Friday, September 14, 2012


Dichterliebe (Poet's Love) is a collection of  twenty-four German lieder (songs) for solo voice and piano. There are 16 songs. The poet is Heinrich Heine , and the music is by Robert Schumann. Dichterliebe was composed in 1840. The songs are not really unified into a 'cycle' or common, story-telling thread. There are waltzes, dirges, quick songs, slow songs with unifying themes of irony, bad luck in love, good luck in love, bad luck in love again.

In 2005 a dear friend, pianist Ben Wiant asked me to join him in preparing Dichterliebe for performance at one of the noon time concerts at Columbus's First Congregational Church (they get mad if you refer to the 'Congo Club')

I kept a diary of our rehearsal process from the fall of 2005 to the two performances given in 2006. The performances are a blur to me. The rehearsals with Ben were a joy. I learned a lot about music, about poetry and about friendship.

Ben Wiant, beloved and patient mentor and friend
Here's the DICHTERLIEBE DIARY. If you seen bold type-these comments were added in 2012.


September 16, 2005

My friend Ben and I have decided to collaborate on a performance of Robert Schumann's Dichterliebe (Poet's Love) for performance this November 1st, and a downtown church's noontime recital series.  This is a cycle of 16 songs (lieder) for voice and piano, in German, the poetry by Heinrich Heine. The entire set was composed in 1840, when Schumann, syphilis eating away at his brain, had a feverish year writing some of the most exquisite lieder in memory. The songs do not tell one complete story., but allude to nature, love,  loss and irony. No namby-pamby. There's a need for bite here.

Why am I doing this? Does the world need me to get up there and fall on my ass? (Maybe). Because Ben is a dear friend who after thirty years wanted to play the piano again-and he asked me to join him on this adventure.And because we both love Schumann's music and Heine's poetry.. I love it more when listening to Dieskau or Fritz Wunderlich in my underwear while scratching myself or eating another piece of cheesecake, but I short, this is like Mt. Everest, something I'd like to try once before I die.

The term 'bucket list' was not in use in 2005.

I'm going to keep a diary of our rehearsals and preparation. I first learned these pieces in college at in the 1970s. I recently reconnected on line with a former teacher and mentor from those days, who, when told of this project, said "Oh, God. Do you have to?"

This is Robert Gartside, my teacher at Boston University, 1974-1978. Okay, okay, I admit I have a degree in voice without ever having one. A voice I mean. Bob is today as smart and pithy and opinionated in his 80s as he was all those years ago. He used to say, "I don't like any singer after Kirsten Flagstad  (she died in 1962). Today he and the rest of us are agog for the young German tenor Jonas Kaufmann. See? People change (!)

Ben and I had our first rehearsal the other day. We are both using scores. I find that just spitting out the German words in time is a challenge.  Of course, they are just words and incomprehensible to 90% of the audience-and me at this point. I'm from Boston myself, not Dresden. I learned some choice German phrases from my dear friend Charles, who died in 1986: "Willst du mich Stossen?" and "Wie gros ist deine Schlange?" were two favorites.  One must take the timbre of the German language, play with it (so to speak) and match it Schumann's notes. In lieder, the piano never functions without the words. This above all requires the singer and pianist to listen to each other.  Ben played the notes and I choked and yelled and gurgled along.  We got through the whole thing twice without stopping.  Did we make music?  Did we communicate the wonderful sense of the lieder? Is the pope Jewish?

Stay tuned. I'm renting a tux for November 1st and come hell or high water I'll be there. Ben will shine and I'll be along for the ride.

Here's song number 1. NO NOT WITH ME! DEAR GOD!

September 21, 2005

This is the continuing saga of my preparation for a performance of Dichterliebe (Schumann) on November 1st. Ben Wiant is the pianist.

Second rehearsal with Ben today. I learned a great deal in that hour. now I know why singers are always told never to learn music from a recording. I've been listening to Dichterliebe for thirty years, but never thought of singing it myself. I'm not a singer. I'm a good musician who loves music and singing but you either got the chops or you don't. I don't. But ego, age and friendship win out, and I am enjoying this collaboration with Ben. But listening to CDs, who notices the little notes and the subtle colors that make this music?

You have to work from the score, listen, study pay attention. Do exactly what the poet and composer ask you to do. It's all there.

As an immature jerk of a college student I thought Donizetti and Bellini were gods. I tolerated Mozart and had no use for German lieder. "Excruciatingly dull" cried Anna Russell, and why shouldn't I believe her? To this day there are people who, if they knew I developed a love for lieder in my near dotage would hoot and holler. (I have less time today for Bellini and Donizetti. Mozart and Rossini are another matter.) 

