We’d like to introduce Douglas Fisk, whose winning song cycle Banjo and Shadows sets Carl Sandburg’s stirring poetry in motion. OOO’s Jake Jacobsen has been preparing the piece for the 2nd Annual Fresh Squeezed Ounce of Art Song, and had these questions for the composer:
Jake: Sandburg’s Chicago Poems compilation must contain at least one hundred poems. How and why did you select the ones you did?
Douglas: I set about finding a series of poems that created a certain dramatic/emotional arc from beginning to end. In terms of selecting one poem over another — that’s largely an intuitive process, whereby a poem either seems conducive to setting or not; it’s a little hard to explain, but when you find a poem that works with what you’re trying to do, you recognize it. I liked the idea of ending with the “Kreisler” poem, a reference to the great violinist Fritz Kreisler, with the poem’s last lines suggesting a continuation even at the end of the cycle.
Jake: What was the biggest challenge setting these pieces?
Douglas: Setting these poems came relatively quickly once I settled on the poems. The fourth poem used in the cycle, “From The Shore,” required a slightly different approach due to its greater length.
Jake: Have you set Sandburg’s texts before? If not, do you see yourself coming back to this poet in the future?
Douglas: Yes, in fact one of the earliest pieces I wrote when starting out as a composer was a setting of five other Sandburg poems from Chicago Poems, titled Sandburg Songs. That was written in 2002. Carl Sandburg was a poet I felt a connection with as I was growing up, and I had a copy of his collected poems that I’d read from regularly. I still feel that connection to his work, so it has felt natural to sometimes revisit his work when I’m looking for poetry to set.
Douglas Fisk is active as a composer, pianist, and teacher. His music has been performed by members of the New York New Music Ensemble, percussionist Gwendolyn Burgett, baritone Malcolm Merriweather, and Sospiro Winds. He has studied composition with Paul Barsom, Bruce Trinkley, Ezra Laderman, and Martin Bresnick. He received his MM and MMA degrees from the Yale School of Music. He has attended the Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium, the June in Buffalo festival, the European American Musical Alliance program in Paris, France, where he studied with Claude Baker, and been in residence at the Millay Colony for the Arts.
To find out more about Douglas, visit his website http://douglasfiskmusic.com.