Myself, accompanied by Roland Martin in “Sure on this shining night” by Samuel Barber, poetry by James Agee
“Sure on this shining night
Of star made shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.
The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts all whole.
Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wand’ring far
Of shadows on the stars”
Typically I hate singing in English for a few reasons. One, English is not a vowel-friendly language for singing. We singers spend countless hours learning how to physically modify our vowel shapes (by engaging our lips, closing or opening our mouths, dropping our jaws, and the list goes on) to get optimum resonance and “shimmer” in our sounds, and those modification techniques change depending on 1) what vowel we are singing and 2) where we are range-wise in our voices. (I won’t bore you with the details of “the singers formant” because this would require me to take out my vocal pedagogy and anatomy and physiology text books, and I think they look better collecting dust on my dresser right now, but the basic concept is that all vowel sounds have inherent pitch or frequency. The voice is the only instrument that uses vowel sounds, and that’s what enables us to be heard over gigantic orchestras without amplification. It’s that mysterious glorious “ring” unique to singers). Another reason I hate singing in English is because it’s my native language and I don’t find it aesthetically beautiful. It’s inconsistent. Some words are mellifluous and fluid, but for a whole sentence to sound beautiful and smoothe…. that just doesn’t really happen in English. We also have a lot of ugly diphthongs (and they are especially ugly in Rochester, York, where every sound is manufactured in the nose). Pure vowel sounds are a rarity in the language. I guess I’m a purist. A snooty, English-hating purist. Another reason that I dislike singing in English that I’ve probably never admitted to anyone aside from myself is the fact that it’s more vulnerable, in a world where pretty much everyone knows English. I don’t like that people know what I’m saying!!!! I’m insane, I’m well aware. I have spent my whole life trying to be “understood”. Except when I’m doing the very thing that I love most… that’s when I feel I need the most protection. Singing is scary! Its vulnerable! But I believe in that vulnerability lies the potential to move people. That level of opening oneself up, and offering something that is so universally human… that level of emotional authenticity-there’s real power in that.
I shared my recording of “Sure on this shining night” with you (and it’s beautiful poetry, in English-yes, I’m half-eating my words) because this is the first english art song I’ve truly gotten intimate with poetically (I’m usually all about the French impressionist stuff, and hardly ever felt compelled to do the in-depth poetic analysis in undergrad even though it was a requirement…), and that enabled me to immerse myself in the beautiful marriage of the notes on the page and my interpretation of the text. It’s not a flawless recording by any means (there are parts where I literally cringe when I hear them) but I have kept it because it was the first real time I truly showed up with my whole self present. And that’s where the power is.
This entry is a little bit jumbled so I apologize. I’ve got my mind on a lot with surgery in 2 days. But this was therapeutic! Thanks for listening/reading.