Sunday, February 28, 2021

Pocket Opera Honors Black History Month

A “media-rich” account of Harris singing Hairston’s “A Change Has Got to Come” (screen shot from the YouTube video of the recital being discussed)

This afternoon Pocket Opera resumed its 3-Song Mini Concert Series with the first of three offerings under the new rubric PocketWatch. The program departed from the usual format, but the duration of the performance was still only about fifteen minutes. The selections were chosen to mark the end of Black History Month.

That program was framed to present the music of Jacqueline Hairston, sung by baritone Phillip Harris accompanied at the piano by Tammy L Hall. The opening selection was Cullen’s Trilogy, Hairston’s settings of three short poems by Countee Cullen for baritone and piano, completed in 2016 and revised in 2017. The titles of the three movements are “For a Poet,” “Pagan Prayer,” and “The Foolish Heart.” It then concluded with “A Change Has Got to Come,” which Hairston composed for her Songs and Spirituals collection. Between these two Hairston offerings Hall gave a solo performance her own composition, “Blue Divine.”

I felt it important that all of the Hairston selections were presented with subtitles. The texts were in English, but it was clear that the relationship between words and music was of paramount importance to the composer. The performance was further enhanced with some judiciously imaginative video techniques, often giving the pianist as much attention as the vocalist, as well as viewing the vocalist from two different angles. There were also some inventive approaches to using background images to provide an “invented context” for Harris. Some of these techniques were also applied to Hall’s solo; but what mattered most was her inventive approach to a deceptively simple tune, which seemed to reflect on the spirit of Duke Ellington every now and then.

Following this afternoon’s live-stream, the program was uploaded to its own YouTube Web page. As mentioned above, this was the first of three offerings. The next will take place on April 18. Hopefully, Pocket Opera will continue this imaginative approach to using video to enhance the experience of a vocal recital.