Academic journal article Journal of Singing

A Conversation with William Sharp, Part 2

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

A Conversation with William Sharp, Part 2

Article excerpt

SITTING ON THE PORCH of the concert hall at the Yellow Barn Music School and Festival, William Sharp and I continued our conversation . . .

Leslie Holmes: Do you know Paul Sperry well?

William Sharp: Yes. I saw him earlier in the summer.

LH: I'd love to see the two of you performing together. This Ives recording that you, he, Mary Ann Hart, and Dora Orenstein made is such a gift to us all.

WS: There's some good stuff on that recording.

LH: Since Ives was really the person to bring the American song out of the parlor, to have this recording of all of his music, really is a gift.

WS: Yeah. It's an interesting thing. I really like singing Ives, but, again, Ives is not for everybody.

LH: And the songs are so different. You could pick two that you really liked that you couldn't sing, and two that you really liked that you could sing easily. And, for the pianist, the accompaniments are just so different. Some are extraordinarily difficult, and some are quite simple.

WS: You were talking about parlor music. I think Ives really, actually, liked to write parlor music. Sometimes he would mess it up. A lot of the Ives songs that I always really liked are the ones that don't have wrong notes in them-dissonant, jarring harmonies. I like those, too, but I've always loved the simple ones, like "An Old Flame." I think he was embarrassed to write nice music. He thought that only sissies would write music like that, and so he messed them up.

LH: It sounds as if you do a lot of research on what you're singing.

WS: I do. I don't always remember it. Instead of a steel trap for a mind, I think I just have a sieve. But I like to know about the stuff that I'm singing, and I have, at times, read a lot about Ives.

LH: How did you select the composers for your recording of American songs that got the Grammy nomination?

WS: Just, sort of, by fishing around. Steve and I had done a little bit of Paul Bowles, so we went and looked at more. I think there's more Paul Bowles than anything else [on this recording]. We picked some that we liked, that we hadn't heard recorded before-although some of them had been. We did all of the Blue Mountain Ballads, which were, at the time, the only Paul Bowles songs that were in print.

LH: Yes, those are the only ones I have.

WS: There is a book of Paul Bowles-that has gone out of print again-that you can find in libraries. We just looked for stuff. It was the same with Virgil Thomson. I like Virgil Thomson. There are a lot of people who really don't.

LH: Did you meet him?

WS: Yes. Speaking of the NATS Convention in 2000, I sang at it. I gave a concert of American songs on the fourth of July. John Musto played. I don't know if you remember, but we did the Four Songs of William Blake by Virgil Thomson. I knew that John hates Virgil Thomson's music. He just can't stand it. John Musto is a genius-music just comes out of his pores. If he sees a musical instrument he can't not pick it up and start playing it. The only musical blunder I have ever heard John Musto make was at the beginning of one of those Virgil Thomson songs. He just played it at twice the tempo. He couldn't get this piece into his head, because he hated it so much.

LH: As Ned Rorem would say, "It didn't speak to his condition."

WS: It did not speak to his condition. He just is not interested. And so, it taught me a lesson . . . don't ask him to do it. I'd rather do music with John than with almost anyone else.

LH: Have you thought of including any Rorem?

WS: I like Ned, and I've sung some of his music. I've sung the Santa Fe Songs and like them. And I've sung a chamber piece that he wrote for guitar, voice, and cello. I love "The Lordly Hudson." I think it's a great song. I have since come to admire, and really love, a few others.

LH: He told me to sing The Nantucket Songs. They are really wonderful. …

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