Setting the Text: From Poetry to Song, Copland Does it All!

In my third year as a voice student, I’ve come across some very interesting pieces. One of the current songs I’m working on is Heart We Will Forget Him, by Aaron Copland. I love his music because it really incorporates a lot of classical, jazz, and folk all in one, unique sound.

“Heart, we will forget him, You and I, tonight, You may forget, the warmth he gave, I will forget the light, When you have done, pray tell me, That I my thoughts may dim, Haste, lest while you’re lagging, I may remember him” -Emily Dickinson

This piece is part of a collection Copland composed from 12 poems by Emily Dickinson that he beautifully set to music. From the work I’ve done on Copland pieces, I can definitively say that Copland perfectly displays the textual meaning behind the song.

aaron copland

When I first received this song, I thought, ” Great, another one of those 20th century weird tonality pieces and will be hard to get in my voice.” However, I brought it to a coach, and really began to understand the meaning behind the song.  I finally had some context to this song. When the song starts out saying “Heart, we will forget him,” I realized that it was a self narrative. She’s ( the singer) talking to her own heart. The poem is an entire conversation of trying to get her heart to forget someone she once loved. It really made me feel sympathetic once I had a full understanding. This gave so much context to Copland’s musical setting of the piece. He has a lot of speeding up and slowing down in the tempo. I think the intention behind this is the narrator trying to have certainty in wanting to forget about her lover. Copland’s piece really makes it so that the important words are stressed throughout. My favorite line of the piece is “Haste, lest while you’re lagging, I will remember him.” I saw this as the narrator trying to say that her heart better hurry up and help her forget, yet she’s already has started to remember. He illustrates the words by speeding up the word “haste” and slowing down “lagging.” With the bigger ritardando on “him,” I think Copland perfectly sets the tone of the narrators reluctant, sweet remembrance.

Another note in this piece is how there is a very “ambiguous” key signature. It seems to mostly be in E flat major, but with many added sharps and flats throughout the song, it leaves a little bit of free-ness and spontaneity. I think this is also by design. By Copland having a slight step into the realm of atonality, it makes the piece more conversation-like. He also does this by not having too much going on within the rythmn of the piece. It leads to seeing an form of art within words that makes the listener feel the emotions of the text.

 “I followed the natural inflection of the words of the poems, particularly when they were conversational. There is a certain amount of what is called ‘word-painting’–an occasional bird-call, flutterings, and grace notes in the introduction to the first song ‘Nature, the Gentlest Mother,’ the bugle-like melody for the voice in ‘There Came a Wind Like a Bugle,’ and so forth.” Aaron Copland on the compostion of Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson

I think the Aaron Copland’s descriction of his ‘word painting’ is really important in understanding the songs meaning. This is an incredibly useful tool in composition. What if more songs used this method? Don’t you think more songs would be more lively?

 

Hit or Miss? An in Depth Look at Lana Del Rey

Earlier this year, Lana Del Rey performed live at the Lollapalooza in Santiago, Chile. Although I was not able to attend this performance, the internet is such a wonderful, convenient place that is was very easy to find a full concert video. I’ve never seen a full live concert of hers; let’s just say I had a few qualms with this one. She seems to be very uncomfortable in a live setting. Whether it’s nerves, or just not having great stage presence, Lana’s performances are always a hit or miss for me. From seeing the entirety of this concert, Lana Del Rey seems like she’s not a great live performer, but she flourishes creatively as a writer/artist in a studio setting.

The first thing I noticed in this concert was the song she started with, 13 Beaches. It seemed like she was off to a rocky start. Her higher notes just kept falling flat and completely straight toned. She was barely moving around on the

lana del ray

stage. There was also very little talking at all. She mostly just went from song to song with barely any interludes to talk to the audience. One part that stuck out was when she said “Fuck it, it’s good enough” and then went into White Mustang Now this is a great song, don’t get me wrong. My only issue with it is that she was relying heavily on the playbacks (this is true for most of her set). If I were there at her concert, I’d want to hear her sing, not just half-ass sing along to a track.

Halfway through her set, Lana seemed to get more comfortable. She sang High By The Beach and Born to Die ; she sounded significantly more relaxed in these pieces. Hell, she even came down from the stage to walk amongst the fans. She sounded more free and organic in her musicality. It reminded me of what I love when I listen to her on vinyl. Another noteworthy part of her concert was Blue JeansI was anticipating this song because in the past, Lana’s live performance of this on SNL was so disappointing and honestly made me cringe.

This performance however did not disappoint. She truly redeemed herself from this flop on SNL. It was honestly such a difference in her performance, yet it bring’s me back to the issue of Lana’s vocal’s being a hit or a miss.

There are moments when Lana seems very unsure of herself as a live performer, yet there are some moments when she seems to be very in her element. Maybe this slight awkwardness could be perceived as charming and what sets her apart from other artists. She maintains authenticity through her lyrics, and even to her wardrobe. It’s all about how the audience perceives her and thus far, she has had mostly positive feedback from her fans. Maybe one way she could overcome this awkward stage presence could be to approach as if she was doing a studio performance or music video. By adding a performance art aspect, it could lead to smoother transitions and her not feeling like she’s there to sing in front of thousands of screaming fans, but rather making art become reality. She’d be a storyteller. Her conceptualization of the songs could be a game changer. Or hey, she could just focus on song writing. Either way, I’d still buy her albums and she will continue making amazing music.

