In order to attain as well as maintain an audience, classical musicians are challenged to balance tradition and innovation, thereby appealing to both audiences old and new. This strategy has already been seen with such organizations as the League of American Orchestras and the New World Symphony within the past ten years, and while there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, one thing is easily understood: the audiences of classical music today are not the same as they once were 50 years ago; therefore performers as well as the industry itself must be willing to adapt according to public taste (Helfogot and Beeman, 1993).

Looking more closely at the Art Song recital, however, it has been observed that the genre is becoming increasingly segregated, even from other forms of classical music. Think about it: when was the last time your home town’s symphony orchestra or theatre company produced a professional Art Song recital versus an opera in concert, a concerto showcase, or rock & roll’s greatest hits brought to you by the symphony? There still exists an urgency to study the repertoire and practices of the Lied within higher education, however. Most post-secondary and graduate music programs in North America continue to promote the significance of the Lied as a crucial aspect of Western classical music within their curriculum, but there needs to be a broader base in order to survive, especially come time for graduation. On one hand, maybe the Lied should continue to reside solely in the curriculum of such institutions where it can remain safe and well preserved, like the last of an endangered species. But, by doing so, does the risk of the Lied becoming further marginalized increase? Perhaps what is needed is an opportunity for the artform to grow and evolve into something new. It doesn’t have to be radically different, just different, like looking at something already well known and understood from a new perspective.

The evolution of Art Song.

As previously disclosed, the present format in which Art Song is presented doesn’t lend itself to high accessibility outside of audiences already well-versed with the material, but what if one was to take the pre-existing formula and expand on it with techniques and strategies from other more popular forms of music performance? We could incorporate movement and gesture, props and costumes, text translations, and even additional actors. The list could go on. We haven’t touched the music or poetic content at all, nor will we. What we have done, however, is taken a genre of music over 200 years old and cast it through the lens of a new perspective. To some, even this may seem radical, and those opinions aren’t unwarranted. However, there does already exist a coalition of musicians and performance scholars who have committed their efforts to the preservation and revitalization of this endangered genre of music.

One Professor Rena Sharon is an advocate in this field. Her research on the effectiveness of Art Song performance in establishing a performer-audience connection through non-traditional methods helped to introduce what is known as Art Song Theatre, a new and innovative medium to present Art Song. More specifically, Art Song Theatre comprises a broad range of multimedia elements and may include multiple singing characters, full-scale theatrical production capacities (e.g. lighting, sets, and multiple projection options, etc.), and extensive spoken narrative presented along the lines of opera and/or music theatre.

Art Song Theatre promotes itself as creating an all-encompassing musical experience to engage its audiences in the synthesis of poetry and music, using expanded performance parameters and practices.

It was through her research, furthermore, that she was able to determine an overall enhancement in solo-voice performance accredited to such techniques as natural expressive gesture, technical capacities, and theatrical context. Even after these findings, Sharon’s research continued to be supported and subsidized, thus leading to the development of the Vancouver International Song Institute (VISI) and the SONGFIRE Theatre Alliance, two groups designed to accommodate the study of song performance practice and performance cognition as well as the production of professional theatre and student venues for music performance, including Art Song Theatre. In addition to Sharon’s efforts, there are other musicians and scholars in support of Art Song Theatre as a means to reignite an interest in the neglected Art Song canon not only for classical music audiences, but for new groups interested in avant-garde theatre and digital media, thereby becoming more apparent, cost-effective, and – in turn – accessible.

Questions about the proposed evolution of Art Song and Art Song Theatre? Let us know what you think!

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