• Sarah Kwok

Art Song Lab - June 2-6


Art Song Lab poetry reading

It's wedding season! And not just between people, as today we're talking about the marriage between poetry and music. Continue reading as Michael Park and Alison d'Amato discuss collaborations, what is (or isn't) an Art Song, and how this can change us and ultimately brings us together.


So, tell me about Art Song Lab Art Song Lab (ASL) is a collaborative institute facilitating creative interaction between writers, composers, and performers from around the world to advance the genre of contemporary art song. Offering a 6-month collaborative opportunity which culminates in a week-long intensive program, ASL sees its participating artists converge in Vancouver each summer for an annual public performance premiering new works.


ASL enables composers and writers who are eager to broaden their creative experiences to engage with other disciplines and artistic traditions. Our structure is designed to stimulate participants’ individual crafts while cultivating conversations among partners and the public. As writers, composers, performers and listeners connect, they absorb each others’ visceral materials into diversely creative processes. The resulting works are direct expressions of contemporary experience. Since its conception in 2011, ASL has connected 58 writers with 72 composers, presenting world premiers of 94 new art songs.


What are the events?

During the week, we've got afternoon workshops with our guest composer Jeffrey Ryan and our guest poet Renée Sarojini Saklikar. Tailored for our unique group of composers and poets, we've given them each the challenge of creating something engaging for both sides of that equation! We're also hosting a community discussion on the state of art song in North America. With participants from all across Canada and the United States, this will be a great opportunity to find out about innovative practices in a variety of communities. In the evenings, we have SongSparks concerts for each voice type. These unique concerts are free and provide an interactive experience for audience and performers alike. Of course, Saturday July 6th at 7:30pm will be SongLaunch, our concert of world premieres featuring all the songs written for Art Song Lab 2019, held at Pyatt Hall.

Every collaboration begins from a blank slate, are there any common processes that lead up to the final product or does it vary depending on the individuals? How were decisions made in pairing the composers with the poets? 

As co-directors of the program, we like to think of our role in shaping the collaborations as one of curation. We ask applicants to send samples of their work and their bio, and to answer questions about their interests and creative processes. With this, we're able to get a pretty good sense of our participants and we get to play matchmaker. After that, we try to stay pretty hands-off.

Collaborative partners are introduced via video chat since many are living in different cities. We explain our minimal requirements: that they maintain open communication, work together to meet the final deadline, and begin from a blank slate. We facilitate a conversation about their own needs for the collaboration, and then they're off to explore what interests them. In the introductions I host, I tell them about some collaborations that were particularly successful, as well as some that ended in... less than ideal outcomes.

Naturally, no two collaborations are the same. When it comes to the paths to a new art song, I could tell you stories for days!


Ultimately, working with a living collaborator is a luxury, so we encourage everyone to bring their collaborator as much into their own process as possible. Being able to react to each other's work during the process, and see how that effects the developing piece, is a key part of the Art Song Lab experience.

What makes an art song an art song (as opposed to a regular song)? 

Art Song is a rich genre that goes well beyond form, language, or even instrumentation. What distinguishes art song from other song forms is the marriage of two distinct artistic practices - poetry and music. Generally, the composer develops the songs from a poem that has already been written, and stands as a work of art in its own right. By far, the majority of art songs are written for voice and piano. Wow, that question felt like such a minefield... as much as I agree with the above definition, we sure aren't sticking to that at Art Song Lab! While we generally have performing pairs of a singer and a pianist, we've had many pieces that add electronics, and even other instruments. For a moment, you had me questioning whether or not what we do at ASL is actually art song. Sometimes the texts aren't even crystalized into 'poems', thinking back to some collaborations with spoken word artists, or collaborations where the text keeps changing even past the rehearsal process. With that said, there are also collaborations where the visual layout of the text has been a huge influence on the music that gets written. So, going back to the definition, the most defining feature of Art Song (Lab) is the marriage of poetry and music - the collaboration of poet and composer.


Poet Renée Sarojini Saklikar

This program was started to bridge the gap between composers and poets - why do you think that gap exists? While they are different art forms, they have much in common (form, motif, emphasis on sounds [syllables, meter, rhythm, etc.]), and the sum is often greater than its individual parts when they are brought together. For you, what is the allure of bringing poetry and music together? Every year we start things off with a meet & greet. We go around the circle and everyone has a chance to talk about who they are, their relationship to art song, and what they hope to get out of the program. 

Inevitably, a composer explains that they'd never worked with a living poet before. They outline the difficulties of navigating copyright through publishers, and there's almost a sense of shame as they admit that's why they gravitate to poetry in the public domain. Within the next few people, a poet will speak to how amazing it was to have had their words set to music for the first time - even before they've even heard the completed composition. It's incredible to be present as the composers realize the transformative power of their craft, and as poets realize that composers are aching for their words.

Beyond the people speaking, there is a group realization and affirmation that their work is valued and cherished. Everyone in the room feels valued and wanted.

This is the moment when people are changed. This is what Art Song Lab is all about. Sure, the songs always turn out great, but the allure is in bringing people together!


If you also want to experience this togetherness (and of course you do!), then get yourself to Art Song Lab! ASL runs from June 2-6 with various events listed below.


More information: http://www.artsonglab.com/

Workshop with Renée Sarojini Saklikar (free): eventbrite

SongSparks: Baritone (free): eventbrite

SongSparks: Soprano (free): eventbrite

SongSparks: Contralto (free): eventbrite

SongLaunch! : eventbrite

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