Chi Lives: Myron Myers sings James Joyce | Calendar | Chicago Reader

Arts & Culture » Calendar

Chi Lives: Myron Myers sings James Joyce

by

comment

Myron Myers just became a solo recording artist for a nationally distributed label. Now if he could only get it distributed locally.

Myers, 39, who teaches at Northern Illinois University and lives in Oak Park, is a bass with some impressive performing credentials both in the Chicago area and elsewhere; this fall, for instance, he's making his Carnegie Hall debut, and singing a major role in Rinaldo at the Kennedy Center with Marilyn Horne and Benita Valente. He's also a regular with our Music of the Baroque. This month, Musical Heritage Society issued his first record, Pomes Penyeach, 23 settings of poetry by James Joyce.

The centerpiece of the album is twelve songs from The Joyce Book, a collection dating from 1927, when, to raise money for the impecunious writer, young composers of the day produced a volume of musical settings of his poetry. There were actually 13 songs composed, says Myers, but "there was no way I could justify singing 'She Weeps Over Rahoon.' It was really meant to be sung by a woman."

The mostly British roster of composers included the now relatively well known--Herbert Howells, Eugene Goossens, Roger Sessions, John Ireland, Arthur Bliss--and others more obscure, like Arnold Bax and George Antheil (who, Myers notes wryly, "spent more time raising hell than he did composing").

The record features other compositions set to Joyce's poetry by other contemporaries of his, as well as by more modern composers such as Vincent Persichetti and Samuel Barber.

Myers describes the combination of words and music in Barber's setting of "I Hear an Army" as "just about as excellent as songs come." It reads in part:

I hear an army charging upon the land,

And the thunder of horses plunging,

Foam about their knees:

Arrogant, in black armour behind them stand,

Disdaining the reins, with flutt'ring whips, the charioteers.

The project has been a long time coming to fruition; it began in 1982, when British pianist Erik Levi and his wife, Jo, came across a copy of The Joyce Book in a London antique store, and thought it would make a good vehicle for a couple of unknown performers to establish themselves. They were acquainted with Myers from a year he spent studying in London, so Levi got in touch with him to propose a partnership. Myers liked the idea, and began trying to find a recording company. "But no one was interested," he says. "We weren't famous." Finally, a series of introductions and contacts, not to mention an excellent review in the New York Times, got an OK from the Musical Heritage Society, a company devoted to promoting less well known work, in very high quality recordings, primarily through the mail.

Levi came to the U.S. for the project, which was recorded in the Great Hall of the Krannert Center at the University of Illinois at Champaign. "We made it in three really pressured days in December of '85," recalls Myers. "Then we had to go back and redo some things in June of '86. It's a pretty heavy day, making a recording, and not very much fun. I was in a nervous state, with all the pressure, and maintaining that much [physical] support for three or four hours a day."

It took MHS 14 months to get the album out. When they finally did, Myers discovered they had left out the liner notes containing the words of the songs and Myers's and Levi's biographical sketches, so in one sense, Myers is now up against the really difficult: marketing the record.

It's available through MHS (1710 Highway 35, Ocean, New Jersey 07712), as release # 312016K on LP and cassette, though Myers says he's "given to understand that it will be issued on CD as well if it sells." But MHS does no advertising, except through their monthly magazine-cum-catalog, and Myers's own efforts to get local marketing have so far been disappointing.

Myers has been doing what he can by distributing fliers through Grant Park Concerts and Music of the Baroque, and there is one local retailer planning to handle the album: Val Camilletti of Val's Halla in Oak Park.

Buyers of the album will hear music ranging from the long Wagnerian lines of Arthur Bliss's "Simples" to "A Prayer" by Bernard van Dieren, which Myers calls "a long recitative, really." Most of the keys were originally rather high, reflecting the fact that Joyce himself was a tenor who once considered a singing career; Levi transposed them downward for Myers's rich bass voice. Depending on their feelings about James Joyce's prose works, listeners will be either relieved or disappointed to learn that Joyce's poetry is lyrical and not particularly complex.

Myers, whose range, musicianship, presence, and beauty of voice have been warmly praised by critics from New York to Los Angeles, is busy singing and teaching voice. He has some ideas for a second recording project, but isn't sure when it will come about. "You have to put your own money up front with one of these," he says. "And it's a tremendous amount of work. I have to wait until I've finished absorbing this one."

Add a comment