In 2005 my desert island recordings of lieder were by Aksel Schiotz, Lotte Lehmann, Janet Baker and Hermann Prey. As a grown up I would add Dieskau of course, but also Heinrich Schlusnus, Alexander Kipnis, Hans Hotter, Bryn Terfel, Christa Ludwig, Gerald Finley and Jonas Kaufmann. See? I'm learning.

 Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau died as I was working on this revision -May 18, 2012. He was the meister. He brought lieder to the world in a way not even Lotte Lehmann had reached. I heard him twice-I was a very young kid at he time, and this was in Symphony Hall in Boston. I remember very little. I was too young it was too long ago to remember the sound of his voice. I do remember,even from the cheap seats, the sense that his performance was effortless for him. Music and text just flowed out of him. He was entirely natural and everything he did seemed "right". I had just gotten glasses and left them at home, so if it was hard to see, I heard. I heard many "legends" at the end of their careers: Cesare Siepi, Tito Gobbi, Richard Tucker and remember nothing about their singing on those occasions.

Performing Dichterliebe is all about listening to one another.  Ben asked me to sing with more vibrato.  Who wants to hear a fat and fifty choirboy? Well, that's one of the technical problems to handle.  Marrying the German diction to real understanding is another. For example

Die Rose, die Lilie

die Taube, die Sonne
die lieb ich einst alle in Liebeswonne**
Ich lieb; sie nicht mehr, ich liebe alleine
die Kleine, die Feine, die Reine, die eine...

The rose, the lily
the dove, the sun
I loved them all with the wonder of love
I love them no more
I love alone
the little one, the fine, he pure, the only one

**Liebeswonne...Is that a great word, or what? It has a more intense meaning than 'wonder of love', more like the miracle or blessing of love, and it suggests eroticism 

How to put this across? There's a tradition of singing is sehr schnell, very fast, in one breath.  It can be done if you don't mind passing out and leaving your audience as bewildered as before. Filling out each word with the voice it deserves, even if they are 16th notes (Richard Strauss said, "Every note has the right to live.") is a great challenge.  Interpretation is often saddled with unnecessary  externals. It really is internal, and quite a personal process. I need to believe in the one and only love above all, be she small and fine, and pure (at my age?) and the only one.  Nice Irish boy from Boston that I am, I feel like running to confession.  And this is only one (one!) of the sixteen songs. Just wait until the end, when the poet calls for a large coffin, large enough to be borne by giants who are stronger that the statue of St. Christopher in the Cathedral at Cologne, and in that coffin he buries his love. It's gonna take some sales job, never mind memorizing the German words.

Dom zu Coln...Colgone Cathedral
Ond holt mir auch zwolf Riesen
Die mussen noch staerker sein
Als wie die starke Christoph
in Dom zu Coeln am Rhein

And also get twelve giants
They must be stronger than
The powerful Christopher
In the cathedral at Cologne

September 23, 2005

Another rehearsal today. I didn't have any voice. Nope. Nothing. Nada.
Still, Ben and I worked together well.
What continues to strike me is that all great composers of the lied do all the work for you.  If you can really bear down on the German and draw out the colors of the language, you have it made.  If you make the affect with your face, or hands than you are clowning, not performing, and certainly not performing Dichterliebe

Lesson learned: Study the score. True, it's all done for you but you have to know how to look. Why this chord and not that one. Does his German word have more than one meaning ? Really, this lied stuff is not for the timid (or lazy)

Today we began with song 9

Das ist ein Floten und Geigen
Trompetern schmettern darien

--(schmettern-now there;s a word to tip your hat to!)

The flutes and fiddles
and the trumpets blare

Crisp and enthusiastic pronunciation of the German do so much of the work for you.
This is no time to be precious or cute

That's why the stereotype of the fat lady singing an oh-so-precious-oh-so boring song recital is a hoot. This is pretty earthy stuff, requiring among other things a great deal of energy.

I picture myself as a bug infested lumberjack lost in the Maine woods during black fly season.  Looking for "her" and finding "she" is always out of reach and probably a figment of my imagination due to an overabundance of bug spray (which is powerless against black flies-trust me)

I tried to read a very learned treatise on key relationships over the weekend. I got a headache and watched a Peter Sellers movie instead.  The author had one stupid remark...only tenors should sing this piece., since re-arranging the key structures dilutes the piece. "It is surprising that any artists would wish to perform something outside their vocal range.: Tell that  to Lotte Lehmann, or Fischer-Dieskau or Herman Prey or Fritz Wunderlich.  You want to hear Dichterleibe as a peasant who feels the earth unconditionally and poops in the woods.

