FOURTH COAST ENSEMBLE'S BLOG
With the many thunderstorms we’ve been experiencing in Chicago this summer, one song has been on regular rotation in my mental playlist: Margaret Bonds’ Summer Storm, from her Songs of the Season cycle with texts by Langston Hughes.
A Chicago native, Margaret Bonds was born in 1913 into a musical family. Her mother, organist Estelle C. Bonds, was her first music teacher, and a close family friendship with Florence Price led to piano and composition lessons with the brilliant composer while Bonds was still in high school. In fact, Bonds went on to perform Price’s piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933. She later moved to New York, where she studied at Juilliard Graduate School and dedicated much of her career to supporting and advancing Black musicians and composers.
Simply put, we should know Margaret Bonds and her astonishing work much more than most of us do.
It was both exciting and challenging to dig into this particular song: Bonds embraces a broad palette of musical styles and colors in her work, and this song showcases that. From a blues-like anticipation of “July thunder” at the start, the music whirls into quick and angular “lightning in the sky, and a sudden gale that shakes the blossoms down.” The piano part then illustrates petals falling down like “confetti in your hair, confetti on the ground” as the vocal line gets swept into the love story unfolding in the “soft, sweet rain.”
The real thunder turns out to be a pounding heartbeat of being “hand in hand”, happy through the storm, with one’s love. Bonds creates a soaring ending that hearkens back to the start, exulting through Hughes’ words: “July thunder, in my heart, the wonder of love [...] The wonder of being in love with you.”
A fitting sentiment for today, in particular, as we celebrate Bridget’s July wedding this morning. Congratulations, Bridget - love to you and Elliot, and wishing you fairer weather than the thunderstorm in this song!
Today's #artsongfix is Travels' End, by Chicagoan Florence Price.
Mary Folwell Hoisington's poem is narrated by a weary traveller who longs to sleep peacefully, as they did once in their childhood bed. Price's hymn-like piano accompaniment creates a prayerful atmosphere for the narrator to confess in the final line:
I would that your sheet might be my shroud,
And I in earth be laid.
A sweeping melody in the piano part brings the song to a deeply satisfying conclusion.
This performance features bass-baritone David Govertsen and pianist Maria Sumareva on FCE's November 9, 2019 American Woman concert at St. Paul and the Redeemer in Hyde Park, Chicago.
To learn more about Florence Price's remarkable life, visit the African American Art Song Alliance website. To view a list of her works, check out the African Diaspora Music Project database. Many of Florence Price's works are available for purchase in sheet music at Classical Vocal Reprints.
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!