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Texts Meet Tones: Origins and Meanings


by Elias Dagher

Although we started working on the Boston Text and Tone Festival last summer, the four days of concerts running from January 18th-21st will reflect and celebrate years of close professional relationships, new encounters, old friendships, and diverse musical perspectives. The concerts will feature 12 performers, 21 composers, and 25 poets. Details and tickets HERE.

Our friendship began while we were studying solo piano repertoire during our time at NEC. As we started working more and more with singers in text-based music making, we experienced a new kind of expressive mixture, the wild world where openness and directness meet. The “abstract” world of music itself (open-ended, suggestive, spiritual) met the “literal” world of words (direct, structured, narrative). Or is it the other way around? Perhaps music is more literal and poetry more abstract! Whatever the case, there are infinite possibilities whenever these universes collide. And thanks to countless poets and composers over the past several hundred years, they have collided over and over again.

The mixing of language and music gives us not only a rich, varied, and ever-growing repertoire to explore, it also creates community. The inherent spirit of sharing in singer-pianist duo work immediately lends itself to human connection. And this type of connection doesn’t stay locked up in a practice room. We are lucky to be part of the community of singers, pianists, poets, composers, mentors, and audience members that naturally forms around the world of song. 

School was a natural place for us poetry and music lovers to gather, learn, and form community. After formal schooling, however, the realities of a career in music can make that type of community feel like a distant dream to people like us. We founded the Boston Text and Tone Festival first and foremost to address this need for community. Our last project together was in a similar vein, with similar goals: in 2018 we started the Boston Community Studio Class, hosted first by First Parish in Brookline and then Faith Lutheran in Cambridge. This was a weekly, open-door meeting for musicians to share their music, both ready-to-perform works and pieces still in progress. The Studio Class ran until the pandemic, providing a watering hole to address what we saw as a lack of interconnection and collaboration between Boston’s three large populations of classical music students at BU, BoCo, and NEC. Little did we know how much these early small steps would encourage us to continue and found a four-day festival some years later.

We hope that the Boston Text and Tone Festival in its first iteration, will provide time and space for our visions of community to become real. To this end, we have invited many wonderful artists–from a commissioned poet (Letta Neely) to pianists (Letizia Palimieri and JJ Penna) to singers (Alexis Peart, Felix Gygli, Daon Drisdom, Joanne Evans, James Demler, and Eric Rieger), to Boston-area conservatory students (Sam Crosby-Schmidt with L. Palmieri)–to participate in four consecutive days of music making. 

Our four concerts include core song repertoire like Schubert’s Winterreise and Fauré’s La bonne chanson as well as works by Shawn Okpebholo, Robert Schumann, Florence Price, Ruth Schonthal, and others to which we are happy to bring more attention. While the last three concerts are in the standard song-duo mold, the first concert features varied pairings of artists as well as entertaining explorations of language’s and music’s many combinatory permutations including poetry recitation, vocalise, melodrama, solo piano, and art song. We will provide texts and translations of all works and discuss selected texts. 

Boston is filled with experts. This is undoubtedly one of the city’s strengths. It is our aim, however, to create a festival which engages and resonates not only with experts in their fields but also with students, amateurs, enthusiasts, hobbyists, colleagues, family members, and friends. Through our choices in repertoire and genre as well as the many perspectives our invited artists bring, we hope to provide a welcoming entryway into a sometimes obscure and insular world.

Pierre-Nicolas B. Colombat is a pianist, writer, and concert organizer. Having studied at BU and NEC, he endeavors to connect local musicians through concerts, essays, a podcast, and founding the Boston Community Studio Class.
Pierre-Nicholas Colombat and Eliaa Dagher at Harvard Musical Association last fall.

Text and Tone, deconstructed|
A concert exploring all combinations of text and music: poetry recitation, narrator and piano,
vocalise, solo piano, art song, etc. 
with Alexis Peart, James Demler, Doan Drisdom, Elias Dagher, Pierre-Nicolas Colombat

Distler Performance Hall, Tufts University
Thursday, January 18, 7:30 PM

Faithful, to the grave
Schubert’s Winterreise with Felix Gygli, Pierre-Nicolas Colombat

​Goethe-Institut Boston
Friday, January 19, 7:00 PM

Cabaret Bouquet
Selections exploring the link between art song and cabaret in various languages.
Songs by Weill, Schumann, Britten, Blitzstein, Schonthal, Schoenberg, and Bolcom
with Joanne Evans, Elias Dagher
Somerville Music Spaces
1060 Broadway C101B
Saturday, January 20, 7:30 PM

Britten’s 17th century and Fauré’s amour Courtois
Britten’s Canticle I and Holy Sonnets of John Donne, Fauré’s La bonne chanson
with Eric Rieger, JJ Penna

Hunneman Hall, Brookline Public Library
Sunday, January 21, 2:00 PM


1 Comment »

1 Comment [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. I became aware of this Festival through my regular perusing of the Music Intelligencer. I have been thinking, with a poet friend, about a class in a series of poetry sessions, that he and I will do together about music and poetry. Neither of us are professional musicians and so stumbling on this well prepared and varied Festival created by two talented pianists interested in voice, poetry and music was a great surprise. I was only able to attend the first night at the Distler center but what a treat this turned out to be. The creator/pianists are talented musicians who played with intensity and sensitivity. They had talented vocalists there as well. They chose a variety of works from traditional poetry , to musical interlude accompaniment to spoken Arabic poetry, to voice and piano then piano alone – songs without words, Mendelssohn and accompanied songs without words, Vocalize , Rachmaninoff. I am sorry that I was not able to attend more or all of the Festival. Let’s hope for more from them in the future!

    Comment by Peter Sheckman — January 25, 2024 at 7:05 pm

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