Twenty years ago, I came out.

(The video still is sideways, but plays right-side up).


It didn’t occur to me… until a few weeks ago.

As Pride events happen across the country and around the world, I cannot help but think of those who aren’t afforded the same luxury or… privilege. These days, it’s easy to take for granted what the real meaning of Pride is, what it represents, and those who sacrificed, in some instances, their very lives.

As many of you know, I am a first-generation American. My parents emigrated from Jamaica in the 1970’s, and I was blessed to have grown up in New York City during the 1980’s and 1990’s. That said, I can’t help but wonder where I would be if my parents hadn’t immigrated to the United States. Many people don’t realize that because Jamaica was under British colonial rule until 1962, there are still colonial laws on the books which are still enforced to this day; one of which is “Buggery.” In other words, anyone who engages in a homosexual act can be imprisoned for 10 years to life. Furthermore, in many African and Middle Eastern Nations, the sentence for any homosexual Act is death, literally.

To once again use the term “privilege,” it truly is possible for us to not realize just how lucky we are. That said, I don’t pretend that we are treated as equal to any heterosexual; even as I write, many of our Transgender women are being murdered while no one talks about it. These events force me to think of MY privilege (what very little I may have, if any). All this to say I try my best to recognize the good in my world, but I’m doing my best to make it better not just for my sake, but for the sake of others as well.

Below is a link of LGBTQ rights around the world.

State Sponsored Homophobia map 2019

State Sponsored Homophobia 2019

Stay safe, friends.

btw… I don’t speak for anyone but myself.




Happy to be back in the Top 3 on #reverbnation this week. Thanks to all listeners. Headache on Spotify Website

Interview on Bit Depth podcast with Santiago Ramones.

Prélude à l’après – midi d’un faune: an analysis

The following is an analysis of Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l’après – midi d’un faune; the essay satisfied a requirement in my graduate level Analytical Techniques class. I welcome those who choose to adequately cite my analysis, but plagiarism does you a disservice; take the time to do your own research.


Prélude à l’après – midi d’un faune



Matthew Brown, author of the journal article Tonality and Form in Debussy’s “Prelude à ‘L’après – midi d’un faune’” writes “It is hard to imagine a single work that captures the spirit of Debussy’s style more obviously than the Prelude à ‘L’après – midi d’un faune.”[1] Though intended to be a part of a larger work [the poems author, Mallarme, contacted Debussy and “asked him to write a musical contribution to a theater project (never realized) centered on the poem”][2],  its significance is recognized. The prelude is symbolic not only for the composer, but for the genre of Impressionist music. It premiered in “December of 1894,”[3] and its significance stands as a shift away from both common practice and Wagnerian – ism, an idea which grew as the Romantic era and 19th century ended and 20th century musical ideas grew.


The term Impressionism began around the middle of the 18th century. Jann Passler, author of the Grove article on Impressionism writes, “The oldest and in some ways, the most important comes from Hume’s Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, in which he describes an impression as the immediate effect of hearing, seeing or feeling on the mind. The word entered discussions about art in the 1860s, (but) the word impressionism did not appear in conjunction with a specific musical aesthetic until the 1880s. Perhaps referring to the Pièces pittoresques of Chabrier… Renoir spoke to Wagner of the ‘Impressionist in music.’ More importantly for historians, the secretary of the Académie des Beaux Arts used the word to attack Debussy’s ‘envoi’ from Rome, Printemps (Passler, 1).”[4] The term would garner several meanings through the worlds of art and music, as well as social and political associations. But it’s Debussy who’s first thought of when we mention Impressionism in music. As argued by Christopher Palmer, author of the 1973 book Impressionism in Music, Debussy was the “first to translate impressionist theories into music (Palmer).”[5]

The Score

The first and most obvious theme of the piece starts at the beginning: the C#5 on flute in measure 1.  The phrase itself is deceptive, not in the cadential sense, but aurally. Brown writes, “Few passages in the standard repertory are more obscure than the opening of the Prelude.”[6] The listener is given no immediate confirmation of the indicated E – Major key. Perhaps the opening C# is indicative of the relative minor—C#—but to the ear, the C# sounds major, not minor. Could Debussy have used the parallel of the indicated minor? Maybe, but maybe not. The appearance of the quarter note E5 is what establishes the key, E – Major, and marks a stopping point for the phrase. This theme will reappear throughout the work, and is symbolic of the Faune in relation to the poem. The first reoccurrence of the Faune theme takes place at measure 11.  Here, the established key sounds like D – Major until the E – Chord appears in measure 13. At measure 21, the theme makes another appearance, but is different than previous appearances. From measures 21 – 30, the Faune theme is unsettled. There is some parallelism, and combined with the chromatic Faune theme, the music creates the imagery of a whirlwind (in relation to the earlier mentioned origin of the term Impressionism). The cyclic feel will continue until the B – Major chord in measure 30. The chord (to my ear) marks not only a cadence point, but an end to the “A” section of the piece.

If the prelude could be thought of as somewhat a ternary form (ABA), measure 31 would begin the “B” Section (to me). Beginning in this area, Debussy has made several non-traditional music choices. Several chords include “flat – fifths,” such as a C#7b5 in m. 32, and a Bb7b5 in m. 34. Before that, there is a whole – tone sequence in m. 32-33 and again in m. 35. Throughout this area, the theme of the Faun is echoed. A sub – section of the “B” begins at m. 37: the En animant marking. There are some dominant chords, but also some pentatonic activity. Some key changes occur: m. 44 – 50 with no key signature (C – Major/a – minor), and a decision to move to Ab – Major in m. 51 – 54. The short appearance of the latter makes it strange to think an indicated key change was necessary; interestingly, this area is more relative to the indicated key than the preceding sub – section of the “B” area.

