparing for this set of concerts has many aspects.  We really enjoyed doing the Poet Sings summer concert series last year, and we felt we wanted to reprise the idea.  Once we decided to go ahead with this project, we had some discussion regarding dates.  Should we do four concerts weekly as we did last year, or perhaps focus in on fewer dates?  Should we keep the same timeslot (11am) so that theatre-goers can still make it to lunch before seeing a matinee?  As all three of us have other commitments, we were able to focus in on the dates quite easily.  We decided to go with just three times a week this year: Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, (July 9-25) and we felt that keeping concerts to 50 minutes in length as we did last year would also work well again.

Then came the fun part: deciding on repertoire!  As the Poet Sings has performed together many times in the past year or two, we are enjoying a rapidly increasing list of songs to choose from, but all the same, we are adding many new pieces to our repertoire this summer.  Please see Catherine's and Mark's posts below for some of their thoughts on choosing songs.  I really enjoy the process of crafting the programs; building an event that has a feeling of flow, unity, and sufficient contrast is something I never tire of doing.  As I observed the other day in one of our rehearsals, because of the particular styles and personalities of both Catherine and Mark as artists, we have a built-in sense of balance as a starting point in all of our programs.  As you read in their posts below, Catherine tends to favour the slower tempo, lyrical, and expressive. To this "yin" tendency, Mark brings the "yang", strong and character-filled, masculine aspect. For the first two weeks of concerts, the audience will hear Mark and Catherine alternating throughout each program, and finishing each program with a duet or two. 

Today we meet to rehearse a little more, and I believe we'll be focusing on some of the Musical Theatre duets.  We'll tell you more about these wonderful pieces a little later.  

Another aspect of putting together this project is, of course, the matter of promotion and advertising.  In this time and place, many artists have to double as their own managers and PR people.  This is a bit challenging as we really have so much to do in just preparing the music. So, please tell your friends and ask them to tell their friends...

We look forward to sharing all of this great music with you soon!


Friday, July 3, 2009

Catherine's song choices

So, a strange thing happened while picking my English songs this year. I love singing in English, not only because of the beautiful poetry that is often used, but also because the text is so immediately accessible to the audience... Needless to say, I have a million songs that I would like to sing and I always have a hard time picking! This year, I brought a nice big pile to Sandra to have a bit of a sing-through, and she pointed out that almost all of the songs I picked, (I'm talking 90% of them!) were in either F major or B flat major! In programming a set, this can be problematic because even if the songs contain different harmonic progressions, rhythmic motives, poetry and melodies, it all ends up sounding like a wash of the same landscape over and over. And that leads to sleepy listeners! This is not something I had noticed while sifting through my top choices, but I thought, OK, I'll check the back-up repertoire that I had brought to see if we could get some more key variety in the set... They were all in F major or B flat major as well! So, what is going on here? I admit to being especially fond of a certain type of song -- long lyrical lines, beautiful text, and most likely on the slower side -- but why are composers writing this type of piece in these keys? I don't really have an answer but I have been throwing around some ideas. Range could be one factor, but then, as a soprano, I could be singing lots of songs in G major or A major (those being common high notes in a art song for my voice type), so that doesn't quite answer this for me. More interestingly, many composers talk about the feel of certain keys. There seems to me to be a certain warmth and intimate "softness" in many of the flat keys (with which F major and B flat major belong) and a brightness and perky positivity associated with sharp keys. This is not a quantifiable statement but something that some composers and musicians seem to agree upon. The feelings generated by specific keys themselves are most clear when looked at from the view-point of those with synesthesia. Although this is a very rare condition, I think it is worth looking at. Those with synesthesia will see a colour when they see a number, or taste something when they see a colour. In other words, their sense of smell, taste or sound are somehow involuntarily connected. More relevant to this discussion is that some synesthetes see colour when they hear music! And, amazingly, some (though not all synestheses) seem to agree upon what colour or range of colours a particular key or note produces. (For an informative history of synesthesia and music, check out this link:
Let's focus on F major for a minute. According to Rimsky-Korsakov (a synesthetic composer) the key of F major is green, which makes sense since most of my F major pieces are about nature and love or both. In the baroque time, works based on pastoral themes were often written in F major. Even more interesting, (to me anyways) is that the heart chakra (love again!) corresponds with the key of F and is also linked to the colour green! (Check out this site if you want to read about chakras, music, and colour:
Now, I'm not suggesting that all of my song selections were written by composers with synesthesia, but if some people have an amplified connection between keys and colours, couldn't us regular folk be drawn to certain keys when looking for a certain timbre or emotional response? Maybe I'm going a bit far with this, but I don't think much of coincidences.
As for our up-coming recital series, I feared that I should dig into even more repertoire and find a variety of key signatures to round out the set. Lucky for me, lovely Sandra Mogensen offered to transpose a few of them (yes, she can transpose a piece at sight beautifully!) to make sure that we aren't all just 'seeing green' for 15 minutes!
Enough of this chat for today though... now I need to memorize!

