‘There’s Ransom in a Voice’

A performer’s investigation of sound, space, and silence in song settings of the nature poetry of Emily Dickinson

“There is something about music that keeps its distance even at the moment that it engulfs us,” composer Aaron Copland wrote in his book, Music and Imagination. “It is at the same time outside and away from us and inside and part of us.”

The same can be said of the poems of Emily Dickinson (which Copland set to music in 1950 – his song cycle 12 Poems of Emily Dickinson.) The enigmatic allure of sonic and aural landscape was a driving force throughout Emily Dickinson’s life. When shaping her prosody Dickinson not only drew heavily on the rhythmic and other musical structures of liturgical and hymn-based material, but also reflected her musical sensibilities through her innovative use of area, scale, circumference, dimension, navigation, and an innate perspective of the natural world – often by way of musical metaphor.

Led by Nicole Panizza, this practice-led workshop and presentation serves as an examination of Dickinson’s use of pause, breath, recess and space – flights of creative inspiration that duly reflected her deep bond with the profoundly silent yet potent terrains that continued to inspire and challenge her. Via two contrasting art song settings of Dickinson’s iconic poem Nature, the gentlest Mother, by Aaron Copland (1950) and Tom Cipullo (2003), it will address her fascination and interaction with, and connection to, exterior and interior spaces, and how she determinedly returned to music as a preferred language of choice when seeking to express her creative voice. Points of entry include her use of repetition, rhythmic device, word painting and setting, syllabic placement, accent, stress, and her inventive use of form.

By way of exploration and analysis of Dickinson’s affinity with the outside world; her homage to nature through the use of musical metaphor (exterior landscape), and her active participation as both an avid music maker and domestic connoisseur within her own home (interior landscape), this workshop will encourage participants to consider new ways of reading, hearing and performing the work of Emily Dickinson.

Forest Landscape Emily Dickinson.jpg
“Forest Landscape” by Oliver Henze (CC BY-ND 2.0)