Letter from the Editors

Sparks & Wiry Cries has some big news: we have received our tax exempt status and are now an official 501c3.  Even more important, we are growing by leaps and bounds! You will notice that our header now has three different pull down screens that will house the three arms of Sparks & Wiry Cries.  Our online presence will remain the same, bringing you insightful articles, fun blog posts, and interviews through podcasts and print, housed now under The Art Song Magazine. Adding to this online presence are the very successful NYC based Casement Fund Song Series, now entering it's fourth season, and a commissioning program for new song, seeking those who enjoy a collaborative process between composer and poet.  This next year will be one of transition as we grow our board, our advisory board, and begin to raise funds. We are also beginning our process of creating new performance opportunities for the bounty of worthy artists.  There are more exciting things on the horizon, but at this point, we aren't ready to share all of the developments just yet! You will just have to wait to see what else is in store for Sparks & Wiry Cries... 

And as ever...if you missed it before, our very first CD has been made available in digital form through iTunes, Amazon, CDbaby and other digital distributors. We hope you enjoy!  Many thanks again to Colin Mills at Aberration Photos for our stunning cover art, and to the musicians and production team.  We are really proud of this first release - so what are you waiting for?  Click that link!

Co-Editors in Chief,

Martha Guth and Erika Switzer

Featured This Month

Song of the Day: a new feature!

February 20

Happy birthday, Ruby Elzy! Born on this day in 1908, Elzy had a remarkable voice and a remarkable career that was tragically cut short when she died during a routine operation for a benign tumor at the age of 35.

Born and raised by her mother in Pontontoc, Mississippi, Elzy was surrounded by strong women and singing from an early age. Elzy's mother worked three jobs: as a school teacher in the mornings, picking cotton in the afternoons, and as a launderer for white families in the evenings. Elzy would join her mother in the evenings, and they would often sing together. She learned spirituals from her grandmother, who had been a slave, and began performing in church at the age of four.

Elzy began college at Mississippi's Rust College, but during her Freshman year a visiting professor from Ohio State, Dr. Charles McCracken, heard her sing. He helped arrange for her to transfer to Ohio State, where he was her teacher, mentor, and her family away from home. Though Elzy started at Ohio State with some disadvantages due to the availability of opportunities in Mississippi, she graduated first in her class three years later, reading and writing music, speaking four languages, and playing the piano.

After graduating, Elzy won a Rosenwald Fund fellowship to attend Juilliard, from which she received two graduate degrees. During this time, she also became involved with the Harlem Renaissance and started performing on Broadway. A choir she joined was hired to sing in the new motion picture "The Emperor Jones," staring Paul Robeson; Elzy was picked for the small additional role of Dolly. This brought her to the attention of the screenwriter, DuBose Heyward--also the author of "Porgy." When Heyward worked with Gershwin to create "Porgy and Bess," he told the composer that he had to hear Elzy sing. After hearing "City Called Heaven" (listen below!), she was immediately cast as Serena.

Elzy went on to perform "Porgy and Bess" over 800 times, and this became the basis of her career. Because of this, she went on to appear in movies and radio broadcasts with Bing Crosby; to sing with the New York Philharmonic and Los Angeles Philharmonic; and to make her debut at New York's Town Hall. She sang for Eleanor Roosevelt at the White House and she sang recitals throughout the country. Elzy died at the age of 35, as she was preparing for her debut in the title role of Aida.

Want to learn more about Elzy's life and career? Check out this hour long radio broadcast from 2009.

New Podcast with American Baritone, Thomas Hampson

Sparks Co-Artistic Director Martha Guth interviews internationally renowned Baritone to discuss American Song, his Hampsong Foundation and the Song of America educative Initiative which explores the history of American culture through Classical song.

Composer Profile: Juliana Hall

The music for Celestial Refrains: Songs of Juliana Hall was chosen directly by its featured composer.  In this article, composer Juliana Hall discusses her musical roots, her compositional process, and the inspiration behind the music chosen for Celestial Refrains.


The Cartoonery of Tyler Duncan (Baritone)


Susan Youens: Of cannibalism, the abolitionist movement, and Brahms:  An unlikely conjunction  

For those of us who love Brahms’s songs, our first encounter with “Kein Haus, keine Heimat” (No house, no homeland) was probably a shock—it certainly was for me. Published in 1884 when Brahms was fifty-one years old, this work is twenty measures of undiluted bitterness, over almost before...  

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Michael Musgrave: Brahmsian Sea Pictures

It is often observed of Brahms’ songs that they emphasize rounded melody and harmony at the expense of textual nuance. Three ideas lie behind this view: that Brahms’ devotion to folksong as an ideal of self- sufficient melody limits his response to words both rhythmically and in imagery; and that this ideal also tends to an instrumental character that prioritizes musical development over poetic text; and... 

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Deen Larsen: Another Side of Elly

Deen Larsen’s extraordinary words stop me in my tracks.  My tracks, so often hasty and restless, at first resist the meditative depth of his thoughts, but then, slowing out of curiousity, welcome the provocation.  Thank you, Deen, for... 

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Emily Ezust: Some Thoughts on the Gentle Art of translating

It can be disappointing to open an art song recital program and find no translations inside, especially these days when there can be such delightful variety in the languages offered in one concert. Perhaps many North American audience-members will know enough French or Spanish to get the gist of...

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"Why Song" Lynne McMurtry, contralto

Singing as a profession is famously difficult to sustain. Any one of us who has walked a few steps on this path knows how difficult it is to find representation, to endure the endless rounds of fruitless auditions, to land enough gigs to make it possible to keep going… frustrations abound. But what about when you’ve finally gotten the gig (hurrah!), yet after all the work it took you to get there, it just feels... somehow… unsatisfying?

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Magnum Opus Tasting Concerts: Matthew Burns, Founder

Did you know that the terms used by sommeliers and wine aficionados to describe the layered characteristics of fine wines directly parallel those used by opera professionals to describe the subtleties of the voice? Magnum Opus Tasting Concerts is a brand-new, salon-type event combining wine tasting and song recitals. We produce curated recitals that feature world-class singers matched with world-class wines whose descriptions parallel one another...

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Baltimore Lieder Weekend: Daniel Schlosberg, Director

I suppose I was predisposed early on to starting an art song festival. I played Schubert’s wonderful, expansive D Major Sonata, D. 850, in high school and was familiar with the more famous Schubert songs before I arrived at Peabody for my undergrad.  It was there that I met baritone Ryan de Ryke and his mentor, the great John Shirley-Quirk... 

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Dr Robert Holst: The Curious Case of H.H. Holmes

H. H. Holmes (aka Herman Mudgett) earned the distinction of being one of the first, if not the most prolific, of America’s serial killers. After having credited several murder victims to his account, Holmes opened a hotel in Chicago during the...

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Our featured Videos:

A teaser for our latest podcast - Excerpts from the Motown project by Alicia Hall Moran.


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