Chautauqua Voice Program Singers Shift Focus for Spoken-Word Recital

no thumb


Amidst the abundance of programming, rehearsals and lessons for students of the Voice Program, head vocal coach Don St. Pierre has organized a little something extra.

Four singers will shift their focus briefly to a narrative poem titled “Pearl,” at 5 p.m. Saturday in Fletcher Music Hall.

The students aim to explore how bereavement and tragedy make the human experience.

Because the original text was written sometime in the 1390s in Middle English, the students will read from a newer translation by Simon Armitage.

“It’s a steady narrative throughout,” said Philip Stoddard, who will play Pearl’s father. “It has clearly defined characters, which is nice as an actor to be able to deepen my portrayal.”

St. Pierre said there are not many spoken-word performances in the program, but there is definitely room for them.

“Especially a piece like [Pearl],” he said. “It has a strong spiritual bias. I think people will like it very well, and be moved by it.”

The story follows a sorrowful man’s out-of-body experience in the wake of the loss of his daughter, Pearl. St. Pierre said the story is timeless because it concerns life and death, and the hereafter, and it especially fits into the season’s overall theme of what it means to be human.

In Fletcher on Saturday night, the set will be simplistic. The audience will enter a mostly empty room with only four chairs and stands. Four players will enter and begin performing.

St. Pierre said it will be worthwhile for Chautauquans to come hear the spoken word from students who they usually only see as singers.

“I love working with [St. Pierre],” Stoddard said. “He comes up with really meaningful and challenging projects, and this year I have been enjoying digging into poetry, where there is structure and form, but also a lot of flexibility and room for interpretation through spoken text.”

Stoddard said there is a similarity between acting and singing.

“I think any live performance is about the relationship between the performers and the audience,” Stoddard said. “There’s just a different relationship between sound and time that spoken word has.”

He said being able to portray important sections of the poetry with clarity, point of view and a personal connection takes the same type of skill in a song recital as a spoken recital, but gives  a different impact.

The first time Stoddard read Armitage’s reworked translation of “Pearl,” he could not put it down.

“One of the really powerful and universal things about what makes us human is that we tend to not value what we had until it’s gone,” he said. “My character had this precious pearl, his daughter, who meant a lot to him, but the loss of her made him deal with life in a completely new way.”

Pearl will be played by Sage DeAgro-Ruopp. Other characters include St. Matthew, played by Michael St. Peter, and St. John, played by Kendra Broom.

Andrew Manzella

The author Andrew Manzella

Andrew Manzella is a reporter and feature writer from western New York. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in journalism from SUNY Buffalo State.