Arriving at m. 55, we reach the climax of the piece. Here begins another definite tonic section, Db – Major, which Debussy teased the listener with at m. 46. Matthew Brown’s analysis places m. 55 as the start of the “B” section and labels m. 31 – 36 as a “whole – tone episode” and m. 37 – 54 as a transition. I would argue m. 31 – 54 are, too, part of the “B” section—each being it’s own sub – section— and m. 55 – 78 would be the climactic peak of the development. If I am to agree with the “B” section beginning at m. 55 and ending at 78, I would have to say m. 31 – 54 are also not part of any “A” section and serves its own purpose of moving us to new musical territory.

The “A” section makes a return at m. 79 as A’. Debussy then teases the listener by reiterating the initial theme in a clever way. Measure 79 brings back not only the Faune theme, but the initial key of E – Major and the E- Major chord in the same measure. Something unique, however, takes place from m. 79 – 93. Within these measures lie two subsections: the first being m. 79 – 85 and the second from 86 – 93. The subsections have the following chordal progression:


  1. E/G → c#m7 → F#7 → C/E
  2. Eb/G → cm7 → F7 → B/D#

Whether intended or not, the second subsection—m. 86 – 93—is a transposition, one half – step lower than the first subsection, m. 79 – 85. Also, note the Faun theme moves to the oboe in m. 83 – 84, and to the English Horn in m. 90. All of this serves as movement and uncertainty until our next arrival point: m. 94.

At m. 94 are indicators of the return of the A – section:

  1. The key signature
  2. The return of the Faun in the flutes, and
  3. Debussy’s note of “dans le 1er…”

The section continues in E – Major until the close at m. 110, though Brown recognizes that m. 106 – 110 as a coda. It is important to note that my analysis was not based on Brown’s but Brown’s analysis was used to compare and contrast ideas of sections, subsections and arrival points.



Austin, William, ed. Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun: Norton Critical Series. New York: Norton, 1970

Brown, Matthew. Tonality and Form in Debussy’s Prélude à l’après – midi d’un faune. Music Theory Spectrum. Vo. 15, no. 2 (Autumn, 1993), pp. 127 – 143. Oxford University Press.

Day – O’Connell. Debussy, Pentatonicism, and the Tonal Tradition. Music Theory Spectrum. Vol. 31, No. 2 (Fall 2009), pp. 225 – 261. Oxford University Press.

Lesure, François and Roy Howat. “Debussy, Claude.” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 27, 2017,

Palmer, Christopher. Impressionism In Music. London: Hutchingson,1973

Pasler, Jann . “Impressionism.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 8, 2017,

[1] Brown, 130.

[2] Lesure, 2

[3] Austin, 12

[4] Passler, 1

[5] Palmer is the author of the original comment, but the quote is used in Passler’s definition of Impressionism, p. 1

[6] Brown,131

The Emotional Singer

Emotional physique is as, or more important than the physical. Anxiety can plague a singer at any level of experience. Singers and teachers alike must find ways to combat nerves. Renowned vocal pedagogues Richard Miller (1926[?]-2009) and Barbara Doscher (1922-1996) have unique ideas on the topics of emotion and performance anxiety.

Miller is known for his massive output of literature on the singing voice. He writes, “The best cure for performance anxiety is technical security.”[1] With that, a question is posed: how and who defines technical security? The answer will vary from singer to singer and teacher to teacher. It could mean smoothing the transitions between passaggi, or conquering a florid passage. Miller’s simple answer—practice! He writes, “A great deal of performance anxiety stems from a lack of preparation.”[2] That statement brings two more questions:

  1. What is preparation, and
  2. How is it done?

The answer to the first question may be simple for some, but not for others. To answer the first, we must each set forth a plan to the second question. My response to the second question is this:

  • Know Your Text– This is highly important especially when the text is not written in the singer’s first language. When I choose a song or a cycle, I try to locate copies of the original poetry or text. When text is set to music, it doesn’t always flow in the way it would being read aloud as a poem. While reading the poem, it helps to identify the form, if any. It also helps to find out what you can about the poet/writer. For example, while studying Gustav Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, I researched the poet, Friedrich Rückert. I learned that Rückert lost two of his children in the winter of 1833-34. In his grief, he wrote 428 poems which were posthumously published. Mahler took five of the poems and set them to music. Knowing the context in which the poetry was written helped to guide me in conveying the emotion of the song. The more you know, the more you can communicate.
  • Know Your Music– Be it strophic or through composed, it pays to know your music. Subtleties such as a shift in dynamics, a caesura, or a modulation all can serve as guide posts along the musical trail. Also, learning about the composer in the same manner as the poet/writer can be helpful.
  • Know Yourself– ‘nuff said.

While Miller’s approach seems to equate to a child being thrown from a pier to learn how to swim, Barbara Doscher offers some different advice. In her book The Functional Unity of the Singing Voice, she writes “To help alleviate the symptoms and the anxiety triggering them, neck and back massage, lots of tender loving care and assurances of worth, and supervised warmups are suggested.”[3] She continues, “For chronic anxiety and stress, psychiatric counseling is indicated, together with training in biofeedback techniques.”[4] My favorite piece of advice from Dr. Doscher is: “At other times, just listening to a student will clear his or her mind, and the way is open for the healing power of the music itself .”[5] Massages might be a good idea in theory, but in reality it may not be the best idea for a teacher to massage their students. As a teacher once told me, “We live in a very litigious society;” with that in mind massaging a student should only be between the most comfortable and familiar people. Doscher and Miller do agree on one thing about performance anxiety— Doscher writes, “Those singers who have a sense of security about their vocal techniques seldom experience stage fright, regardless of the provocation.”[6]




Doscher, Barbara. The Functional Unity of the Singing Voice. Second edition. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1994

Miller, Richard. Securing Baritone, Bass – Baritone, & Bass Voices. Okford: Okford, 2008


[1] Miller, 150

[2] Ibid.