Nobody can read these poems and listen to this music and do the tight butt cheek hand clasp stuff., with the cool gaze at the audience.  This is earthy, sexual and beautiful. And maybe beyond me!

September 26, 2005

Bill Scharf, one of the great people of life has sent me a recording of Dichterliebe with the Russian bass Alexander Kipnis-accompanied by Wolfgang Rose

 Bill Scharf became a dear friend. He died in 2009 at 89-he was an avid collector of recordings and books relating to all aspects of music. I spent a number of happy hours listening with him in his Westerville home. Bill was very generous about supplying recordings and was supportive of many  OSU music students. I was on a committee which arranged the donation of his collection to the OSU Music Library. Bill was so proud of many things, family of course, and would always tell me "I heard Flagstad and Melchior in Tristan at the Cleveland Public Auditorium in 1937!"
God rest Bill.

Kipnis was a huge name in music. He is the father of Igor Kipnis.

Kipnis has long been on my radar. How do you ever answer the question, who has the most beautiful voice? Leontyne Price, Carlo Bergonzi, Cesare Siepi-and certainly Alexander Kipnis.  What a magnificent, towering black bass voice this was!  His operatic performance must have been sensational.

At first hearing, Kipnis's voice completely overwhelms.
It's like hearing the young, wild Callas-l. You can't turn your ears away. But for all of his big, fat juicy voice, Kipnis aims right at the words, dead-on! No slipping and sliding. You don't get seasick listening to Kipnis.  He nails you to the wall.  He really enjoys the words: liebe (love) heilgie Strome (holy river) brust/Himmelslust (breast-heaven's love).

Here's what the Germans would call eine kleine pause: INTERMISSION

Sills and Troyanos as Romeo and Giulietta, Boston 1975
I got a present in the mail today.  I've been sent a recording of Bellini's opera I Capuletti e i Montecchi (The Capulets and the Montagues) a performance given in Boston on June 7, 1975.  I was there. Beverly Sills was Giulietta. The late Tatiana Troyanos sang Romeo.  Troyanos was very highly strung. She was a wreck all through rehearsals. Sills was cool and kept saying, "Jesus Christ Tatiana! You're the best in the business! Calm down!"

Opera is like a day care center in more ways than one. If one gets sick, they all get sick.

Everybody got sick: Romeo, Juliet, Friar Lawrence and half the chorus (most of the chorus was actually hung over) By third night all was well. This is a wonderful souvenir, and very moving for me to hear it again thirty (!) years later, with Sills, Troyanos and Sarah Caldwell all gone.

I loved the finale. Capellio, the father of Giulietta, comes upon R&;J's dead bodies and cries out "Killed! They are killed! Killed by whom?" and the chorus shouts, Da voi, spietato! By you, wretched man.
Ain't opera grand?

October 5, 2005

Well, here's another problem.
How to sing the entire cycle straight through without losing your voice?
I'm croaking a bit anyway (how could anyone tell?) but hell, at least some of the time
there's some tone there, some spin and some warmth.
I said to Ben today, Let's do the whole thing, start to finish, no stopping.
We stopped a few times, pushing and shoving our ways through the sea wall of this thick and shifting
tonality.  I remember when we first discussed doing this. I thought I knew enough
about German so I could learn to do this well. I'm a pretty good musician. I've been listening to
Dichterliebe since I was fifteen. How hard could this be?

After one hour of rehearsal, I'm done. I need a week in intensive care.
Just the concentration required, the ability to listen and express what's going on between he bars is an
enormous challenge. Nobody should throw away their Fritz Wunderlich albums, but
this si a wonderful mental and spiritual exercise and I'm grateful for the opportunity.

So-never mind there are two pieces back to back I can't sing because they are too f-ing low.

When I say I can't sing I mean I have no core tone to the singing voice. I can sing in tune, I can carry a tune, I understand the German. You need to absorb this music and these words to really internalize them so you can express your view of the piece. Which means you need to have a view of the piece. I tell younger singers-learn everything about the world in which the work was created.
October 14, 2005

Lotte Lehmann as Leonore in Fidelio*
Okay, so I've spent the whole week opening my throat. Damned near gagged with a bulldozer. Finally I know how to squeeze out more sound from the abdominal muscles and use compressed air-the power-through the cords. I'm not saying the sound is pretty, or expressive, or nice.  But there is some sound just this side of a steam whistle.

Today I got some minute word by word coaching on the German.  I'm the macro type myself, but
this type of work is critical. One needs to breathe where it makes sense musically, and usually it will be where it makes sense in the words, an afterthought or a qualifying sentence.

