The SongArt group provides a collaborative platform for the exchange of ideas related to song creation in a live performance setting. Three independent but related projects form the nexus of our work, connecting us to other research projects, as well as to the work of professional performers and pedagogues.
PROJECT 1. Singing Mignon: the lyric potentional of poetry and its relation to song performance
ABSTRACT: The precocious but fragile adolescent singer and acrobat Mignon is written to be a uniquely creative creature – one whose spontaneous and insightful singing appears to ‘voice’, or to bring creative insight and meaning to, the unfinished musical fragments of the struggling composer Harper in the novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. Cast by Goethe as ‘poet-(composer)-performer’, Mignon’s singing profoundly alters those who hear it, offering a powerful model for viewing the ‘lyric’, or live creative core of performance, through the lens of the creative individual in action. In Mignon, Goethe proposes two intriguing ‘truths’ about performance: 1. that musical and dramatic meaning is dependent on expert live performance; and 2. that the creative contribution of individuals is necessarily incomplete: whether musician, poet, actor, director, or composer, one’s contribution is only ‘completed’, or made meaningful, in collaboration with others in the form of joint creative action.
Amanda Glauert’s work explores the creative potential of song performance through the lens of Mignon as model performer and primary creative partner for composer, poet, and listener. The character of Mignon also lead us to consider the role of performance itself as the ultimate creative partner – a space within which all partnerships may access and explore their lyric potential.
PROJECT 2. Singing into Liveness: Performer/audience creativity and the act of live song performance in concert
Dr Kathryn Whitney (Associate Fellow, Institute of Musical Research 2010-15; Voice Faculty, Victoria Conservatory of Music) is currently leading a project on the quality of “liveness”, and the creative role liveness plays in facilitating and enhancing the musical and creative responses of performers and audiences in live art song performance events.
ABSTRACT: This project aims to explore the experience and effect of the act of live song performance in concert for performers and listeners. Focusing on the qualities of “liveness”, “creativity”, and “performativity” (how action creates meaning uniquely in individual contexts), it seeks to learn more about the state performers enter into in concert, how the live performance state may facilitate and enhance creative musical responses, and what role the audience may play in jointly “creating” works in a live concert setting.
Taking as a starting point the model of poetry – an art form in which multiple potential meanings are embedded in the poem in written form, but made concrete only through individual acts of reading aloud – this project approaches art songs and related composed genres as incomplete roadmaps: directions that guide performers, but that must be completed by performers and listeners, whose unique creative responses bring meaning to compositions that would not be present in them otherwise. Through a combination of experimental performance workshops, cross-disciplinary collaboration, pedagogical experimental and observation, and extended first-person study of live performance in concert, this project aims to shed light on the act of live performance as unique creative platform, and to provide practical tools for understanding and creatively utilising liveness in concert performance for performers, theorists, and pedagogues.
PROJECT 3. Reflective performance project – SONGHOUSE – In Search of Authentic Amateur Song Performance
The majority of song composers of the 18th and 19th centuries wrote their songs with a view to publishing them in volumes purchased predominantly by amateur performers. Thus, we know that it was amateurs singers and pianists – both men and women – who were the principal performers of the songs of composers like Schubert, Beethoven, and Schumann during their lifetimes.
What is more, it was common in these periods for amateur musicians to perform only one, or at at the most a small group of the songs, in an evening salon gathering. It was not uncommon for one singer-pianist duo to sing one or two songs before another pair took over, or for singers and pianists to change scores – choosing their preferred keys from the available published options – in a single concert to suit their particular voice or ability at the piano. Today, these songs are performed in public almost exclusively by professionals, separating these works from the collaborative, informal – and often very convivial – amateur settings for which they were originally conceived. Professional performance also lacks the flexibility formerly afforded amateurs. What might a performance of the great song cycles of the past be like – and what might be learn about these works – if these songs were reunited with their ‘authentic’ amateur performers?
Our SONGHOUSE projects seek to reclaim this repertoire for the non-professional musician, while also offering amateur singers and pianists access to the sort of in-depth study of the songs normally reserved only for aspiring professionals. At the same time, these reflective performance projects help us learn more about how best to develop instructional and performance models aimed at amateur musicians. Led by Artistic Director, Dr Kathryn Whitney (Associate Fellow, Institute of Musical Research 2010-15; Voice Faculty, Victoria Conservatory of Music), we have completed two SONGHOUSE projects to date, all in association with the Victoria Conservatory of Music in Canada: The Winterreise Project (2015) and The Dichterliebe Project (2016). Both took place at the Victoria Conservatory of Music in Canada.