[3] Doscher, 256.

[4] Ibid, 257.

[5] Ibid, 257.

[6] Ibid, 257.

The Composers and Poets of 17 of 20.

A copy of the program for my graduate recital.

A requirement for completion of the Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance are written comprehensive examinations and their verbal defense, provided the written component is passed. The red type indicates the question presented by one of the three members of my committee:

“Provide the social context for each group of compositions on your recital:

  • Ibert
  • Kowalski
  • African American art songs—Swanson, Owens, Bonds and Allen.”

Response is as follows:

Ibert (“Don Quichotte”)

The songs of this set were composed for a 1932 film about the story of Don Quixote. There are three named contributors to the song cycle—composer, Jacques Ibert (1890 – 1962), along the poets, Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585) and Alexandre Arnoux (1884 – 1973). A fourth, and arguably the most important contributor is Miguel de Cervantes (1547 – 1616), creator of Don Quixote.

De Cervantes was born near Madrid in 1547 and was the fourth of seven children. His father, Rodrigo, was deaf from birth but worked as a surgeon. Rodrigo’s profession was considered “a lowly trade at the time.”[1] The family was not wealthy and they “moved around often in Cervantes’ youth as his father searched for better prospects[2]; furthermore, “Miguel de Cervantes struggled financially for almost his entire life.”[3] Despite these obstacles, Miguel was “an avid reader as a child.”[4] His first known writings to be published date back to 1569, but the following year, he joined the Spanish military. In 1571, he “fought against the Ottoman empire and sustained serious injuries in the conflict, suffering two chest wounds and the complete maiming of his left hand”[5] by taking part in the battle of Lepanto. In 1575, he and his brother, Rodrigo, were captured by a group of Turkish ships; Miguel “subsequently spent five years as a prisoner and a slave and made several failed attempts to escape. In 1580, a ransom was paid for his release and he returned home. Cervantes worked as a commissary for the Spanish Armada in the late 1580’s—“a thankless job which involved collecting grain supplies from rural communities. When many did not want to supply the required goods, Cervantes was charged with mismanagement and ended up in prison.”[6] It was while in prison he wrote “some of literatures greatest masterpieces.”[7] In 1605, he published the first part of his Don Quixote and published the second part in 1615; Cervantes died on April 22 of the following year.

Of the remaining three contributors to the song cycle, Cervantes’ only contemporary was the poet of the text to the first song, Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585); their lives, however, were quite a contrast. Ronsard was “a younger son of a noble family of the country of Vendôme.”[8] While Cervantes’ education has been “a debate among scholars—some believe he may have been taught by the Jesuits, however others dispute this claim”[9]—Ronsard “was educated at the college de Navarre in Paris”[10] He then served as a page to the Duke of Orléans and James V, King of Scotland.[11] In 1538 he returned to France while it was assumed he would receive either a diplomatic or military appointment. Those aspirations were ended when he was left partially deaf after contracting an illness while “he accompanied the diplomat Lazare de Baïf on a mission to an international conference at Haguenau in Alsace.”[12] Following his convalescence, he studied Greek with “the esteemed scholar,”[13] and “brilliant tutor,”[14] Jean Dorat. Ronsard would become ‘chief” of a group of Renaissance poets know as Le Pléiade, a literary school he formed with fellow student’s who’s aim was to “produce French poetry which would stand (in) comparison with the verse of the classical antiquity”[15] and “to bring the values of Humanism to French verse.”[16] Though never ordained as a priest, Ronsard “took minor orders which entitled him to hold ecclesiastical benefices.”[17]

As previously mentioned, only the first song of the cycle uses the text of Ronsard; the remaining three use the text of Alexandre Arnoux (1884-1973). Arnoux was not only a poet, but also a novelist and actor. Though (arguably) the least known contributor to the cycle, he was a credited writer on twenty-two films from the 1920’s through the 1960’s, according the Internet Movie Database. One of the films to which he received writer credit as a writer was Don Quichotte film to which Ibert composed the cycle; here is where it all comes full circle. Jacques Ibert (1890-1962) was an influential French composer born in Paris; his mother was a “gifted pianist” who “used to play Chopin, Bach, and Mozart—musicians for whom her son retained a particular liking.”[18] Ibert began violin at age four and later began piano; after earning a Bachelor degree, he devoted himself to composition. He earned a living by writing program notes, “giving lessons and accompanying singers.”[19] In 1913 he began studying composition with Paul Vidal and won the Prix de Rome at his first attempt in 1919. Aside from French Mélodie and song, Ibert “composed six operas, over 30 pieces for piano, as well as works for flute, harp, guitar, violin, cello, bassoon, trumpet and saxophone.”[20] Ibert also “contributed enthusiastically to film music in its early years.”[21] Among his works for film are these Quatre Chanson de Don Quichotte. As All Music Guide tells it, “unbeknownst to Ibert, he was only one of five composers approached by producers, who also secured submissions from Marcel Delannoy, Manuel de Falla, Darius Milhoud, and Maurice Ravel; each composer thought his music was to be used in the film. The dishonest circumstances of the ‘competition,’ and the fact that his songs were chosen over Ravel, whom he greatly admired, were embarrassments to Ibert.”[22]

