Two reviews of I Hear America Singing

Two reviews of last weekend’s I Hear America Singing concert appeared today. One, written by Michael Caruso, [link] appeared in the Chestnut Hill Local. The other review, written by Tom Purdom, [link], appeared in the Broad Street Review. Both reviews make great reading and have many remarks that warmed our hearts. Here are some snippets, to whet your appetites to read the entire reviews by following the links we gave above.

From Michael Caruso’s review:

Suzanne DuPlantis was heard to great distinction in George Crumb’s “The Night in Silence,” […] was able to project it with unaffected intensity and delicate poignancy […] Loveliest of all was her rendition of local composer Kile Smith’s “There Is No Great and No Small,” […] Michelle Johnson sang some of the evening’s most disturbing songs […] with a glowing tone and imposing projection […] were sung as emotional catharsis as well as with musical artistry […] I was particularly impressed by Troy Cook’s rendition of Marc Blitzstein’s “Emily (The Ballad of the Bombardier)” […] Tony Boutte’s performance of “Sure on This Shining Night” by West Chester’s Samuel Barber reminded one and all what a true master the composer was […] Laura Ward offered exquisite accompaniment.

From Tom Purdom’s review:

Lyric Fest’s season opener ended with a new arrangement of Daron Hagen’s 2014 setting of Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing.” Hagen created the arrangement for this event and it made a perfect finale […] a moving WWII “Ballad of the Bombardier”; a Charles Ives cowboy saga; and Ned Rorem’s beautiful arrangement of “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair.” […] There were two other premieres on the program besides the arrangement of “I Hear America Singing.” […] Conahan did such a good job […] Kile Smith’s setting of a short, mystical text by Ralph Waldo Emerson […] for piano and mezzo-soprano, that was as light and sustaining as water […] The vocalists […] have impressive international resumes and voices to match […] Suzanne DuPlantis is an art song enthusiast who takes the texts of her songs very seriously […]

The last sentence of Tom Purdom’s review made us a little misty-eyed:

Lyric Fest’s quirky, unpredictable, beautifully executed programs have become one of the glories of my life.

May more and more Delaware Valley people have the chance to find us and see what glories we offer for their lives!


Grunge dirty flag of United States of America

Coyotes by Ricky Ian Gordon, to a poem by Ray Underwood

“I understand you, coyotes.
I understand the way you croon.
I never did before,
Before I hungered for his kisses,
Underneath an amber moon…”


I love this song.

A century ago when I was a young singer I went to a music festival in California – The Strawberry Creek Music Festival – or something like that. We performed chamber music in the evenings for the public, and during the day we rehearsed, we look voice lessons, we coached with a pianist, and we “studied acting” with an actor.

The actor’s name was Ray. He was a young, handsome guy with a compact build and grey eyes. I might be making up the grey eyes part. Anyway, a mutual friend told me he had AIDS. These were the years where that black plague was mercilessly slashing through our ranks.

Ray had a raw vulnerability about him. Once, demonstrating an emotional scene, he burst into agonizing sobs, giving full vent to whatever was gripping his heart. We sat there stunned. He then pulled his character together, turned, and picked up an apple and started to eat it. “Grief comes in waves” he said, “when it passes, you do normal things.” I don’t know why, when I have forgotten so very many things, that I remember this so clearly.

Turns out Ray was a poet too, and when he died, his mother gathered his poems together and published them in a small volume called “All that hums.”  I wonder how composer Ricky Ian Gordon chanced upon Ray’s poem. I’m sure there is a story there. But he did, and he penned (as they really did back in the 80’s) a heart-on-your-sleeve Tango, full of pathos and camp. A perfect song, and Ray lives on.

Ain’t life grand?

COYOTES by Ricky Ian Gordon and Ray Underwood



Grunge dirty flag of United States of America

Lady of the Harbor    by Lee Hoiby
(from The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus, as it appears on the Statue of Liberty)

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

And, Oh, give me words like this to sing!


