Today Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lies in state in the nation’s capitol, the first woman to be so honored. She spent her career advocating for women’s rights and gender equality and leaves behind a legacy that has inspired countless citizens.
This past week I have reflected fondly on the times that I was fortunate to personally interact with Justice Ginsburg. A well-known lover of opera, she made regular pilgrimages to the Santa Fe Opera where I was lucky to perform over several summers. She was also involved in a number of panel discussions concerning opera as it relates to the law, and I count myself blessed to have taken part in one of those sessions. (There is nothing quite like performing a Gilbert & Sullivan song only to have its contents immediately dissected by a justice of the Supreme Court!) It is an experience I will always treasure.
This week’s Art Song Fix looks back on our American Woman concerts, which celebrated many of the civil rights advancements that Justice Ginsburg tirelessly worked for over a period of decades.
American composer Jennifer Higdon utilizes texts from the Civil War era in her song cycle Civil Words, among them an excerpt from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. Lincoln speaks to a nation at war:
With malice toward none, with charity for all…let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.
The mood is somber, the piano part thick and plodding, the harmonies searching desperately for resolution. Higdon paints a vivid picture of the sixteenth president: a leader seeking to inspire hope and reconciliation in a country entrenched in battle. As the United States continues to experience civil unrest in the present day, Lincoln’s words seem as timely as ever. May we soon achieve a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
Rest well, RBG.
Lincoln’s Final was recorded in November of 2019 at St. Paul and the Redeemer in Hyde Park, and features pianist Maria Sumareva.
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 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 #artsongfix!