One may only may be able to speculate the motivation of each contributor: perhaps Cervantes creation of the Quixote character symbolized the continued pursuit of life in the face of adversity and obstacles, whether or not similar to the ones Cervantes endured during his life. Perhaps Ronsard was inspired to paint such imagery in his text as he was looking to the bright side of losing his hearing—that he hadn’t lost his life. In the case of Arnoux, it is unclear what his motivations for the poetry was, but in Ibert’s hands every contributor is beautifully represented. Of the cycle Carol Kimball writes, “In his music realizations of these poems, Ibert captures a distinct idiomatic Spanish flavor.[23] In the first song “Ibert’s blend of musical elements produce a distinctly Moorish atmosphere.”[24] The second song “features free vocalism,”[25]and staccato figures reminiscent of guitar strumming.”[26] In the third song “he employs modality in the harmonic scheme,”[27] and in the final song “Ibert uses a slow habanera rhythm to accompany a simple, expressive vocal line.”[28] With the Spanish musical implications, Ibert seems to try to stay as true to Cervantes’ vision while combining those of Ronsard and Arnoux. I do think think cycle should be highly regarded not only with a solo piano, but as an orchestral arrangement. Particularly with the bookending songs, there is a great deal of imagery in the music. Ibert arrangement transports us along the journey with Quichotte; hopefully, the interpreter is able to meet the demands.

Kowalski (op. 2 “Die sonne sinkt”)

Although his contemporaries include Arnold Schöenberg, Max Kowalski’s works fall in the “tradition of late Romantic Lied, to which he was one of the last successful contributors.”[29] Kowalski was born in Kowal, Poland on the 10th of August in 1882; the following year, he was “taken to Frankfurt am Main as an infant, and received his primary education there.”[30] According to sources, he studied voice with Alexander Heinemann in Berlin and was a “gifted Baritone;”[31] he also studied composition with Bernard Sekles in Frankfurt. Though he studied voice and composition, Kowalski obtained a Doctorate in law from the University of Marburg and was an “authority in copyright law;”[32] he would subsequently have his own legal practice in Frankfurt. Kowalski published his first works in 1913; his compositions include:

  • 6 Lieder (op. 1), with text by four authors/poets, including Paul Verlaine
  • 6 Gesänge (op. 3) with text from writers, including Eichendorff
  • 12 Gedichte aus Pierrot lunaire (op. 4)

It should be noted that he composed his Pierrot lunaire “almost simultaneously with Arnold Schöenberg’s famous work”[33] which, according to Phillip Miller, “elicited Schöenberg’s praise.”[34] His compositions became “favorites with such singers as Heinemann, Paul Bender, Joseph Schwarz (Baritone), Maria Ivogön (Coloratura Soprano), Karin Branzell, Heinrich Rehkemper, Heinrich Schlusnus and many others.”[35]

Kowalski continued to compose and publish works over the next twenty years; his output continued until the Nazi Party came into power in 1933, and in 1934 his publications ceased. In 1938, Kowalski was “forced to give up his law practice and was imprisoned in the Buchenwald concentration camp.”[36] (Because op. 2 was published in 1913, nearly three decades before being imprisoned, this had no direct effect on his composition of the cycle). Kowalski was released from Buchenwald in March of 1939 and with the intention of settling in America, he fled to London. According to Miller, he arrived in London too late to make his connection and he remained in London for the rest of his life. When he arrived, he was “penniless and broken in health.”[37] He continued to compose through the years “exclusively songs for voice and piano, though all of his works after op. 17 remain in manuscript.”[38] While in London, he made his living as a “synagogal cantor,”[39] a piano tuner and he was also able to establish himself as a “professor of voice.”[40] Kowalski died in London on the 4th of June 1956.

For his second opus, Kowalski set the text of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) in three songs. The philosopher Nietzsche remains one of the most influential and controversial of all time. Born near Leipzig in 1844, his family relocated to Naumburg when his father—a Lutheran minister—died in 1849. In Naumburg, the household was comprised of “his mother, grandmother, two aunts and his younger sister, Elizabeth.”[41] He “had a brilliant school and university career culminating in May 1869;” One of his professors, Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl, recommended him for a professorship in Basel, Switzerland. During this period, “he had completed neither his doctoral thesis nor the additional dissertation required for a German degree, yet Ritschl assured the University of Basel that he had never seen anyone like Nietzsche in 40 years of teaching and that his talents were limitless. (That year) the University of Leipzig conferred the doctorate without examination or dissertation on the strength of his published writings, and the University of Basel appointed him extraordinary professor of classical philology. The following year Nietzsche was promoted to ordinary professor.”[42]

One of his philosophies was the concept of Nihilism; the term he “used to describe the devaluation of the highest values posted by the ascetic ideal. He thought of the age in which he lived as passive nihilism, that is, as an age that was not yet aware that religious an philosophical absolutes had dissolved in the emergence of 19th -century positivism. With the collapse of the metaphysical and theological foundations and sanctions for traditional morality only a pervasive sense of purposelessness and meaninglessness would remain. And the triumph of meaninglessness would remain. And the triumph of meaninglessness is the triumph of nihilism: “God is Dead.”[43]

‘God is dead’—could this be the death implied throughout the text of the cycle (the second song open “Tag meines lebens, die sonne sinkt… translated means “Day of my life, the sun is sinking…”)? In the third song, death is not only implied, but mentioned with the line ‘Du des Todes heimlichster, süßester Vorgenuß;’ translated roughly meaning ‘You of death secretive, sweetest consumption.’ Death, whether literal of metaphoric, seems to be the central theme of the cycle. Death, as I interpret with relation to this cycle, is not an immediately “bad” thing. Arguably, there is solace in death, which is (seemingly) the perspective of the singer in the cycle. By using Nietzsche’s text (apparently taken form one of the first six poems of a collection published in 1891 named Dionysos),[44] the imagery is bittersweet with text such as “Was je schwer war, sank in blaue vergessenheit, Müßig steht nun mein Kahn; translated “What ever was heavy, sank in the blue oblivion, Idle stands now my small boat.” The last line of the song is also the last line of the cycle—“Schwimmt nun mein Nachen hinaus…”—translates to “My boat now floats far away…” But where is this “boat” floating to? Is the boat a metaphor for the spirit of a person, floating towards a spiritual realm? For me, it is.

