This is how I’ve pictured it: composer Richard Danielpour, having asked Maya Angelou to create a cycle of poems that depict the course of a woman’s life, sits at her ornate and beautiful dining room table. While holding her guests’ hands, Dr. Angelou softly and eloquently reads her works of art and nourishes the hungry souls before her. The powerful echo of a soprano lingers in the room, as all who are present imagine Angela Brown’s voice singing these works for audiences as delicately as a mother blows bubbles for her children.
Since it would be extremely inconvenient for Dr. Angelou to entertain large audiences in her dining room, hearing Angela Brown relay Danielpour’s interpretation is the next best option. Knowing that Dr. Angelou’s poems always stand well on their own, adding music and a soprano was a risky move. Overall, I think that it worked. Brown’s mighty voice guided us through the progression of a woman’s emotional and spiritual life, from the ignorance of a young girl, blissfully and arrogantly unafraid of life, to the wisdom of a mature lady, who finally understands true love. The only moment that seemed awkward to me was during the first poem, “Little Girl Speakings.” The music was very somber and did not quite fit the chirpy and precocious narrator. Bottom line: I love Maya Angelou and I love the symphony, so I was a very pleased little lady during this performance.
And speaking of Maya Angelou, she has quite the affinity for the classics. (I don’t really know that—I’m just grasping for an easy transition.) Assuming that she enjoys them, Dr. Angelou probably has Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick sitting somewhere in her library. And she probably liked the book more than I did. Though I respect the allegorical themes in the novel (man v. nature, man v. God, man v. self, etc.), I hated the belabored descriptions of the boat and the whaling industry. Much to my surprise and relief, I loved Peter Mennin’s Concertato for Orchestra. Menin said that it “depicts the emotional impact of the novel as a whole rather than musically describing isolated incidents occurring in the novel.” And it did. The music was extremely emotional, taking the listener to new heights at every turn. It maintained the allegorical effect without the copious details.
It almost inspired me to read Moby Dick again. Almost.