Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Things our Fathers Loved

One of the other recording projects I'm currently working on is producing art song and vocal chamber music content specifically for YouTube.  The initial material that was recorded for the first stage of this project is from a salon concert I gave as the resident artist for San Francisco Performances earlier this January.  As tonight's final presidential debate looms, the subject matter of the program we recorded feels very timely.  The program was built from CAIC's 2015 Collaborative Works Festival, which explored America's relationship to faith and spirituality through music.

That evening in January, we began the program with some songs by Charles Ives, a visionary composer whose music still sounds so fresh and current today, despite the fact that it was written 100 years ago.  A true patriot whose music is steeped in the history of New England and the United States, one of his signature techniques was his ability to conjure up nostalgia and memory by creating aural snapshots of the past.  He did this by employing a pastiche technique, incorporating quotes from a number of popular tunes and hymns, seamlessly weaving them together, creating something that sounds entirely new and remarkably unique and individual.

In his short, 105-second song, The Things our Fathers Loved (a setting of one of his own texts), there are countless numbers of popular American tunes and hymns quoted, including Battle Cry of Freedom, Dixie, and Come Thou Font of Every Blessing, just to name a few.  The song weaves all of these tunes together quite elegantly at first, creating a sense of wistfulness for a golden age past.  Gradually, though, the tunes begin to collide with one another, and the voice and piano start to drift in different directions tonally, creating a slight sense of chaos and cacophony.  It is as if the present moment, being the sum of all things past leading up to now, is a bit of a messy jumble, the simplicity of yesteryear a distant memory.  The song ends beautifully, but in a quite unresolved way.  The story is unfinished, the future is both uncertain and unwritten.

Looking ahead to this evening's debate and considering just how acrimonious, sensationalist and low-brow this whole presidential election cycle has been, Ives' song about the continuing clash of the conflicting forces of American history (the song begins with a quote from the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy and then quotes a popular Union tune just 12 measures later!) feels eerily prescient.  It's almost as if he understood the timeline and progress of American history and politics as one of continual conflict, with the hope for growth through some sort of resolution of these opposing forces.  The sense of panic and instability he creates at the song's climax where the piano and voice are in very different tonal worlds, with no seeming relation to each other and both at a dynamically loud peak, feels not unlike the mood right now when thinking about the dirty mud-slinging and ideological conflict that pervades American politics today, in which presidential candidates can't bring themselves to be good enough sports to, at the very least, shake hands at the beginning of a debate.

Charles Ives
The Things Our Fathers Loved

TEXT (Charles Ives)

I think there must be a place in the soul
all made of tunes, of tunes of long ago;
I hear the organ on the Main Street corner,
Aunt Sarah humming Gospels; Summer evenings,
The village cornet band, playing in the square.
The town's Red, White and Blue,
all Red, White and Blue; Now! Hear the words
But they sing in my soul of the things our Fathers loved.


Nicholas Phan, tenor
Robert Mollicone, piano
recorded LIVE at SF Performances Salons at the Rex, January 28, 2016

Executive Producers: Nicholas Phan, Philip Wilder

Producer / Recording Engineer: Lolly Lewis
Recording assistant: Emma Logan
Mastering / Mixing: Piper Payne, Coast Mastering

Cinematography: Catharine Axley, Kristine Stolakis
Editor: Catharine Axley

This project is a fiscally sponsored project of FRACTURED ATLAS.
To find our more information and to make a TAX-DEDUCTIBLE 
donation to support the continuation of this project please visit:

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