Music Speaks: One Ambivalent Shepherd

In our 2017 spring concert,

Rogers Road by Margie Guyot

Manitou Winds explores the meandering, mystical path connecting music and words.

Words and music have long been intertwined going back to ancient times and continuing into our modern era of singer-songwriters. But, it was the composers of the Romantic Era (1820-1900) who began to be so moved by contemporary poetry and literature that they began to explore ways to enhance words with music — adding nuances and emotions that words alone were incapable of communicating.1

Prior to the influence of Romantic idealism, words and music often joined together in a sort of marriage of convenience. Poems were often written to fit existing melodies while musical accompaniment would be matched to a poem with little more reason than a shared meter.2 Depending on the listener’s perspective, the relationship between music and poetry was seldom more than one being a colorful delivery vehicle for the other!

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, composers began to write music that spoke to their own interests and ideals rather an aristocratic patron’s wishes. No longer at home in the lavish ballrooms of the affluent, the forefront of musical development was to be found in much more informal parties held in private homes where men and women with interests in the latest poetry, literature, art, and music would gather to perform and be entertained.1 It was in this vibrant, scintillating atmosphere that the art song (i.e. lied) was created.

Perhaps the most famous Romantic to unite music and poetry in a passionate embrace was Franz Schubert (1797-1828). In his short lifespan of a mere thirty-one years, he lived the rough-and-tumble Bohemian life of a true Romantic: abandoning a career in teaching to pursue his passion — a move which made him virtually penniless, but enabled him to write more than 600 art songs (not to mention several masterpieces in other forms).

“When one has a good poem the music comes easily, melodies just flow, so that composing is a real joy.” 1
Franz Schubert

— Franz Schubert
(1797-1828)

Schubert’s approach to writing art songs had a lasting influence on the composers who would follow. Rather than merely writing music to accompany poems, he joined poetry and music in a way that sought to make them inseparable. He purposefully bent the rules of harmony and often broke with conventional ideas of form — expanding the vocabulary of music, enabling it to speak more clearly to the listener and get at the meaning of the poetry.

Within the staves of Schubert’s art songs, music forms an intimate, sympathetic relationship with the text. When the narrator of a poem feels sadness, there is a very purposeful shift in harmony to evoke that emotion. When there is a sudden burst of joy in the text, the music has often built up to that same passionate fervor even while the text was only beginning to hint at it.

Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (English: The Shepherd on the Rock), D. 965, was written in the final month of Schubert’s life and demonstrates his unique talent in marrying music and poetry. While arguably not an example of his most deeply-felt connection to a pre-existing text, Schubert was clearly showing off!3

Designed to be a showpiece for the famous operatic soprano Pauline Anna Milder-Hauptmann, he was instructed to write a work allowing her to express a wide range of feelings and emotions onstage. Perhaps because the clarinet was a fairly recent addition to the orchestra and yet another opportunity to add innovation, Schubert added a clarinet to the usual voice and piano combo.

For the text, Schubert wove together lines from three different poems written by two different poets. In effect, the song is divided into three fairly distinct segments. The first and third segments were excerpted from two poems written by Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827) — “Der Berghirt” (The Mountain Shepherd) and “Liebesgedanken” (Thoughts of Love) — while the middle section was written by K.A. Varnhagen von Ense (1785-1858), excerpted from his poem “Nächtlicher Schall”(Nocturnal Sounds).

When on the highest cliff I stand,
gaze down into the deep valley
and sing, and sing,
the echo from the ravines
floats upwards from the dark valley
far away.

The further my voice travels,
the clearer it returns to me
from below, from below.
So far from me does my love dwell
that I yearn for her more ardently
over there, over there.

With deep grief I am consumed,
my joy is at an end;
all hope on earth has left me;
I am so lonely here,
I am so lonely here.

So longingly sounded the song in the wood,
so longingly it sounded through the night,
drawing hearts heavenwards
with wondrous power.

Spring is coming,
Spring, my joy;
now I will make ready to go journeying.

Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, D. 965
Translation by Lionel Salter

Reading the text from a purely literal stance, it seems a bit vague if not overly-dramatic. Perhaps you also sense a change in voice between the two different poets. Here, Schubert’s music masterfully fills in gaps of emotion, meaning, and time left open by the words. Through carefully-placed harmonic changes and recurring, memorable themes, Schubert unites the poetry into a single voice. Through the union of words and music, you find yourself feeling the shepherd’s longing and just as easily understanding the sudden joy and hope of springtime.

It’s a marvel that he composed a piece filled with joy and hope while suffering from the very illness that doomed him to an early death. Sadly, we don’t know whether Schubert ever heard his piece performed. He certainly couldn’t have known how enduring it would be; he died only a month after completing it, and its premiere occurred nearly two years later.

