In 1844 the United States shimmered with possibility. Vast expanses of the American Midwest and West were completely untouched by European hands, unseen by explorers’ eyes. The land was in its natural state, and the great majority of our young country provided the magnificence that we experience today in our national parks. A boundless optimism pervaded the American psyche, and this sense of optimism and opportunity was in large part due to the natural bounty and vastness the continent afforded.
It was this year that Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote an essay entitled The Poet, a paper and lecture that would have a profound influence on American poetry and American thought. In it, he called for a new American voice of poetry befitting the greatness of the vast landscape. As Dan Chiasson writes in The New Yorker, “He provided, for the wild synaptic activity of his protégés, the framework.”
In answer to The Poet, Walt Whitman began his literary relationship with Emerson by mailing him a copy of Leaves of Grass in 1855. And in parallel, the teenager Emily Dickinson was forming friendships and accruing life experience that would mold her relationship to life and poetry. Their poetry has been an inspiration for dozens of composers of art songs throughout the years, and continues to be a source of inspiration in the 21st Century. Whitman in his directness of language that is at once rugged, sensual, cosmic, and direct; and Dickinson in her interiority, simplicity, vividness, and immediacy.
The inspiration for this project was a desire for each singer to perform the words of Dickinson and Whitman, with Jamie-Rose’s elegance and lyricism matching Dickinson’s poetry and Seth’s declamatory directness for Whitman’s. We added to the canon of art song by commissioning works by modern composers Scott Gendel and Daron Hagen on the words of Dickinson and Whitman. To bring unity to the program we commissioned a vocal duet by Lori Laitman for performance by all of the musicians on words from Emerson’s essay.
With the crushing daily news about climate change, rainforest deforestation, and the exploitation of natural resources, those of us who are artistically-minded frequently turn to artists’ celebrations of nature. The words of Emerson that Lori Laitman set resonate hope in times like these: “Wherever snow falls, or water flows, or birds fly, wherever is danger, and awe, and love, there is Beauty….”
CONNECT with Jamie-rose GUarrine
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