Cabaret Songs

My Cabaret Song are an ongoing collection of songs that speak from the heart.  I have sought out poems to interpret musically that really address the human condition. In Out of Danger,  by James Fenton, the works have been woven into a complex fabric of emotion.  My music seeks to illuminate these subtle nuances and bring power to their meaning.  The harmonic coloring is rich and melodies are lyrical with an emotional  power that I believe the vocalist and really embrace.

Out of Danger

for soprano and piano

Poems by James Fenton . Premiered at the Temple Theatre, Viroqua, WI-Feb. 2003.

Jennifer Josephson
Jennifer Josephson, soprano

Audio from the premiere

Out of Danger

In Paris With You

 Whatever Happened to Love in this World

Whatever Happened to Love in this World (lyrics by Christopher Neil)

Excerpt from score:




Program notes:

The poems, Out of Danger, Serious, and, In Paris with You, are from Fenton’s collection,  Out of Danger published in 1987. Fenton is a gifted writer, poet and journalist.  His literary style has its roots in an emotional and intellectual realism that inspires  music.  He is not afraid of riding the crest of emotion in his narrative, all the while running a rational analysis in the background.   I chose to ride the crest of emotion in my settings while pointing out the cause and effect inherent in the meaning of the words at key moments.

Here are the key lines from each of the songs that were meaningful to me:

Out of Danger:   “Learn as leaves must learn to fall.”

Serious:   “You’ve changed the rules, the way I’d hoped they’d change.” 

In Paris with You:    “Learning who you are,  learning what I am.”

“Learn as leaves must learn to fall”.  A perfect analogy to falling out of love.  A bright and sunny world of verdant ecstasy gives way to a chromatic peak followed by the separation of the leaves from the life sustaining tree. The poem presents a case of giving in to sadness, death and darkness as a way of neutralizing the devastation of loss.

“You’ve changed the rules, the way I’d hoped they’d change.”  Another great poet,  Mark Strand, wrote at the end of his poem, “The Room”.  “…there is a need for surprise endings.”  Change for the good in our lives is, of course, not guaranteed.  But we crave the stimulation of the new,  so the rules that  we live by for the sake of stability, are often what needs to be broken for us to grow. 

“Learning who you are, learning what I am.”  This poem also takes on the contrarian view.  Paris, normally the mecca of love, is the setting for disappointment.  A city, teaming with beauty is reduced to a “sleasy old hotel room.”    So, the stronger elements of character often rise from the ashes of disappointment. 

So, what makes the words of these poems singable lyrics?   I believe it is what I call the voice of the soul:   melody.   A melody that is embedded with an emotional code that, over time as it unfolds, shades and illuminates the words with a precise meaning is the definition of a song, in my opinion.  So, in Out of Danger, the measured negotiation of the terms of loss give way to a rising lyricism that draws an emotional confession from the voice:  the realization that love has been lost and “you do not belong to me…”  In Serious, the smitten lover succumbs to the lighter than air lilting, danceable, 6/8 rhythm.

Finally,   In Paris with You,  the emotional refrain makes a love song out of hopelessness.  In simple terms, a song  must captivate the listener through melody and under the influence of melody, poetry enters the world of lyrics, where the expressive and often contrary nature of the words make perfect sense in a world of its own.  WN



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