Solo Voice and Piano
Composer Adams met Joette McDonald, a poet from Vermilion, Ohio in 1992, when they found themselves seat companions at a theatrical performance in Cleveland, Ohio. During their conversation, they found they shared something in common. Subsequently, McDonald sent Adams some of her poems, and the Composer was struck by the lyricism, beauty, and deceptive simplicity of the poems.
Adams decided to set some of these lovely poems to music and, with the poet's approval, began a collaboration that encompassed a quite extensive song group. "On This Day" expresses pure joy from contrasting perspectives ("look forward, look back, hold fast, let go ... "). "Love Union" (or "Christ at a Wedding") calls forth a Christ presence in the blessing of newly weds, as the two become one.
"In the Midnight of My Soul" calls for a guiding light and beacon of inspiration during times of challenge. "In the maze of weary days You are the compass and the chart." "Cantus" again addresses life's contradictions that turn out to be blessings in disguise. "He will conquer us to bless us, bring us down to elevate." The singer finally succumbs to the "Lord of gentle persuasion" and resides in the comfort that all is in control.
"Anniversary Song" expresses the physical and emotional attraction of two loving, more mature beings as they recall their wonderful life together. "Daybirth" is another expression of joy as the subject runs toward the sunrise. The subject comes to realize a close connection with the Infinite. "Flying" expresses the highs and lows of life's experiences, and the beauty of these contrasting states.
"From a Hotel Room" was, according to the poet, written at just such a location, At one point the subject realizes "the window really isn't mine; I have it for a day ... just now I hold the ownership." In "Love Request" the subject asks his/her love to "come walk with me" and "come sit with m me for a little while." The loving presence and the touch of one's love soothes the soul. "Lullaby Eternal" sings of a parent's (or a creator's) moment of repose before releasing his/her "creation" to the world. "Soon tomorrow comes, child, times cries out to you": we must release our creation to go forth into the world, and this song expresses our feeing of satisfaction before such a farewell.
"Midas, Poor Midas" comes from a larger set of poems dealing with the mythical King who loved his wealth too much. The settings are half tongue in cheek, half serious, as Midas drowns in a sea of his coins and jewels. "Song to Baby Jesus" and "Song of the Innkeeper's Children" have sacred subjects based on the birth of the Christ. "Song of Thanks" is an expression of gratitude for the goodness of one's benefits. "Wave and the Shore" like "Love Union" expresses the joy of two people becoming one in a loving commitment. "Contentment" is yet another expression of pleasure of two lover's union ("Let's share the sunset, whatever the cost." "The package that's offered was tailored for us.") In "Night People," the poet admits to "a world out there that happens after midnight" to which he/she may be unfamiliar, yet finds fascinating. It's a relatively unknown and unfamiliar world, and the song ends with the admission that it's a setting that may remain unknown.
Daybirth is a song group (rather than cycle) yet the consistency of lyrical style, point of view and attitude connect these texts in a unified manner. The songs can be performed individually or combined in various groups. The overriding poetic themes of love, peace and joy are matched by their respective musical settings.
Five Millay Songs
(Five Songs on Texts of Edna St.-Vincent Millay.) This work was begun in 1955 just prior to the Composer's taking up residence in New York City and was completed and premiered in 1961. Millay (1892-1950) is one of Adams' favorite poets; he is particularly fond of her affinity with nature and the lyricism of her words. The original compositions of these songs were done for voice and piano, and were taken from Millay's Collected Poems.
In an article by Darryl Taylor (Journal of Singing, 2008) he states: "Picturesque is perhaps the best word one may use to describe the piano treatment of these songs. The piano intercedes to complete fragments of thoughts where words fail. The score is very specific with expression markings! The voice part is written with sensitivity for the expressive powers of a lyric instrument. The score maximizes effects possible from the singer. On high notes, time is given for blossoming of tone. Lines are written for the voice in such a way as to encourage vowel-to-vowel singing, the framework necessary for true legato. There are some complexities here that will require specific attention if a unified ensemble is to prevail".
The first text Adams set was "Wild Swans". From this followed the others, "Branch by Branch", "For You There Is No Song", "The Return from Town", and "Gone Again is Summer the Lovely", in this order. Throughout this group of settings, Adams was moved by the poet's close association with nature subjects, which served as a creative inspiration. In obtaining permission to use the poems, Adams enjoyed a number of conversations and correspondence with Norma Millay Ellis, the late poet's sister. Orchestrations of these songs were done during the fall of 1987. (Poems used by permission of Normal Millay Ellis & Harper and Brothers, New York.)
While residing in New York City during the early 1960s, Adams met the writer and poet Langston Hughes (1902-67). Adams expressed his great response to the work of the poet, as well as a desire to set some of the author's poetry to music. Following a brief period of written correspondence, Hughes granted Adams formal permission to set a number of the texts to music. Among these were "Prayer" and "Fantasy in Purple"" the latter being renamed "Drums of Tragedy".
After setting the above texts, the Composer set other texts from a poetry anthology to music: "Night Song", text by Clarissa Scott Delaney (1901-1927); "The Heart of a Woman", text by Georgia Douglas Johnson (1886-1966); "Sence You Went Away", text by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938); and "Creole Girl", text by Leslie Morgan Collins (1917- ).
According to Darryl Taylor, "The thematic commonality of the songs suggests night moods and subjects involving nocturnal activities. As in the case of all of Adams works, these songs are accessible to all singers, regardless of ethnicity or gender". Both Nightsongs and Five Millay Songs were premiered December 1, 1961 in New York.
Nightsongs was likewise scored for both piano-vocal and orchestral-vocal. [For a more complete detailed analysis of these two groups, see Taylor's full article in the larger essay section of this site.]
The Wider View
The Wider View is a panoramic portrait of human emotions, from songs of love and the blues to songs of nature and the human spirit. It seeks passion's source and its ability to be sustained.
The journey begins with a need to fulfill an inner yearning, resulting in a search. That experience is depicted in Paul Laurence Dunbar's stirring verse, "To the Road!"
Varying degrees of self-fulfillment reveal a need to pause and reflect which in turn evoke past memories and yearnings. This period of introspection is portrayed in Langston Hughes' dialectical "Homesick Blues."
Continuing onward, relationships are created that are so magnified as to move beyond physical limitations. In "Li'l' Gal" and companion "My Man," Paul Laurence Dunbar employs vernacular verse, light-heartedly depicting affection between two people in an amorous relationship.
Recognizing the broad spectrum of devotion, the journey turns to experiencing loss in Georgia Douglas Johnson's "Love Come and Gone." Such poignancy creates an unsettling question to the soul.
A new horizon is identified in R. H. Grenville's "The Wider View." The learned, imitated and expressed nature of true tenderness emerges, coming from within and lasting forever.
James Dillet Freeman's "Love Rejoices" summarizes the power of passion as a profound inner expression projected outward. At this point, the journey comes to an end on a note of celebration.
This group contains individual songs by the Composer. These songs do not fall into a particular thematic group, rather they are self-contained pieces. This is a growing collection, and at the moment they include "Love Response" and "Love Memory" (texts of Paul Laurence Dunbar) "Amazing Grace" (text by the Composer) "Alone ... " (text by Nikos Valance) "Advocation" (text by Suzanne Hassler) "Christmas Lullaby", "It's So Nice Being Home at Christmas" and "Walking after Midnight" (texts by the Composer).