THE ART SONG FIX
Fourth Coast Ensemble's Blog
This beloved 20th century art song floats in on a cloud of nostalgia. The narrator recalls a single moment – most of us have experienced at least one – where time stood still and everything was right in the world.
Robert Hillyer's poem awakens the senses as he recalls the sights, sounds and scents of being in love while living abroad at age twenty. The memory becomes more intoxicating with each new detail: It was a summer morning. Perfect greenery hung overhead. The sidewalks smelled of fresh rain as they were being washed down.
American composer Ned Rorem spent a formative decade of his own life living in France from 1949-1958. He brings the poem to life with a lilting melody and gently rocking gestures in the piano. Perhaps there is a single twinge of longing for the pleasures of youth as the narrator looks back on that distant moment; but then again, there is pleasure in keeping the memory alive across the years, too.
As you listen to this song, perhaps you will take a moment to resurface your own memories of youth, travel, and love.
Please enjoy this performance, featuring myself with pianist Mark Bilyeu, live in concert on February 2, 2017 at the State Street Gallery in Chicago.
By Ace Gangoso
The holiday season is most commonly associated with joy, family, abundance, festivities, and nostalgia. Each year as it approaches, I try to stay mindful that, for many, this time of year also comes with struggle. Many go without basic comforts, and there is likely someone you know who will have to bear the sight of an empty chair at the dinner table. This year, the weight of this reality is even more pronounced, and so it is crucial that we allow ourselves and others the space to express sorrow, to grieve, and to mourn. We have all experienced some form of loss over the past several months, ranging from the death of a loved one to job loss and the ability to do a multitude of things that were previously considered to be normal.
I offer the words of James Joyce set to music by Miriam Gideon to allow us a pathway into this realm—not to wallow, but to help us welcome the full spectrum of experiences that make us human, and appreciate the beauty that can emerge from pain.
“She Weeps Over Rahoon” is sung from the perspective of one standing at the grave of a lover, mourning and contemplating her own mortality. It begins without introduction, calling to mind the suddenness with which grief can strike. There is a feeling of unease and imbalance brought on by the contrasts between the vocal and piano lines. The melody moans and weeps, moving with straight eighth notes, sometimes quite dramatically up and down throughout the range. The accompaniment is more transparent, featuring triplet arpeggios that resemble a gentle but constant trickle of rain—subtle, almost indistinguishable from the falling of tears.
Through these moments of intense grief, we feel nature’s embrace: the pale moon watches over, the nettles reflect its light, and the rain mutters in sympathy. There is great power and profundity in the quiet presence of nature, which is constantly moving and changing in spite of us and our worries and our dreams. It carries on. As long as we are here on this earth, so must we.
Hello, and welcome to the blog! We are Fourth Coast Ensemble, Chicago's classical vocal quartet. Join a different member of our ensemble each week for insights into our favorite art songs, links to archival and new recordings, and reflections on why we value and continue to come back to this musical medium. We proudly present, your weekly #artsongfix!