Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Songs of the Eternal Feminine

MFA Graduate Recital Project in the works

I will be entering the second and final year of the Master's program at the University of California, Irvine, beginning next week, and I plan to perform a very unique program of music for my Graduate Recital in the Spring of 2009.

For me, it is not enough to perform music for music's sake, especially when one has the opportunity to build an entire program of music. A general theme - a connection that threads all pieces together to form a cohesive whole - should be present. I have learned how effective, interesting, and exciting this notion can be as a core soprano of the Pacific Chorale and John Alexander Singers, where our artistic director (John Alexander himself) goes to great lengths to make sure nothing is done arbitrarily (see, for example, the program and video description of our upcoming Wild Things concerts). Meaning in everything I do, especially in what I perform, is very important to me - which is one of the reasons why the title of this blog is "Soul of a Soprano." Therefore, I wanted to have a strong theme for my recital, something that was important to me, that I could be excited and passionate about both in the presentation of the program and in the journey of forming it.

As an ardent fan of musicology, I wanted not only a theme that was important to me, but something where I could research and discover things I've never known about or always wanted to delve into as a singer, and, as an educator, be able to present it and share it with others. My favorite musical periods are Early: Medieval, Renaissance (as a choral singer), and Baroque. As a coloratura soprano who seeks the "soul" of meaning in music, this isn't surprising. My enjoyment of the Baroque came very early in my classical study - in addition to the fact that at the same time I was at the beginning of a lifelong relationship with an organist (my husband, also a nutritionist and author, Charles Welling). Renaissance, of course, had been a joy since I had sung in chamber choirs from High School and on. But the Medieval was like electricity for me. So completely honest, raw, vulnerable, and unique, the sound of Medieval music was always a fascination. Of course, Gregorian Chant was probably my first introduction from the Catholic Church in which I grew up, where I had been singing since the age of 12. My favorite songs in the liturgy were usually during the Easter Season, from Victimae Paschali Laudes to the Easter Vigil Exsultet. I would listen to records of Chant at Cal State Fullerton, where I received my Bachelor of Music, and I transcribed one of the pieces I had listened to for my wedding. When collecting CDs, Renaissance and Medieval were always at the top of my list, and I enjoyed new discoveries and sounds. When I came upon Hildegard von Bingen, my heart almost stopped. This was chant unlike anything I had ever heard, with a huge range and lots of high notes (making a soprano happy). When I decided to return to get my Master's Degree, I vowed that I would study her music and find out everything I could about her. True to my word, I devoted my main research paper in the first class I had (Bibliography) to her Ordo Virtutum, possibly the earliest liturgical music drama that has survived intact from recorded history. Hildegard had a unique perspective of the divine from a female point of view, an entire doxology based upon the feminae sacra, the sacred and eternal feminine. As one of the earliest known composers of Western music - a woman (!) and a strong one - she inspired me more than any other composer I had encountered. (More on Hildegard in a future post.)

What if I could build an entire concert from the female point of view? What if I could present an overview of women in music - music by women, about women, for women; music written from the female perspective (and sometimes written about women from the male perspective). There are so many possibilities and different ways to present this, keeping in mind that one can only really scratch the surface of this vast subject over the course of one standard recital. Perhaps, one day, I will be able to devote a lifetime of performances and even recordings to this project. For now, my plan is to present a program exploring women in music throughout history at UCI, hoping that it will eventually cause momentum with other women (and men) in the musical world to explore these areas that have only recently begun to be explored.

Stay tuned for more details and specifics about this program. I am very excited about this project and hope to generate more excitement as I continue on my journey, and plan to discuss different aspects of it as the year progresses. I hope you'll join me in my exploration.

Image: Madonna des Kanonikus, 1436; Jan van Eyck

Copyright © 2008. All textual materials are the sole property of Lorraine Joy Welling and may not be reproduced, copied, or used in any way without permission.

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