Art restrictions can be a boon. At least that’s what Capital Region composer Brett Wery found when he wrote a song cycle around four contemporary poems.
Called “Quarry Songs: A Cycle for Change”, Wery worked with pianist Mark Evans, associate professor at SUNY Schenectady, and SUNY students Areli Mendoza-Pannone (soprano) and Robert Frazier (baritone) to create it last week. at the Caffe. Lena. They will give an additional performance of the cycle at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Carl B. Taylor Auditorium on campus.
The music, as the title suggests, is heavy, with lyrics on everything from the insidious psychological impacts of the war to the daily emotional weight people carry. The cycle was in part inspired by “The Museum of Stones”, a poem by Carolyn ForchÃ©, the last line of which reads “Like the stone which marked the path of the sun when it entered human dawn”.
âI saw that line and it stuck in my head and I thought, ‘At one point I went to put this poem just so I could put that line.’ There were such beautiful images, âWery said.
Earlier this summer, he went to a Google rabbit hole, looking for other rock-related poems and looking for “Hammering on Rocks” by Joseph Ross, “Normal” by Reginald Harris and “My Body Holds Stones âby Laura Tohe.
Every poet was excited to have his work included in the effort. When the musicians gathered at the Avaloch Farm Music Institute in New Hampshire over the summer to form the song cycle, the poets also virtually met the band, reading and discussing their poems.
âIt was amazing; being able to talk to these poets about their own work and their take on it and what they want to communicate through text was really powerful,â Mendoza-Pannone said. some cases we had a backstory and some context for the origin of the poem and that inspired us to change what we were doing … in terms of the way we perform it or even parts of it. the score itself, we adjusted here and there to reflect the way they read the poem or the way they spoke of it.
The meeting with Tohe particularly influenced their performance. The Native American poet and teacher is the 2015-2019 Navajo Nation Poet Laureate. Her play âMy Body Holds Stonesâ reflects her experiences of being forced to attend elementary schools where students were required to speak English and where Native American students were often horribly mistreated.
in my childhood
in the cracks
where I rub and rub and
the children are walking on me.
âShe told us exactly some of those stories that were there and they were very graphic in some cases where she told us exactly what she saw. It kind of gives us the chance to show what she’s been through and what she’s been through through our music, which is really empowering, âsaid Frazier.
The music itself is also a bit of a challenge; Wery describes the piano part as “devilishly difficult”.
âIt’s not an easy feat. As an artist, when you have a clear box to work inside, sometimes you get better art. . . When you have clear boxes you have something to focus on but what was not a limiting factor was the wonderful technique of these three musicians. I intentionally decided to create an unusual piece of music, to advance the art, âsaid Wery.
This is especially true for songs like “The Museum of Stones”. In the poem, the speaker refers to collected stones and the song echoes this with a collection of musical references that relate to the stones mentioned in the lyrics.
Wery, who is a former SUNY Schenectady teacher, praised Evan’s piano playing, as well as Mendoza-Pannone student musicians.
âI wrote to them like they were any contemporary wind or strong throwing player, I asked for the same difficulty,â Wery said.
âThere is the unfortunate stereotype that singers are not as proficient in music as some other musicians. Not at all the case with Bobby and Areli. They entered this first rehearsal fully prepared. I just couldn’t be more impressed with what they’ve brought to this.
During Friday night’s performance, the trio will perform the entirety of “Quarry Songs”, as well as Johannes Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes. Entrance is free and participants are required to wear masks. For more information, call 518-381-1231.
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