Letter from the Editors

Sparks & Wiry Cries has some big news: we have received our tax exempt status and are now an official 501c3.  Even more important, we are growing by leaps and bounds! You will notice that our header now has three different pull down screens that will house the three arms of Sparks & Wiry Cries.  Our online presence will remain the same, bringing you insightful articles, fun blog posts, and interviews through podcasts and print, housed now under The Art Song Magazine. Adding to this online presence are the very successful NYC based Casement Fund Song Series, now entering it's fourth season, and a commissioning program for new song, seeking those who enjoy a collaborative process between composer and poet.  This next year will be one of transition as we grow our board, our advisory board, and begin to raise funds. We are also beginning our process of creating new performance opportunities for the bounty of worthy artists.  There are more exciting things on the horizon, but at this point, we aren't ready to share all of the developments just yet! You will just have to wait to see what else is in store for Sparks & Wiry Cries... 

And as ever...if you missed it before, our very first CD has been made available in digital form through iTunes, Amazon, CDbaby and other digital distributors. We hope you enjoy!  Many thanks again to Colin Mills at Aberration Photos for our stunning cover art, and to the musicians and production team.  We are really proud of this first release - so what are you waiting for?  Click that link!

Co-Editors in Chief,

Martha Guth and Erika Switzer

Featured This Month

Song of the Day: a new feature!

February 26

Despite her important contributions, soprano Camilla Williams (1919-2012) has been largely written out of the history books. Williams was the first African-American to have a contract with a major US opera company, with her 1946 performance as Cio-Cio-San in New York City Opera's first production of Madama Butterfly.

Williams was born in Danville, Virginia, as the youngest of four siblings. Her parents didn't have a lot of money to spare from their jobs as a chauffeur (father) and laundress (mother), but they had a love of music, which they passed on to their daughter. She began to take private voice lessons at age 12 with Raymond Aubrey, who taught her from home (during the era of Jim Crow, she was not allowed to work with him at the all-white colleges where he taught).

Williams graduated from what is now Virginia State University with a degree in music education, taught third grade for a year, and then was awarded a scholarship to further her voice studies in Philadelphia. After a few more years of study, Williams was giving a recital in Stamford, Connecticut, attended by the soprano Geraldine Farrar. Farrar became Williams' champion, securing her a recording contract with RCA, putting her in touch with a manager, and contacting City Opera's founder and artistic director, Laszlo Halasz. Her performance as Cio-Cio-San began an eight year relationship with City Opera, but despite her successes with fans and critics, she was largely cast in non-white roles. In 1995, Williams recalled, "I would have loved to sing the Countess and Susanna in ‘Le Nozze di Figaro.’ Mozart was so right for my voice. But they were afraid to put me in a white wig and whiter makeup."

Williams also had the distinction of being the first African-American to sing a principal role with the Vienna State Opera; of singing "The Star Spangled Banner" before Martin Luther King, Jr.'s iconic "I Have a Dream" speech; of appearing as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Symphony, Chicago Symphony, and Royal Philharmonic, to name a few; and of appearing as Bess in the first complete recording of "Porgy and Bess." She was the first African-American Professor of Voice at Indiana University as well as at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.

Williams was aware of being overshadowed by artists including Marian Anderson (who will be featured tomorrow, on her birthday). From the same 1995 interview, she noted that "The lack of recognition for my accomplishments used to bother me, but you cannot cry over those things. There is no place for bitterness in singing. It works on the cords and ruins the voice. In his own good time, God brings everything right."

Though Williams is best remembered for her operatic performances, she was by all accounts a wonderful concertizer, as evidenced by the 1952 recording below, with pianist Borislav Bazala. Let us help bring everything right by enjoying this stunning performance of French and Italian repertoire.

New Podcast with American Baritone, Thomas Hampson

Sparks Co-Artistic Director Martha Guth interviews internationally renowned Baritone to discuss American Song, his Hampsong Foundation and the Song of America educative Initiative which explores the history of American culture through Classical song.

Composer Profile: Juliana Hall

The music for Celestial Refrains: Songs of Juliana Hall was chosen directly by its featured composer.  In this article, composer Juliana Hall discusses her musical roots, her compositional process, and the inspiration behind the music chosen for Celestial Refrains.


The Cartoonery of Tyler Duncan (Baritone)


Susan Youens: Of cannibalism, the abolitionist movement, and Brahms:  An unlikely conjunction  

For those of us who love Brahms’s songs, our first encounter with “Kein Haus, keine Heimat” (No house, no homeland) was probably a shock—it certainly was for me. Published in 1884 when Brahms was fifty-one years old, this work is twenty measures of undiluted bitterness, over almost before...  

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Michael Musgrave: Brahmsian Sea Pictures

It is often observed of Brahms’ songs that they emphasize rounded melody and harmony at the expense of textual nuance. Three ideas lie behind this view: that Brahms’ devotion to folksong as an ideal of self- sufficient melody limits his response to words both rhythmically and in imagery; and that this ideal also tends to an instrumental character that prioritizes musical development over poetic text; and... 

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Deen Larsen: Another Side of Elly

Deen Larsen’s extraordinary words stop me in my tracks.  My tracks, so often hasty and restless, at first resist the meditative depth of his thoughts, but then, slowing out of curiousity, welcome the provocation.  Thank you, Deen, for... 

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Emily Ezust: Some Thoughts on the Gentle Art of translating

It can be disappointing to open an art song recital program and find no translations inside, especially these days when there can be such delightful variety in the languages offered in one concert. Perhaps many North American audience-members will know enough French or Spanish to get the gist of...

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"Why Song" Lynne McMurtry, contralto

Singing as a profession is famously difficult to sustain. Any one of us who has walked a few steps on this path knows how difficult it is to find representation, to endure the endless rounds of fruitless auditions, to land enough gigs to make it possible to keep going… frustrations abound. But what about when you’ve finally gotten the gig (hurrah!), yet after all the work it took you to get there, it just feels... somehow… unsatisfying?

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Magnum Opus Tasting Concerts: Matthew Burns, Founder

Did you know that the terms used by sommeliers and wine aficionados to describe the layered characteristics of fine wines directly parallel those used by opera professionals to describe the subtleties of the voice? Magnum Opus Tasting Concerts is a brand-new, salon-type event combining wine tasting and song recitals. We produce curated recitals that feature world-class singers matched with world-class wines whose descriptions parallel one another...

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Baltimore Lieder Weekend: Daniel Schlosberg, Director

I suppose I was predisposed early on to starting an art song festival. I played Schubert’s wonderful, expansive D Major Sonata, D. 850, in high school and was familiar with the more famous Schubert songs before I arrived at Peabody for my undergrad.  It was there that I met baritone Ryan de Ryke and his mentor, the great John Shirley-Quirk... 

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Dr Robert Holst: The Curious Case of H.H. Holmes

H. H. Holmes (aka Herman Mudgett) earned the distinction of being one of the first, if not the most prolific, of America’s serial killers. After having credited several murder victims to his account, Holmes opened a hotel in Chicago during the...

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A teaser for our latest podcast - Excerpts from the Motown project by Alicia Hall Moran.


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