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Resounding Verse

Author: Stephen Rodgers

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Join music theorist Stephen Rodgers as he explores how composers transform words into songs. Each episode discusses one poem and one musical setting of it. The music is diverse—covering a variety of styles and time periods, and focusing on composers from underrepresented groups—and the tone is accessible and personal. If you love poetry and song, no matter your background and expertise, this show is for you. Episodes are 20-40 minutes long and air around the first of every month.
16 Episodes
The Haitian-American composer Nathalie Joachim transforms a Haitian hymn, and in so doing creates a multi-layered tapestry of sound that evokes the many voices of Haiti—past, present, and future."Resevwa Li" comes from Joachim's Grammy-nominated 2019 album Fanm d'Ayiti (New Amsterdam Records), featuring the Spektral Quartet.Resevwa LiMen n’ap proche devan ou GranmètAvèk tout ti kado n yo papaLi mèt tout piti kou li ye,Tanpri resevwa liAdye papa soupleKisa pou m ta ba ouOu ki fè tout bagayOu ki mèt tout bagayKado nou pot pou ouSe tout jefò n ap fePou peyi n devlopePou lavi nou pi bèl.Receive ThemWe come before you, GodWith all of our little gifts, FatherAs little as they may bePlease receive themOh father, pleaseWhat should I give youYou, who make everythingYou, who create everythingThe gifts we bring to youAre all of our effortsTo benefit our countryFor our lives to be the most beautifultranslation by Nathalie Joachim
Connie Converse was one of the first singer-songwriters, an uncommon talent who predated Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. But she was barely known in her day, and after making a handful of low-fi recordings in the 1950s, she disappeared in 1974. Her songs weren't widely known until some of those low-fi recordings were released on CD in 2009. This episode looks at one of her most affecting songs, which appears on Walking in the Dark, a recent album by soprano Julia Bullock, in an arrangement by Jeremy Siskind. Julia Bullock performs the song with Christian Reif.For more information on Connie Converse's songs, go to her page on my website, Art Song Augmented. Also, be on the lookout for Howard Fishman's book about Connie Converse, To Anyone Who Ever Asks: The Life, Music, and Mystery of Connie Converse, which is forthcoming in May 2023.One by OneConnie ConverseWe go walking in the dark. We go walking out at night.And it's not as lovers go,Two by two, to and fro,But it's one by one.One by one in the darkWe go walking out at night.As we wander through the grassWe can hear each other pass,But we're far apart.Far apart in the darkWe go walking out at night.With the grass so dark and tallWe are lost past recallIf the moon is down.And the moon is down.We are walking in the dark.If I had your hand in mine,I could shine, I could shineLike the morning sun,Like the sun.
We know very little about the German composer Marie von Kehler (1822–1882), who served as a "lady in waiting" to a princess and seems to have been acquainted with Johannes Brahms. But we do know that she wrote over eighty songs that were published over a decade after her death—none of which had ever been recorded until Stephan Loges and Jocelyn Freeman recorded four of them for my website Art Song Augmented. This episode looks at one of the best Kehler song's, a setting of a poem by Julius Sturm about a strange prayer that someone says to a beloved who has wounded him.For more information on Marie von Kehler's songs, go to her page on Art Song Augmented and check out my blog post on her on the Women's Song Forum.Nur einmal möcht' ich dir noch sagenJulius SturmNur einmal möcht' ich dir noch sagen,Wie du unendlich lieb mir bist,Wie dich, so lang mein Herz wird schlagen,Auch meine Seele nie vergißt.Kein Wörtlein solltest du erwidern,Nur freundlich mir in's Auge sehn,Ja, mit gesenkten AugenlidernNur stumm und schweigend vor mir stehn.Ich aber legte meine HändeDir betend auf das schöne Haupt,Damit dir Gott den Frieden sende,Den meiner Seele du geraubt.———Just once yet I would like to tell youHow endlessly dear you are to me,How as long as my heart still beatsMy soul, too, will never forget you.You need not reply with a single word,Just look kindly into my eyes,Yes, with lowered eyelidsJust stand before me, speechless and quiet.But I laid my handsPrayerfully upon your beautiful head,So that God might send you the peaceThat you have stolen from me.Thanks to Sharon Krebs for her help with the English translation.
