I Am In Need Of Music Poem Analysis Essay

"...a remarkable album by a remarkable Canadian: soprano, Suzie LeBlanc." - John Terauds, Musical Toronto

Featured as the CBC Radio 2 "Disc of the Week"

About the CD, "I Am in Need of Music"

Soprano Suzie LeBlanc sings the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop in 10 stunning settings by four Canadian composers, each of whom shines a new light on words that have exquisite clarity and finely-wrought observation. Suzie’s voice has as many beautiful colours as the images she describes. The musicians play with keen and accomplished sensitivity under the direction of the young and talented Dinuk Wijeratne. The singer says that Elizabeth Bishop changed her life, and this meditative, evocative poetry in music could change yours.

About the documentary, “Walking with EB”

“Walking with EB” is about the 2008 walking adventure of two new friends, Linda Rae Dornan and Suzie LeBlanc, as they retraced the 1932 walk of the poet Elizabeth Bishop across the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland. In 2008, Suzie invited Linda to go on this adventure with her. Linda thought she would document their experiences with a video camera and maybe make some art with it so she carried a rented video camera to document the landscape, their experiences and their connection to Bishop’s life and poetry. They walked, read poetry to Newfoundlanders and themselves, met descendants of some of the people mentioned in Bishop’s journal, and retraced Bishop’s journey with new eyes. Both Suzie and Linda love to walk long distances. And that is how this road movie came into existence, step by step. (EN, 36 minutes.)

Works/Tracks

“Silken Water: The Elizabeth Bishop Suite” by Alasdair MacLean
Suzie LeBlanc, Soprano
Blue Engine String Quartet
Michael Baker, Timpani
1. The silken water is weaving and weaving
2. Dear, my compass
3. Close, close all night
4. Breakfast Song

5. Sunday 4am by John Plant
Suzie LeBlanc, Soprano
Elizabeth Bishop Players
Dinuk Wijeratne, conductor

6. Sandpiper by John Plant
Suzie LeBlanc, Soprano
Elizabeth Bishop Players
Dinuk Wijeratne, conductor

7. A short, slow life by Emily Doolittle
Suzie LeBlanc, Soprano
Elizabeth Bishop Players
Dinuk Wijeratne, conductor

“Four Songs on Poems by Elizabeth Bishop” by Christos Hatzis
Suzie LeBlanc, Soprano
Elizabeth Bishop Players
Dinuk Wijeratne, conductor
8. I am in Need of Music
9. Insomnia
10. The Unbeliever
11. Anaphora

TT: 66:14

PERFORMERS
Suzie LeBlanc, soprano

REVIEWS

"Elizabeth Bishop, begins with Canadian composer Alasdair MacLean’s soulful and rich cantata-like Silken Water: The Elizabeth Bishop Suite. The music is gently tonal and an excellent conveyor of the carefully constructed texts. The ensemble plays with clarity and sensitivity. ‘Close close’ is somehow both delicate and warm as a thick down comforter; it is my favorite part of the program. John Plank’s ‘Sunday, 4 A.M’. is more ambitious, a thin, jumbled, and quirky representation of a difficult text. There is something mysterious and rambling in Bishop’s writing as it explores the strangeness of time caught between too late and too early. Her poem is spun with a directness both disturbing and apropos of the paradoxical peace and confusion of these hours. Plank’s setting reflects this perfectly; the music itself seems caught in a comfortable but convoluted space between waking and dreaming. Plank’s setting of ’Sandpiper’ for soprano, piano, and clarinet is a playful study in movement and stasis; in a way, so is Bishop’s text.

As I was listening to the Doolittle piece, I had the particularly odd experience one has when the evening bird and insect sounds outside suddenly become very active. These fit so easily into the piece, I actually had to stop to be sure they weren’t part of the recording. Fitting, then, that Doolittle’s note mentions her interest in natural imagery and soundscapes, both of the poem and of Nova Scotia and Seattle, where both Doolittle and Bishop spent time. The piece was even effective with the window closed.

Christos Hatzis’s setting of ‘I Am in Need of Music’ is a musical eulogy for Bishop, who once considered a career as a composer. ‘Insomnia’, containing the line made famous by Carter’s cycle A Mirror on Which to Dwell, hovers near campy (Hatzis calls it “catchy”) but stops short of trite, thanks to Bishop’s witty and then wistful text. ’The Unbeliever’ is more ambitious and also more interesting; LeBlanc manages the higher passages fairly well, though, as in the rest of the album, the diction could be clearer. ‘Anaphora’, with its soaring melodic lines also reflects the depth and breadth of the remarkable and complicated text.

