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SchwanewilmsApril 20, 2017
Anne Schwanewilms
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BeczalaMay 3, 2017
Piotr Beczala
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BlissNovember 15, 2016
Ben Bliss
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GerhaherDecember 6, 2016
Christian Gerhaher
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Lisette Oropesa
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"My Favorite Song"

Guest contributors select one song that has a special, personal meaning for them, sharing specific reasons about why they find the music and lyrics irresistible, and choosing a performance that they feel ideally captures the spirit of that song.

Archive of Past Selections


"My Favorite Song"
August, 2014

Welcome to the monthly feature of the Vocal Arts DC web site in which guest contributors select one song that has a special, personal meaning for them, sharing specific reasons about why they find the music and lyrics irresistible, and choosing a performance that they feel ideally captures the spirit of that song.

From John Brancy, baritone.

Charles Ives: "Tom Sails Away"

John Brancy makes his Washington recital debut in collaboration with pianist Peter Dugan on December 10, under the auspices of Vocal Arts DC's Gerald Perman Fund for Emerging Artists. They have selected a program they have christened, "Silent Night: A Centenary Tribute to WWI through Song," featuring works by, among others, Ivor Gurney, Maurice Ravel, Charles Ives, and George Butterworth.

Scenes from my childhood are with me,
I'm in the lot behind our house upon the hill,
A spring day's sun is setting, mother with
Tom in her arms is coming towards the garden;
The lettuce rows are showing green.
Thinner grows the smoke o'er the town,
Stronger comes the breeze from the ridge,
'Tis after six, the whistles have blown,
The milk train's gone down the valley
Daddy is coming up the hill from the mill,
We run down the lane to meet him But today!
In freedom's cause Tom sailed away for over there, over there!
Scenes from my childhood are floating before my eyes.

Tom Sails Away is a story about family, love, duty, remembrance and grief. In this song, Ives captures what I imagine War must feel like for so many young men and women: being far from home, in unimaginable places and situations, questioning ones purpose, and then realizing the insanity of it all. In order for me to meaningfully perform this piece, I must first imagine myself on the front lines of war, yearning for my home and loved ones, questioning the very reasons I joined the fight in the first place. Was it for family? Was it for money? Was it for duty? Was it for my country?

When I sing or listen to this song, I am transported to a time and place where life was much simpler than it is today. A time where people still made an honest living working at a mill, providing food for their family from their garden, or when steam trains still served as the lifeline for rural communities. This was a time when I'd imagine going to War represented an incredible journey for most people; the chance to venture off to a far away land and discover the world. I feel a deep sadness when I reflect on the innocence and naïveté of so many in this troubled time.

The first piece I ever performed by Charles Ives was The things our Fathers Loved, and since then I have been performing more and more of his works every year, slowly getting to know this patriotic and pivotal composer. I'm excited to present several of his songs on my upcoming recital. Normally, when I dive into a composer's repertoire I learn to love their music as I begin to understand them. I can't quite say Ives is my favorite composer, but at the moment I feel strongly connected to his music and believe him to be one of the greatest composers of the American song literature, paving the way for other greats such as Samuel Barber and Ned Rorem.

The first time I heard this song I was in my 2nd year at Juilliard. My voice teacher at the time recommended I learn it. Honestly, I didn't feel at that point I was musically capable of tackling Charles Ives; nonetheless, I took out a recording of his music from our school library. The moment I heard the chords on the piano and the first words sung (Played by Steven Blier and sung by William Sharp) I knew I was going to have a special connection to this song. The depth both artists are able to reach in this recording is astounding; I listened to it over and over again, each time learning something new about the piece, and understanding more about the text.

In my first year at Juilliard, I had just begun working with Steven Blier, coaching my music and getting used to life at Juilliard; he and I had already performed a full recital at the Caramoor Festival, and were planning our next performances. Steven is, and always will be, an inspiration to me: as a person, a colleague and an artist. He is one of those teachers whom you can always count on being there for you, and taking your artistry to great depths. My plan is to bring Tom Sails Away and the several other Charles Ives songs I am preparing for this recital to his studio, so that Peter Dugan and I may achieve that same artistic pathos he and William Sharp were able to capture when they recorded the song together.

I'm honored to have the chance to perform the music of Charles Ives and many other incredible WWI era composers, in our country's capital, on the 100th year anniversary of the beginning of The Great War. Please join Peter and me for a memorable evening of song, where we will take you on a journey through this defining time in our history.

Tom Sails Away [MP3]

Click here to view previous month's submission.


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"My Favorite Song"

Archive of Past Selections