Mark's 2009 concert repertoire

I thought that I would put up a little information about how I chose the repertoire for this years' concert series. Last year I picked all of my favorite pieces like the The Songs of Travel, Let Us Garlands Bring, and Don Quichotte. For this year's concerts I went back to my Peabody days and revisited the Dichterliebe. I always like pieces that have a story line. I really feel that you can divide the piece into a little play, or opera. For this series we thought that a selection would fit our concert length better than performing the whole work. I decided to sing the beginning 4 pieces, then 7, 8, 11, and 12. Schumann has written a really beautiful postlude for piece 12 (Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen), and it seemed that we could give an abbreviated performance while still keep the feeling of the piece.

My second set I created. I was trying to come up with some sort of "Sea Farer", or 'The call of the sea" themed set. I could only find a couple of pieces that I thought really fit, so in order to keep "Sea Fever", (a song by John Ireland that I really like), I thought I would do a set of English composers. I have one song each from J. Ireland, Quilter, Finzi, Vaughan-Williams, and Butterworth. There are obviously many more great English composers, but this is a good representation of my favorite. The other selections of the set after Sea Fever are Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal, To Lizbie Brown, Bredon Hill, Silent Noon. I end this set with Silent Noon, which I think is my favorite piece in art song literature.

"A Shropshire Lad" from G. Butterworth is my third set for this series. This is another cycle of songs that has a very strong storyline. This is another a cycle of songs, like "The Songs of Travel", that my first voice teacher Gordon Finlay tried to get me to sing, but when I first went through them, they did not speak to me. Now, just like "The Songs of Travel", when I look back I don't know what I was thinking. This set is worth traveling for just to hear "The Lads in their Hundreds", the fifth song in the set. It talks about all of the different kinds of people that are lost in war, and how when you see them in the street you will never know that they will soon die.

My final set this year is shared with Catherine. We are splitting up the Old American Songs. Catherine divided the selections up very evenly. She took all of the pieces she really loves, the beautiful slow pieces, and I got the fast, or funny left-over pieces. No, really, I love all my pieces... Aaron Copland is one of my favorite composers. I wish that he had written more for the male voice. This was always music that I jumped at learning in undergraduate, because it is so accessible. Now that I learn music for fun, not school-work, I love these pieces for the depth of the accompaniment either in the orchestral or piano medium.

Hope to see you there,


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Concert Schedule

We have NINE concerts scheduled for the summer season of 2009:

Thursday, July 9
Friday, July 10
Saturday, July 11

Thursday, July 16
Friday, July 17
Saturday, July 18

Thursday, July 23
Friday, July 24
Saturday, July 25

All concerts are at 11 a.m. and last approximately 50 minutes.
Admission is $15 at the door, free for students.

Concerts take place at beautiful St. James' Anglican Church,
41 Mornington St., Stratford, Ontario.