Uniting Voice, Music and Words

Word, voice and music came together during “The ABCs of Song: Songs of Adams, Barber, and Copland.” The performance was part of the Art Song and Artistry Series held by the UC Irvine Vocal Arts Department of the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, and directed by Vocal Arts Professor Darryl Taylor.  Students performed well-known song cycles by celebrated American composers such as H. Leslie Adams, Samuel Barber, and Aaron Copland on Friday night.  The night was divided into three sections, each dedicated to one composer.

Courtesy of Kylie Ching

Courtesy of Kylie Ching

The first section, “Five Millay Songs” by H. Leslie Adams, explored poetry written by Edna St. Vincent Millay, a famed 20th century American writer and poet.  G. Thomas Allen accompanied by Junko Nojima on the piano took to center stage. Allen particularly stood out with his unique tone and countertenor voice.  Both Nojima and Allen set the tone for the performance, as voice and piano seemed to exchange messages and unite as one to create a unique art form. Adams is known for adding lyricism to his music and with the addition of music, it was clear that he is able to convey a deeper connection between the texts and the emotions.

In “For You There is no Song,” Allen expressed Millay’s suppressed feelings and inner tension, as Millay was unable to write down her emotions for a lover. The gaps of musical interlude subtly increased the emotional intensity of the words highlighting Millay’s struggles. The audience was heavily impacted by the lyrics.

The second set greatly differed visually, with women dressed in long purple dresses seated in chairs, accompanied by piano again played by Nojima.  Students took turns performing solos, each portraying a different story captured by Samuel Barber, which he deemed as “Hermit Songs,” that focus on various religious ideas.  Some songs had a sense of darkness and gloom such as “Church Bell at Night,” which captured the sense of a single bell ringing on a windy night through minor chords and long, drawn out phrasing of the lyrics. Other songs celebrated the presence of heavenly people at a banquet with an upbeat and merry tune.

The last and perhaps most entertaining set was “Old American Songs” by Aaron Copland. A group of male students dressed in plaid took on the persona of “Old America” along with their accompanying pianist, Saya Hazel, who explained the challenges of uniting voice and music.

“It is a collaborative process which makes it challenging some times to follow the singer,” Hazel explained.

Another performer, Elias Berezin, expressed other difficulties. “The most challenging thing was putting everything together with so many different stories,” Berezin said.

Their hard work and determination to overcome these challenges were reflected in the group’s ability to convincingly portray their characters. They gathered around one student with an acoustic guitar to recreate a campfire-esque sense of camaraderie among brothers.

Joanna Mackinson, an audience member and UCI student, said, “I enjoyed the last set the most.  It was upbeat, light, and easy to listen to.  The actors were really animated and looked like they enjoyed the performance, which made it fun for me to watch.”

The last song, “Ching-a-ring Chaw,” concluded the program with a fast pace and comical ending that brought the voices of the last set together as one.

The unique collaboration between voice, word, and song in “The ABCs of Song” ultimately brought together a new art form, and one that more people should experience in order to recognize the greater emotional impact music can add to words.