Sunday, August 30, 2009

When I have sung my songs to you, I'll sing no more.

I'm sitting at work on a prematurely-autumnal Sunday morning, and as my job entails practically nothing, I thought I'd write. I have a couple of clever ideas for blog entries up my sleeve, but I'm trying to save them so I don't post all the good stuff at once. So this entry is going to be pure self-indulgence. I'm going to talk about my art song obsession.

To come right to the point, I love almost every art song (and aria, for that matter) I've ever heard. Maybe love isn't quite the right's probably more accurate to say that I can't think of a single song that I can't stand. Most people have one or two--my voice teacher can't stand "Laurie's Song," for instance. I used to find "Vergebliches Staendchen" (oh, work computer, where is thy umlaut?) pretty cloying, but somehow even that has grown on me. I'm a sucker for the sentimental--I prefer Brahms to Wolf, for example, even though Wolf's choice of poetry is perhaps more inspired. But come on, can anybody really resist a great baritone singing "Wie bist du, meine Koenigin?" I don't think so. (And if you're reading this and haven't heard that song, or "O wuesst ich doch," or "Unbewegte laue Luft," especially Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's recording, you probably should get on that, like yesterday.)

I realized just now that I can trace my love affair with the classical voice repertoire back to the summer before my senior year of high school, when I spent a week at Oberlin Conservatory, in their Vocal Academy for High School Students. It was an eye-opening week. We each had to bring eight art songs, and at that point I knew virtually no art songs, except what my teacher had given me to prepare for this program. So this was my list: Sebben crudele, Se tu m'ami, Per la gloria, When I Bring to You Coloured Toys, Will There Really be a Morning (Ricky Ian Gordon), The Lass With the Delicate Air, and, hilariously enough, Plum Pudding from Bernstein's La Bonne Cuisine (at its fastest, 45 seconds of breakneck French). There was an eighth song too, but I can't put my finger on it.

That was the week that I fell madly in love with repertoire, and also the week I realized I needed to go to music school (not just major in music at a liberal arts college, or major in English and take voice lessons for fun). All of a sudden, this became my life. It was such a heady feeling. And the people I spent that week with are my friends to this day.

What I want to do, just for a fun time-waster of a challenge, is list all of the songs that were sung in the final concert that week. So here's that list, if I can remember everything, complete with brief comments on some of my favorites. In no particular order, just as I come up with them.

Nymphs and Shepherds (stole it and sang it for college auditions)

Angels, ever bright and fair

O, had I Jubal's lyre (still trying to make this one work for me...)

Per la gloria d'adorarvi

Danza, danza, fanciulla gentile (STILL hard for me!)

Alma nel core

O cessate di piagarmi

Frondi temere...Ombra mai fu

Vedrai carino (see Nymphs and Shepherds)
Batti, batti, o bel Masetto

Vaghissima sembianza

Have You Seen But a White Lillie Grow?

Un moto di gioia

Silent Noon

The Bird, John Duke (I'd love to pick this one up again now that I can sing pianissimo!)

The Vagabond

Down Among the Dead Men (down, down, down, down...)

The Singer, Michael Head (glorious! I sang this for the SAI recital last spring and loved it)

En priere (see Vedrai carino)

Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee

Lydia (still my favorite song by Faure, even though I've never sung's kind of a guy song)

Die Forelle

Vergebliches Staendchen

The Lass from the Low Countree

Come Ready and See Me (oh my God, I could listen to this song on repeat and never get tired of it...if I'm ever in a position to make a commercial recording, this will be on it.)

Come to the Fair (hi, ho, come to the fair!)

The Daisies (awwwww)

Der Neugierige (JAAAAA heisst das eine Woertchen...)

Widmung (I sang this in Schumann class back in January, and it's a delightful sing)

The Little Irish Girl (had such a crush on the guy who sang this, and the song still makes me laugh)

Miranda, Richard Hundley (Do yooooou remember an inn?)

La pastorella al prato

The Roadside Fire

Vinto sono (I remember thinking that those melismas were the longest I'd ever heard...)

An Silvia (I now have two recordings of this song--the Bryn Terfel one I bought when I got home from Oberlin, and the John Mark Ainsley one that I bought last year. The song has staying power!)

Panis Angelicus

Will There Really Be a Morning? (this was me, and I have a recording on my computer to prove it!

I think that might be all of them. Interesting thing--recently, my friend Daniel and I tried to list all of the people in our graduating class. It took a long time, and we found that we were forgetting people we'd had classes with for years, people with whom we'd been friends and since fallen out of touch. But I can remember the sound of the voices from this program as if it were yesterday, even though I've only seen three of these people since then ("Un moto di gioia," "Batti, batti" and "Alma nel core"). I'm Facebook friends with a lot of them, but certainly not all. Musical memory is very powerful. I can remember the music I listened to in various situations (at camp, in college, at Oberlin, in Colorado) more clearly than I can remember names and faces.

I took a musicology class on American Art Song this past year, and one of our papers was a group project where we analyzed a popular song as if it were an art song. My group chose "Beauty and the Beast," and I begged to be allowed to write the paragraph on nostalgia (did I mention I was a musicology minor?). I pointed out that although "Beauty and the Beast" is specifically constructed to harken back to an earlier musical period, any art songs can also become pieces of nostalgia if you have certain memories associated with them. For the students in our group, the sound of "Beauty and the Beast" made us nostalgic for our childhoods. Many of the songs on the above list make me remember fondly the dawning of my obsession with classical voice, even if they're not intended to be nostalgic.

This is the picture of my friends from Oberlin that was on my senior yearbook page. What a week!


  1. Nice blog! You know, I kept trying to think of art songs that I just can't stand no matter who sings them but I couldn't. Even "Gia'il sole dal gange" can be nice when sung well.

    I was gonna say I'm not a fan of Ned Rorem doesn't count because his music makes no sense ever.

  2. Ooh, I love "Gia il sole dal Gange." Of course, that's because the guy who sang "The Little Irish Girl" also sang that one.

    And I give Rorem kind of a big mehhh. I just don't know his stuff, and I don't feel any great yen to get familiar with it. Same with Ives. Some of it's cool, but hell if I want to learn it. Except "Ann Street," for obvious reasons. :)