THE ART SONG FIX
Fourth Coast Ensemble's Blog
La vie en rose is the song that launched cabaret singer Édith Piaf to international success. The original 1947 Colombia Records pressing of the single sold a million copies in the U.S. and was the number one best selling single in Italy that year. Piaf, who authored the lyrics, collaborated with a number of composers on the music, although the musical authorship was ultimately attributed to Luiguy. This became one of Piaf's signature songs and was included on most of the subsequent albums she recorded in her lifetime.
However, success was hardly prescribed in her life. She fought to overcome many difficult circumstances to achieve success as a chanteuse, starting right from the beginning when her mother abandoned her at birth. She was raised in a brothel until age 14, when her father took her on the road and trained her as a street performer and acrobat. She became a young mother herself at age 17, and overcame extreme stage fright to make her cabaret debut at age 20. Music changed the course of her life over the next 10 years, until 1947 when she would record La vie en rose.
Knowing the basic facts of Piaf's life, one can appreciate the sentiment of this song even more. The title translates as "Life through rose colored glasses," and the lyrics describe the protective emotional cloak that a love affair can provide at it's height. "When you press me to your heart / I'm in a world apart / A world where roses bloom." This bittersweet sentiment was at the core of Piaf's greatest hits and very identity: life may do its best to break you down, but as humans we can still find beauty when we choose look for it.
I hope you enjoy this performance from Fourth Coast Ensemble's March 3, 2020 Between the Lines concert, featuring my own rendition of this iconic song with pianist Kuang-Hao Huang.
In loving memory of Wayland Rogers, December 26, 1941-September 9, 2020
I was first introduced to the music of Wayland Rogers when pianist Dana Brown handed me a big stack of sheet music in his office in 2014. I had just joined and helped found Fourth Coast Ensemble, and we were looking for music to perform on an upcoming concert. Dana pointed out some songs that he thought might work well in my voice, and let me know that Wayland lives here in Chicago and is very responsive to singer's inquiries about his music.
Wayland was a warm and supportive colleague with a highly developed ear for ensemble singing, honed over his years as conductor of the The Camerata Singers of Lake Forest, music director of North Shore Unitarian Church, and as a professional ensemble singer himself in the Chicago Symphony Chorus. As I worked my way through the stack of sheet music Dana had given me, it was clear that these songs were written by a composer with a deep understanding of the human voice. They left space for the voice to bloom and soar, and had Wayland's quintessential balance of accessibility and complexity.
Since that day six years ago, not only have I had the pleasure of performing many of Wayland's solo art songs on concerts across Chicago, but Fourth Coast Ensemble went on to commission and premiere his 2018 song cycle for vocal quartet and piano, I-Thou.
Upon initially completing the composition of I-Thou in 2017, Wayland invited us to his Bucktown home for a ceremonial "handing over of the scores," so to speak, where he led us in a poetry reading and accompanied us on piano in the first sing-through. He radiated from his place at the keyboard, and we all left buoyed by the joy of having created something beautiful together. Our ensemble's relationship with Wayland flourished during this period.
He shared himself generously with Fourth Coast Ensemble, propelled by his lifelong love of the art song genre. In a card written to the ensemble this past May he wrote:
Art song has been my prime musical concern as a performer, teacher, and listener for a lifetime. I'm so grateful that you are so ably promoting the form and giving it new life and direction.
Today I'd like to share the ensemble's November 2019 performance of "Encounter I" and "Encounter IV" from I-Thou. Earlier in the summer of 2019, the "Encounter" movements from I-Thou had been adapted for choir and given a performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. Of that performance, the Washington Post wrote:
[Conductor Doreen Rao] led the combined choirs entering from the back of the hall in Wayland Rogers’s “Encounter" ... Rogers writes fluently and effectively, and segments of this straightforward work would be reprised at critical junctures during the program, lending unity to the whole.
Although I wasn't there, my heart smiles thinking of hundreds of singers filling the aisles of the Kennedy Center, ringing out the music of Wayland Rogers.
I will miss his loyal friendship, but his music continues on in our hearts, and in the hearts of every singer who knew him.
Read Wayland's obituary here.
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!