Popular music has always been a medium through which artists could voice opinions about the world around them. The Vietnam era, for example, sparked anti-war sentiments that were put into music.
People often forget those positions are echoed in classical music, just in a different way, said Miriam Charney, a coach for Chautauqua Opera Company.
Charney, along with tenor Aaron Casey, bass Brett Bode and soprano Kathryn Domyan, will present a recital at 3:15 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 2, in the Athenaeum Hotel Parlor, focusing on the artist as an activist.
The final Afternoon of Song will feature lesser-known works from Leonard Bernstein and his colleagues, some of whom were blacklisted during the McCarthy era. The Young Artists are using a quote from Bernstein as a guiding principle for the recital: “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”
Performing songs by these composers gives Bode, Casey and Domyan an opportunity to show that artists aren’t passive when it comes to world issues.
“For me, some of my friends are going on to be neuroscientists and doctors and all of these wonderful things, and sometimes you wonder if it’s selfish, if it’s frivolous to be an artist,” Domyan said. “How much help am I really doing for the world by making music, by doing art?”
Casey will perform a song from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue titled “Take care of this house,” which talks about preserving the integrity of the White House. The piece meant a great deal to the country when it was first written, and means even more in this current age, Casey said.
“I love that song,” Casey said. “For me, it’s just really keeping the integrity of what our nation deserves, where we should be going and the power and equality for all.”
Domyan will present war songs from France in her solo set, as well as a piece by Bernstein, “A Julia de Burgos” from Songfest. The Bernstein song was written for the Puerto Rican feminist of the same name, and it depicts an internal war, Domyan said.
Bode will perform a world premiere from Composer-in-Residence George Lam. The song, titled “Such Sweet Sorrow,” is a poem by Allison Joseph set to music. Joseph is the Week Six poet-in-residence conducting workshops for the Chautauqua Writers’ Center.
Bode said it’s a powerful poem that doesn’t necessarily go with the rest of the program, but it shows the power of music and text and language to “bind us together as people.”
Bode said the songs in this recital show the “journey of finding hope in times of turmoil and confusion,” and the pieces are less about political statements and more about connecting people through kindness and empathy.
“Through poetry and also even more so through music, you can sort of get around people’s preconceived notions because it speaks to people at such a primal, subconscious level,” Bode said. “It’s not reading about something in the news; you just feel it in your soul.”