Thursday, December 5, 2019

Music Kitchen "Forgotten Voices" #10 Featuring Courtney Bryan's "You Made My Day!"

Forgotten Voices World Premiere

Presented in Association with Carnegie Hall 

May 21, 2020 @ 7:30

Zankel Hall

I'm delighted to introduce you to our featured composer from October, Courtney Bryan.  We originally met at a performance for The Dream Unfinished for which we were both involved.  I am excited to see all of the success that Courtney is creating with her work and am very happy to feature her in the Forgotten Voices project!  Courtney Bryan has just moved to Rome for her stint there following her win of the coveted Rome Prize in composition.   I am simply thrilled that you will get to hear her song "You Made My Day" as one of the 15 Forgotten Voices works in our Spring World Premiere Concert in Association with Carnegie Hall and at Zankel on May 21, 2020.
Now, at the end of the workday, I hope you will have a chance to reflect on #GivingTuesday as the launch of the Year End Giving season and what you would like to do to support causes that are meaningful to you.  I certainly hope that you will include Music Kitchen in your giving today.  Your support of Music Kitchen and the Forgotten Voices project will be most welcome by clicking here:
Thank you for all you do.
Warmest Regards,
Music Kitchen New York City - Photos by Gregory Routt

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Forgotten Voices World Premiere

Presented in Association with Carnegie Hall

May 21, 2020 @ 7:30

Zankel Hall

Premiere #10: October

Composer Highlight: Courtney Bryan

Photo:  Arielle Pentes

Chosen Text:

"You Made My Day!"


Courtney Bryan is “a pianist and composer of panoramic interests” (New York Times). Her music is in conversation with various musical genres, including jazz and other types of experimental music, as well as traditional gospel, spirituals, and hymns. Bryan has academic degrees from Oberlin Conservatory (BM), Rutgers University (MM), and Columbia University (DMA) with advisor George Lewis, and completed postdoctoral studies in the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University. Bryan is currently an Assistant Professor of Music in the Newcomb Department of Music at Tulane University and the Mary Carr Patton Composer-in-Residence with the Jacksonville Symphony. Bryan’s work has been presented in a wide range of venues, and she has two recordings, Quest for Freedom and This Little Light of Mine. She was the 2018 music recipient of the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, and is currently a 2019 recipient of the Rome Prize. 

112th Music Kitchen
October 29, 2019

Olivieri Center
Forgotten Voices Premiere #10

Featuring Courtney Bryan “You Made My Day”

Kodaly Duo

 Kelly Hall-Tompkins, violin
Peter Seidenberg, cello
Adrienne Danrich, soprano

It was 4:30 and I finally sat down for my first real meal of the day in the custom Salad restaurant.  For some reason, unlike most places which attempt to keep it cozy inside, this long alleyway restaurant always keeps the door open to the bustle of the city and the winds of every season of the calendar.  In with the crisp winds of mid fall rolled a woman in a wheelchair who seemed as hustled and bustled by life or the city as bowling pins and no longer had time for small talk in her panhandling.  “Can you help me? Can you help me?? Can you help me???” she asked on a continuous loop until she stopped at me.  I barely had a second to look up before she demanded, “Yes or No?!”  Reflexively, always more sensitive to women on the street, I reached into my bag to give her some money. She thanked me and continued on down the bowling alley of a restaurant, now fussing at everyone in her path.  I heard a bit of the kerfuffle as someone suggested she should leave.  As she turned her chair and bowled though some empty chairs on the way out, I called to her, “Do you know about the Olivieri Center?”  She turned to lock eyes with me for a brief connection.  “It’s just 2 blocks away- they can help you.”  Snapping out of it, she then returned vehemently, “How can they help me?  I need $20!”  “They can’t help you if you don’t go,” I said at her back as she blew back into fall.  Having just left Olivieri Center and our concert there, I am reminded that with Music Kitchen concerts we meet people where they are, but we can only meet them, help them at all, when they are at a stage to take that critical step.

 A few hours earlier on this drizzly, early fall afternoon, I walked back into the Antonio Olivieri Center for the first time since our concerts in February and January.  As we ascended the stairs from our rehearsal in the basement, there there were some people already eagerly seated in the performance area and waiting for our arrival.  Most of our listeners for today, though also eagerly awaiting, preferred to remain towards the back, tucked away from any potential direct contact.  It’s ok- and it’s one of the reasons I love to perform here.  We can reach people where they are physically and figuratively. 

 I told the audience about our first piece, the Kodaly, telling them as last month that he and his friend Bartok went into the fields to record people in the country, and that this music is not wall paper, it’s filled with extremes, highs and lows, louds and softs, high drama and stillness.  One man was already drawn in, “Sounds perfect,” he said gently.  “Great!” I replied.  I introduced cellist Peter Seidenberg to play it with me and another man bubbled over in his excitement, “How ya doin’ Peter!”

