Manchester University
Oak Leaves

October 20, 2017

Daniel Belcher (2) tyler-houghtaling    Daniel Belcher (1) lanie-houghtaling-family-percy-is-older-child

The piece is based on late 19th century letters written by three of Marlett's relatives from New York State; Tyler Houghtaling, a Union Soldier; Lanie Houghtaling, who died in her early 20's and Percy Houghtaling, who was Lanie's child and Marlett's grandfather. 

Photos provided



Belcher and Marlett Perform Compositions by Lynn

Kylie Kroger 

Manchester’s music department took their audience on a journey on Saturday, Oct. 14, with the performance “Voyages of Life and Love.” The evening featured Grammy-winning baritone Daniel Belcher and mezzo-soprano Judy Marlett, and was the premiere of “Your John Keats,” a song cycle composed by Manchester music professor, Debra Lynn. All of the evening's performances were accompanied by Professor Pamela Haynes on piano.

The performance commenced in Wine Recital Hall Saturday evening with accounts of a journey that countless numbers of people have taken––to Ellis Island to enter America. Marlett gave a powerful performance of “Vignettes: Ellis Island,” from composer Alan Lewis Smith, which told stories of how different young women ventured to America in search of a better life.

Following Marlett’s performance, Belcher took to the stage to introduce the second composition of the evening, which came from the opera “The Long Walk” composed by Jeremy Howard Beck. This composition told the story of one man’s struggle to not lose himself, and his marriage, after he returned from combat. The opera was based on the memoir by Brian Castner, which shares the same title. Belcher’s commitment to accurately portray his character was clear, as his body language and facial expressions told a story just as much as the words that he sang.

However, the most noteworthy performance of the evening was the debut of “Your John Keats.” The composition was comprised of excerpts from love letters from the poet Keats to the love of his life and fellow poet, Fanny Brawne, that Keats wrote in the last three years of his life.

After reading some of these letters, Lynn knew this was a story worth telling. “I thought to myself: Somebody needs to make music out of these," Lynn said. “Keats' language is so descriptive and musical. The words, the way he moves with words in and out of phrases; he is a poet."

And Lynn knew the perfect person to help translate Keats’ story. Belcher, a longtime friend and fellow musician of Lynn’s, was up to the challenge to interpret how Keats would have spoken the words to Brawne himself. The respect between composer, pianist and vocalist was evident throughout the entire performance. "It is a continual collaborative discovery," Belcher said. "We have the same goal which is telling a great story through music."

The story is one of both love and tragedy. As the composition progresses, Keats grows increasingly ill, and it becomes evident that he may not make it back to his beloved Brawne. "I grieved going into that and I had not ever really experienced that with composing before," Lynn said.

Lynn connected with the love Keats had for Brawne, and was able to translate that into her composition. "I think I have fallen in love with John Keats,” she said. “I'm living vicariously through Fanny. I don't know how many times I thought while writing this, ‘if any man wrote this to me I would just be butter, butter in his hands.’"

As for the expectations that come from telling the love story of such a prominent literary figure, Lynn says it is best to do what feels right, and trust the direction of the composition. "It is kind of a lot of pressure as a composer because I want to be true to what was intended in the tone," Lynn said. "You just have to trust yourself and your own interpretation."