Sunday evening, I spoke with soprano Barbara Ann Martin about her career, her proximity to Jan, art, music, the journey. Because of that conversation, I’ve been making a draft of a new lyric section for the book . Here are two sections.
Thank you, Barbara, for sharing your life and thinking and love.
She asked, Do you sing anymore?
And because our conversation already had blossomed past her distinct memories of Jan, because we seemed to be speaking the same language, because I was sure she knew me, could know me, I answered.
No, I kind of said, holding out the -OH- as if it were notated this way, a gesture from one of Crumb’s scores both she and Jan had sung again and again. And I giggled. [Nervous. Still, shame. The remnants of worry: what will she think?] Now, I sing at parties and weddings and for a while I did local theater productions. But since I started writing and studying and teaching literature, no, not really.
It’s the truth. There was a time when the question derailed me for days, weeks, even. Are you singing?
Tom Paul in the basement of Carnegie Hall after a concert [with Jan]. Shaking my hand, smiling, delighted to see me. [It had been a few years.] –Oh, that’s a shame.
Distant relatives at Gary Monheit’s daughter’s naming, Clara, his first, for which he’d written songs and I reluctantly prepared them; sang them poorly in the small, sunny living room, wedged between the upright and a nice sofa. I’m sorry, I whispered into his neck when we hugged right after. I’m sorry I didn’t learn them well enough.
After the Faculty Talent Show I conceive and direct as a fundraiser for the small independent day school in Connecticut where I have transformed myself into a teacher of literature and writing. Where I run from the library grasping the only copy of Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, a book I don’t know yet but will know but know as I quickly head out to my used Toyota Tercel parked among the Saabs, Volvos, and Volkswagens, it’s important and will change me. Do you still sing? You’re so good!
Because I thought if they asked, then I should be able to say yes, the asking indicating 1. I am good enough to be singing, 2. It is a true waste, a shame, if I am not singing, using my talents and education, 3. I am making a mistake not singing, and 4. If it’s true they ask for all these reasons, I am a big fat failure for the answer is no.
But she didn’t judge.
Instead, her voice, wistful, a little regretful, she lets me know she wishes she had sung for Jan, studied with her.
This is not about me.
And when an hour later at the other end of our conversation I found myself telling her how long I’d been writing and teaching, how I’d made a life of this, she said solidly [not unlike how Jan would have sounded, that filled-out, heel-to-head resonance in each word, entering each vowel, curbing at the consonants. The patterns of speech, the carefully and clearly articulated diction. Jan.]
I can say because I know there was a time when there were only two people in the world singing Ancient Voices: Jan and Me. And it was because of her that I got to do it.
Jan had all the first performances; I did the second, and that was fine by me.
Once they knew that Barbara Ann could do it—In a masterclass I sang the entire first page of Ancient Voices solo and mouths dropped—she would be asked to do it everywhere. Around the world. With leading orchestras and important conductors. In front of George Crumb himself, who, sitting in the audience that evening at Bowdoin College, would lean over to Lewis Kaplan to say, Jan has met her match. Lewis Kaplan would tell Barbara Martin later what George had said. Take a breath.
They crossed paths. Their shared love for and expertise in performing new music impacted each other; six degrees of separation. They performed the same repertoire, one after another, usually Jan first, but Barbara recorded Crumb’s Three Early Songs (1947) when Jan did not. [Until 2011 when a live concert version is put on the CD Gil Kalish releases with Bridge Records.] They weren’t close friends, but they admired and loved each other.
I heard Jan warm up before a concert including new music; stood and listened to her, and then, as she sang the concert, kept wondering, how can she make everything sound like Mozart?
It is 1967. Barbara Ann Martin is a Juilliard student when Jacob Druckman taps her on the shoulder as she sits in the library listening to an impossibly inspiring piece. He asks her if she’d sing for him. Improvisation. At the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, they record sounds.
The session lasted three hours. She had never once experienced musical improvisation.
Druckman strikes an instrument; Barbara Ann imitates in pitch, a vocal gesture, born. It was like playing. Again and again, Druckman, leading, she following with something new she was creating in that moment, a set of things, symbols from her subconscious. Druckman working faster, and excited, leaves the session with a new piece assembling itself in his head.
Something triggered in that moment as sound came from her. A rooted connection with something unknown or named within herself, authentic desire to know this stuff, how to perform it, how to honor it.
Druckman writes Animus II for mezzo soprano, percussion, and electronic tape (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pl6yu_JCoOY) and invites Barbara Ann to sing it. He tells her it is a sybaritic ritual. She has no idea what this is.
It is 1967 and Jan DeGaetani has performed already Dark Upon the Harp which Druckman wrote for her. She has performed already Pierrot lunaire. She has performed a lot of new music, music not-known or -understood. She is about to break into international status with George Crumb’s Ancient Voices of Children which she’ll premiere in 1970. It is over ten years since Jan graduated from Juilliard, a good decade since she has been building, one gig at a time, her singing career, including regular concerts with Arthur Weisberg and his Contemporary Chamber Ensemble. [I find 6 X 6 paper flyers—I think as I gather them into one pile, there must have been a time when you could stand on a New York street corner, throw a dime, and hit the side of a building where inside, a small chamber ensemble premiered new works, admission, $1.50, perhaps, $2.00 per person.] But in 1967 Juilliard, it is still that a singer training classically sings only traditional classical repertoire. Barbara Ann asks, and the opera department says, No. She was told she couldn’t sing Druckman’s piece.
Jan would premiere it in 1970 in New York, but Barbara Ann’s sounds remained on the tapes. When you hear Jan, you are also hearing Barbara Ann, the only time they’ve ever performed together.
Shadow. Dance. The electronic tape, a fourth player, becomes the elders. This is ritual, sybaritic. The mezzo and two percussionists, inductees, enter the hall at the back and walk down the aisle to the stage. Into a world of sexual discovery reached through a series of realizations, questions, instruction, and emotions. [You hear it all in Jan’s voice.]
This is how they meet: name to name, hers, a bodiless sound integral to what Jan’s will do.