Yesterday I as asked to substitute teach a class on lieder for undergrads. It was Pat Woliver's song lit class. He took the day off to sing Yom Kippur Services. I told these young people, if you are going to sing this music, then aside from technique and language you must have courage.  Don't be afraid to be overly emotional in your approach. Move your bodies, move your faces. Be aware that your eyes are very important points of contact for the audience

The young singers here tend to be musically impeccable and sing very well. They are also of the butt cheeks clenched don't move a muscle school. Bodies must be relaxed so that he audience has no sense of physical struggle. Marilyn Horne advocated the clenched school as a means to increase physical support. To me that deflects the the muscles in the lower belly-diaphragm-but who the hell am I to second guess Marilyn Horne? I tell the students to be emotional and be active knowing they will go overboard and its easier to take emotion away than to add.

One of the reasons the song business is dying is that you have nice people getting up and singing in German. They don't speak German. The audience doesn't speak German. But there we are doing two hours of German. So you have to integrate yourself into the language so completely you could tell the story blindfolded (or gagged) Do I think you need to be a native speaker to excel in lieder. Not necessarily. It helps, but if you sing with no imagination or no way to invite the audience in, it doesn't mater what the hell is your native language. You are up there to tell a story. If the song is about love, what do you know about love? Love and sex (as in fucking) often go together in this literature, but here's no such thing as a vulgar lied. Unless an artist makes it so. (Don't). What do you know about death? Loss? pain? unrequited love? (the worst!) Song literature is full of this.

I knew the students would not know Lotte Lehmann  (1888-1976) and they didn't. I showed a DVD of one of her masterclasses, from 1961. I said,This old lady was the greatest exponent of German song. She had an imperfect technique.By the time she came to the States her voice was past its best. How did she manage to pack concert halls here for years? Because she believed every word she sang. She gave something of herself to everything she sang. She was unafraid. So must you be.

Some of the students didn't like Lehmann at all. "Too emotional"! God love them.  

 Sing everything the composer has asked you to sing, nothing more. Then gently you can begin to feed your own life experiences into the music and text. If you sing everything as written and gradually ad  your heart, you'll be fine. But doing one without the other is doing half.

October 16, 2005


I had a voice teacher say this to me the other day.

Karen Peeler, friendship and smarts
While learning Dichterliebe and working with Ben, I was pursuing a DMA at Ohio State. I had to go in as a voice major, God bless us and sapre us, because OSU had no program in opera production-the thrust of my studies and certainly my interest. The Dichterleibe project was not done for academic credit. It was for love and a learning experience only-and it repaid me enormously. The voice teacher was Pat Woliver, then and now a supportive, smart, inspiring friend and mentor to many young musicians.

Pat Woliver, artist and mensch
Why a D.M.A for me? I don't intend to teach (but you never know)
Karen Peeler is a  voice pedagogue extraordinaire is the last word in friendship and smarts. She encouraged me to do this-she made it possible, she was patient and thorough. God love her.

 I heard it a lot in college over twenty-five years ago. I even heard Maria Callas say it to a terrified young soprano in her Julliard master classes forty years ago. For the record, it was the only time I heard Callas in the two classes I attended be anything but patient and kind.

You can't sing with your mouth closed. It is possible to open up wide and have the back of your throat sealed up there. That's what I've been doing. Thus the sound is breathy, unsupported and has no vibrato. I was never able when younger to make the physical connection in my own body to produce the sound properly.  It might be pitched speaking but singing it ain't. And I'll say it again, Dichterleibe really is a ball buster.

The physical mechanisms have to be in first class shape (get thee to the gym) to get through this. Today, after a weekend of practising the "beginning of the yawn" without gagging, I went to rehearsal with Ben and opened my throat. For about three minutes the sound was focused and rich and terrific. After three minutes it was breathy, constricted, tight and horrible.  But hell, I got those three minutes I never had before. The great tenor Mario del Monaco used to shove a spoon down his pupils' throats getting to the gola aperto. Gives a whole new meaning to "gag me with a spoon."

Many consider Ich grolle nicht to be the heart of the cycle

I won't complain
Even if my heart is breaking'
Love lost forever
I won't complain

Even though you gleam with the glory of diamonds
(Wie du straehlst in Diamantenspracht-say THAT three times fast)
No gleam falls into the night of your heart.

I can't sing this. I know the notes, the words and the mood and its too low for me, its too high for me, it's a killer and I'm all over the place. It is song 7, with 9 to go.
I can't really sing song 6 either, ain't that a kick? The exhortation of the Rhine "With its great
Cathedral of the hold city of Cologne" so far requires more support and gut strength than I can muster without passing gas. But I'm working on it. The singing, I mean..

