On Mon., Nov. 5, a crisp fall afternoon, a smattering of students, faculty and other community members gathered in the warm auditorium of the Whitney Humanities Center for a musical tour of the American past. Students in Professor Richard Lalli’s class, “The Performance of Vocal Music,” took to the stage to perform three categories of American music: parlor songs from the mid-19th century, and art and parlor songs from the turn of the 20th century.
While some students in the performance class are studying music or plan to go into the music industry, others merely enjoy the act of engaging with texts and performing songs. “I was really happy because…it’s a real range of background experience,” said Lalli, who clearly revels in the success of his students. He holds auditions for the class, which some students simply refer to as “Lalli,” at the beginning of the semester. Once he commits to a group of students, that commitment extends beyond the confines of the semester. Lalli, a 2005 Grammy award nominee, said he maintains contact with students and helps them to find further opportunities.
“I feel like music is a liberal art,” Bryce Wiatrak, PC ’14, who performed three songs, said. The semester’s focus on American music motivated Wiatrak to plan on taking a second semester of the class. “The best way to learn texts is to perform them,” he said. Although Wiatrak is not majoring in music, he plans to attend music school after graduation and wants as much performance experience as possible.
Lalli said he selected the theme of American music to coincide with Election Day, after remembering the poignancy of a coincidental Election Day concert he held for this class in 2000. “The text connection is always the jumping off point. The songs are musicians’ attempts to interpret literary ideas through music and sound,” Lalli said. “We have events in American history that gave rise to these songs.”
The concert evoked a range of emotions, with some songs bringing a somber mood into the hall and others an upbeat sense of excitement and opportunity. “The Housatonic at Stockbridge,” by Charles Ives, YC 1898, reminded everyone of Yale’s long history: Yale crew has rowed on the Housatonic River since 1843.
As the words of Egbert Van Alstyne’s Cheyenne filled the Whitney Humanities Center’s auditorium, the confines of the stained glass windows and wood-paneled walls melted away. “That’s one of the main goals of music: to transcend life,” Lalli said. And what better way to ponder the time and events to come than by sitting back and letting parlor songs wash over you at 5:00p.m. on the Monday before Election Day.