Emily Curtin Culler, Susan Snyder, & Anne Bara

The trio of soprano, clarinet, and piano are in conversation and practically dancing throughout this song — a dazzling display of dexterity and vocal agility! A work of such range and depth is demanding for all the musicians involved. Manitou Winds is excited to present this Romantic masterpiece featuring Emily Curtin Culler, soprano; Anne Bara, clarinet; and Susan Snyder, piano.

We hope you’ll join with us in celebrating the coming of spring and the unity of words and music at our spring concert.

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Don’t miss

Music Speaks…

,

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Saturday, May 27th, at 7:30pm

Grace Episcopal Church
341 Washington St.
Traverse City

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Admission is free.
A freewill offering will be taken

References
1. Wright, C. (1996) “Listening to Music”, West Publishing Company; St. Paul, MN. pp. 245-249.
2. Grout, J. & Palisca, C. (2001) “A History of Western Music”, W.W. Norton & Company; New York, NY. pp. 448-449, 544-546.
3. Howell, C. (2013) “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen”; http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2007/Apr07/Hirt_430542.htm

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New Voices: Jenni Brandon

There’s an undeniable pleasure and pride that comes with reviving classic works written by the masters, but to select a piece of music which has little or no performance history and bring it to life presents a unique opportunity for the musician and the audience. Our May 1, 2016, concert entitled New Voices will be a program full of new music — all written within the past 20 years by living composers.

Compiling and researching the music for this concert has been a rich and rewarding experience for me and the members of Manitou Winds. Since the composers who created the music we’re performing are alive and well, we’re able to correspond with them, learn firsthand about their unique approaches to composition, and ask probing questions about their work. This more personal connection unlocks a new dimension of the musical experience.

Because she is a genuine and warmly personable musical personality, we’ve already highlighted composer Jenni Brandon more than once in our musical explorations. First, we whipped up a heartwarming coffee cocktail with Jenni Jenni-Brandonwhile discussing the surprising connection many composers have to coffee. Later, we talked about the challenges of being a modern-day composer while Jenni shared one of her favorite vegetarian breakfasts.

Now that we’re finally able to program one of Jenni’s works, I’ve recently been chatting with her about her work as a composer, looking for special insights into her unique style. “I come from a background of singing.” she says. “I love singer-songwriters such as Joni Mitchell and Tori Amos who were a big influence as I grew up doing a lot of my own coffee shop performances.” In the realm of Classical music, Jenni says she takes particular inspiration from Samuel Barber, Johnannes Brahms, Randall Thompson, and Morten Lauridsen.

Though Jenni composes music for many different combinations of instruments and voices, she says there’s a special place in her heart for choral music. Like many composers hoping to get their works performed, she often writes for special commissions — choirs or ensembles who present her with a specific request. Though these specific assignments can sometimes stretch a composer’s abilities to work under artistic constraints, she says she takes it all in stride, “I take on each commission with a fresh perspective and enjoy the story I can tell with each new Jenni Brandonproject.” When asked if she has a least favorite instrument or ensemble to write for, she insists she enjoys them all. “I’ll add a ‘most unusual’ to this,” she said, “I recently premiered a work for Flute Orchestra (piccolos all the way down to contrabass flute!) with SATB choir. It was a fun piece to write as I’d never written for so many flutes at once to play!”

At the moment, among other projects, Jenni’s working on an exciting oboe/bassoon duet (another special commission) which will be premiered this summer at the International Double Reed Society Conference. The duet will be a musical depiction of Glacier National Park. Jenni certainly has many irons in the fire — there’s even talk of a new opera!

Naturally, I’m excited to finally perform one of Jenni’s double reed works, On Holt Avenue (2006) for Oboe & Piano, at our upcoming concert. A four-movement sonata, each movement presents a small vignette from Jenni’s memories of daily life in her apartment in a particular Los Angeles neighborhood. Though in our program we only have time for three of the four beautiful movements, I tried to select the most contrasting scenes.

On Holt Avenue

Jenni says she’s recently switched to decaf, but the opening movement (Morning Coffee) is a stimulating, caffeinated experience — the melody shedding beats, growing jittery, and rising higher and higher before hitting that inevitable crash that always follows a caffeine buzz. The third movement (That Mockingbird) is a nod to Jenni’s feathered friend who kept her company ad nauseum just outside the window. The Jason McKinneyoboe’s lines shift, alternating between tender and song-like to harsh and grating — like a mockingbird imitating the songs of fellow birds and then the man-made sounds of the cityscape! The fourth movement (Daisies) paints a calming, beautiful still life of a vase of daisies sitting in a sunny backdrop.

