A song cycle of American verse

Hume, Mesler debut original works. They make beautiful music together. No metaphor, the phrase precisely describes the collaboration of Seattle composer David Paul Mesler and island vocalist Barbara Hume. Mesler composed a song cycle set to poetry by W.H. Auden, Carl Sandburg, e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost and Walt Whitman with Hume’s voice in mind, songs the two will perform here April 8.

  • Wednesday, April 6, 2005 5:00am
  • News

Islander Barbara Hume sings original compositions by David Paul Mesler at the Bainbridge Commons this Friday.

Hume, Mesler debut original works.

They make beautiful music together.

No metaphor, the phrase precisely describes the collaboration of Seattle composer David Paul Mesler and island vocalist Barbara Hume.

Mesler composed a song cycle set to poetry by W.H. Auden, Carl Sandburg, e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost and Walt Whitman with Hume’s voice in mind, songs the two will perform here April 8.

They met in 2000, when Hume sang a solo for the Bainbridge Chorale of a setting of the 23rd Psalm that Mesler had written for the group.

“I went up to him and said, ‘I want to work with you,’” Hume recalls.

Mesler had already penned the beginnings of a song cycle featuring text by American poets, but many of the more than 600 songs – from which Mesler culled for the upcoming concert – were composed over the past year.

“I’ve been writing a lot, and many with Barbara in mind,” he said, “because I like her voice and I like her style, and I like what she brings to the text.”

Hume teaches English at Bainbridge High School and Mesler writes poetry, so both were already familiar with the texts, an ease that has enriched both composition and vocal interpretation.

“I think that we are both mature as artists,” Mesler said. “We just have a lot of life to bring to the table, and a lot of artistic life to bring.”

The accomplishments of these two musicians cover an intimidatingly large swath of cultural turf. Hume’s solo concerts have included opera, art song, jazz and traditional spirituals for concerts in Seattle, St. Louis, New York and Los Angeles – and, most recently, at Benaroya Hall, Seattle’s Asian Art Museum and King FM to debut Mesler’s songs.

Also trained in dance, she has performed and choreographed with companies in Salt Lake City, St. Louis, Los Angeles and New York, and has performed in musical theater revues in New York and Boston.

Emmy-nominated Mesler combines composition and piano performance. Leader of both a jazz group and a classical trio, he has performed for luminaries ranging from Bill Clinton to Bill Gates; composed scores for 17 films; and had his music played by Kronos Quartet, Metropolitan String Quartet and Four Winds Quartet, among others.

Composer-in-residence with the Bainbridge Chorale and the Northwest Symphony Orchestra, he teaches at Seattle Central Community College.

Although classically trained, Mesler feels free to combine idioms. For the current song cycle, he defined “Americana” to include folk, blues, jazz and gospel, creating works that are melodic while astringent and challenging.

“That’s all American material appropriate to American poets,” he said. “We present them in a different light than they are sometimes (viewed).”

Mesler explores the lyrical, romantic side of Walt Whitman – a poet perhaps best-known for the robust Americana of “Leaves of Grass” – in songs like “O You Whom I Often and Silently Come.”

Although “sexy” might not be the first word that leaps to mind when one thinks of contemporary composition, the adjective surely fits the sinuous twining of voice and piano around Whitman’s lines:

O you whom I often and silently come where you are that

I may be with you,

As I walk by your side or sit near, or remain in the same

room with you,

Little you know the subtle electric fire that for your sake

is playing in me.

Hume’s clear mezzo builds to the unmistakable passion of the poem’s close – a climax all the more effective for the restraint and subtlety that characterize her voice overall.

While listeners might anticipate Hume’s nuanced interpretation of Mesler’s songs set to Emily Dickinson’s poetry, one is ambushed by her earthy rendition of e.e. cummings’ preference for naked women over statues – for life over art – in the song for “mr youse needn’t be so spry.”

“This music allows you to discover every nuance in your voice,” Hume said. “It doesn’t typecast you in any way.”

While she has had to stretch to master music that includes “these incredible arpeggios from high A’s to low G’s,” the partnership supports that growth.

“There’s a connection I make to the diverse style (Mesler) creates that allows me to go there vocally,” she said. “I’m not fighting the music – it fits where my instrument is going right now.”

* * * * *

Well-versed

Barbara Hume and David Paul Mesler perform at 7:30 p.m. April 8 at the Bainbridge Commons. Tickets are $10 for adults; $7 for senior and students, funded in part by the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council and sponsored by Island Music Guild. For advance tickets, call 842-5485.

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