Musical Pairs: Mondnacht


Today, I'm excited to share with you two video recordings from our recent program, The Art of Song: Musical Pairs! Just to recap, Steve and I chose to perform two settings of "Mondnacht"–one by Schumann and one by Brahms.  There are several common musical features that suggest Brahms used Schumann's setting as a model:

1. Meter + perpetual motion. Both composers used 3/8 meter and sustained a sense of perpetual motion (suggested by the text) with constant sixteenth notes in the piano accompaniment.

2. Plagal "Amen" cadence. Both settings include a plagal or "Amen" cadence near the end, underscoring the last two words of the text - "nach Haus" (to home). This implies not only a sense of arrival and resolution but also a sense of rest (perhaps eternal rest, as suggested in the text).

3. Introductions. The introductions in both song settings are the same length (six measures), include a fragmented melody (stated twice), and end on a dominant, unresolved chord. This sense of suspension at the end of the introduction leaves the listener waiting for the vocal line.

Here is our performance of Schumann's setting:

And, for comparison, here is the Brahms setting (minus the final two chords because our camera died–so sorry!)

What do you think?  Do you hear the similarities between these two songs?  Did Brahms set this text as a tribute to the Schumanns or was he trying to compete with Robert?

Read more about this concert here, here, and here.

The Art of Song: Musical Pairs Recap


IMG_1696 The Art of Song: Musical Pairs was part of a community concert series at the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford and we had a great time sharing this program with an enthusiastic audience of over 50 people this past Sunday afternoon.

Our inspiration for this program was the idea of musical pairs, specifically between art songs.  An art song is a musical setting of a poem, written for voice and accompaniment, which usually appears as part of a collection of songs. Finding connections between art songs–connections of composer, text, musical features, historical context, among other possibilities–provides insight into the compositional process of how these songs came to be.  These songs have stories to tell: stories that help us appreciate the wealth that this genre has to offer.


The concert program included the following:

"There's nae lark" and "The Daisies" (Samuel Barber) Christiana Reader, viola and Derek Remeš, piano

"Mondnacht" (Robert Schumann) and "Mondnacht" (Johannes Brahms) Steve Danyew, saxophone and Ashley Danyew, piano

"Bei dir ist es traut" (Alma Mahler) and "O ihr Zärtlichen" (Peter Lieberson) Caroline O'Dwyer, mezzo-soprano and Heather McEwen Goldman, piano

"Sure On This Shining Night" and "Nocturne" (Samuel Barber) Dr. Jared Chase, trumpet and Dr. James Douthit, piano


In between each duo, Steve and I led the audience in an interactive game of "Musical Memory"* using the board pictured above.  This was a fun way for everyone present to discover musical pairs, even across genres!  Thanks so much to the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford for inviting us to share this concert program, to all of our friends who performed, and to all who attended and shared in the experience!

*Musical Memory was first seen at the Westminster Chamber Music Workshop in June 2011

Image Credit: personal

The Art of Song: Musical Pairs

Steve and I were thrilled to be asked to present a recital in our church's concert series this spring.  Some of you may recall our previous "Art of Song" recitals - see an overview here and here.  This time, we decided to invite a few friends to join us. In "The Art of Song: Musical Pairs," you'll hear from 4-5 duos, each performing a pair of art songs that have something in common.  This may be a thematic element, a common text or poet or composer, or something more musical and aesthetic.  The repertoire will be chosen by each duo.  Each art song pairing will include performance and a brief discussion about the songs, providing insight and context for the listener.  Steve and I will be performing and facilitating a fun, interactive activity so that you, too can make musical pairs!  If you're in the area, we'd love to have you join us!

Sunday, April 7, 3:00 p.m. First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford Pittsford, New York Suggested Donation: $5 | $10

Cracked Wide Open

You know those times when you feel like your head is in a million places?  You're so busy trying to keep all 10 plates spinning that you're not really 100% present and that responsibility, that weightfeels like the weight of the world upon your shoulders.  Can you relate?

We had a busy weekend.  I spent six hours in the car on Saturday (dropping Steve off for a weekend away, picking up my dress in CT, and running a few last-minute errands: who knew chalkboards were so hard to find?)  The weight of Sunday morning began to set in.  I stocked my night table with a box of tissues and cough drops (battling a cold since middle of last week) and bought an extra alarm clock, just to be safe.  Good thing I thought to take it out of the box before going to bed - another trip out to buy AAA batteries.

