Calamity Jane? In art songs? If you have seen her name in the program for Rebecca Sack’s Nov. 26 Songs@Tsunami concert you might be surprised. You might say: “I thought art song was all from Germany, and France, and all about upper class people singing Romantic poetry.”
Thank goodness that isn’t the case. It might have been the case for a few minutes at the beginning, but really any good art form is not “about” the upper class people who support it, but is “for” them, providing life, feelings, depth, empathy. And any good art form will draw in “others” who adopt it and adapt it to their culture. So, yes, Calamity Jane in art song.
If you are an American woman composer living today and you are trying to interpret your culture in art song, why not Calamity Jane? I imagine Libby Larsen, the composer, came across the letters that Martha Jane Cannary (a.k.a. Calamity Jane) wrote to her daughter, Janey, and was moved. The letters reveal that Martha was not only a caricature of American, old-West, can-do scrappiness as portrayed by Doris Day. And that discrepancy between her mythic character and the flesh-and-blood person trying to make it in a world rigged against her would be interesting to a woman who is still wrestling today with the gender-based issues Calamity Jane tried to navigate.
These songs peel back the curtain on the public image of the roustabout Calamity Jane and show us the tender vulnerability that was also there. Because the letters are to her daughter we are invited to imagine a pregnant Calamity Jane feeling tired and taking care of her body and its cargo, rather than the gun-slinging stage-coach driver dancing atop the wagon at a full-speed gallop. And of a woman, later, who was missing the physical connection to her grown daughter while she aged. She writes that she “is a woman forced to make a living” suggesting she wishes it was otherwise. Suggesting she is tired and that she realizes she forgot to prepare for her old age. That resonates even today.
In preparation for hearing Rebecca and Evan on Nov. 26 I give you a lovely performance by Adelaide Boedecker. The performance is captured on a phone during her master’s degree recital but her ability to communicate and portray emotion shines through even still. It will be a treat to hear this piece delivered by Rebecca in the cozy space at Tsunami Books.
Rebecca Sacks, mezzo-soprano
Evan Paul, piano
5 pm Saturday, Nov. 26
Tsunami Book Store
$10 at the door
more information at www.laurawayte.com/tsunami