Kingston’s own Andrew Garland is gearing up for an annual benefit concert this Sunday May 19 called ‘Andrew Garland and Friends : Raising their Voices in Song’ at the First Parish Church Unitarian Universalist at 223 Main Street in Kingston, Massachusetts at 3 p.m. Proceeds will benefit the Kingston Public Library Foundation and the First Parish Church, visit www.kplf.org for more info and www.andrewgarland.com for more on his career.
I had the honor of speaking with nationally-touring baritone Andrew Garland about Shakespeare, the art of music, and further insight into his career.
I saw the Pilgrim Festival Chorus performances of Carl Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ on Saturday May 4 and you were a soloist along with Kimberly Moller and Patrick T Waters. It was a tremendous performance. You ran a gamut of emotions from singing about the power of spring to heartbreak to love to anger and all in Latin. How do you approach work like this?
I’ve been singing ‘Carmina Burana’ for 12 years now. I’ve been in just as many productions of the piece. You could say that my process preparing for it was over that time. When I first approached it, I learned the text and translated it.
When you are an opera singer, you simply have to learn Italian, French, German and some Latin to know what you are singing about. I translated the text and learned how to sing the music. I studied with a teacher and coaches, perform them with dozen different groups, and each time I get a little more feeling for what I think those colorful ancient texts want to say.
Every time you perform it, I am sure that it’s a little bit different each time. For other opera works that you have performed, do you have the same approach of going about a new piece?
That’s a very good question. Most opera singers sing a wide variety of styles and genres in different venues. You know you’re singing music from over 400 years of different stylistic periods. Sometimes you will sing a concert with an orchestra and chorus. Sometimes you will sing just a recital, just you and the piano, and create the whole atmosphere. So sure, your process of approaching these different styles of music is going to be a little different.
I know that it was different for you when you were Starveling in Shakespeare’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ on the Boston Lyric Opera stage.
That was a very different sort of performance. Benjamin Britten’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ in the grand scheme of things, was composed near the time of ‘Carmina Burana,’ but it’s a very different sort of work. It’s a fully-staged opera and an adaptation of Shakespeare, rather than an adaptation of ancient texts sung by itinerant monks who wanted something very irreverent to write about in their spare time. Orff and Britten were writing at the same time, and they overlapped a bit. Their sounds are very different. Orff was German and Britten was British.
Whenever you learn about a new composer, you have to learn a new musical language. You have to learn how they write, what intervals they favor, what harmonies they favor, and how they express texts that they are given. You have to figure that out before you’re really going to take on that first piece that you’re going to sing. Once you figure that out, the next piece you sing by that composer, if it’s a similar style, is a lot easier. It’s like going from your second month learning a foreign language to a third. There’s a learning curve.
That role of Starveling is an ensemble piece. You have to use singing harmonies very often with the other singers and more often you sing in response. You sing interjections which are extremely hard to learn, especially without those other five singers there on the road with you. Imagine that you are learning a part in a play and you have to rehearse your lines, but there’s nobody there with you.
Do you have someone that you can practice with?
Yes, I have a number of coaches. There are a number of very fine coaches in Boston with all of the great music schools. When I am preparing a new piece, I will call one of them up and ask if they can coach me. Not only will the coach play the whole orchestra part on the piano, they will sing everyone else’s lines. Then you can respond to them.
You also have a fourth CD that you’ve done called ‘American Portraits’ and it’s with music like ‘Men with Small Heads,’ ‘A Heartland Portrait,’ and it’s quite a variety of music. Tell me a little about how this CD came about.
For ten years now I had been performing recital programs. I’ve been doing these recitals of songs by living American composers. Now you can call them classical songs. They are composers who studied at conservatory. They studied the great masters like Bach, Beethoven and Schubert. They compose all of their music, which means they write every note out that is to be sung and played as opposed to laying down chords and singing in melody that you may improvise on. That’s the main difference between classical and popular music. It’s an oversimplification, for all intents and purposes. While their music is influenced in a direct line with the old masters, it doesn’t sound like old classical music. It sounds like new, fresh music, because it is.
There is a great variety of music on ‘American Portraits!’ You mentioned this group called ‘Men with Small Heads.’ Those are four songs from a set of poems by Thomas Lux who was in Massachusetts for a time. They’re very funny poems. They stand on their own, but the musical settings highlight the whimsical nature of the poem.
It turns out they’re all true stories. For instance, the poem ‘Men with Small Heads’ opens up, “Men with small heads and women with small heads were everywhere in my home town when I was six/two men standing on the corner, small heads/a woman leans to look at her mailbox and there would be some normal bodies, normal heads/not everyone, in other words, in my hometown had a small head, but many did enough that I would say to my mother and father, ‘Why does that man have a small head?’/my parents’ heads were normal size/they were glad I mostly didn’t ask why a person had a small head when a person with a small head was in earshot.”
It is funny. When the narrator was six, he thought most people had abnormally small heads. He didn’t have vision problems and didn’t have any psychological problems they could diagnose at the time. He just thought people had small heads. There’s a story about maraschino cherries in a refrigerator. There’s one story called ‘Snake Lake.’ The narrator was afraid there were snakes in the lake where he grew up and warned everybody. Oh yes, I didn’t even mention the snowman song, that’s also a funny one.
See Andrew Garland in person at ‘Andrew Garland and Friends: Raising Their Voices in Song’ on May 19 at 3 p.m. Call 1-781-585-3051 for tickets and visit www.kplf.org for further details! Get a copy of Andrew Garland’s ‘American Portraits’ at www.andrewgarland.com.