By Jacob Stockinger
It would probably be an exaggeration to say that this past Saturday night in Mills Hall (at bottom), University of Wisconsin tenor James Doing (below) reinvented the traditional art song recital.
But it wouldn’t be an exaggeration by much. At least not locally.
And the results were highly successful — both enjoyable and instructive, the twin ideals of the Age of Enlightenment.
It proved so successful that The Ear would like to see similar recitals done by other departments and performers: pianists, violinists, cellists, wind and brass players as well as singers.
To explain, I should begin at the beginning.
Doing, who sang professionally full-time for well over a decade before becoming a teacher and then coming to the UW-Madison, from where he continues to concertize and tour, recently returned to teaching from a semester-long sabbatical. According to his own program notes, during the time off he thought about why and how he was teaching.
Such reflection can be good – instructive, restorative and, in this case, productive. It’s exactly what academic sabbaticals are supposed to encourage.
So Doing (pronounced DO-ing) came back and set up this recital with the title “Teaching Favorites.” (Great wordplay title, no? Is “teaching” a verb or an adjective?)
The program featured 29 songs by 23 composers and ranged in styles from the Italian, British and German Baroque composers to modern and contemporary American composers.
The songs were pieces that Doing likes to assign to his students, and his program notes, which contained English translation of the lyrics, explained why: To help, for example, with diction and phonetic pronunciation. (Doing’s own diction, by the way, is outstanding.)
Doing and his exceptional piano accompanist David Sytkowsky — a recent UW graduate who stepped in for an injured Martha Fischer with less than a month’s notice — bookended the concert.
In between came five of his students, each performing one song, most using one student accompanist. (Two outstanding student performers were freshman bass-baritone Benjamin Li in Vaughan Williams’ “The Vagabond” and senior soprano Leigh Atkin in Copland’s “Why Do They Shut Me Out of Heaven? Did I Sing Too Loud?”)
By the end of the evening Doing has sung in English, German, French and Italian.
And the audience vicariously experienced what it was like to study with Doing, to pursue voice professionally. And there are a lot of would-be solo singers as well as choir members out there.
The format proved very apt for an educational setting on several scores.
It educated the audience. It was kind of like sitting in on Art Song 101. It let us listeners into the studio and allowed us to hear what makes for good repertoire, a good program and a good lesson.
It was also great to see a professor sharing the recital stage with his students. To be sure, each will continue, and should continue, to perform his or her own individual solo recitals. But Doing is primarily an opera and oratorio singer so he was much like the students when it came to these first public performances of art songs.
But sharing the stage lends credibility to the teaching process. It projects a certain solidarity and cohesion. It also projects cordiality, which is no small thing, even as we see different singing and performing styles. (Doing himself, to my ears, excelled especially in the songs by Italian, English and German Baroque composers such as Caccini, Conti, Purcell and Handel, and with French composers such as Ravel, Debussy, Faure and an exquisite song by Reynaldo Hahn.)
I also think that Doing has a useful book in the making here. Doing says he found it hard to narrow down this particular program of 29 songs from some 150 songs he had listed as his primary teaching repertoire when he started out planning this recital.
That means there are at least four more such recitals to be done. Imagine performing those recitals with more of Doing’s informative and readable notes that accompanying teaching texts for each songs and maybe even a CD of some of the best or most instructive performances.
To me, it sounds like a great project fore UW Press – or perhaps even G. Schirmer and Company, the famous music publishers.
Too bad there wasn’t a bigger audience present to hear the recital – but then it was the same night as a hockey game at the UW-Madison. And you know what that means. The sport of singing comes in a distant second.
If you want to get a leftover copy of the program notes (or receive them in a PDF format by e-mail) from Doing, you can call the UW School of Music at (608) 263-1900 or e-mail Doing at email@example.com or at (608) 263-1929. If you like vocal music or want to know more about it, it would be well worth your effort.
I think you will soon be able to stream, and make a CD on your own, it from the Events Calendar on the UW School of Music’s website:
Did you go to the “Teaching Favorites” song recital by James Doing and his students?
What did you think?
What do you think of the shared teacher-student format in general?
Of the didactic or pedagogical aspect of the recital?
Would you like to hear Doing do another such recital?
The Ear wants to hear.