Carolyn Forché's 46-page poem "On Earth" forms the basis for a song cycle called The Blue Hour, which was composed by five women—Caroline Shaw, Shara Nova, Rachel Grimes, Angelica Negrón, and Sarah Kirkland Snider—and just released on CD this month by Nonesuch and New Amsterdam Records. This episode looks at one of Caroline Shaw's contributions to the cycle, a song that embraces Bach and plainchant and, in just over three minutes, captures the immensity of time and the cosmos. The episode features a recording of the song by the chamber ensemble A Far Cry, with Shara Nova.You can find the score to The Blue Hour here. Please also check out my episode on Caroline Shaw's "A Gradual Dazzle." Firmamentan excerpt from Carolyn Forché's "On Earth"firmament, fissure, flare stars, frottagefragments from the Second Brandenburgfresh wind of the linensfrom a gloved hand a flaming bottlefrom chance to chance, event to eventfrom earth to satellite, event to eventfrom our last train ride through the ricefieldsfrom the cathedral comes Kyrie
Francis Jammes's poem depicts two lovers who sit on a bench, alone together under the shade of overhanging branches. But it's not clear if the scene is real or imaginary. In her setting of the text, Lili Boulanger heightens the poem's sense of mystery—and also the poetic speaker's anxiety that the blissful moment may only be a figment of his imagination.You can find the score to Boulanger's song here.The episode features the a recording of the song by tenor Nicholas Phan and pianist Myra Huang, from their CD Clairières: Songs by Lili and Nadia Boulanger. Learn more about Boulanger's songs, access her scores, and hear another performance by Phan and Huang on my website Art Song Augmented, an online forum devoted to songs by underrepresented composers.Nous nous aimerons tantby Francis JammesNous nous aimerons tant que nous tairons nos mots,en nous tendant la main, quand nous nous reverrons.Vous serez ombragée par d'anciens rameauxsur le banc que je sais où nous nous assoirons.Donc nous nous assoirons sur ce banc, tous deux seuls.D'un long moment, ô mon amie, vous n'oserez...Que vous me serrez douce et que je tremblerai...We will love each other so much that we won't speak but just stretch out our hands to each other when we see each other again. You will be in the shadow of ancient branches, on the bench where I know we will sit. So we'll sit on that bench, alone together.For a long moment, o my sweetheart, you won't dare... How sweet you will be to me, and how I will tremble...
Thomas Walsh's poem and Mary Turner Salter's setting of it capture the moment between day and night—and the desire to linger in that moment as long as possible.The episode features the first-ever recording of Mary Turner Salter's "Afterglow," performed by soprano Camille Ortiz and pianist Gustavo Castro and engineered by Joseph Wenda. I commissioned the recording for Art Song Augmented, my website devoted to art songs by underrepresented composers. Learn more about Salter's songs, access her song scores, and hear three other performances by Ortiz and Castro on her Art Song Augmented page.You can find the score to Salter's song here and a video recording here.Afterglowby Thomas WalshOver the orchard one great star;The mellow moon—; and the harvest done;And the cheek of the river crimsoned farFrom the kiss of the vanished sun.
Nathaniel Bellows’ poem and Sarah Kirkland Snider's haunting setting of it—from her song cycle Unremembered—revisit the site of a childhood trauma and meditate on innocence and the mechanisms of memory.  The performance of the song features vocalists Padma Newsome, DM Stith, and Shara Worden, and the Unremembered Orchestra (members of ACME, Alarm Will Sound, ICE, The Knights, and Sō Percussion), conducted by Edwin Outwater. In the episode I discuss Nathaniel Bellows' illustration that accompanies his poem; you can find this illustration, as well as the others associated with the song cycle, on the Unremembered website.The Riverby Nathaniel BellowsOn the banksThe wash so brownThe shadows blueThey’re blackI saw the formAstride the loamSplayed out uponIts backA bear, a dogA bed, a logA child’s eyesAre pureUntil the handsOf the missing manWere clear againstThe dewThe river’s flowA blackened bowThat tied aroundOur townHad sapped his lifeLike a lantern’s lightBuriedUnderground
Anne Carson's poem and Caroline Shaw's mesmerizing setting of it meditate on the feeling of being in and out of time.The recording of the song, which appears on the album Let The Soil Play Its Simple Part (Nonesuch, 2021), features Caroline Shaw and Sō Percussion (Eric Cha-Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, and Jason Treuting).
