Academic journal article Journal of Singing

"Bright Is the Ring of Words"

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

"Bright Is the Ring of Words"

Article excerpt

Bright is the ring of words

When the right man rings them,

Fair the fall of songs

When the singer sings them.



EVERYONE KEEPS FILES-often, too many. Though they may be put away and seemingly forgotten, at times we venture into them, hoping to find an answer to a question we have, or simply on a journey of rediscovery.

So it will be with "The Song File." Each column will focus on songs and/or cycles that have some stylistic or thematic connection, or are the work of a particular composer or poet. "The Song File" is intended to be read and used in a variety of ways: as a smorgasbord from which to choose performance repertoire or develop ideas for recital formats; as a resource for auxiliary issues having to do with song literature, such as preparation for performance, or studying poetic content and musical style; and finally, as a user friendly launch pad for new explorations into song literature. I hope "The Song File" will prove useful to those who are fascinated by the magical fusion of words with music.


Art song or classical song blends poetry and music into a unique hybrid-a medium of text and tone that is filtered through the emotions and intellect of the performer. Composers begin with the words and so must singers. In his "Editor's Commentary" in the January/February 2009 issue of JOS, Richard Dale Sjoerdsma emphasized poetry as being "pivotal to our art," and urged singers and voice pedagogues to stress the importance of reading, appreciating, and understanding the texts they work with.1 I have occupied this same soapbox for many years, requiring my students study the texts they sing, to read them out loud, and to integrate poetry into their professional preparation and their daily lives as well. Composers are very literate people. They read constantly. We should ask no less of our students-and ourselves.

Singers are wordsmiths. The texts we sing are indispensable to our performance, and all singers must work with the words they carry to the listening authence. When we sing songs, we sing poems. A really excellent recitalist is a singer who can crawl inside the poem, see how the composer's musical conception transmits the words, and then communicate that to the listener. This does not happen without a systematic investigative process.

Distinguished French soprano and teacher Claire Croiza, said: "Interpretation is the forgetting of self." She went on to say: "Once our word has carried the poet's word, once our voice has sung the music of the composer, we have only to disappear, and our work is accomplished." 2 Thus we have "ringed" the "ring of words."


Reading song texts aloud as an exercise builds awareness of what the words mean and how the text is set to music, without the barrier of singing at the same time. Singers need to read the poem as the composer has set it, with all the expressive musical markings indicated in the music-tempi, dynamics, mood, and any guidelines for performance. Reading in this manner heightens our response to word meaning, vowel color, and phrase nuance. We become aesthetically aware of the text we will be singing-its emotional and dramatic content are instantly intensified. If we read the text in full-voiced phrases that allow the vowels to resonate freely, we free the speaking voice in the same way we will do when we sing.

If the poem/text is in a foreign language, we should go through the same exercise, first reading the text in the original language, then in an English translation of our own making.

I recently added the following books to my personal library; any of them would serve as a good starting point from which to begin reading and working with poetry.

Hirsch, Edward. How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry. …

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