American Art in Music

lawrence blog

Jacob Lawrence, The Migration Series (1940-41) Panel no. 1 “During World War I there was a great migration north by southern African Americans.” Casein tempera on hardboard, 12 x 18 in. Acquired 1942. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

What song would you pair with Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series? As part of last year’s Vocal Colors, Wolf Trap Opera Company soprano Andrea Carroll chose Troubled Woman, part of a cycle called ‘Genius Child’ written by American composer Ricky Ian Gordon. Below is our newest audio tour stop: an excerpt from the performance, preceeded by an introduction by Lee Anne Myslewski, the Director of Artistic Administration for Wolf Trap Opera & Classical Programming.

“This is the fifth year that Wolf Trap and The Phillips Collection have collaborated on Vocal Colors, a recital series that uses the thought-provoking works of The Phillips Collection as a springboard for a varied musical evening. Curated by musicians from the Wolf Trap Opera Company, the musical offerings cross genres and time periods, offering new aural perspectives on the respected visual works.”

This year, singers will be responding to works from Made in the USA. Hear from soprano Tracy Cox and tenor Robert Watson on June 19, and soprano Melinda Whittington and mezzo-soprano Carolyn Sproule on July 31.

On June 16 at 12 pm EST, Tracy Cox will lead our first-ever guest #breakforart Twitter chat! We’ll be discussing John Marin’s Pertaining to Fifth AvenueHave questions about her process or song selection? Leave them as comments here, or join us on Twitter @PhillipsMuseum to participate.

Lady Gaga to Monteverdi: Anything Goes

Coach/Pianist Joseph Li, one of Wolf Trap‘s unsung heroes last spring for his help in bringing the world premiere of The Inspector to the stage, guest blogs today about the pairing of music and art for Wolf Trap Opera’s Vocal Colors concert at the Phillips  on June 28 at 6:30 pm.

Photo of Coach/Pianist Joseph Li.

Coach/Pianist Joseph Li. Photo by Chris Novosad.

At opening night of Fidelio at Houston Grand Opera, I had the privilege of sitting next to a couple straight out of high school, attending possibly their first night ever at the opera. As the tenor drew his gun and aimed it ever so slowly at the soprano, the girl next to me cursed under her breath in an excited whisper. She was completely lost in the moment; her response to what was happening on stage was honest and genuine.

Shouldn’t recitals have that kind power over our imaginations? Why shouldn’t we respond viscerally like that to an art that was specifically created for and performed in small, intimate settings? Especially when every song on a recital program presents an opportunity to tell an incredible story . . .

This is just one of many challenges that draws me irresistibly to the Vocal Colors series. My colleagues and I must provide the most spontaneous opportunity for that experience–without the aid of elaborate sets, lighting, and costumes.

What we do have is an amazing selection of visual art at The Phillips Collection to accompany our program. Nonetheless, choosing repertoire for a Vocal Colors concert is like trying to decide what to see in a day at the Louvre–the possibilities are endless. And finding just the right song to go with just the right painting means that there are no hard and fast rules about what kinds of songs to choose. Anything goes.

What kind of singers do you need for this kind of program? Good ones! Pulling off a program like this requires a great deal of vocal flexibility and stagecraft. The nature of these programs necessitates that the artists maintain an open mind before we walk into our first rehearsal.

What might you expect to see and hear when you come to see a Vocal Colors concert? Among other things:

  • You may hear Lady Gaga and Monteverdi back to back.
  • You may want to dance in your seat or in the aisles.
  • You may hear that song from that show you love.
  • You may learn something new about yourself.
  • You may learn something new about your date.
  • You may want to take up singing or piano lessons.
  • You may hear the song you danced to at your high school prom.
  • You may hear your favorite hymn from Sunday mornings.
  • You may hear something we didn’t intend for you to hear.

In short, expect the unexpected. And don’t let anyone else tell you how to react. Anything goes!

Joseph Li, Coach/Pianist