October 18, 2005

The good news is we are not cancelling, which might not be good news to the many.  We are postponing.

This entire project began as an invitation to Ben Wiant to play a piano recital at First Congregational Church, Columbus. Ben has been the go-to guy for piano tuning for decades. He had been a pianist in his youth and wanted to get back to playing. He also wanted to work on 'Dichterliebe' and he invited me along for he ride. during the process I benefited enormously from his impeccable musicianship. Ben approached this score with talent, dignity and class. He wouldn't let me say, "No I can't do this". He only said, "Yes you can. Now go work on your German." Or, "Yes you can. you are out of tune here-stop and tune it." I benefited from his talent. I have benefited from his friendship for more than twenty years. Thank you, Ben. What are we going to do next?

What might be mediocre and a stunt could be serious music making and fun if we do it after the holidays. Not that Ben, bless him, has any problems. But me, at 200 plus pounds and nearing a certain age, well...
(Bob Gartside e mailed me: "You're still young!")
I have the German and he intent but not yet the stamina to do this justice.
So we practise and work and we wait. You know, the gift of a piece like Dichterliebe is that every time you finish a one or two page song, and turn the page, it's like receiving a present! The next page is always something that looks small, but is large and miraculous.  All that emotion and beauty in a few notes and a few German words. It's very humbling. I suspect neither been nor myself wants to interrupt a rehearsal process that is affording us both, he at the keyboard, me not at the keyboard,a lot of growth.

So we wait.
Diary continues, though.

Charles Panzera
I've been producing a radio series on the art song for fifteen years. I know something about the song literature, how, why, who. I love to go back to 100 year old recordings: Giuseppe Borgatti, Georges Thill, Lili Lehmann singing in their own language. I knew of the French baritone Charles Panzera, but Ben insisted I listen closely to his recording of Dichterliebe. Panzera (1896-1976), born in Switzerland was a lyric baritone. (He was not to my ears the baryton- martin  you hear in French baroque music and sometimes as Debussy's Pelleas-with the high extension and the lighter vocal technique.) Panzera recorded Dichterliebe auf deutsch-in 1935, with Alfred Cortot no less. This to me is the perfect singer/pianist collaboration. There are no affects. The piece is performed by both artists from the page. You can hear the beauty of Panzera's voice, his love for words-and Cortot matching the vocal texture perfectly.

Here's the whole thing. You need to hear his:

November 3, 2005

Two days ago Ben and I were supposed to perform at First Congregational Church.  We postponed several weeks ago, but some people did show up.  I'm sorry they were inconvenienced.  But hey, at least people are interested. Which may or may not be a good thing. We had another rehearsal yesterday.

It's becoming physically easier for me, less of a workout. I couldn't do it now! I'm more pumped at the finish than exhausted.  What to my ears sounds too bright and over focused still doesn't carry that well against the piano in the rehearsal hall. Which may or may not be a good thing. We had another rehearsal yesterday.

Most of our rehearsals were in the choir room at First Congregational Church. I'll never forget the kindness of the folks who had offices along the corridor. Never once did they call the cops or animal control when listening to me singing.

Like all important works of art, Dichterliebe feeds anyone who really wants to dig into it and discover what's there. You can't be bored and you are never, but never finished.  Just when I think I've caught the right tone of irony, or or joy, or anger, the piano contradicts what I sense is going on.

The irony of a lot of major keys and bright colors, of mood changes, of the protagonists happy and bitter, (not defeated, bitter) in the same verse, with a fee degrees of separation, is overwhelming. I wonder if Schumann or any other composer expected their work to provoke so much study, centuries after their deaths. Mozart usually wrote on spec. Once a work was performed he was on to  the next one, for cash. Did he think people would be writing books about the Jupiter Symphony in 2005? They are.  Did Bach, who had to produce a slew of music for each Sunday of the liturgical year, think his cantatas would be sung 200 years later? I wonder if Mozart of Bach would have cared. Bach was a salaried employee for many years. Mozart wanted to be, and never in his best years could he attract enough patronage.

Sometimes the larger orchestral works and the big operas overwhelm a listener in their complexity. With lieder, its two people, voice and piano.  Should there be more transparency?  Is it easier for the listener to hear what's going on? you'd think so. Forget it. A one page Wolf lied is as confounding as all of the Goldberg Variations.  I love what Janet Baker says: The preparation is the best part. Sometimes the audience gets in the way. (Not really)

Another "kleine pause" here. I want to remember soprano Evelyn Lear who died on July 1, 2012. She was the world's most gorgeous Marschallin. I'm listening to her 1974 Met broadcast of Rosenkavalier kvelling to her vocal beauty. She is remembered in more detail elsewhere on this blog. Her lieder were sensational.