Musically, the cycle follows the tradition of late Romantic lieder, unlike some of musical contemporaries who were using an atonal or serial style of composition. Though the cycle is largely diatonic with a few moments of modulation, but is very inventive melodically, metrically, and rhythmically. (At this point of the “Kowalski” discussion of this essay, I’ve included an earlier analysis of this cycle; if this is superfluous, please continue to the discussion of African-American songs). Song number one begins with the text “ Nicht lange durstest du noch, verbranntes Herz!” Translated, it reads, “No longer will you thirst, parched heart.” The song has 56 measures and alternates between an initial meter of 3/4 with changes to 4/4 . The indicated key is A – flat major and sounds as such. Measures 1 – 8 feature a prelude around the tonic chord; the prelude will return as a postlude with a codetta a measure 79.

Kowalski is meticulous and specific with his demands for tempo and dynamics. Innitially, the tempo is written as “langsam und feirlich,” meaning “slow and solemn, but things take a turn at measure 21. Beginning with a quarte note pick – up from measure 20, the text reads “aus unbekannten Mündern blast mich’s an:” translated it reads, “from unknown mouths, it blows to me (speaking of the ‘promise’ which fills the air). Two major changes occur at this point and continue until measure 26. First, Kowalski gives two specific tempo alterations; the first at measure 21 and the next at measure 23. The first alteration is marked etwas belebter, meaning some life instructing the singer and pianist to do so: inject some life. This occurs as the singer sings “unbekannten Mündern.” Immediately following, however, Kowalski gives another tempo alteration occurring at measure 23. The mark reads etwas langsamer, meaning some(what) slower; this happens when the singer sings “blast mich’s an.”

The second major change highlights one quality which helps solidify Kowalski as a composer in the Romantic tradition. Measure 21 also marks the first and only major modulation, or shift in key. Measure 21 features an E7 chord, but there are two interesting things Kowalski does. First, the chord is blocked in the right hand, while the left hand plays the 1 and 5 of the chord in an arpeggiated style. Secondly, Kowalski uses an enharmonic spelling of the chord, spelling it as an Fb7 chord. In theory (pun!), the dominant seventh chord would lead to the tonic—particularly during the common practice period of 1650 – 1900. Kowalski, however, choses to resolve the Fb7 chord to an A+ chord. Interestingly, this chord also uses enharmonic spellings (the tonic of the chord is written as a Bbb). Continuing to measure 23, Kowalski moves to an Ab7 chord to an E9 chord; measure 24 moves from an Ab/Eb chord to a D7; measure 25 features a Gb˚7 chord which moves to an Eb7 chord, setting up a return to the tonic of Ab major in measure 28. This entire area may not even need to be thought of as a modulation, but Kowalski makes use of secondary chords. His first use of secondary chords appears in measure 11. On the word “durstest” which means thirst, Kowalski uses a dbm chord; in the major key, the IV chord would be a major, but in this instance, it is a “iv” chord. The movement from the Ab Major chord to the db min chord creates a feel of hope and promise. Probably not by coincidence, a similar chordal movement occurs from m. 14-19 beginning with the word “Verheißung,” which means “promise.”

In the second song, Kowalski is more inventive rhythmically, but tonally the song does not stray too far from the indicated key of E Major. The song is in triple meter throughout and possesses two signatures—9/8, 6/8. As with the previous song, the second possesses a prelude; its theme appears as a postlude as well, but it also reappears at measure 36. The initial tempo is marked as Sehr langsam, or very slow. At measure 7, however, he gives a tempo alteration marked rasch, or fast; the fast tempo will continue until m. 17. From m. 7 – 11, Kowalski creates a pensive and dissonant feel by using and repeating the G5; in measure 7, the pitch is on its own, but he adds the F4 from m. 8 until m. 11 creating an interval of a major second in the right hand, while the left plays single note on the downbeats of the m. 8 and 9 before the triplet figure in measure 10.

In this song, Kowalski’s tempo alterations are more specific than in the last song. At measure 18, he ends the fast feeling and gives the marking langsamer ahhungsvoll; translated, the marking means slower but fearful or ominous. Perhaps the best tempo alteration in the piece, if not the cycle, occurs at m. 24. He marks a tempo, but also writes geheimnisvoll or ghostly; the text speaks of “grünen Lichtern spielt Glück…” (“Green lights playing happy…”). The introductory theme makes a return at measure 36; the initial phrase of “Tag menies lebens” is repeated but musically is different from its initial appearance. At measure 42, another tempo alteration—rasch und leidenschaftlich meaning fast and passionate. This fast feel will continue until measure 55 where Kowalski indicates langsamer werden, meaning become slower. Immediately following is the songs peak at measure 56; three markings signal this peak:

  • The “forte” marking in the vocal line
  • The “fortissimo” marking in the piano, and
  • The “molto ritard” marking with a decrescendo to a “piano” at m. 58

The peak occurs at the words “Liebe Purpur” meaning “Crimson love.” The final song in the key of A-major also features a prelude which is later used as an interlude and a postlude; when it appears as the postlude, however, the theme resolves to a Bb7 (inverted with the G# in the bass) then to an a-minor chord, and continues its movement to a temporary modulation to the key of D-Major. When the D-Major modulation is complete, the relative minor (f#) the original key appears on the applicable text “siebente einsamkeit,” which translates to “seventh solitude;” the minor key helps to paint the solitude imagery before returning to the major key and features the postlude, reminiscent of the prelude.