The 21st-century Mexican composer Rodrigo Ruiz sets a text by the 19th-century German writer Heinrich Heine. In so doing, Ruiz channels 19th-century musical style and offers a deeply moving interpretation of a poem about the loss of love and the death of an artistic tradition that Heine once held dear.The performance of the song features soprano Grace Davidson and pianist Christopher Glynn.The song appears on the CD An Everlasting Dawn.  Check out Ruiz's recent CD of chamber works, Behold the Stars, on the Signum Classics label, and be on the lookout for Signum's release of his song cycle Venus & Adonis.
Kendra Preston Leonard's poem and Lisa Neher's song—about a man who sells fresh fruit on a summer day—celebrate something sumptuous where we would least expect it.The performance of the song is by Arwen Myers, who is also featured in a previous episode about a song by Florence Price.Be sure to check out other collaborations by Kendra Preston Leonard and Lisa Neher,  especially the works in their micro-opera festival. Strawberry Manby Kendra Preston LeonardThe Strawberry Manand his little pinto ponySweetness, slakedin the city streetPoem reproduced with permission from the author
Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is one of the most famous poems in the English language, and it has been set to music by many composers. This episode explores an extraordinarily inventive setting by the Black American composer Margaret Bonds (1913–1972), recently recorded by bass-baritone Justin Hopkins and pianist Jeanne-Minette Cilliers.This recording comes from a playlist created by Hopkins and Cilliers, which includes performances of music by Florence Price and Margaret Bonds.To access a published score to the song, see Louise Toppin's anthology Rediscovering Margaret Bonds: Art Songs, Spirituals, Musical Theater and Popular Songs. Toppin, a professor of voice at University of Michigan who has been a longtime advocate for Bonds's music and the music of other African American composers, has also done a wonderful video recording of the song. See also the list of Bonds works published by Hildegard Publishing Company.Learn more about Bonds's songs, access her song scores, and hear another performance by Hopkins and Ciliers on Art Song Augmented, my website devoted to art songs by underrepresented composers.Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Eveningby Robert FrostWhose woods these are I think I know.   His house is in the village though;   He will not see me stopping here   To watch his woods fill up with snow.   My little horse must think it queer   To stop without a farmhouse near   Between the woods and frozen lake   The darkest evening of the year.  He gives his harness bells a shake   To ask if there is some mistake.   The only other sound’s the sweep   Of easy wind and downy flake.  The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   But I have promises to keep,   And miles to go before I sleep,   And miles to go before I sleep.
In Julia Johnson Davis's poem "To My Little Son," a mother imagines what her baby boy will look like when he's twenty-one years old, and wonders whether, when he's grown up, she'll see glimmers of the boy in the man. Thinking of her own son, Florence Price turned to Davis's poem and created a song that is nuanced, affecting, and deeply personal. The recording of “To My Little Son” is by soprano Arwen Myers and pianist Monica Ohuchi. Learn more about Price's songs, access scores, and hear video performances of her songs by bass-baritone Justin Hopkins and pianist Jeanne-Minette Cilliers, and countertenor Darryl Taylor and pianist Deborah Hollist on Art Song Augmented, my website devoted to art songs by underrepresented composers.To My Little Sonby Julia Johnson DavisIn your face I sometimes seeShadowings of the man to be,And eager, dream of what my son Shall be in twenty years and one.But when you are to manhood grown,And all your manhood ways are known,Then shall I, wistful, try to traceThe child you once were in your face.
