A Conversation with Thomas Meglioranza
Meglioranza, described as “one of America’s finest young baritones,” will sing a collection of American folk tunes from the early 20th century, accompanied by pianist Reiko Uchida, on Nov. 10 at the Howey Mansion.
We talked with Meglioranza about his interest in this musical era, and he elaborates in the following Q&A.
Q: What sparked your interest in early 20th-century songs in America?
A: The early 20th century was a fascinating period for American songs written for voice and piano. In the realm of popular music, there was a flowering of beautifully melodious parlor songs written for the amateur musician to play and sing at home, as well as brilliant songs from the composers and lyricists of “Tin Pan Alley.” In the classical realm, composers like Charles Ives and Ruth Crawford Seeger, who had grown up studying the European masters, were eager to break free and create something totally different and uniquely American. So the songs in this era can range from really catchy tunes that you might remember your grandparents singing, to some wonderfully avant-garde music that sounds like it might have been composed yesterday.
Q: Why is this music important to people today?
A: I think a recital of American songs is a special and — unfortunately — rather rare thing. I know that when I go to a concert and the instrumental music is somewhat unfamiliar or there is singing in a language that I don't speak fluently, it can be a challenge to pay 100 percent attention the whole time, and all too easy to spend much of the concert sitting back and letting the sounds wash over me in a pleasant — but passive — way. And I'm saying this as a classical musician myself! But when the performer is up on stage looking directly at you and singing in plain American English, it's a chance for the audience (whether they're classical music newbies or experts) to sit up and engage with every moment of the performance.
Q: What do you want the audience to understand about the music by the end of the evening?
A: At the risk of jinxing it by saying this before our actual performance, I think that for Reiko and me, it's always a goal to take the audience on a journey of the imagination in every single song. In the Charles Ives songs, we would like to bring the audience inside the mind of a middle-aged insurance executive (which was Charles Ives' day job) whose hallucinatory songs are like a time machine, allowing us to revisit various moments in his amazing childhood. When we perform the comforting, sentimental parlor songs of Carrie Jacobs Bond, I always imagine I can smell apple pie baking, so I hope the audience will smell it too. I hope the audience will be as gripped as we are by the simple and visceral poems of Carl Sandburg, and the way Ruth Crawford Seeger perfectly illuminates every nuance with her strange and beautiful music. And when we perform a selection of popular tunes, we hope the audience will laugh at the silly ones, and allow their heartstrings to be tugged during the sappy ones.