Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Songs of H. Leslie Adams

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Songs of H. Leslie Adams

Article excerpt

IN THE FIELD OF ART SONG COMPOSITION, one American name must be added to the register of champions, H. Leslie Adams. A native and resident of Cleveland, Ohio, Adams can be likened in his emphasis on vocal music output to great Romantic lieder composers of the nineteenth century, as much for the quality of his song writing as for prodigious output. This is not to say that his writing is lacking in originality; nothing could be farther from the truth. His songs are sung regularly by such artists as Martina Arroyo, Florence Quivar, Veronica Tyler, Mark Doss, Donnie Ray Albert, and many others. They are recorded on Albany Records, Now Records. MSR Classics, and CRS Master Recordings. Still, Adams's songs remain largely unknown to many American singers. This article focuses on his musical life, details some important cycles, and, it is hoped, introduces some worthy repertoire to the reader.

Harrison Leslie Adams was born in Cleveland, Ohio, December 30, 1930. He studied music at Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, where he initially enrolled as a voice student with emphasis on music education. He studied composition with Herbert Elwell and Joseph Wood, graduating from there in 1955. Further composition studies were conducted under the tutelage of Robert Starer in 1959 and Vittorio Giannini in 1960. Adams went on to graduate study at California State University at Long Beach, graduating in 1967, working with Leon Dallin. He earned a PhD from Ohio State University in 1973, where he studied composition with Marshall Barnes. Rounding out his musical preparation, between 1978 and 1983 he studied orchestration with Edward Mattila, Eugene O'Brien, and Marcel Dick.

Currently, H. Leslie Adams works full time at composition from his studio in Cleveland. He has composed not only for solo voice, but has written successfully full and chamber orchestra works, ballet, solo instrumental works, several choral pieces, and an opera, Blake. It is in solo voice composition, however, that he has made the most significant contribution and where one is most struck by his depth of soul. Music lovers from all strata are consistently moved by his lyricism, as well as his connection to text and emotion, and his works have received high critical acclaim.

Adams's songs are firmly diatonic, with no suggestion of atonality or excessive chromaticism. They are tuneful, often simple, but just as often they take the most unexpected and delightful harmonic turns. They don't go quite where we think they will, and are all the better for surpassing our expectations. Each is beautiful in an individual way. "For You There is no Song," one of several settings of Millay . . . immediately enchants us by its sophistication. [None] sound quite like any other composer I know, freeing Adams of cries of "derivative." "Flying" surprises us with its archaic madrigalisms; "Amazing Grace" is rhapsodic; "Lullaby Eternal" is gentle and pretty. They seldom fail to impress. Here is an American song writer who deserves more attention.1

Adams describes his writing inspiration as fluid, spontaneous, almost coming from an unearthly source. This is one reason why he resists teaching composition. "I don't want to talk about how I do it. I just want to do it and not question from where it comes," says Adams. "For me, creation and analysis are diametrically opposed. We have to have good teachers, but I am not partial to being one, after serving for nine years on a university faculty."2 For this reason, he reads no biographical or critical notices. He admits to finding them of little use for assisting his creative flow.

When beginning the songwriting process, Adams searches arduously for text that will inspire him. Chosen words must have "a certain vibration," when he places them on a music stand and regards them from a distance. From this exercise, the composer assesses length, flow, and is sparked into the compositional process thereby. It must be emphasized that the composer writes not for any particular race. …

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