The beauty of this cycle makes it worthy of study, although Kowalski is demanding in his nuances. His catalog should not be overlooked and because he composed for almost all voice types, there is something accessible for anyone who wants to and is willing to do the required work to learn and properly interpret his music.

African-American Songs and Cycles

Except for Strange Fruit, all text sung in the second half of the recital was written by Langston Hughes; that said, most this information was included in the recital program and previous projects.

Langston Hughes (Early Years)

Langston Hughes is one of the most revered writers of the 20th century. More than a poet, Hughes was also a playwright and novelist. Per Grove, his works have been “set by about 60 composers with over 200 song settings of his poetry.”[45] Hughes is not only one of the pivotal figures of the Harlem Renaissance, but in all American 20th century writing. James Mercer Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri on February 1, 1902. His father, James Nathaniel Hughes, and his mother, Caroline “Carrie” Mercer Langston Hughes separated soon after his birth and divorced while he was a young child. When the Hughes’ separated, James Nathaniel left for Cuba, then settled in Mexico; the young James Langston moved to Lawrence, Kansas with his mother where she had grown up.

In Lawrence, James Langston and his mother moved into the home of Mary Langston, Carrie’s mother. Mary Langston’s first marriage was with Lewis Sheridan Leary (born 1835), an Abolitionist who was killed during the Harper’s Ferry Raid staged by white Abolitionist John Brown in 1859. Mary would later marry Charles Henry Langston (born 1817), who was also an Abolitionist, a businessman, and a Republican politician in Kansas; C. H. Langston died in 1892.

While living in Mary’s home, James Langston and his mother were impoverished and in 1907, James Nathaniel and Carrie attempted a reconciliation; she and James Langston subsequently moved to Mexico to be with James Nathaniel. When the reconciliation failed, James Langston and his mother returned to Lawrence. During this period of James Langston’s life, Carrie was frequently absent as she struggled to find work; James Langston would live with his aging grandmother, Mary Langston. In 1908, James Langston moved to Topeka, Kansas to live with his mother and start school, but returned to Lawrence and his grandmother the following year. Mary died in 1915 and John Langston then moved to Lincoln, Illinois to live with his mother and her second husband, Homer Clark. There, James Langston began the eighth grade and upon his graduation in 1916, he was named class poet.

That same year, Carrie and Homer gained employment at a steel mill in Cleveland, Ohio; there, James Langston began high school. During these years, James Langston was a regular contributor to his high school literary magazine, The Central High Monthly Magazine. In it, he began to publish short stories and verse; much of these works showed the influence of Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman—poets he was introduced to by one of his teachers and whom he would later cite as being influential. In 1920, James Langston was elected class poet and editor of his high school annual. After graduating later that year, he moved to Mexico to live with his father.

While living with his father, they would clash frequently over Langston’s desire to be a writer; during this time, Langston taught school in Mexico. In June of 1921, he published his poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers in “The Crisis” magazine; in September of that year, Langston enrolled in Columbia University. Soon after, his father suffered a stroke, but Langston refused to return to Mexico to help him. In June of 1922, Langston completed his classes at Columbia and withdrew; afterwards, he would work a series of odd – jobs.

Howard Swanson (“The Negro Speaks of Rivers)

Composer Howard Swanson was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1909, and moved to Cleveland, Ohio in 1917.[46] His mother was a musician and encouraged his early interest in piano.[47] After attending public school, he attended the Cleveland Institute of Music at the age of twelve; there, he studied composition with Herbert Elwell.[48] In 1937, Swanson won a Rosenwald Fellowship and studied in France with Nadia Boulanger. He is also the winner of a grant from the American Academy of Arts and the winner of a Guggenheim Fellowship. Swanson died in 1978.

Published in 1921, the poem is one of Hughes’ earliest. Hughes biographer Donald C. Dickinson writes, “Hughes emphasized the dignity and sensitivity of the Negro, a theme he was to use throughout his career.”[49] Rivers marked a turning point from his previously published poems in The Brownie’s Book, a magazine published monthly from January 1920 to December 1921 by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).[50] The power of the song is built-up by the prelude and the constant repetition of the eighth note followed by the dotted quarter in cut time (2/2); this figure creates a driving rhythm and a sense of urgency passion and power. The “b” section beginning at measure 34 offers a retrospective landscape, initiated by the text “I bathed in the Euphrates…” The opera singer Marion Anderson performed the song at Carnegie Hall in January of 1950.[51] Swanson is best known for his Short Symphony which premiered in November of 1950. Composed in three movements, it is “score for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, trombone, timpani and strings. The composer’s aim was to achieve in the work ‘depth, seriousness, and intensity inherent in a large work.’”[52]

Robert Owens (“Mortal Storm, op. 29”)

Composer Robert Owens was born in Denison, Texas in 1925 and grew up in Berkley, California. His mother, Alpharetta Helms-Owens, was a pianist; emulating her, he began playing piano at the “age of four, composing at eight, and performing publicly at ten.”[53] He wrote and performed his first piano concerto at age 15 with Berkley’s Young Peoples’ Symphony under the direction of Jessica Marcelli.[54] From 1946-1950, he continued his musical studies in Paris under Jules Gentil and “renowned pianist Alfred Cortot”[55] at L’Ècole Normale de Musique after serving in the military. Owens made his formal debut as a concert pianist in Copenhagen in 1952; the performance was “met with rave reviews.”[56] He briefly returned to the U.S. to teach, but moved to Germany to work and live for the remainder of his life.

