Newer Every Day

New entry later in the day on August 28

The larger context for the Dickinson song recital is the exhibition of Emily Dickinson art by my students at NKU that I am co-curating with my recent Moby-Dick student Emma Rose Thompson from January – May 2015 in the Eva G. Farris Reading Room of the W. Frank Steely Library at NKU.  The Valentine’s Weekend festivities will provide a showcase for the student artwork and the students who created it. In addition to the recital of Dickinson songs (in the Greaves Concert Hall nearby) we will have a Marathon Reading of Dickinson’s 1775 poems in the exhibition space itself, beginning on the Friday morning and ending on the Saturday afternoon.  I have never conducted a Marathon Reading of Dickinson before, but Cindy Dickinson, the program director of the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, tells me that it takes 14 to 15 hours.  The Friday night concert will punctuate the two-day reading of the poems.  The conclusion of the Marathon on Saturday afternoon will be followed by a panel discussion featuring the student artists and an Emily Dickinson Tea Party.

Kimberly Gelbwasser, soprano

Kimberly Gelbwasser, soprano

The reason I am writing about this in Oakland today is that yesterday I got an email from Kimberly with some very exciting news.  She and Ingrid have decided to perform as part of their February recital the full set of five new Emily Dickinson songs by Jake Heggie that had its world premiere two weeks ago.  Heggie wrote the songs for soprano Kiri Te Kanawa.  He performed them with her at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago on August 12.  Jake, knowing of my interest in Dickinson as well as Melville, had told me of the Chicago performance in advance.  I would have loved to go hear it, but I was so busy with the whale ship voyage and its aftermath that I could not make it.

I knew that Kimberly and Ingrid would be considering some of the earlier songs that Heggie had set to Dickinson poems, so I emailed Jake to see if the score for the five new songs was available in a form in which Kimberly and Ingrid could study them as possibilities for their February recital.  He sent a PDF of the five songs that I could share with them.  This new song cycle is called Newer Every Day, from a Dickinson quote at the beginning of the score: “We turn not older with the years, but newer every day.”  Heggie’s new songs are set to these five poems (to which I’ve added in parentheses the numbers from the Johnson edition of the Complete Poems):

Silence is all we dread (J 1251)

I’m Nobody!  Who are you? (J 288)

Fame is a bee (J 1763)

That I did always love (J 549)

Some say goodnight—at night (J 1769).

These songs differ greatly in subject, mood, and length—as we would expect from the range of Dickinson’s artistry magnified by the imagination of Heggie’s musicality.  The shortest is a setting of this four-line poem “Fame is a bee. / It has a song— / It has a sting— / Ah, too, it has a wing.”  The song that first caught my attention when scanning the score is number 4, “That I did always love.”  This love poem would be perfect for our Valentine’s celebration.  Its subject goes well with that of my favorite Dickinson song, Heggie’s “As well as Jesus” (from his Faces of Love cycle).

Beginning of Heggie’s “That I did always love” (J. 549)

Beginning of Heggie’s “That I did always love” (J. 549)

I would have been thrilled if Kimberly and Ingrid had chosen even one of the Newer Every Day songs to perform.  To hear all five at once will be a real treat.  Kimberly had told me the day before I left for California that she and Ingrid had decided to perform all 12 of the songs that Aaron Copland had set to Dickinson poems in 1951.  I have gotten to know and love each one in the two classes I have now taught in Dickinson and the Arts, but I have never heard the whole set in person.  I can’t imagine a better anchor for a full recital of music set to her poetry.

I had not expected to hear anything new about the musical program while I was in California.  But on Monday, the night before my flight, I got an email from composer Doug Pew, a composer who teaches part-time at NKU.  He forwarded an online article by Janelle Gelfend, music critic of the Cincinnati Enquirer, announcing that Heggie’s Great Scott, his current opera-in-progress, had just been chosen for a ten-day Opera Fusion workshop hosted by Cincinnati Opera and the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati.  The opera, for which playwright Terrrence McNally is the librettist, has been commissioned by the Dallas Opera for a Fall 2015 premiere.

Before getting on the plane I had forwarded this information to Kimberly, wondering if there would be any possibility, while Heggie is in town for the workshop, for him to meet her and maybe even to coach her on one or more of his songs, if she and Ingrid should decide to perform one or more of them.  It was in her response to that email that I learned, after arriving here in Oakland, that she and Ingrid had already decided to perform his entire set of five new songs.

I had already had Dickinson very much on my mind before boarding the plane.  Emma Rose and I had finished much of our work on the catalog for the exhibition of Moby-Dick art in April 2015 and were now beginning to think about the layout of the catalog to accompany the Dickinson exhibition and related events in February.  As with the Moby catalog, Emma Rose will be designing the Dickinson catalog with the InDesign program in an 8 x 10 landscape format to be published on high quality paper by  Each student will receive at least a two-age spread in which a reproduction of the artwork itself is accompanied by a short bio of the student, my photo of the student presenting the artwork to the class, and the student’s artist statement.  All of the artworks were photographed by photography major Emily Wiethorn last Spring, and I have an archive of nearly all the presentation photos and artist statements going back to the earliest work in the show, from 1999.

Before leaving for California, I gave Emma Rose a Word document including all of the ingredients she would need for the student artists in our first two categories, Quilts and Portraits.  This would give her plenty to do while I was gone, and I could then supply the rest of the material soon after returning.  Some of the artist statements I have not looked at for 10 or 15 years.  It was very exciting to read them.  Of course I have a special appreciation since I have been present at the unveiling of each of the 40 works by the 39 artists in the show.  I am hoping that all who see the exhibition, and experience our Valentine’s weekend, will be equally impressed with what these students have achieved.

Detail, Dickinson quilt by Stacey Barnes, Spring 2012

Stacey Barnes, Emily’s Garden, for Spring 2012 class in Emily Dickinson and Henry James

Quite a bit had happened with regard to the Moby-Dick artists I am deploying for Covington in 2015 and Cincinnati in 2016, but I will save these developments for a later entry.  Now it’s back to another cool morning here in Oakland.  I expect that gray overlay from the morning fog will have burned away by the time Afton and I go for lunch at her favorite inland restaurant, Le Bateau Ivre on Telegraph Avenue.


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