 We jumped into the piece and midway through, there was suddenly much more activity than usual behind us at the security desk as the real-life circumstances which bring people to a shelter mirrored the drama of our music.  I had to focus my attention on the demanding notes of the piece, but I tried to split my focus to better understand- was that weeping I heard?  The bells and buzzers of the intercom and door also had a frequent say as we played, more than I remember before, again taking on the flurried energy of our performance.  But by the end of the first movement, with its drama quickly unwinding to a calm spaciousness, the calm also fell once again over the room.  “That was nice,” was the immediate reply from one of our listeners seated near the front.  “Did you like that?  What did you think?” I asked.  “He replied, “It mellows me out.”  “Mellows you out?? All that drama??”  Everyone chuckled heartily.  He said, “It’s not too much drama.”  I was surprised, but then watched as my concept of drama vanished like a mirage relative to what he might have seen or experienced in life.  There was an easygoing chuckle all around, then a long silence as no one else ventured to speak. 

 Finally, another man said, “It’s like a movie, it takes you to a lot of places, it’s not a monotone piece.”  “Absolutely,” I chimed in, “it is like a movie that way.”

 A lady eagerly and confidently stepped in to offer her thoughts.  “What I got from it” she began, “because I used to play an instrument…’cause I just returned from living in Europe…” I perked up with her resonances.  I asked her where in Europe did she live.  “Jerusalem,” she replied quickly and assuredly.  And as she continued on with well-spoken phrases and a certain spoken rhythm and confidence of educated settings, it was increasingly clear that her ideas were incoherent from a cause that was unclear, mental illness, addiction, a combination?  I wondered what real life experiences were behind these loquacious but non-linear accounts.

 Another woman offered simply, “It’s a happy piece.”  Our guest Valerie, immediately heard the people working in the fields that I referenced in my introduction of the piece, along with the drama that I also described.  I then segued directly into introducing the next movement, which I described as very calm, before the musical depiction of the thunder and lightening storm I hear in the Kodaly second movement.  As we played the piece, with its highs, lows and occasional stops, our audience was focused and attentive and was never tempted to applaud before the piece was over as sometimes happens in concert halls. At the end, the first listener to offer his thoughts hit squarely on the tone of the work when he said, “some heightened emotion.”  At today’s performance the listeners did hear the ‘thunder and lightning.’

 With no further commentary, I went quickly on to introducing the Forgotten Voices song. Again I explained how I treasure all of the things that the listeners have said over the years, that I seek to honor those words, and take these messages to the public in ways they’ve never seen before.  I explained that our featured composer for this month, Courtney Bryan, is a recent winner of the Rome Prize in composition and that she has as a result just moved to Rome for a year, but that she sends her best regards and admiration for the project and today’s listeners.  I stressed once again that they are hearing the piece for the first time before anyone else.  Because it made such an impression on me at the time, I was delighted to share that the words for today’s song were from a client named Galina, from right here at the Olivieri Center 13 years ago.

 Drawing from American funk and blues harmonic and rhythmic language, while also incorporating  minimalist melismas, “You Make My Day” is very different from any of the songs we have presented so far.   “I like that one!” said the lady from the earlier soliloquy.  “Yeah?” I said, “Great, what do you like about it?”  “It sounds like it has jazz and a little opera,” she replied.  Then a man just had to investigate further his curiosity about the voice when he asked, “You’ve got a microphone in there??”  That drew hearty laughter around the room.  “No, it might sound like it,” I replied, “but that’s how opera singers are trained, to develop their voices that way.”  And the same lady as before said, “It’s very high pitched.”  I explained that Adrienne is a soprano and that other common voice types are mezzo soprano, tenor, baritone, and bass.

 Valerie was curious to know what are the composers instructions from me in this project.  I explained the parameters to write a song 3-5 minutes, use the clients’ full comments and explore whatever theme calls them, from joy, humor and transcendence, to pain, sadness, or memory and that whatever they choose is right. 

Another gentleman said, “you could use some percussion, like a bongo…?”  Without missing a beat, I  asked with a grin, “Did my husband put you up to that?” drawing laughter around the room.  He’s a percussionist, just like this man appeared to be.  The other day, as we rehearsed Kodaly in our living room, he quipped as he walked through, “Needs percussion- I’m just sayin’.”  So I told him Joe would be especially happy at his pronouncement.

 As is typical of the Forgotten Voices song, we played it through a second time.  Amongst the applause and cheers, the same man, reclaiming the levity of his earlier joke, said in a wry strong voice, “Still needs percussion!” causing the room to erupt in new easy-going laughter.

Once the introspection returned, another man said he found the piece to be “very ancestral.”

We then opened up to questions and right away a lady wanted to know when Adrienne started singing.  She explained her roots, from 5 years old, singing Aretha Franklin and in her father’s funk band, then transitioning to classical.

 Picking up on the earlier comment of “ancestral,” Adrienne spoke of the African American composers of the Harlem Renaissance who incorporated the music of spirituals into new classical compositions or crossover compositions intended for the operatic voice.  Prominent among these, she mentioned composer Margaret Bonds, who studied with Nadia Boulanger at Juilliard, and her setting of the traditional song “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”  Adrienne then went on to sing a few lines from the climactic ending of the song, the soaring high notes of which seared the power of the whole afternoon into our audience for hopefully well beyond today.

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