“Ringing” the House Down

“I’ve spent my whole career trying to stay out of any box that anyone could put me in. ‘I’m going to do a play now.’ ‘Now I’ll do a musical.’ That was my instinct. So I don’t feel boxed in. But ‘African-American woman’ is part of my identity. I don’t want to relinquish that – especially as a mother, helping my daughter find her identity.”

Audra McDonald

This week, we’re diving right into an entirely different genre of music: musical theatre. Tony aaudra mcdonaldward winning singer/actress Audra McDonald, has made quite a name for herself. From broadway, to television, to film, McDonald has truly done it all. But let’s take a closer look at how she got where she is today. She has taken her classical music background and become a multi-dimensional performer. One of her earlier albums called How Glory Goes shows the true diversity of her repertoire, and truly foreshadows her success. After listening to her album, I truly believe that musical theater should aspire to the standards of classical music, rather than the awful “nasal” sound we so often hear in this genre.

My initial thoughts when hearing this album was that I enjoy Audra’s vocal technique that she includesaudra 2.jpeg in her repertoire. In classical voice, a big factor in projecting sound is to elongate vowels (and boy, do I love a good vowel). In an article from Musical Theatre Resources, they go on to explain this as “legit” singing and use examples such as Julie Andrews.  This is very unlike current day broadway, where consonants are emphasized. By really taking her time on those beautiful vowel sounds, she creates a vibrato that has a full, ringing sound. A great highlight would definitely be her rendition of  Summertime from Porgy and Bess. Right when she holds out that high B at the end, I literally get chills. Technically, this is an American opera, but this piece expressed such an easy free-ness to the voice that I had to include this piece as a highlight. In most broadway productions, high notes are belted and may sound nice, but can easily put strain on the voice. Therefore, Audra’s method could prove to be more beneficial to the singer. Maybe it’s just the lowkey classical music snob in me, but I enjoy her incorporation of this style of singing throughout her album, and it genuinely made me enjoy musical theater more. This series of songs proves classical voice training could be incorporated in any genre. However, what about the actual song pieces? So far we’ve discussed the voice, but the context of the actual pieces leaves a creative void that the album fails to fill.

The problem I have with this album is the lack of diversity in repertoire. I always look for contrasting pieces that really give layers to the listener. However, most of the pieces sounded so similar that it was hard to discern many differences. For example I Won’t Mind, and Come Down From the Tree. Don’t get me wrong, these are both emotional, moving pieces and individually sound great. It’s just that almost every song has the same narrative. Each song her telling a story to another character about overcoming something for love. While this is a great narrative, it isn’t great when you hear it 8 times in a row. I think Audra could’ve had a better repertoire selection. While the individual tracks had a story arch, the album as a whole maintain one note with no climax or surprise. Maybe that is the fault of music theater itself.

All in all, I enjoy Audra McDonald as an artist and listeners can expect to hear a calamity and warm inviting tone to her voice. I might not enjoy the song selection, but I do enjoy this style of singing being brought back into popular songs on broadway. She really doesn’t let herself be limited to a certain style of singing and I really respect that as a fellow African-American singer. So many times it’s expected for black singers to be limited to chest voice. McDonald will always be the standard I hold up to musical theater. Keep bringing the house down with that resonance.

Mac Miller: Gone but Not Forgotten

In honor of the late Mac Miller, I’ve decided to write this first post about one of his most recent songs, Come Back to Earth. I will be honest: before he died, I knew nothing about him except that he was a rapper and that he dated Ariana Grande for a while. It was only after he died that I saw a flood of fans showing grief online, especially on Twitter. What really sparked my interest in his music is how much his death affected people. In Miller’s later pieces, I definitely get a sense that instead of it being corny trap music that is, as I like

mac millerto say, “radio friendly” or about “hoes” and getting money, I’m getting a taste of Mac Miller’s personal life/ struggles. I firmly believe that Come Back to Earth was actually a reflection of his addictive lifestyle, and was a cry out for help.

When first listening to this track, the first thing I immediately noticed was the spacey slow beat of the piano. The piano rolls a lot of notes and gives the sense as though time around Mac is slowing down. It really make me relate this to drugs as a form of escapism and that he was using the music as a way to illustrate what it’s like when he is high. He says in one verse, “In my own way just feel like living some alternate reality.” This line really spoke to me as his way of coping with depression. He doesn’t make the entire song a dark reflection. He does discuss a theme of no longer “drowning” but now “swimming.” Some may believe that this was showing a more positive outlook (Rolling Stone), but I believe it was the numbness from drugs that helped to not feel emotional pain. Swimming doesn’t necessarily mean being emotionally sound. All he is essentially doing is staying afloat. In order to feel free, he could’ve said something about getting out of the water.

Overall, Mac Miller’s music really started to take a dark turn from 2013 on. It seems like his music actually preluded to his death. On a sad, ironic note, the Vulture posted an interview with Mac Miller a day before his death. Miller talked about how he’d want his fans to honor him:

“The people that have the best chance of knowing me, that would like to” the late 26-year-old rapper said, “would just be by listening to my music.” And while his later music developed an alchemy of complicated sorrow and clear-headed descriptions of substance abuse, one does need not look too deep into his catalog to hear the sweetness that characterized the Pittsburgh rapper’s career.

-Rolling Stone

I’m sad I didn’t get to know this artist’s music before he died, but I’m grateful to be able to still have access to his albums, and get to know him through the legacy he left behind. I will be listening to more of his music in the future. In the meanwhile, rest easy Mac.