No Song is Safe From Us

No Song Is Safe From Us - The NYFOS Blog
 |  Steven Blier

Today marked the beginning of the tenth season of NYFOS@Caramoor, aka the Vocal Rising Stars Program. I have always resisted the idea of “rising stars”—it goes against everything I feel about making satisfying, essential music. What I cannot resist is our annual retreat to Caramoor. The unfailing warmth of the people who work there, the calm of the environment, and the feeling of being in a artistic sanctuary feed my soul in a way that few other concert engagements can.




Many songs from the American Roots realm (folk, blues, bluegrass, country, gospel, cajun, string band, traditional, and more genres) are cultural touchstones, songs that just about everyone knows. Songs like “Blowin’ In the Wind”, “Stand By Your Man”, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”. But there are hundreds, if not thousands, of lesser known songs being sung in local song circles, small coffee houses, regional festivals that, if given the opportunity, would also find their way into the canon of songs with the power to touch and move any listener.




I’ll admit it—I’m a Snarky Puppy addict. They’re ridiculously good. Picking only one song from them is actually easy because there’s no wrong choice. Listening to only one song is not easy, so if you’re reading this, and you haven’t listened to SP, a good starting point are their Family Dinner albums (volume 1 and 2).




 |  Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts

I spent the school breaks of my college years in Norway, while my parents lived there for a work assignment. It was impressed upon me during that time that the Norwegians are an entirely proud bunch, and nothing makes them more proud than their stunning landscape of rugged coastlines, vast mountain-scapes, and steep fjords.




 |  Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts

I can’t say for sure the first time I heard this song, but I remember distinctly when it first made a serious impression—as an encore at Susan Graham’s recital at Carnegie Hall in 2003. I was absolutely swept away by the beauty of it. Up until then I didn’t really know anything about Reynaldo Hahn (1875-1947), a Venezuelan-born composer who lived in France. Now I see his songs pop up on recital programs frequently.




 |  Steven Blier

Thursday is usually the most intense day—it’s the designated time for everyone to be off book, i.e., memorized. But today—Wednesday, usually a frolic in the sandbox—turned out to be a strenuous day of contact sports. Some of this had to do with the schedule: Marco was to join us in the afternoon, but he could only get there at 3:40. It was our last coaching day with him—yes, he’ll be back for more rehearsals and he’ll play the performances with us, but then he’ll be in his role purely as flautist. So we had a lot to cover in a short period, and that meant the day ended with three hours of extremely concentrated work on all the flute stuff and all the Spanish stuff.




 |  Steven Blier

Tuesday is traditionally the most carefree play-day at Caramoor. The Sunday concert still seems a long way off, memorization is not making everyone into zombies, and we can still do some real exploration with the singers and the songs. Michael and I have a sense of what we’d like our cast to get out of the week’s project, and there seems to be just enough time. It’s like working with plaster of Paris: there is a certain window when the materials are malleable before they harden for good. We seized the day, all of us.




 |  Steven Blier

I always look forward to the first day of Caramoor rehearsal, but I also fear the first day of Caramoor rehearsal. This year’s outing, Four Islands, is a complicated show with songs from Ireland, Cuba, Madagascar, and Manhattan in five languages (including Gaelic and Zulu). It has music hall, vocal chamber music, Afro-Cuban heat and contemporary cool. I knew one of my cast members well, and another was a singer with whom I had a short but fruitful acquaintance. The other two were people I believed in but actually knew very little. So was my pianist.