FOURTH COAST ENSEMBLE'S BLOG
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.
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!
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!