I’m honored to present this evocative oboe sonata and even more thrilled to be working with our special guest, Susan Snyder, collaborative pianist at Interlochen Center for the Arts. Susan’s interpretation of Jenni’s piano score makes the colors of these vignettes truly sparkle. I hope you can join us for a stroll on Holt Avenue this May.

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Don’t miss New Voices
Sunday, May 1st, at 3:00pm
Frankfort United Methodist Church
537 Crystal Avenue
Frankfort

Admission is free.
A freewill offering will be taken to benefit the Benzie Wild Rose Society’s music scholarship program.

New Voices: Bonnie L. Cochran

There’s an undeniable pleasure and pride that comes with reviving classic works written by the masters, but to select a piece of music which has little or no performance history and bring it to life presents a unique opportunity for the musician and the audience. Our May 1, 2016, concert entitled New Voices will be a program full of new music — all written within the past 20 years by living composers.

Compiling and researching the music for this concert has been a rich and rewarding experience for me and the members of Manitou Winds. Since the composers who created the music we’re performing are alive and well, we’re able to correspond with them, learn firsthand about their unique approaches to composition, and ask probing questions about their work. This more personal connection unlocks a new dimension of the musical experience.

Many composers have the uncomfortable (or some would say blissfully ignorant) task of writing music for instruments they do not themselves play. In terms of music written for full orchestra or wind ensemble, it’s especially understandable considering the number of instruments represented. The most successful of chamber music composers, however, often write music featuring at least one of the instruments they know intimately. Bonnie L. CochranSuch is the case with Bonnie L. Cochran (b. 1975) whose catalog of compositions explores the many voices of the flute.

Bonnie grew up in Georgia and began composing music around the age of 12, but did not formally study composition until attending college and university where she eventually studied with John Heiss, John Clement Adams, Larry Bell, and Ronald Byrnside. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Music and Religious Studies from Agnes Scott College (Decatur, GA) and a Master of Music in Flute Performance from Boston Conservatory.

Perhaps the biggest impetus for her composing in recent years has been the formation of the Amaryllis Chamber Ensemble; an ensemble which she founded. The ensemble (a mix of violin, viola, cello, harp, and Bonnie’s flute) performs workshops and outreach programs as well as special events and concert appearances in and around the greater Boston area.

While searching for music for our New Voices program, finding Bonnie’s music was a happy surprise. The flute is capable of so many modern special effects and extended techniques (too many to list here!) that a large swath of modern flute music tends to explore these extra-musical sounds and effects rather than drawing the listener in with an intriguing melody. Bonnie’s music manages to be undeniably modern and yet unquestionably musical and so I knew her Suite for Flute & Piano (2003) would be an excellent fit for our concert.

The suite contains three movements and Bonnie says the melodies and especially the forms within the work evolved into their present form over the course of 6-8 years.

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

— William Blake (1757-1827)

Movement one (A Dying Rose) was inspired by Blake’s “The Sick Rose” — a text which Bonnie says both fascinated and haunted her from the moment she was first introduced to it. She says she originally intended the theme to be a piece for vocalist and piano however she gave into the urge to play it on her own instrument and so she can’t hear it any other way.

Movement two (Meditation) is “reflective in nature, a little sad, yet hopeful,” says Bonnie. Like many aspects of programmatic music, the colors and inflections of the harmony — though interpreted as exactingly as the composer penned them — can sometimes strike the performer or an audience member in different ways.

Sam ClarkSam Clark, Manitou Winds’ flutist, said that the title of “Meditation” originally seemed odd to her since the chromatic melodic lines drawn by flute seemed to suggest anxiety or distraction. Once she was in rehearsal with Susan Snyder, our guest pianist for New Voices, she realized the movement does reach a state of meditative peace in the last few measures with the aid of colors added by the piano.

In contrast to the more enigmatic and somewhat somber themes in the first two movements, the final movement of the suite (Little Dance) is “a light-hearted romp” according to Bonnie. While the first two movements of the suite explore the dark and breathy bottom register of the flute, the third movement travels higher and higher as the dance progresses. Sam and I agree that the third movement is both graceful and spontaneous — not unlike the dancing of an exuberant, young ballerina in training. Oh — and there is a surprise ending: one last flourish as the flutist graces up to a high A (the very highest note in the entire suite).

Three contrasting scenes combined into one fascinating little suite… we look forward to sharing Bonnie’s remarkable piece with our audience, this May.

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Don’t miss New Voices
Sunday, May 1st, at 3:00pm
Frankfort United Methodist Church
537 Crystal Avenue
Frankfort

Admission is free.
A freewill offering will be taken to benefit the Benzie Wild Rose Society’s music scholarship program.

