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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Listening at the Keyhole, Pt 3

Our next conversation will be questions from Kristen Smith who will sing "Sonnet" from Night Dances on our Women's Voices Concert on March 9 at 6 p.m. at Syntax Physic Opera.

Here is the response from Juliana:

How was Night Dances conceived?  Did you compose the set of songs to share a similar theme, but could stand alone as solo pieces, or are they part of a cycle?

Each of my song cycles from 1985 to the present - including NIGHT DANCES - is designed as a "set" of songs; the theme or main idea of the cycle gives each individual song its strongest context...and this is why performance of entire cycles is preferable when possible.

That said, however, many singers have opted to perform individual songs (as you are doing in this performance) and that is also great.  My songs can certainly stand on their own, and can be enjoyed when included in small sets of my songs (again, as you're doing here) or when they're included with songs by other the song "Sonnet" is both an essential part of this song cycle, its ending song, but has also on many occasions been performed, and even recorded, as an independent song outside of the song cycle context in which it was originally conceived.

Where the poems suggested when the cycle was commissioned or did you select the poetry?  What was it about the poems you selected that seemed to fit within the idea of the song cycle?

When I was commissioned, I was given complete freedom to choose a theme and to find whatever poetry I felt would best illuminate that theme musically.  All the poems touched upon one aspect of the night in one way or another, from the chirping of crickets to the experience of nightmare, a lullaby and a song about insomnia, a song about a spider sewing its web at night, and finally "Sonnet" - about the healing power of music that leads to the rhythm of sleep.

How did the text of 'Sonnet' by Elizabeth Bishop influence your composition of the music?

"Sonnet" was unusual (and still is within my whole body of work) because it begins with the soprano singing unaccompanied through three lines of music, sort of a declaration of the singer's need for music, with the piano joining only when that declaration is over and the poem turns to describing the qualities of music.

I notice a lot of text painting in 'Sonnet.'  What were your reasons for aligning text with musical representations?

That has to do with the purpose a song serves, to me at least, which is to convey to the audience the words of the text (whether that is a poem, a letter, a fable or a diary entry) with a focus on illuminating in musical form the magic within that text, the authentic voice of the text's author, and the various meanings held within the poet's words.  When composing, I try to supply a sense of color, atmosphere, a sense of time and rhythm, that will open the listener's imagination to what the words of the text are saying, and in a way that will help the listener connect deeply with the words...text painting plays an important role in much art song composition, as it speaks to that listener's imagination directly.

What to you, is the  most important part of composing an art song?

That is the most important question one can ask, and my answer is always: the text.  Poetry, and other types of personal and literary writings, capture many amazing things that we often take for granted in the most ordinary of circumstances, bringing out beauty, and magic, and meaning where we might overlook them during our busy the purpose of the art song is to transport that special text to the audience, to share those wonderful, beautiful, magical insights with the audience...with the goal of writing music that allows those texts to be heard without the aid of printed copies of the texts.  As much as possible, the composer should strive to write in a way that makes it easy for a singer to project a text out to an audience member with clarity and beauty, so that listener in the audience may be touched by the poet's words.

I hope you enjoyed this article and please come to our upcoming show, "Women's Voices" live at Syntax Physic Opera on March 9, 2017 at 6 p.m.

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