Vox Box

21st Century Vocal Music

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Sacred, secular, set to poetry or neutral syllables, vocal music can be found in most every corner of the New Music world. The voice is perhaps the most flexible and expressive instrument out there; everything from oboes to guitars is compared to it. There is something instantly rousing and sort of, well, human about vocal music. It translates emotion in a very visceral way.

This week we'll explore the far corners of vocal music, from secular choral music to songs of lament.

I have a hard time digesting sung poetry; I had always chalked this up to early exposure to opera in foreign languages, but I've learned that a lot of my fellow instrumentalists suffer from the same affliction. Lately I've been making a concerted effort to listen to and absorb lyrics. How do you feel? Does music enhance text or obscure it?

Hosted by:

Nadia Sirota

Comments [3]

Paul Epstein from Lower Manhattan

Yep. Best solution is Dawn Upshaw. Is there a singer out there now with as good enunciation and as clear a tone?
But I still don't always get the lyrics when Dawn singes them, as on the John Adams playing now.
This time of day, while I'm working with Q2 on, I don't WANT to understand the lyrics--too distracting. But in a concert, I just have to hope that they'll provide printed lyrics. Then I try to scan them fast just before or at the start of each song or verse to get the meaning or "feel" for the text, and then take in the rest just with my ears, rather than my eyes & ears.

Dec. 17 2010 03:35 PM
Michael Meltzer

Good singers will tell you that altering the shape of the mouth to improve pronunciation of a vowel will alter pitch as well, and usually they will opt for the right pitch rather than Merriam-Webster pronunciation. It's pretty rare to find a composer with such a thorough understanding of how singers work that he or she puts all the right vowels with all the right passagework, so most of the time you're starting off with a conflict.
The best solution is Dawn Upshaw.

Dec. 14 2010 03:54 AM

This is such a great topic, Nadia. I have a similar issue with lyric, in my case because I have a "writer's ear," constantly monitoring/critiquing what's being done with text. It can inhibit or at least color how the music, itself, is reaching me. I've often opted to listen to work sung in languages I don't speak, the textual aspects then working as human-instrumentals to my ear. Is this cheating? :-)

Dec. 13 2010 04:28 PM

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