The recording is not only an exciting exploration of Bishop’s work, but also a study in contemporary compositional practices. There is something here for everyone, the performances are excellent, and the included DVD documentary is a nice touch." - Erin Heisel, American Record Guide

"[...] a terrific new CD out on the Canadian Music Centre's Centrediscs label. [...]contemporary art song with broad appeal found both in the words and in the music it has inspired. Leblanc, ably accompanied by a 17-piece instrumental ensemble, sings with clarity, ease and a gorgeous top register that is quite simply dazzling." - Denise Ball, CBC Radio 2

"Bishop’s writing is a sweet example of musical composition with words. Even read silently, there is a natural rhythm, flow, eddy and texture to how syllables and sounds emerge and slip past. Even a love note, something that for dignity’s sake should rarely be seen except by the four eyes for which it is intended, comes out a delicately sculpted treasure.

[...]

[Alasdair] MacLean has, like everyone else in this project, somehow managed to enhance the natural music in this poetry. In many ways, each poem is such a concise, powerful expression of a particular state that it’s possible the composers felt they had no choice.

From a purely musical perspective, the results are not earth-shattering. The pieces are tonal, largely gentle. Many might pass unnoticed if you did not stop to smell the delicate fragrance of words well matched with new music in each piece.

MacLean wrote a masterful instrumental introduction to his suite: “The silken water is weaving and weaving,” which sets the album’s whole tone: suspended in another time, a familiar one not too long ago, yet too far away to reach without fully engaging the imagination.

Toronto composer Chistos Hatzis’s Four Songs stand out for their overt alliance with long, flowing melodies. The sounds are so filled with description that it could be movie music. There is a flesh-and-blood connection here, too, which ties us not to airy concepts but a real human who lived and loved passionately.

The other three pieces on the disc are: John Plant’s setting of Sunday, 4 a.m., an extended dream sequence that is the disc’s longest composition, at 15 minutes, and the hop-and-skippy Sandpiper, as well as Emily Doolittle’s masterful A Short, Slow Life, which focuses on the physical side of a poem about two lovers being jolted out of their once-upon-a-time bliss (“…till Time made one of his gestures; his nails scratched the shingled roof, Roughly his hand reached in, and tumbled us out.”)

Canadian composer, conductor and pianist Dinuk Wijeratne leads the “Elizabeth Bishop Players,” a 17-member chamber orchestra. Sandpiper‘s instrumental score is beautifully rendered by pianist Robert Kortgaard and clarinetist Mark Simons, while Sunday 4 a.m. is played by the Blue Engine String Quartet.

And then there’s LeBlanc, draping her clear, luminous voice over these beautiful arrangments, drawing also close into her enchanted poetic circle.

Much new music needs multiple listens and some determination to appreciate. This album is different, offering something to grasp easily on the first listen — and then yield more insights as one listens again and again.

What a pleasure." - John Terauds, Musical Toronto

"Best known for her extensive work in the field of early music, soprano Suzie LeBlanc brings her signature vocal purity to this project which she conceived and developed between 2007 and 2011, Bishop’s centenary year, in conjunction with poet and Bishop scholar Sandra Berry. Together they decided to commission settings of Bishop’s poems in honour of the anniversary and it was Berry who told LeBlanc about a walking trip that Bishop had undertaken in 1932 in rural Newfoundland. LeBlanc, a walker in her own right, decided to recreate this journey as well as could be done some 75 years of development later, and invited filmmaker Linda Rae Dornan to join her.

The results were two-fold, both documented in this combined CD and DVD release from the Canadian Music Centre: more than an hour’s worth of music wonderfully performed by LeBlanc accompanied by the Blue Engine String Quartet (MacLean) and the Elizabeth Bishop Players under the direction of Dinuk Wijeratne (Plant, Doolittle and Hatzis); and a half-hour video of LeBlanc and Dornan’s adventure in the outports of Newfoundland. The music, although consistently lyrical and tonally based, is quite eclectic in the different musical languages of these composers. Most surprising to me was to hear yet another side of chameleon-like composer Hatzis whose charming settings show him to be as at home in the idiom of musical theatre as in the diverse and multi-ethnic worlds of his previous compositions.

Congratulations to Suzie LeBlanc on the success of her vision and to all concerned in this endeavour." - David Olds, The WholeNote

"...LeBlanc calls many of the circumstances that led to I am in need of music serendipitous. I find that to be an equally appropriate way to describe much of the writing for this album. Many of the textures that the four composers created in setting Bishop’s poetry sound strikingly similar (and this is certainly not meant as a criticism). I believe it indicates just how strongly the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop speaks its message. The composers and performers involved in this album have created a truly fantastic celebration of Bishop’s work, and whether or not you already know the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop, this album is worth a listen..." - Justin Rito, I care if you listen