December 1, 2005

Ben and I got to rehearse today for the first time in weeks.  I hadn't opened the score since our last meeting. (I know, I know) I came away a tad discouraged.

One of the purposes of this blog is to work out for myself, in writing, what I hope to accomplish by studying Dichterliebe. I told Ben that we had been rehearsing long and well, except for this hiatus

Now, I said, we have to sit down over coffee, away from the piano, and really decide how we are going to perform.  In rehearsal the piano is loud and the choir room very "live." I can't keep up vocally, and there's a lot of banging going on.  We have work shopped the music and the text. Both of us know what's going on here. Now we have to bring it together.  I said I have to match with what limited voice I have to the tone you are using for the piano.  (I'll say it again, for lieder you have to listen as much as you have to sing.) If our attacks are going to be forceful, or tentative, or shaded, let's decide that so that I can color he words to match what you're doing. We'll go over the words carefully, , but yikes! that's difficult here. The songs are each quite short. What moods Schumann cast don't last very long, and the shifts between the bitter, the elegiac and the emphatic are quick.  Very little time to prepare. The physical action of throwing out the text is a challenge.

Ein Jungling liebt ein Maedchen

The tune recalls  a toothpaste commercial from the 60s:
" your ap-peal!"
You scamper along, telling of the maiden who marries the first guy to come along. The boy is upset but it still flows until a complete shirt in the last lines:

Und wenn sie ist passieret
Den bringt mein Herz entzwei

It's an old story
but remains new
And he to whom it happens
It breaks his heart in two.

...and you finish off with this heavy-Beethoven like declaration of 'Hertz entzwei"-changing key in two phrases. Just the technique needed to go from Schumann to...God!---Spontini in two phrases is formidable.

All you can do is keep workin'.

February 7, 2006

Francesco my dreams!
One of the reasons I haven't posted here in two months is that until last week my score has been gathering dust.Ben and I did manage a rehearsal last week.  I had no balance with the piano at all.  By the fourth song I was either shouting or croaking.  In voice lessons I'm taken to high C, and you know what? A lot of it ring and juice and squillo.  It's like there's a real voice there.
My life as a singer, though, is firmly anchored in fantasy-land. I can picture myself as Vickers or Domingo or Tamagno as Otello but I open my eyes and there I am sweating like a pig on my new elliptical machine, reading sweaty back issues of Opera News.  I tried to listen to CDs. Do not do this.  I nearly nodded off during Parsifal.

Back to Dichterliebe. You know, this is music I respect but do not love (Nor true these years later. I love it a lot) It's a bit like kissing your sister.
But if I had several weeks to do nothing else but dig into this score, and sing chunks of it every day, no doubt I'd be happier with it and making progress.
Ben and I really need to work on balance. I have to apply the new technical points I am learning.  A good sound is possible. But God, what you have to do to make music. I know what the music is telling me, but getting it out of my throat is a struggle.

No one said it would be easy. Lieder ain't for wimps.

 February 16, 2006

Ben and I have begun working again, under the eye of a superb vocal technician who is taking us through the entire cycle note-by-note.
I'm not a micro detail person at ll, far from it.
I don't pick up socks.  I leave underwear on the floor and drink milk out of the carton. Not good when you are trying to communicate the secret locked into music and German poetry. So being stopped every three notes is new to me.  To my relief, I'm far from rattled by this.  It seems a note by note approach is the way for me to go, to embrace the work in a technical sense.  "More space...breathe lower...Why are your larynx so are getting too edgy...stop it...Oh, your epiglottis is wrapped around your neck (I had to look this one up)...Thee there are the in b flats in the middle of the page. Piece of cake note, right? Middle of the register! Yes?"


Get a good breath under the middle notes! Voices can be weaker in the middle range and that is the heart and meat of any voice.  Forget the high notes. (I don't have them anyway) and stop growling your low notes. Und so weiter.

I never had a flippant attitude when Ben and I took up this project last fall. But if you spend time listening to recordings it all sounds much easier than it is. It's a mistake to judge yourself against Lotte Lehmann or Fischer-Dieskau. I'd love to have their rehearsal tapes. I have not a natural voice, but a manufactured one, note by f___ing note. Thank God, I don't really have talent as a singer, and that my passion for music has outlets in radio, pre-concert talks and stand-up. 

February 23, 2006

Today Ben announced that we need to schedule an actual date to have at least a run through in front of an audience.