Sunday morning, 6:45 a.m., neither alarm sounded.  Thankfully, my night was restless and I was awake anyway.  I dressed for the foggy, cool morning, grabbed a coke, and ran out the door at 7:45 a.m.  To-do: run-through music, pick up chairs in Choir Room, make seating chart for children's choir, rehearse.  At 8:45 a.m., I had four of the twelve children I was expecting to sing.  At 9:00 a.m., I had half of the adult choir I expected.  We started rehearsing nonetheless.  A few more faces joined the group and panic set in as they realized Steve (their unofficial "leader") was not there.  After a 60-second counseling session ("really, y'all will be just fine"), they were on their way.

I took my seat at the piano and waited for the announcements.  Are the choir members leaving enough room for latecomers?  Are they being quiet?  Lifting my hands to the keyboard for the prelude, I saw the pastor stand up and make his way to the center.  I scrambled to change books when I realized he was skipping ahead.  No worries, crisis averted.  And so we proceeded:

Gathering Song Call to Worship Opening Hymn: four verses - melody on the swell manual for the third verse, it's just one wrong note - let it go Passing of the Peace: old language in the bulletin - remember to fix that in staff meeting Don't slip running down to the piano! Scripture readings Time with the Children: will that children's choir member remember that we're singing today, since he missed the rehearsal? Combined anthem (three choirs): it's worth the split-second pause to make sure the page is turned Meditation: why is my contact so blurry?  Will I have to play the rest of the service with one eye closed? Middle Hymn: three verses - fix melody second time through based on how the congregation is singing it Joys/Concerns - moment of panic when all eyes turn to me with announcement of our wedding next weekend Lord's Prayer (sung) Offertory Doxology Offertory Prayer: bolt to organ for Closing Hymn - no time to hesitate, play introduction, hear whispers, see people sit down, read the word, "Communion!" on choir members' lips.  (This prayer is new in the communion service and for over a year it's been my cue to run to the organ.  So, like a well-trained dog, I heard the prayer, and I ran to the organ.  Completely blind once back there, I completely skipped the communion portion of the service.) Skulk back down to the piano. Bread, music (wait for pastor), cup, music (wait for pastor), prayer: dash to the organ Closing Hymn: four verses - make sure choir leaves on verse 2, after the deacons have extinguished the candles Benediction: dash to the piano Benediction Response: who is talking in the back of the church? Postlude

Cracked. wide. open.  Do you know how that feels?  Do you know how hard it is to not let yourself fall apart but instead, to pick up your broken self and keep going?  I suddenly felt much more sick than I really was.  Foggy lightheadedness felt like it could just consume me.  But I had to keep going.  It's not that I expect perfection - I know things can never be perfect.  I strive to be invisible in worship, to be an instrument, per se.  I want the music to speak for itself and I don't want to do anything that detracts from that.

Yesterday, as hard as it was to come out from behind the organ to play the rest of the service - broken and embarrassed, I managed.  I struggled with showing grace to myself.  It's hard for me to just accept such a public moment of fault as "okay."  I took a risk.  I didn't hesitate with the hymn introduction - I came right in, boldly and confidently.  This is one small consequence for that level of risk-taking.  Is it worth it?  Is it better to take the plunge and play your heart out at the wrong time or hesitate, play with half of yourself, and perhaps avoid such public errors?

I'd rather be known as someone who brings their whole heart into what they do; someone who takes those risks and is willing to make those public mistakes; someone who can be cracked. wide. open. and still keep going.  Grace is part of the process.

Preparing to Perform

This past weekend, Steve and I held a joint studio recital (our first!) at the church.  We had almost a dozen students sign up to participate and we've spent the past several weeks of lessons trying to prepare them to perform (for many, this was a first).


How do we prepare to perform?  We do warm-ups, technical exercises, and breathing exercises (for saxophone players, that is!); we practice pedaling in our shoes; we learn how to sit properly, stand properly, bow properly; we practice bringing our hands up to the keyboard and away at the end of a piece; we practice from memory; we perform in front of others; we strive to keep going no matter what happens.  I think this last item is one of the more difficult ones.  Our initial, natural response seems to be to freeze - as if to think, "Did anyone hear that?"