New Voices: Deborah J. Anderson

There’s an undeniable pleasure and pride that comes with reviving classic works written by the masters, but to select a piece of music which has little or no performance history and bring it to life presents a unique opportunity for the musician and the audience. Our May 1, 2016, concert entitled New Voices will be a program full of new music — all written within the past 20 years by living composers.

Compiling and researching the music for this concert has been a rich and rewarding experience for me and the members of Manitou Winds. Since the composers who created the music we’re performing are alive and well, we’re able to correspond with them, learn firsthand about their unique approaches to composition, and ask probing questions about their work. This more personal connection unlocks a new dimension of the musical experience.

I happened across the music of Deborah J. Anderson (b. 1950), last fall, by pure chance. I was searching for a modern piece for our clarinetist, Anne Bara, but was having difficulty finding something that fit the mood of the program. So, as creative director, I Deborah J. Andersondecided to go in a different direction. I read a brief description of Deborah’s Five Songs for Kathleen for oboe, mezzo-soprano, and piano and decided to investigate further. To my delight, I was soon having a very cordial e-mail exchange with Deborah who gave me permission to transcribe the oboe part for clarinet.

Deborah says she began composing music around the age of six while growing up in Tacoma, Washington, but never pursued music or composition in academia. Though her schooling was primarily in French and language instruction, her catalog of compositions reveals a consummate musician with a unique flair for combining musical colors.

Five Songs for Kathleen (2007) is a brilliant song cycle combining the often bittersweet imagery of the poets’ lines with Deborah’s signature warm and graceful melodic writing.

Winter Sun

There was a bush with scarlet berries,
And there were hemlocks heaped with snow,
With a sound like surf on long sea-beaches
They took the wind and let it go.

The hills were shining in their samite,
Fold after fold they flowed away;
“Let come what may,” your eyes were saying,
“At least we two have had to-day.”

— Sara Teasdale (1884-1933)

Alhambra Summer Palace by Deborah J. AndersonI asked Deborah about the backstory of the song cycle. It turns out it was a surprise gift for a long-time friend from college. “Kathleen is a retired opera singer whom I met many years ago when we were both freshmen at Lawrence University.” Deborah says, “At one point, Kathleen found it difficult to maintain her singing career while balancing family life. I composed Five Songs for Kathleen to encourage her.”

The cycle brings to life the poetry of Sara Teasdale, Emily Dickinson, and Sheila Nickerson with the added bonus of a small poem written by Deborah, herself, entitled “Swift Feet”.

Adding this song cycle to our program has given us a unique opportunity to work with the talented Claire Olinik, soprano soloist from the Traverse City area. Claire says that she’s always loved the poetry of Sara Teasdale and Emily Dickinson. When asked to pick her favorite song from the cycle, she says she would have to choose Dickinson’s “No Surprise”.

Apparently with no surprise
To any happy flower,
The frost beheads it at its play
In accidental power.

The blond assassin passes on,
The sun proceeds unmoved
To measure off another day
For an approving God.

— Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Five Songs for Kathleen

“The poetry is so heartbreaking, yet matter-of-fact.” said Claire, “It’s been fun to play with those tones and try to find a balance.”

Rehearsal for this song cycle has also been a rewarding musical opportunity as we’ve enlisted the talents of Susan Snyder, collaborative pianist at Interlochen Center for the Arts, to bring Deborah’s Old World Echoes by Deborah J. Andersonpiano score to life. Susan’s interpretation enlivens the poetry further and allows the colorful duet of soprano and clarinet to soar.

Anne admits she initially worried the timbre of the clarinet would differ too greatly from what was originally scored for oboe, but she’s now in love with her part. While each song offers a chance for the clarinet to shine, certainly the most virtuosic moment is in Deborah’s setting of “Dolphin” by Sheila Nickerson. It features “dolphin calls” for both the soprano and the clarinet along with florid passages running up and down the instrument’s range — a colorful and vivid delight.

It would certainly be remiss to not convey what an inspiring experience it has been to work with a female composer who has set to music the texts of female poets. Likewise, it has also been a unique opportunity to place this special music in the hands of three very masterful women — together, perhaps, giving at least a modicum of long overdue vindication to the countless female composers who were overshadowed or suppressed throughout history.

Anne Bara, Claire Olinik, Susan Snyder

We look forward to sharing Deborah J. Anderson’s lovely song cycle with our audience this May and hope to explore more of her compositions in future programs.

Note: The beautiful watercolor paintings you see in this article were created by the composer, Deborah J. Anderson.

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Don’t miss New Voices
Sunday, May 1st, at 3:00pm
Frankfort United Methodist Church
537 Crystal Avenue
Frankfort

Admission is free.
A freewill offering will be taken to benefit the Benzie Wild Rose Society’s music scholarship program.