Life, Love, Loss and Dreams: A Poetic Evening of Female Contemporary Composers of Song

Professor Katherine Eberle gave a faculty recital on October 17th at Riverside Recital Hall.  The recital’s program was themed to include only music from contemporary female composers of song.  Most of the text for each piece was originally set as poetry prior to being set in song by the composers.  Dr. Eberle opened the recital by educating the audience on the theme of the recital and noting that very few recitals feature compositions by contemporary female composers.  It is clear that the theme of this recital is a subject passionate to Dr. Eberle with research and performances of this type of music stemming back as early as 1994 with her article entiled “From a Woman’s Perspective.”

The recital proceeded in three sets each focusing on a specific set of experiences in the human condition.  The first set featured an eight movement work by Juliana Hall entitled Letters from Edna: 8 songs on Letters of Edna St. Vincent Millay.  These songs were originally letters written by poet Edna St. Vincent Millay to various people in her life including, lawyers, friends, sisters, publishers and a letter to her mother.  The texts were truly simple everyday life conversations.

Beyond the comedic nature of the text, Dr. Eberle enhanced the music through wonderful facial expressions which resonated with each member of the audience.  Notable too was the function of the piano in the work.  The piano was not merely an accompaniment but a character in the music.  The piano was Edna’s thinking process through each moment as she crafted the letter.  As Dr. Eberle’s part became reflective, energized, or, contemplative so too did the piano as if the piano was pondering what to say next in each letter.

The second set of pieces in the recital dealt with the subject of loss.  Homeless by Lori Laitman was written as a reflection of the scourge of homelessness on society.  The opening lines “beautiful savage” though taboo challenged everyone in the recital hall to rethink the societal stereotypes of the homeless population.  Echo, again by Laitman, was a piece reflecting on the loss of a loved one.  The final piece was a movement from the chamber piece Raspberry Island Dreaming by Libby Larsen.  The movement, “Where The River Bends” comments on the loss of childhood.

The final set on Dr. Eberle’s recital was a collection of six songs by Judith Cloud.  Each one of these texts centered on themes of love and dreams.  The opening piece of this set, Song and Music, was especially vivid.  Dr. Eberle commented that she envisioned a bride and father having a conversation in the back of a church before walking down the aisle.  The piano opened the work with the pounding of chords reminiscent of church bells.  Dr. Eberle’s eyes set the tone prior to singing with an expression of anticipated wonder and fear.  Though I am writing this post two days following the recital, I can still close my eyes and picture Dr. Eberle’s characterization of the music.

What truly intrigued me throughout the entire recital was the musical presentation of the piano and voice.  Not being a vocalist, I will do my best to describe the sounds I heard.  Each piece seemed (for lack of this author’s known musical vocabulary) in the style of Sprechstimme.  However, the piano and vocalist were tonally independently of each other for most of the recital.

Dr. Eberle’s singing seemed to have governing factors other than pitch.  Her vocal contours seemed determined by the speed and excitement one may naturally deliver as if having a conversation.  Because of this independence that was not quite talking on pitch and not quite tonally grounded I can only think of Sprechstimme as a similar musical term.

The experience of a recital at Riverside Recital Hall was truly wonderful.  I seldom experience this hall for its intended purpose as it was only hours earlier I was in the building rehearsing the 240 member Hawkeye Marching Band.  The recital was phenomenal and a true celebration of contemporary female vocal composers.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Life, Love, Loss and Dreams: A Poetic Evening of Female Contemporary Composers of Song

  1. rose720

    I love that you make this comment “Dr. Eberle’s singing seemed to have governing factors other than pitch. Her vocal contours seemed determined by the speed and excitement one may naturally deliver as if having a conversation.” Having recently performed a Lori Laitman set, I know exactly to what you are referring. It is not sprechstimme, but it is composed in such a way that the words are speech-like. The composers featured on this recital focus the music and contours of the vocal lines on reflecting the text. In fact, here is something that Lori Laitman wrote to me regarding her setting of the text of the work I performed, “I would perhaps suggest that you take great delight (which I am sure you are doing) in the words and ideas and I am sure that everything will be superb!” Specifically in her music, there are meter shifts and articulation marks to reflect speech patterns.

    It is hard to offer commentary on music and instruments with which we are unfamiliar. I am so glad that you chose to go outside your level of comfort and exposure.

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