Academic journal article Journal of Singing

A Conversation with Thomas Hampson, Part II

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

A Conversation with Thomas Hampson, Part II

Article excerpt

Continuing with the long and very interesting conversation I had with baritone Thomas Hampson at Tanglewood . . .

LH: Let's have a look at some of the lesser . . . well, not lesser, but the poets about whom people don't know as much.

TH: I think that's a wrong dialogue. It's the wrong answer to a question that shouldn't be asked. And that is this business of lesser poets and lesser composers. I don't care who they are. What interests me is the success of the dialogue. This idea of defining Wilhelm Müller as a secondary poet! Wilhelm Müller was not a secondary poet. Wilhelm Müller was one of the most influential poets on the whole framework of German poetry.

LH: What I meant was lesser known.

TH: Yes, but lesser known usually goes hand in hand with, "If it's lesser known, it probably should be."

LH: Look at your American songs. Look at the composers like John Duke and Charles Griffes . . .

TH: But John Duke and Charles, to me, are mainstream.

LH: I agree with you. I have sung them all my life. But they are not as well known-that's what I mean. And that's what you are changing with your American song. John Duke almost died at my house-I knew him well.

TH: I just admire him so much. I never met him.

LH: He was the nicest man. He was a wonderful pianist and loved poetry. We were working on a recital to perform for Sigma Alpha Iota, so I went out to Northampton once a week for about eight weeks. We did a lot of Teasdale songs, because he loves Sara Teasdale. Every time we did a song-even if we had done it ten times before-he read the poem first. I was to pick him up on Friday, and bring him to my house, for a Saturday recital. He called Thursday night to say he wasn't feeling well, and died that night. I had to sing the recital anyway and it was difficult indeed. I agree with you. I studied with Winifred Cecil for a long time. She started The Joy In Singing, which Paul Sperry runs now. So I am very pro song.

TH: He's just an amazing guy. He's done so much in publishing and recordings.

LH: Look who's calling the kettle black! You have done so much, too. Your whole HAMPSONG Foundation . . .

TH: It's very young. It's not quite folded out. The more I talk about it, the more I realize I need to get a real board together and get some serious funding. We're doing that, because we're gearing up for a big tour in 2009, and that's fine, but what I really want to do is explore the multimedia possibilities for education. I started it very early-the whole website and the whole HAMPSONG idea. It's become a foundation much later. The website's been up for quite some time, and is sort of a pun on my name. Actually, the "S" was a treble clef, but I got rid of that because people couldn't get their head around it. What I really liked about the idea was that there was a place that I could have, and that people could trust. It's there. It came from my desk, my hand, from me. They don't have to rely on somebody else telling them something. I also adamantly refused to have record companies "hands on" involved in it. But, obviously, it's a place where I can exploit what I have done with record companies. It's fine. It's a partnership. I wanted to offer a partnership. The real idea was to get rid of these ubiquitous press packets you had to pay for. I thought, well, hell, I'll put it up on line and you can just go get it. Trouble is that in 1997 probably seventy-five percent of the presenters didn't have access to the Internet and couldn't download the high resolution pictures, so it was a little bit ahead of its time. But, now, it's right in the mainstream, and with podcasts and video podcasts and publishing of music and all that it's just very, very exciting.

LH: It's very exciting.

TH: It's going to get very big.

LH: The last sentences in your welcoming letter, on the site, say this: "With the HAMPSONG Foundation, we want to make a point in favor of art, of music, of singing. …

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