Ah, the holiday season. A time for nostalgia, music, sending cards, decorating homes with lights, and - above all - enjoying special holiday foods! Favorite recipes and treats have the power to transport us in time to our childhoods, or make us feel suddenly closer to family, friends, and loved ones we may not otherwise get to see. Just a few nights ago, my mother and I were surprised to discover we were simultaneously making my great-grandmother’s Dutch Sinterklaas cookie recipe while halfway across the country from one another! Whether it’s grandma’s babke, an uncle’s spiced cider, or your cousin’s famous cheesy bread, everyone has one or two special dishes that signal holiday cheer.
So, without further ado, let Fourth Coast Ensemble offer you a new recipe to add to your tradition this year: “Tuna Supreme!”
Performed by the quartet and pianist Kuang-Hao Huang in the spring of 2019, composer Richard Pearson Thomas’ humorous Fish ‘n Chicks song cycle culminates in this zany finale. As text, Thomas sets a real recipe taken out of “Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook, 1950.” After a dramatic piano glissando, the close vocal harmonies mimic a Hollywood trio from that era, proclaiming excitedly: “TUNA SUPREME. A treat from the deep. A perfectly grand dish for women’s luncheons!” Yes, we have officially landed in 1950.
The music then flies off into the joyous “Fast swing tempo” of the recipe itself: a casserole with very specific ingredients, some of which may seem rather odd to our 21st Century gastronomic sensibilities. But the enthusiasm is infectious: from the walking bass line in the piano, to the rhythmic tenor and bass spoken section (you’ll know it when you hear it!) under a semi-improvisatory soprano vocalism, to huge crescendos and vocal glissandos, it’s a cooking experiment in Technicolor! And then, just when you think it’s over, Thomas reels you back in for one last dive through the animals celebrated earlier in the cycle, bringing it all to a true Hollywood finish.
What a treat!
We are connected to one another, whether we like it or not. We are, as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” While it may not always feel like it in American society right now, this messy conglomeration of people with different cultures of origin and values is still one (unruly, intersectional) body.
I’ve thought a lot about this interconnectedness while reflecting on "Love Knows not ‘Mine’ or ‘Thine’,” Wayland Rogers’ setting of Christina Rossetti from the ensemble’s 2018 commission, I-Thou. Traveling through this song cycle that investigates so many different human relationships, we arrive at this final movement that celebrates sharing and oneness. I’ve needed to let this song wash over me, and to marinate in its message this week. We are connected.
The movement begins with each voice on its own, a capella, calling out “in truth” - perhaps competing individual truths? - but then joining in one unison “truth” to state that “love knows not ‘mine’ or ‘thine’.” The voices move together in homophonic, simultaneous rhythm, while keeping consonant harmonies that make the music rich. All are together as one, while keeping their individual range and color. As the poem continues to refer to “both of us,” and “the love which makes us one,” the voices take their own versions of the same phrase while the music swells and grows in volume and range, until the four singers come back to unison - truly one. The final note rings in the air over an open, repeating pattern in the piano that feels like a sonic breath of fresh air. Openness, freedom, and unity in sound, as well as in text, to culminate the whole song cycle in “the love that makes us one.” After a cycle investigating conflict, dissonance, sarcasm, humor, beauty, and pain, we end up here: in harmony, through love.
Thanks for the reminder, Wayland. Here’s to the work of (messy, difficult, worthwhile) love.
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!