Emma Lazarus’s The New Colossus
Richard Perry/The New York Times

In case I haven’t given myself away before now, let me just say clearly for the record – If it weren’t for the words I wouldn’t be a singer. I am fully aware of how dumb and dumber that sounds… I’m letting it stand. For, as I often say to my students, “if you do not care about what your words mean, and conveying them, you might as well be a flute.”  Not that there is anything wrong with being a flute… but if one wants to hear beautiful sounds that have their own independent meanings – listen to instrumental music.

A singer, however, sings words and tells stories.

On “I Hear America Singing” I’m the lucky singer who gets to sing Emma Lazarus’s nation-defining words, and Lyric Fest gets to tell the story of a young Jewish poet, fourth generation or more, whose ancestors welcomed George Washington to the Newport Congregation in 1790, who somehow befriended Emerson, who visited Waldon Pond, and inspired the praise of Walt Whitman, and more to the point, who penned the words that are engraved and mounted into the lower pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. 

And in 1985, Lee Hoiby set them to music to celebrate the Centennial of the Statue of Liberty. And that word-smith himself!… here is what he had to say about his song, and I quote:

“Lady of the Harbor…  It’s only a minute long, but it’s a kick-ass piece.”

Hear it HERE


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The White Dawn Stealing 
from “Four American Indian Songs” by Charles Wakefield Cadman (1881 – 1946)

September 17, 2016







Okay, how’s this for a life?

The year is 1851. You are born in NYC. You study business. No, wait, you really are a musician at heart. You study organ.

Eh, no. Turns out, that’s not exactly your thing. You, against all odds, are intrigued by ethnomusicology. (Think: indigenous folk music.)

You’re young and it’s 1878. You move to Germany to study musicology. But lo, in your mind’s ear, you Hear America Singing. So, you return home to research the music of the Seneca Indians. You don’t just hang around the periphery, you move in, you are quite literally initiated as a member of their tribe, you spend your hours transcribing all their songs and melodies. No matter that the “American Indian Wars” are still going on.

I must say, Dr. Theodore Baker, you are So Interesting.

And you are not alone in this quirky pursuit. Composer Charles Wakefield Cadman is a kindred spirit. He himself travels around the US collecting native American music for the Smithsonian. Your lives intersect and we have the song to prove it!  “The White Dawn Stealing,” featured on our upcoming concert, is Cadman’s arrangement of an Iroquois love song, transcribed by Theodore Baker, with a pseudo native American poem penned by Nelle Richmond Eberhart, (who wrote librettos for the Metropolitan Opera.) It takes a village…

Here is a fun Contemporaneous YouTube recording of this song from 1911. On Lyric Fest’s concert, you will hear it in the beautiful, sonorous baritone of Troy Cook.

Now to close, I can’t resist sharing this video that appeared in my facebook feed yesterday. And I can’t help musing that this young child could be the great-great-great-great-great-great granddaughter of Baker and Cadman’s “Indians.” Here she is, dancing to the ancient drums of her people. A big Soul in a tiny body, and she never misses a beat.

Now, your turn to follow the beat of your own drum.



The Crossing

Crossing photo

The Crossing is a professional chamber choir conducted by Donald Nally and dedicated to new music. Consistently recognized in critical reviews, The Crossing has been hailed as “superb” (The New York Times, 7/15), “ardently angelic” (Los Angeles Times, 4/14), and “something of a miracle” (The Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/14). Formed by a group of friends in 2005, the ensemble has since grown exponentially and “has made a name for itself in recent years as a champion of new music” (The New York Times, 2/14).

I Hear America Singing – Press Release

Media Contact
Lari Robling
215 978 6933

Lyric Fest Presents I Hear America Singing
Throughout history American song has given voice to our rich cultural heritage

PHILADELPHIA, PA – September, 2016

Lyric Fest’s fourteenth season, Song for America, begins with a look at the richness and variety of American music. I Hear America Singing is a concert celebrating our cultural identity through the works of an all­-star American roster of composers. Performances are Saturday, October 8, 2016 at 7:30 pm at Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church and Sunday, October 9, 2016 at 3 pm at The Academy of Vocal Arts, 1920 Spruce Street.

