If you have a song recital approaching, whether it be junior, senior, graduate or beyond (or before!), then please read The Art of the Song Recital. Since I discovered The Art of the Song Recital, I have consistently referred to it for guidance, scholarship, and inspiration not only for song recitals but also for teaching and all-things-singing. It has an overwhelming amount of information that inspires as quickly as it informs, and I want to explore the recital genre to its farthest ends every time I read it.
The book begins with this prefatory statement:
Our purpose in writing this book is not only to share with others our genuine love for the song recital but also to give extensive, thoroughgoing, and definitive insights into the attributes that can render it at once a great art and a magnificent entertainment.
With those goals in mind, the authors do exactly that with practical guidance, historical perspectives and a lot of inspiring encouragement.
The guidance offered is extremely helpful. Subjects include:
- Program assembly guides with plenty of example programs and consideration for different types of audiences. I find this very useful, and the sample programs have so many songs and composers that you might find something new.
- The needs of recitalists at various points of their careers. Namely, what is appropriate for someone established is not necessarily appropriate for a high school student.
- Study guides including an invaluable technique for learning music. I teach their song learning method to all of my students.
- Acting advice for singers (with historical perspective!). The chapter on acting–The Singing Actor– is a wonderful introduction to acting methods as well as acting’s relationship to singing and communication.
- Advice to aspiring accompanists as well as primary repertoire lists.
- Methods of song research. This section includes lists of helpful scholarly books that can save a singer time locating authoritative sources.
- Advice on the practical nature of putting on a recital. This includes promotion, wardrobe, audience interaction, programs, etc.
- Guidance on “new music”, folk, pop, ensemble music, and song cycles.
- Creative assignments at the end of each chapter.
- Vast lists of repertoire contained in the appendices. These lists also include the publishers, instrumentation, and vocal parts, if applicable.
And there’s much more than can be sufficiently described here.
Besides being very practical, The Art of the Song Recital contains plenty of history. The first chapter –The Song Recital– begins with an historical overview of the genre. In each of the “music chapters” –New Music, Vocal Ensemble Music, The Song Cycle, Folk Music and Popular Music– there are detailed histories provided, which will prove useful to anyone overwhelmed by styles and genres. The final chapter –The Future of the Song Recital– gives more history as well as an overview of current trends (though having been written in the 1970’s they may seem a little dated). Included throughout are quotes from scholars, performers and composers as well as citations and suggested further reading.
But the history is not without an opinion. To the contrary, the authors are quite hard on singers and managers who reduce the song recital to something boring or, worse, condescending. And that is a major theme; the authors want to song recital to survive and thrive even though it has been, at times, so badly treated. They have written this book to encourage us to be creative and make our recitals at once tasteful and entertaining.
Personally, this book was my constant reference while I was assembling my graduate recital, and it helped keep the process fun, exciting and manageable. I believe The Art of the Song Recital can guide you, inform you, or encourage you as well whether your upcoming recital is your first, twentieth, or just an idea bubbling in your mind.
[From Shirlee Emmon’s website:
Shirlee Emmons currently maintains a private studio in New York after teaching for 35 years on the faculties of Columbia University/Barnard College, Princeton University, Boston University, and Rutgers University. She is the author of five books: The Art of the Song Recital; Tristanissimo: the Authorized Biography of Heroic Tenor Lauritz Melchior; Power Performance for Singers; Researching the Song, and Prescriptions for Choral Excellence. Her workshops and master classes have been presented in thirty-four of the US states, in Korea, and Canada. Emmons’ singing career commenced with winning the Marian Anderson Award, followed by a lengthy national tour with Lauritz Melchior, US and Canadian concert and opera appearances, regular engagements with the major New York City choral organizations, and the award of an Off-Broadway Oscar, the “Obie,” for the leading role in Virgil Thomson’s The Mother of Us All. She is a past chair of the prestigious American Academy of Teachers of Singing. Her students include Hei-Kyung Hong and Harolyn Blackwell.
Of the late Stanley Sonntag, a professional accompanist in the NYC area, she wrote in Researching the Song: A Lexicon:
Some twenty years ago our friend and colleague the late Stanley Sonntag originally conceived the idea for this book. We have made use of thousands of pages of notes for this book left to us by him. Essentially, we rewrote or re-researched the entire book over the last ten years. During decades of work and friendship Stanley generously shared his encyclopedic knowledge with us and with countless other singers and pianists. We miss him still.