He said, it's only twenty minutes and I'll make a cake.
But its still a few weeks off, thank God.
At today's rehearsal we did the entire work straight through.
We'll need to do this several times per week, or at least I will, for the stamina.
Rule #1: Don't try to jump a three foot wall before you jump a one foot wall.
In my case, my tummy gets in the way of looking at my feet so the height of the wall doesn't matter, but you get my drift.
The gift of this cycle remains with me.  Every time I turn a page, I'm astonished and thrilled all over again.  Ben is good at micro details.
Hold that note three beats, as Schumann wrote. This is not the place to get artsy.
I play a chord on the second beat dissonant with what you're doing and we have to bring that out. Stop putting umlauts on every  vowel except the ones that have umlauts.

For myself, I notice my German has a faux French or Italian accent.
I was pretty shocked when stopped at the first word, "IM wunderschoenene monnat Mai", since I was singing "EEEM wunderschoenen.." Other words like stumm and fluss get the same treatment. About the only accent I couldn't muster, besides German, is Boston Irish and you'd think I'd get that right.

I was looking for an experience from which to lean and grow, and In boy have I found one. An honest and lengthy study of the lied forces introspection and self examination, in addition to developing musicianship.  I'm often asked to help young singers. I'm getting a good idea of what I'm asking them to do, and how difficult and exhausting it is.

The problem is to do the text and music as written while still being a musician , linguist, actor, interpreter and technician.  Sometimes I can manage one or two together, but no more so far.  It is an exhausting challenge, and I suspect even the greatest artists approach music and text with the humility that only makes them greater. 

 March 3, 2006

The other day Ben and I worked in the sanctuary of the church.  We couldn't find the lights so I ever sensitive said to hell with it  and we;ll make do with the overcast skies trying to stream through the stained glass.

I'm getting to the point where I m hearing Dichteliebe in my sleep

Well fragments of it anyway. Most of the time I hear Judge Judy or one of the Real Housewives Horror Shows-which mercifully did not exist in 2006. But they are like a train wreck, no? Impossible to look away.

I'm not tired of it at all. A great work is savored over a life time. I've always believed that art in any medium repays tenfold the attention given it,  and that's been the case for me.

Trumpeting out das ist ein Floten und Geigen, flutes and strings are heard and trumpets blare, well by this time the trumpet such as it is is shouting and rasping away.  Its so easy to forget any technique you may have in the first few minutes of a performance. No, no forget but neglect! It never became automatic for me. That takes years. 

Phyllis Curtin
I love #10-Hor'ich das Liedchen klingen and esepcailly # 12 with its exquisite last line:  when the flowers in their beauty complement the poet's despair:

Sei uns'er Schwester nicht bose
Du trauriger, blasser Mann

Do not be angered at our sister
You sad, pale man

Singing that line is a gift, as is listening to the piano postlude. I prefer to savor Dichterliebe in its small, exquisite moments.

There are rests, quick dissonances and changes of mood that are easy to miss at first hearing. But as you work through you begin to get "it". Music is like life. You never "get" all of it. I love what Phyllis Curtin said, "I was sitting at the piano one day singing over some Poulenc melodies and thinking to myself oh! I 've finally understood this. Then I realized I was 75 years old and had no voice left!"

April 5, 2006

Ben and I are preparing an actual performance for The Ladies.  God bless them, well-to-do matrons who have supported the local symphony -and indeed, founded it-for fifty now sixty years. There'll be a lovely suburban living room filled with spring suits. VO5 hair spray and cocktail jewelry.  There'll be plenty of smiles and a table filled with lime green jello molds.  Not a chocolate cake or a pastrami sandwich in sight.

(Years ago I spoke to such a group and as offered a vegetable concoction and the Head Lady said: "For God;'s sake, Helen, you can't give that to a MAN!"  And out came a large, greasy roast beef sandwich. I tried to demure, but no. The room gasped in delight as I wolfed down every bit of the thing ("God love him, they don't pay him much and he probably never gets a decent meal"...I weighted 220 lbs at the time.)

(And if you think I'm making fun of The Ladies, I'm the first to tell you that without Ladies anywhere in this country there would be no performing arts. Local societies always start with them, and grow because of their generosity and devotion and because wisely the husbands do as they're told.)

Sometimes a husband finds himself stuck in the crowd for one of my talks. I always say, Oh God sir, what did you do wrong? It's either buy her a diamond ring or come hear Christopher of a golf perfect weather afternoon! The husbands get a good laugh. I don't know what awaits them at home. An hour with me on a sunny day should be penance enough.