Owens composed “a large number of works for orchestra”[57] as well as works for solo voice with piano, and opera. His first opera—Kultur! Kultur!—“was performed in the Ulm Opera House to great acclaim”[58] in 1970. He has set poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar, Josef von Eichendorf, Hermann Hesse and Emily Dickenson. In addition to being a concert pianist and composer, Owens was an accomplished stage actor, performing such roles as The Professor in The Lesson, a one-act play by Eugène Ionesco (1909-1994), and the title role of Shakespeare’s Othello; Owens died in 2017.

Mortal Storm was composed in 1965 for Thomas Carey; Carey commissioned the work after having won first prize in the Ard International Competition in 1963 by singing Owens’ Four Motivations. Storm, however, marked a turn in the composer’s songwriting; in his own words, “I moved from the realms of Schubert lieder and demanded of the singer the passion and drama of opera.”[59] A 2008 review in the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) Journal of Singing favors the cycle as being “of interest because it is settings of Langston Hughes poetry and because the composer chose to enter fully the dark side of Hughes’ poetry. The text speaks of isolation (A House in Taos), loneliness (Little Song), impossible dreams (Jaime), faithfulness in spite of everything (Faithful One), and rejection (Genius Child). The music enhances the poems with matching emotional tone and movement, and the songs are well worth study and performance.”[60]

Margaret Bonds (“Three Dream Portraits”)

Composer/pianist Margaret Bonds was born in Chicago in 1913. She was encouraged to develop her talent by her mother who was an organist.[61] After earning a Master degree in music from Northwestern University, she completed additional studies at Julliard. She is the winner of several awards, including a Wanamaker Award, a Roy Harris award and a Rosenwald Fellowship; she also won a scholarship from Florence Price and the National Association of Negro Musicians.[62] Aside from Three Dream Portraits, she is best known for Migration: A Ballet, Mass in d-minor and Spiritual Suite for Piano.[63] Bonds died in 1972.

Three Dream Portraits uses Hughes poetry published between September 1924 and December 1925. The set is performed in first person and uses a whirlwind of emotion. Though Minstrel Man was the last poem of the set to be published (The Crisis magazine; December 1925), it was Bonds’ choice to open the cycle, and with good reason. The pain, sorrow and anger is felt particularly with the final line, “You do not know I die!” Song two, Dream Variation, creates the imagery of just that: a dreamy landscape. The C# Major key dances momentarily around f# minor. Beautiful and unsettling as “Night coming tenderly” is repeated, the imagery of the night skies, fireflies and “a tall, slim tree” are painted.

The cycle closes with one of Hughes’ most well-known poems, I, too! The poem first appeared in New Negro magazine in 1925 but was written the year before. At that time, Hughes was on his second voyage to Europe as a seaman (his first was in June of 1923 aboard the “West Hesseltine, a steamship trading up and down the coast of West Africa),”[64] but jumped ship in Paris where he settled for a few months working as a cook in the Montmartre nightclub Le grand Duc. While vacationing in Genoa, he lost his passport and was stranded; it was during this time Hughes wrote the poem I, too. One can only imagine his experiences which inspired such text as “They send me to eat in the kitchen when company comes…”

Lewis Allen (“Strange Fruit”)

The first verse of this iconic song—made famous by the late, great Billie Holiday—creates a brutal and painful imagery of lynching in America:

  • “Southern trees bear a strange fruit; blood on the leaves and blood at the root. Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze; strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees…”

The song began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, a.k.a. Lewis Allen. Meeropol was “a white Jewish guy from the Bronx,”[65] who graduated from Dewitt Clinton High School— a school who’s alumni includes James Baldwin, Stan Lee, Richard Avedon, Ralph Lauren, Neil Simon, Richard Rogers and Burt Lancaster—in 1921; he would go on to teach English there for seventeen years. As were “many New York teachers in his day, Meeropol was a Communist.”[66] He would “eventually quit the Communist Party”[67] and used the pseudonym Lewis Allen when writing poetry and music.”[68] Disturbed by the racism in America, he was horrified by the image of a lynching. He once said it “haunted”[69] him “for days”[70] and in response, Meeropol wrote Fruit. Being an amateur composer, he set the poem to music and played the song for a club owner who ultimately gave the song to Billie Holiday; the rest is history…

All the songs in the second half of the program were intended to celebrate composers, poets and performers during Black History Month. They are very important for audiences to hear because they are not performed as often as I would hope them to be, but also because they show a different compositional style than was permitted for some African-Americans prior to this time. Except for Strange Fruit, these songs are art songs and should be treated as such. Many works by earlier African-American composers were spiritual which used Gullah dialect­—Burleigh’s Wade In de Water, for example. But these songs are not the same (though both styles are equally important); even Swanson’s Negro Speaks, particularly in the ‘b’ section (“I bathed in the Euphrates…”), has the feel of an operatic aria, just as Owens’ cycle does. Bonds’ cycle is a stark reminder of our American history with pieces like Minstrel Man and I, Too; it was important for me to perform these to remind the audience of where we’ve been; that too was why I chose to perform Strange Fruit. The latter was the most difficult to perform, more so because of the slideshow presentation which accompanied the song. It set a mood, but hopefully reminded people that the atrocities of our history were not long ago which is why it was important for me to perform these songs, and why it’s important for audiences to know these songs.


Anderson, R. Lanier, “Friedrich Nietzsche”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),

Armstrong, Annette Elizabeth. “Pierre de Ronsard.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Date Published: March 9, 2017.

“Miguel de Cervantes Biography.” The Website. A & E Television Networks. Last updated May 6, 2016.

Blair, Elizabeth. “The Strange Story of the Man Behind ‘Strange Fruit.’” Interview by Elizabeth Blair. Morning Edition, NPR, September 5, 2012. Print and audio, 7:46.

