By Ace Gangoso
Almost exactly one year ago, we were singing in what would—unexpectedly—be our last concert of 2020. What a way to end my debut season with Fourth Coast Ensemble! Here we are a year later bouncing back, having recently kicked off of our Origin Stories concerts, live in HD. While we are all beyond excited to bring you these new performances, I still look forward to these blogs for The Art Song Fix because it gives us the opportunity to look back and reflect on how far we have come, in more ways than one.
My song of choice today is “In a Sentimental Mood” by Duke Ellington. I must confess, I never really expected to be singing a jazz standard in a concert with “Chicago’s classical vocal quartet.” Shame on me! Of course, this was the point of the concert (entitled Between the Lines) which explored the boundaries surrounding what is typically considered classical vs. non-classical—in this case, jazz.
Duke Ellington was a very gifted musician and songwriter, and a pioneer with his own attempts to blur the lines between classical and jazz. Teaming up with Billy Strayhorn, he sought out to write a multi-movement orchestral work telling the story of Black Americans, particularly through the lens of religion and slavery. Black, Brown and Beige premiered on January 23, 1943 and was met with mixed reviews, and, like his other large-scale works, never garnered widespread acclaim.
We must consider, however, that classical music circles were even more Eurocentric at that time than they are today, and society at large more rampant with unchecked white supremacy. The insulting saying “good enough for jazz” was borne out of ignorance and hatred not just of the music, but its creators. Who knows what would have happened in a more equitable time and space, with ears more ready and willing to hear new sounds from a person of color on the concert hall stage.
Here and now, at the end of Black History Month in the year 2021, it is evident that some progress has been made. I was tickled to get to use my falsetto croon and improvise riffs on this song immediately after singing full-throttle on Agustin Lara’s “Granada.” In classical concerts, you would often hear jazz pieces (if included at all) tucked in towards the end or used as an encore, presented as lighter fare in comparison to the more “serious” works that preceded it. But good music is good music, a good song is a good song, and every style and genre deserves to be respected and represented. Depth and virtuosity can be shown in a myriad of ways. May we continue to challenge our minds and senses, draw the circle wider, and grow the Fourth Coast family beyond what anyone would have ever dreamed!
In honor of the upcoming opening concert of Fourth Coast Ensemble’s HD season on February 20, we are excited to share our most recent virtual collaboration: Morten Lauridsen’s choral setting of “Sure on this Shining Night.”
This is a song that we’ve never sung before, and, in fact, we never could have performed before now because the vocal lines split into more than four parts! One of the benefits of collaborating remotely is that the quartet is able to record multiple vocal parts amongst ourselves, giving everyone the pleasure of hearing Lauridsen’s signature tone clusters and rich harmonies as-written.
James Agee’s enigmatic poem portrays the internal experience of an individual who finds healing in contemplating the night sky. Despite “wandering far alone,” the individual still looks at the “starmade shadows” and feels that “all is healed / all is health.” Lauridsen’s setting brings out the lyricism of the poetry with wonderful sweeping melismas for the voice, and simple flowing movement in the piano.
The first vocal divisi occurs mid-way through the song on the text “High summer holds the earth / Hearts all whole”. The shimmering tone clusters heard here continue to re-appear and radiate throughout the remainder of the piece. Although the vocal part settles into a satisfying and well-earned stillness at the end, the piano twinkles on, perhaps representing the onward movement of the stars overhead.
Like the wanderer in the poem, we each recorded apart from one another. However, the music has in fact given us the opportunity to find healing and health as we marvel at the sky we all share.
Learn more about Fourth Coast Ensemble's 2021 HD Season and purchase your subscription here today!
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!