After many recital experiences of my own (including my 2nd grade horror story of completely blanking on Minuet 2), I feel as if I learn something new about myself each time.  There's only so much one can do to prepare for something.  Preparing to perform is no different.  As a teacher, I try to instill confidence, teach professionalism, train memory skills, and encourage students to be the best they can be.  Though, isn't it true that until we experience that rush of excitement and nerves and the flutter of muscles while playing (I have many stories of shaky hands and jittery legs), we don't fully know how to prepare to perform?  For many, myself included, it's a face-to-face confrontation with fear.  It's not about being perfect and not making any mistakes.  It's about communicating with others, sharing music, and overcoming ourselves.

How do you prepare to perform?


The degree recital.  Such a formal term.  It is a milestone in the music degree program and here at Eastman, it means the opportunity to play in the great Kilbourn Hall.  Today, officially April, the recital is finally within sight.  This is the week of preparation, rehearsal, final touches, nervousness, excitement.  I have the great opportunity to premiere several new works on this program so I thought I would share a little bit of the musical experience with you in preparation for Monday’s performance. The recital program is comprised of works by Eastman composer, Steve Danyew (also saxophonist on the program and conveniently, my boyfriend!).  The program order is as follows:

Back Lot (Danyew) for mezzo soprano, saxophone, and piano Fantasy No. 1 (Danyew) for viola and piano Hers Was a Beautiful Soul (Danyew) for marimba and flute Nocturne II* (Danyew) for solo piano Poem (Hartley) for saxophone and piano Nocturne IV* (Danyew) for solo piano Come Home* (Danyew) for saxophone and piano

*world premiere

The first piece, Back Lot is a setting of a poem by Lia Purpura.  The nature of the poem is vague and non-descript, though the character portrays an underlying sense of longing throughout.  The music delicately matches this inward emotion in a very atmospheric manner.  The piece is reflective; hopeful, yet still yearning in the end.  The written intricacies of this composition are such that the mezzo soprano and saxophone often become one voice at times: joined and then inclined in different directions.  Similarly, the piano and saxophone timbres often blend into a brilliant, unified sound.  This piece was premiered this time last year at Eastman’s Warren Benson Forum.

The Nocturne set presents contrasts and an exciting exploration of the elements.  Nocturne II (part of a set of four) begins with low, rich, resonating chord.  As the performer, I find the opening section depicts night reflections in water – the part-writing is such that the hands mirror each other (each moving in the opposite direction).  Suddenly, brilliance appears in the upper register of the piano, as if the stars have instantly appeared.  The closing section is filled with wonder and thrill – darkness, light, and water’s reflection.  Poem, though not explicitly a “night-song” complements the outer pieces in this set through its presentation of contrasts (saxophone and piano timbres, among other things).  The piano begins with a very mechanical quasi-ostinato pattern.  The saxophone melody layered on top is very lyrical and mournful – in a way, the human voice of this piece.  The piano continues to portray “time” (a clock ticking relentlessly) every once in a while “chiming the hour” amidst the saxophone’s emotive melodies.  The set concludes with Nocturne IV, again exploring night, water, and starlight.  In this piece, however, there is the added experience of waves, wind, and rumbling thunder which builds into a frenetic storm.  The piece concludes with the calm following a storm – peaceful but also reflective, as layers of previous musical motives are woven together in the final moments.

Come Home originated from a portion of Fantasy No. 2 for viola and piano.  Steve recreated the piece for mezzo-soprano and piano using the text for my poem, Come Home.  Recently, we decided to transcribe the piece for saxophone and piano, the version included on this program.  The text, a letter from a mother to her son at war is a dramatic representation of love, longing, and remembrance.  The text is as follows:

Hear the rain, the darkness closing in now. Spring has already come without you.

Come home. The days are long and the nights pass slower, Darker even. Still, I keep writing to you. Come home, my son, my love.

Dark the night, the world asleep until morning, Resting in freedom. How I miss you.

Come home. I think of those days A sweet little boy, your smile and laughter and eyes so bright. Come home, my son, my love.

As the dawn awaits the sun each morning So my heart awaits that morning when you

Come home, my son, my love.

Now listen, I want you to know I need you Please be safe, please take care and know that I love you, my son.

Copyright 2008 Ashley Danyew