FOURTH COAST ENSEMBLE'S BLOG
Friends, it is now September. Somehow, despite the bizarre timewarp of our current coronavirus existence, we have traveled through the heart of the summer months and landed in the start of autumn. And back to school.
As a child, I loved this time of year. The excitement of new school supplies, curiosity about what I’d learn, and return to the classroom was thrilling for me. (Knowing my nerdiness as an adult, it should come as no surprise that I was just as nerdy - if not more so - as a kid.) I was deeply serious about digging into questions, imaginative play with classmates, and anything having to do with animals.
So many of these childhood memories and emotions come vividly to life in Lita Grier’s Five Songs for Children, which Bridget and I performed with pianist/curator Dana Brown in our Wine, Women & Song parlor concert series two seasons ago. We are especially fortunate to call Grier a friend of the quartet, and had the privilege of coaching the songs with her in advance of the performance recorded here. Her insight was invaluable!
Each short song in the cycle is a distilled encapsulation of the poem it features, uniquely matching the words and content of each distinct poet; yet the set feels a complete, cohesive whole. There is a clarity and directness to their presentation of a child’s perspective, while avoiding oversimplification or childishness. The voices of these children (through the poets and music) are taken very seriously, as indeed they’d take themselves.
Speaking of voices, Bridget and I worked closely with Lita to find tone colors for the performance of these songs that would best suit this intention. While still singing with our whole voices, Lita pushed us to seek a leaner side of our sounds, capturing a child’s perspective without caricature. It was also a fun challenge for us to find new ways to match one another’s tones - sharing a song cycle originally intended for a single singer - while honoring our individual voices, and making specific choices for the sound world of each song. From pure enthusiasm in Afternoon on a Hill, to imagination in The Seashell, the mystery and surprise of Someone, serious wonderment of Who Has Seen the Wind? and finally joyful celebration of song in The Bluebird, each song brings a different mood of childhood to light.
Do any of these speak to you? Which song captures a bit of your childhood memory best? We’d love to hear!
By Ace Gangoso
Atreus, Cadmus, and Alcides aren’t household names these days, but one need not be well-versed in Greek mythology to understand the singing poet’s struggle in An die Leier. The song has a startling beginning with chords that crash and clash, painting a sonic picture of disaster and destruction. It is essentially the soundtrack to the year 2020.
The vocal line begins with a pompous war-cry, declaring honor and loyalty to these mighty heroes as if marching into an epic battle. However, the piano (representing the lyre) takes on a life of its own, modulating toward a more peaceful soundscape. And despite another effort to revert to the original bombastic tones, the sounds of love ultimately win. The transitions are almost comical, but reveal a certain truth: artists can falter, but art is pure.
As a musician, I have found it difficult at times to keep a hopeful and optimistic focus. What helps to pick me up and keep me going is witnessing the craftiness and ingenuity that continues to emerge despite our current circumstances. From online virtual performances to mini-concerts on balconies to murals and street paintings—creative life lives on and thrives. This week, in celebration of the women’s suffrage centennial, sculptor Meredith Bergmann unveiled statues of pioneers Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth in New York City’s Central Park.
These are all wonderful reminders that, even in the darkest of times, beauty and inspiration are all around. As makers and lovers of music, we have to keep the faith and support one another. Although our world is volatile and full of discord, art can lead us and change the tune.
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!