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!
This week marked the official centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, so it seems only appropriate that we feature music from Lori Laitman’s song cycle Are Women People? on this edition of The Art Song Fix.
The text from the third movement, Take Pity, is excerpted from an 1894 speech delivered by Susan B. Anthony:
Now, women, if you haven’t any self-respect for yourselves, you should at least take pity on the men associated with you in your good works.
The singers perform a cappella without the support of piano accompaniment, perhaps a reflection of the lack of support early suffragettes may have felt for their cause.
Ironically the men sing the first notes of the song but thereafter echo the words uttered by the women, as if they immediately assume they have all of the answers but in reality only repeat the ideas of their female counterparts. The bass makes one final plea for pity at the end of the song, a humorous take on men finding a way to make women’s suffrage all about them.
You can hear the final movement of Are Women People? on our July 3 Art Song Fix, a setting of the text of the 19th Amendment itself.
Fourth Coast recorded the full song cycle in studio in January 2020, and we can’t wait to share the record with you upon its official release.
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!