The heritage of American song is stitched together like a patchwork quilt from regions as far-­flung as Appalachian mountains, the whaling north, westward expansion and Faulkner’s south. In venues as diverse as tent revivals, cotton fields or concert halls, American song expresses ideas, hopes, fears and everyday life.

In the signature style of Lyric Fest concerts, the program juxtaposes musical styles and expression from Bob Dylan’s poem Chimes of Freedom about the down and out, set by John Corigliano, to Stephen Foster’s famous Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair beguilingly arranged by Ned Rorem, or the dark ugliness in Strange Fruit by Lewis Allan to Harold Arlen’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

Co­-founding artistic director Suzanne DuPlantis said, “When people raise their voices in song, you get a sense of who they are. Whether it is the purity of shape note singing as communal expression, a patriotic strain or the art music of our most revered composers, there’s a lifting up of the American spirit.”

In addition to works including Stephen Foster, George Crumb, Charles Ives, Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland, I Hear America Singing will also feature an Iroquois tribal melody, The White Dawn is Stealing, set to music by Charles Wakefield Cadman.

“The program captures the beauty, humor, compassion, divisiveness, passion, and zeal that is evident throughout America’s colorful musical history,” said co-­founding artistic director Laura Ward.

In keeping with Lyric Fest’s commitment to supporting established and emerging composers, the program includes a newly commissioned work by Kile Smith to an Emerson text, a newly commissioned arrangement by John Conahan of the great American hymn tune How Can I Keep from Singing, and a premiere finale by Daron Hagen.

Says DuPlantis, “Our mission at Lyric Fest has always included supporting newly composed works through our commissioning initiative. As we focus on songs of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we thought it particularly important to also represent the twenty-­first century. Kile Smith, Daron Hagen, and John Conahan give an exciting expression to this new millennium.”

Performances by Tony Boutté, Tenor; Troy Cook, Baritone; Suzanne DuPlantis, Mezzo Soprano; Michelle Johnson, Soprano; and Laura Ward, Piano.

Lyric Fest offers reasonable and affordable season subscriptions as well as single tickets online and at the box office.

About Lyric Fest
“Compulsively enterprising…” (David Patrick Stearns, Philadelphia Inquirer)
Lyric Fest was founded in January 2003 as a 501 c.3 and is currently led by two of its founders, Artistic Directors Suzanne DuPlantis and Laura Ward. Dedicated exclusively to the voice recital, Lyric Fest occupies a singular place in the Philadelphia artscape and expands the definition of the song recital by jointly featuring regional and internationally recognized artists. Together they produce a happening that is more than just a concert of songs. The mission of Lyric Fest is “to bring people together through the shared experience of song by offering to diverse audiences lively, theme-­oriented voice recitals designed to edify, educate, stimulate dialogue, and foster community.”

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You can find a PDF of this press release for our upcoming concert, I Hear America Singing, here!

Denyce Graves


Recognized worldwide as one of today’s most exciting vocal stars, Denyce Graves continues to gather unparalleled popular and critical acclaim in performances on four continents. USA Today identifies her as “an operatic superstar of the 21st Century,” and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution exclaims, “if the human voice has the power to move you, you will be touched by Denyce Graves.”

John Musto


Composer and pianist John Musto is regarded as one of the most versatile musicians before the public today. His activities encompass virtually every genre: orchestral and operatic, solo, chamber and vocal music, concerti, and music for film and television. His music embraces many strains of contemporary American concert music, enriched by sophisticated inspirations from jazz, ragtime and the blues.

Troy Cook


American baritone Troy Cook recently performed his first Ford in the Hamburgische Staatsoper’s Falstaff following his debut with the company as Marcello in La bohème, and debuted with the Royal Opera, Covent Garden as Guglielmo in Così fan tutte.