Lawrence Kramer, Ph.D., built a distinguished scholarly career around the relationship between his two passions, music and literature. So it was only a matter of time before he would come up with the idea for the event that will be held Saturday, April 28 at the Lincoln Center campus.
He was chatting with colleagues about the University’s Poets Out Loud program a few years ago when the conversation turned to music. “This sort of light bulb went on in my head,” said Kramer, Distinguished Professor in the Department of English.
The result was a series of concerts that combine poetry readings with performances of the poems’ musical versions. The third annual event in the series, Voices Up: New Music for New Poetry, will be held at 7:30 p.m. in the 12th-Floor Lounge of the Lowenstein Building. The concert was organized in conjunction with Poets Out Loud. Admission is free.
The event will feature original works by several prize-winning artists. A cellist, violinist and vocalist will perform new works by composers Paul Moravec—winner of the Pulitzer Prize—and David Dzubay, who wrote music for poems by Julie Choffel. Choffel, a member of the faculty at the University of Connecticut, will read from her book The Hello Delay, published by Fordham University Press. The book was the winner of the Poets Out Loud book competition for 2012.
The accompanying music will be performed by violinist Madalyn Parnas, cellist Cicely Parnas, and soprano Sharon Harms, all of whom are students at Indiana University, where David Dzubay teaches. Because their lineup includes the premiere of a piece by Kramer, who is a prize-winning composer, he will read the poetry he wrote as the song’s lyrics. In addition, a work by Hungarian composer Gyorgy Kurtag, comprising fragments from the work of Franz Kafka, will be performed.
This year’s event departs from the standard voice-and-piano format of classical song. The combination of violin, cello and voice “creates all kinds of interesting possibilities, which we’re eager to explore,” Kramer said.
He noted that the event belongs to a centuries-long tradition of marrying poetry with music. He cited the example of prolific composer Franz Schubert, an avid reader of poetry and friend of many poets, who wrote his songs using their poems as lyrics as soon as they were published.
“That’s the way it works in the world of classical song,” he said. “The idea is that you create a relationship between musical expression and poetic expression.”
Because it can be distracting for audience members to follow the poet’s words on paper, he said, the format includes no copies of the poems. Audience members will only listen: First they will hear the poem read, and then they will hear it sung.
“What happens is the expressive additions that come about by putting it to music become more available to people, because they’ve heard the poet reading the poem in the poet’s own voice,” he said. “That really has an impact, we discovered.”
— Chris Gosier