All of the compositions are written in modern yet accessible styles, but this is especially apparent in the songs by Christos Hatzis which draw their inspiration from big-band era pop songs, folk and pop idioms of the sixties, the waltzes of Richard and Johann Strauss, and Broadway musicals. What is most impressive is the extent to which the organizers were able to foster an interest in new music and bring it to a wider audience. [...]The CD package also includes a bonus DVD, Walking with EB. [...] Although only thirty-six minutes in length, the film brings Bishop and her world vividly to life and provides valuable insights into, and perspectives on, the music contained on the CD." - J. Drew Stevens, CAML Review

After last year’s challenging Q1, where students found themselves faced with a most unusual juggler, students seemed much more confident with this year’s poem, Rachel M. Harper’s “The Myth of Music.” This beautiful poem is brief and seems easy to read but offers students an opportunity for in-depth analysis. Spending a week with this poem and the student responses to it has given me new insights and some simple tips to help students write more effectively about poetry. It also reminded me that accessible poetry does not equal easy poetry.

The first thing I noticed is what I like to call “Title Oversight.” Harper’s poem is entitled “The Myth of Music” with the subtitle “for my father.” This “myth” is mentioned directly in the poem, yet the vast majority of students paid no attention to how this connected. While analyzing this portion of the title is not a requirement for an upper-level essay, considering the title is always a good idea.

Probably the most important element of the title, however, is the dedication “for my father.” Unfortunately, most of the essays I scored also paid little or no attention to this subtitle. This led to a myriad of misinterpretations of the poem, especially the second and third stanzas. The prompt asked students to write a well-organized essay analyzing “the relationship between music and the speaker’s complex memories of her family” using elements such as imagery, tone, and form. Because the dedication is for her father, this elevates its importance to the prompt because of the familial connection, yet many students did not mention the father at all. The speaker mentions her brother in the first stanza and her mother at the beginning of the second stanza, but in order to find the father in the poem itself, the student would have to be aware of the dedication, as the father is referenced only by the pronoun “you” in the second and third stanzas. This “you” became quite the enigma over the course of the week. The majority of students considered “you” the mother, while many others wrote that “you” was “the reader” of the poem. Several others referenced “you” as the entity of music itself. Much of this misinterpretation could have been avoided by simply paying attention to the full title of the poem.

Aside from the title, students struggled with clearly articulating how Harper’s imagery revealed the relationship between music and the complex memories of family. The phrase “the author paints a picture” (or some variation of it) was used ad nauseum in student responses. Students described these pictures and sounds and feelings, but for many, the “so what?” question was never answered, leaving the analysis thin or superficial. Explaining how Harper’s use of imagery reveals the prompted relationship goes further than simply explaining the imagery itself. Students must go explicitly deeper.

Students did a better job with tone than with imagery. Most at least mentioned a shift in tone from stanza to stanza, and they often intertwined the discussion of tone with other elements such as diction and imagery. The disconnect was evident when students did not use their discussion to explain how tone, as revealed through diction or imagery, revealed the relationship between music and family. Often, the discussion was one-sided, with a focus on either music or family. The two should be examined as one, focusing on the relationship between them.

Several of the students’ discussion of form were promising. Some of the essays used their discussion of form to highlight their musical knowledge, and there were some lovely connections between the structure of the poem and the structure of jazz music. While not many effectively made the connection between form and the relationship, there were some extremely well-written pieces from these essays. Some students were also quite creative when making connections between the structure and other elements. Students should remember that creativity also needs persuasive support from the text.

The prompt mentions using elements like imagery, form, and tone to analyze the poem. I focus on these because these were the most common elements used, but the general ideas apply to any element used. Many students did not deviate from the suggested elements and would have benefited from organizing their essays according to insight rather than device.

Those students who scored well clearly discussed the relationship between music and the speaker’s familial memories, especially when referring to the father. Generally, their essays were organized by either stanzaic shifts or general ideas that were then supported with elemental support. Most students could find something to say about “The Myth of Music,” which is a positive take-away: there were fewer blanks and scores of 0 (zero) because students felt confident in their reading and attempted a response.

Moving forward, teachers need to continue to expose students to a variety of poetry from various time periods. Students would be well-served to spend time considering, discussing, and writing about a poem dealing with insights rather than merely discussing the appearance of devices within a text.

Jill Massey teaches AP Literature at East Wake Academy outside of Raleigh, NC. In addition to being a lover of all things British literature, Jill enjoys directing her church choir, cheering for NC State, and updating her dog Titus’ Instagram account. 

At six-years-old Adrian Nester’s oldest son was asked to describe what she likes to do for a Mother’s Day project. His response: drink water and grade papers and both of these things are true. Adrian has just completed her 16th year as an educator, but instead of doing the “same-old-thing”, she is ready to throw out the playbook. While Adrian is not drinking water and grading papers, she enjoys traveling, spending time with her family, reading, and playing sports. Read more about Adrian’s journey on her blog The Learning Curve.

Image credits: Photo by Jens Thekkeveettil on Unsplash

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