Back to Dichterliebe.  Ben and I have been preparing for this since last fall.  I never wanted to do an actual performance because I don't want to be judged as a singer. As an amateur in the best sense of the word-for love, yes. The rehearsal process has been lively and instructive. It's been an oasis for me in the midst of writing scripts, ducking management, school work and watching too much TV. I finished the doctoral program in 2008. You have to call me DOCTOR Big-Butt, now.   The cycle is a gift, as is all music and all poetry.  The more you hear it the newer it gets. Small things that were not obvious to me. Holding notes for their full value, especially when set against dissonant chords. Making the words "schmerz", "Engel:, "Rhein", "Blumen", "Herz", words used so often by Heine-have a different meaning that matches the musical setting.  Expressing the WHY even when there is nothing to sing, especially in the pauses between songs.  Patrick Woliver, one of my patient and fantastic teachers reminds me: "Remember you are the face of this work even when you have nothing to sing.  There's no time off until the cycle ends."

I don't regret not being a singer. I don't regret that finding an instrument to express what I've learned to be true of Dichterliebe, based on the music and text, has taken so long. Music is always a journey.

On to The Ladies....

April 18, 2006

We DID Dichterliebe!!

Ben and I performed Dichterliebe the other day for the Ladies of the Worthington Columbus Symphony Support Unit.

Our hostess, Mrs. H said to me "I'm on the young side of this crowd and I'm seventy-nine.  he last time you spoke to us was at Liselotte's house. She died, you know. Went in with an aneurysm poor soul. They were working on her and she said Le me alone! I'm ninety-two and I want to watch my soap operas. So they left her alone and she passed away watching The Young and the Restless. Do you want another brownie?"

Ben and I did the whole piece soup to nuts.
The Ladies, over thirty of them  in one living room mad cooing noises and whispered "adorable" and "too fat" behind the smiles.

Ben was adorable. I was....I've since slimmed down. Under 200 lbs for the first time in thirty years!

Even with some adjustments for hearing aids and a plethora of hair pray,  it was a lovely morning.  Ben and I worked hard.  Ben and I worked very hard. My German wasn't awful, and if I didn't sound like Dieskau I  made music and told the story.  Unrequited love and the struggle between our physical and emotional selves.  I came into my own telling The Ladies "Listen for the words HERZ, SCHMERZ, and GELIEBTER.  here's the whole history of music right there!"   

The Lady to my left, sitting now 2 feet from me, fell asleep by the third song. She was the youngest there, around my age. Mouth open snoring away. Looks of disapproval were shot her way, not by me. Ben and I ignored it and went on. Occasionally a bit of sleep apnea snorted and growled. We tried to make it part of the show. This Lady told me she had never enjoyed music so much! I'll bet!!

After this, how about the Hermit Songs or Fiancailles pour rire?
I'm bitchin; to go on, and Te Ladies will always be with us.
Even Liselotte, who is in heaven watching The Edge of Night. 



Ben and I did finally perform Dichterliebe at Columbus's First Congregational Church. We had been invited by (then) Minister of Music Timothy Smith. Ben is a member and I'm often there for concerts and an occasional service. Good people in a beautiful space. I had come to know the clergy and staff a bit so I was confused that not one of them spoke to us before the concert, and there was no sign of Tim Smith, who after all, had  extended the invitation. Oh, well. On we went-about 100 people in the church, mostly friends of Ben. Afterward lots of hugs and handshakes-NOBODY told me I was a fine singer but several noted my love for Dchterliebe came through. THAT was a lovely compliment.   

Later I discovered why Ben and I had been avoided by the Church staff and Tim Smith was a no show. Tim's father had died very suddenly the night before. "We didn't wan to tell you that before the concert." It was lovely and humbling when later I was told "Your concert was a nice prayer for Mr. Smith." Isn't that what music is for? 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

By Request

I have a new all request broadcast, Fridays from 1-3 PM.
You can send me a request by going to

A the beginning of this project I expected a lot of Pachelbel Canon-Beethoven 5th-Eine kleine Nachtmusick-not that there's anything wrong with that!-
What a bloody snob am I!

Here's a sample of the request received so far.

Havergal Brian: Symphony 1 "Gothic"
Bizet: Pearl Fishers Duet ("Au fond du temple saint") with Caruso and Mario Ancona

Brahms: Piano concerto 2
Hildegard von Bingen: Ordo Virtuum
Shostakovich: Symphony 5
Dan Locklair: Symphony of Seasons

Wienawski: Piece de legende
Mahler: Piano quartet in a
Verdi: Si pel Ciel! (Otello)

Do I love my listeners or what?

For more info on By Request:
 We stream worldwide

Fridays at 1 PM
What do YOU want to hear?