Maya Angelou's poem "Phenomenal Woman" tells women that they don't have to conform to conventional ideas of femininity. Farayi Malek uses her voice to amplify Angelou's, and to lift up the voices of other women who at times struggle to feel comfortable in their own skin—and who deserve to feel phenomenal just as they are.The recording of "Phenomenal Woman" features the following musicians:Farayi Malek, voiceJason Yeager, pianoMargaux Vranken, organAaron Holthus, bassJas Kayser, drumsLihi Haruvi, alto saxKiera Harman, trombone Aiden Lombard, trumpetPhenomenal Womanby Maya AngelouPretty women wonder where my secret lies.I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's sizeBut when I start to tell them,They think I'm telling lies.I say,It's in the reach of my armsThe span of my hips,The stride of my step,The curl of my lips.I'm a womanPhenomenally.Phenomenal woman,That's me.I walk into a roomJust as cool as you please,And to a man,The fellows stand orFall down on their knees.Then they swarm around me,A hive of honey bees.I say,It's the fire in my eyes,And the flash of my teeth,The swing in my waist,And the joy in my feet.I'm a womanPhenomenally.Phenomenal woman,That's me.Men themselves have wonderedWhat they see in me.They try so muchBut they can't touchMy inner mystery.When I try to show themThey say they still can't see.I say,It's in the arch of my back,The sun of my smile,The ride of my breasts,The grace of my style.I'm a womanPhenomenally.Phenomenal woman,That's me.Now you understandJust why my head's not bowed.I don't shout or jump aboutOr have to talk real loud.When you see me passingIt ought to make you proud.I say,It's in the click of my heels,The bend of my hair,the palm of my hand,The need of my care,'Cause I'm a womanPhenomenally.Phenomenal woman,That's me.
The protagonist in Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem looks upon a tree that has died and wonders what caused it to wither. She stands apart from the scene, awed and perplexed, but at a crucial moment enters the scene and takes a decisive action. In H. Leslie Adams's song, that action seems even more decisive—and even more brutal.The recording of "Branch by Branch" is by Darryl Taylor and Robin Guy, and comes from a CD called Love Rejoices: Songs of H. Leslie Adams.Branch by Branchby Edna St. Vincent MillayBranch by branch this tree has died.Green only is one last boughMoving its leaves in the sun.What evil ate its root,What blight,What ugly thing?Let the mole say,The bird sing,Or the white worm behind the shedding barkTick in the dark.You and I have only one thing to do,Saw, saw, saw the trunk through.
In Nikolaus Lenau's poem "Scheideblick" (Parting Glance) a man leaves his beloved and, as he departs, imagines sinking his happiness into the ocean. Josephine's Lang's setting of the poem evokes the ebb and flow of the sea, and also the ebb and flow of the emotions associated with it.For more on Josephine Lang, see Harald and Sharon Krebs's book Josephine Lang: Her Life and Songs. The recording of “Scheideblick” is by mezzo-soprano Milagro Vargas and pianist Susan Manoff. Learn more about Lang's songs, access her song scores, and hear video performances of six of her songs by tenor Kyle Stegall and pianist Eric Zivian on Art Song Augmented, my website devoted to art songs by underrepresented composers.Scheideblickby Nikolaus LenauAls ein unergründlich WonnemeerStrahlte mir dein tiefer Seelenblick;Scheiden musst’ ich ohne Wiederkehr,Und ich habe scheidend all mein GlückStill versenkt in dieses tiefe Meer.Like an unfathomable ocean of joyYour soulful gaze shone for me;I had to take leave, knowing I would never return,And as I departed I quietly sank All my happiness into this deep ocean.
Announcing a new podcast about poetry and song. Join music theorist Stephen Rodgers as he explores how composers transform words into songs. Each episode discusses one poem and one musical setting of it. The music is diverse—covering a variety of styles and time periods, and focusing on composers from underrepresented groups—and the tone is accessible and personal. If you love poetry and song, no matter your background and expertise, this show is for you. Episodes are 20-30 minutes long and air on the first of every month. The podcast launches on Tuesday, June 1, with a batch of three episodes.The trailer features a clip from Farayi Malek's song "Phenomenal Woman" (sung by the composer) and Josephine Lang's song "Scheideblick" (performed by mezzo-soprano Milagro Vargas and pianist Susan Manoff).
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