Music of the Fall Season Sprang from the Starting Gate

Sam Black

Tracy Lipke-Perry at the piano, Alice Pierce singing Emily Dickinson
Tracy Lipke-Perry at the piano, Alice Pierce singing Emily Dickinson

In fairly typical fashion, I attended three different music recitals this past weekend, and enjoyed each one for the variety that was presented. The UMD faculty music performances began this new academic year with a Friday recital by soprano Alice Pierce, joined by Tracy Lipke-Perry at the Steinway piano. The Second Saturdays series featuring the Felgemaker pipe organ inside the Sacred Heart Music Center began with a recital by Eau Claire organist Elaine Mann. Finally, the First Sunday series of music at the Karpeles Manuscript Museum featured soprano Jennifer LeDoux, a Minneapolis singer with lots of family in Duluth. I woke up Monday morning wondering where I was and what I was supposed to be doing.

Emily Dickinson in music by R. Michael Daugherty

I personally enjoy being introduced to music that I don’t know, composed by musicians who are new to my list of names. UMD voice and opera instructor, Alice Pierce, sang twenty songs composed by R. Michael Daugherty, a musician she met while she was teaching in North Carolina. She called the program Visions of Eternity, three separate song cycles of poetry by New England’s Emily Dickinson that Daugherty chose and set to music. His ability to create melody and rich harmonic design was demonstrated all evening, as he obviously composed with the poetry front and center. The first set about eternity was understated and nostalgic for the noble vision. The second set was all about honey bees, flirty and buzzing around, with the reminder that ‘to make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee.’ The final set, Emily in Love . . .Emily Alone, became both intimate and glorious, celebrating six of Dickinson’s love poems that continue to make scholars wonder about their implications. 

Lipke-Perry was having a wonderful time with the very pianistic style of Daugherty’s writing, and both performers communicated clearly from one mood to the next throughout these cycles. This was a very personal way of starting the new year of UMD faculty recitals.

A lovely historic organ after major restoration

On Saturday afternoon, Elaine Mann offered music by the very German J.S. Bach, followed by a series of French composers for the pipe organ. The lovely, reverberant acoustic at Sacred Heart Music Center was perfect for the gentle Postlude written by Jehan Alain before he was killed at the beginning of WW II. A Meditation on ‘Brother James’s Air’ by Harold Darke was a total surprise to my ears. This luscious, melodic piece sounded very special coming from the 1898 Felgemaker organ at Sacred Heart. This was the first in a year’s worth of organ programs to celebrate the Felgemaker instrument.

More songs that celebrate life and nature

On Sunday afternoon at the Karpeles Museum, Jennifer LeDoux offered an emotional song cycle, Of Fields and Prairies, by Minneapolis-based composer Jocelyn Hagen. Seven poems from different authors explored the many feelings associated with the earth, the wide expanse of prairies, and the permanence of both life and death. Here was another composer who made each song unique, devoting both melody and harmony to a fine exposition of the text being sung. Even though I was seated at the piano, the combination of words and music was truly powerful. Ledoux’s young, mature, voice shared the simple and the complex emotions flowing through this cycle.  The soil that covers a freshly filled grave will yet be the soil that produces grain for the coming generations. 

This was a very special, very musical weekend, and I look forward to many more in the coming weeks.