Brown, Rae Linda. “Hughes, Langston.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed April 25, 2017,

Carman, Judith. “Owens, Robert (b. 1925). Mortal Storm, Op. 29.” Journal Of Singing 64, no. 5 (May 2008): 650-651. Education Research Complete, EBSCOhost

Finscher, Ludwig. “Max Kowalski.” Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Translated by Phillip Miller. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2003

Haag, John. “Howard Swanson (1907-1978).” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 14 November 2013. Web.

Laederich, Alexandra. “Ibert, Jacques.” Grove Music Online. 4 Feb. 2018.

Miller, Philip L. “Kowalski, Max.” Grove Music Online. 4 Feb. 2018.

Patterson, Willis C. Anthology of Art Songs by Black American Composers. New York: Edward Marks, 1977

“Pierre de Ronsard.” The Poetry Foundation. 24 March 2018.

Rampersad, Arnold, and David Roessel, editor. The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. New York: Knopf, 1996

Rampersad, Arnold. The Life of Langston Hughes Volume I: 1902-1941 “I, Too, Sing America.” New York: Oxford University Press 1986

Rogers, Phillip J. “Robert Owens Biography.” Afrocentric Voices in “Classical” Music.

Schrott, Allen. “Jacques Ibert: Chansons de Don Quichotte, for voice & piano (or orchestra) (from film score).

Slominsky, Nicholas. “Max Kowalski.” Bakers Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, 8th Edition. New York: Schirmer, 2001

Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans: A History. New York: Norton, 1971

Voss, Viola. Guide to the Papers of Max Kowalski. Last Modified April 4, 2012.

[1] “Miguel de Cervantes Biography.” The Website. A & E Television Networks. Last updated May 6, 2016.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Armstrong, Annette Elizabeth. “Pierre de Ronsard.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Date Published: March 9, 2017., p.1

[9] “Miguel de Cervantes Biography.” The Website. A & E Television Networks. Last updated May 6, 2016.

[10] “Pierre de Ronsard.” The Poetry Foundation. 24 March 2018.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Armstrong, Annette Elizabeth. “Pierre de Ronsard.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Date Published: March 9, 2017., p.1

[13] “Pierre de Ronsard.” The Poetry Foundation. 24 March 2018.

[14] Armstrong, Annette Elizabeth. “Pierre de Ronsard.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Date Published: March 9, 2017., p.1

[15] Ibid.

[16] “Pierre de Ronsard.” The Poetry Foundation. 24 March 2018.

[17] Armstrong, Annette Elizabeth. “Pierre de Ronsard.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Date Published: March 9, 2017., p.1

[18] Laederich, Alexandra. “Ibert, Jacques.” Grove Music Online.

[19] Ibid

[20] Ibid

[21] Ibid

[22] Schrott, Allen. “Jacques Ibert: Chansons de Don Quichotte, for voice & piano (or orchestra) (from film score).

[23] Kimball, Carol. Song: A Guide to Art Song Style and Literature. Revised Edition. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard, 2005. 218

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ludwig Finscher. “Max Kowalski.” Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Translated by Phillip Miller. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2003, 1

[30] Nicholas Slominsky. “Max Kowalski.” Bakers Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, 8th Edition. New York: Schirmer, 2001

[31] Finscher, 1

[32] Finscher, 1

[33] Finscher,1

[34] Finscher, 1

[35] Finscher,1

[36] Viola Voss. Guide to the Papers of Max Kowalski. Last Modified April 4, 2012.

[37] Finscher, 1

[38] Finscher, 1

[39] Slominski, 1947

[40] Finscher, 1

[41] Anderson, R. Lanier, “Friedrich Nietzsche”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), p. 2

[42] Magnus, Berndt. “Friedrich Nietzsche.” Encyclopædia Brittanica. Encyclopædia Brittanica Online. March 26 p. 6

[43] Ibid, 6

[44] I am still unable to confirm this outside of the following link: Wiki

[45] Brown, Rae Linda. “Hughes, Langston.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed April 25, 2017,

[46] Patterson, Willis C. Anthology of Art Songs by Black American Composers. New York: Edward Marks, 1977. x

[47] Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans: A History. New York: Norton, 1971. p .465

[48] Patterson, Willis C. Anthology of Art Songs by Black American Composers. New York: Edward Marks, 1977. x

[49] Dickinson, Donald C. A Bio-bibliography of Langston Hughes. 2nd ed. Hamden: Shoe String Press, 1972, p. 14

[50] Ibid, 14

[51] Haag, John. “Howard Swanson (1907-1978).” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 14 November 2013. Web. 31 January 2018.

[52] Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans: A History. New York: Norton, 1971. p .465

[53] Owens, Robert. Mortal Storm, op. 29: Song Cycle for Baritone and Piano. Munich: Orlando-Musikverlag, 1969 (Classical Vocal Reprint, 2005).

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Patterson, Willis C. Anthology of Art Songs by Black American Composers. New York: Edward Marks, 1977

[58] Owens, Robert. Mortal Storm, op. 29: Song Cycle for Baritone and Piano. Munich: Orlando-Musikverlag, 1969 (Classical Vocal Reprint, 2005).

[59] Carman, Judith. “Owens, Robert (b. 1925). Mortal Storm, Op. 29.” Journal Of Singing 64, no. 5 (May 2008): 650-651. Education Research Complete, EBSCOhost

[60] Ibid.

[61] Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans: A History. New York: Norton, 1971. p .474

[62] Ibid, 474.

[63] Ibid, 474.

[64]Rampersad, Arnold, and David Roessel, editor. The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. New York: Knopf, 1996, 9

[65] Blair, Elizabeth. “The Strange Story of the Man Behind ‘Strange Fruit.’” Interview by Elizabeth Blair. Morning Edition, NPR, September 5, 2012. Print and audio, 7:46.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Ibid.

[70] Ibid.