In the summer, birds are said to sing, as are crickets and cicadas. Wolves and whales have songs to which we’ve never managed to learn the lyrics. For people, song is where words and melodies like to meet. The air fills with poetry, set to the rhythmic contours of breath and life. Singers may sing over just about anything, but artful discourse shared by voice and piano has a magic all its own. The song’s alive across the room from where you sit. The pianist colors each moment with tonalities sculpted by the composer and reinvented in real time while you watch and listen.
What was once called the Art Fair Songfest traces back to recitals held at the Campus Chapel in July 1994 and subsequently at the McIntosh Theatre on North Campus. By the late Ninetiess this recurrent celebration of the art of song had established itself as a yearly rite at the Kerrytown Concert House. The festival’s time frame was moved to the last week in July in order to accommodate artistic director Kevin Bylsma’s busy teaching schedule, with the side benefit of making it easier to attend, as the city is more navigable after the art fairs are over.
Bylsma, an internationally renowned pianist and vocal coach, has deep roots in Ann Arbor, Detroit, and his hometown of Grand Rapids. According to Song Fest producer Jane Schoonmaker Rodgers, “There are many singers around here who are so happy to perform with Kevin that there is never a shortage. We’ve also never charged admission, except to our popular Friday night cabarets.” Attempting to ascertain what this year’s festival has in store was pleasantly challenging, as planning begins only in May and many of the particulars are expected to tumble into place at the last minute. Yet casual fluidity of preparation appears to be one of the festival’s great strengths. Just before the Observer went to press, Kerrytown Concert House announced that the opening night program would include a performance by the widely acclaimed baritone Jesse �xADBlumberg–and, bucking tradition, there will be an admission charge that night.
The twentiethth annual songfest promises to involve more than fifteen vocalists, including Rodgers herself. Wednesday, July 23, has been designated as “Eine Kleine Liederabend” and will be devoted to such heroes of the Germanic art song tradition as Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Mahler, and Hugo Wolf. Thursday’s concert bears the enticing title “Che Bella Luna” and will feature songs inspired by the night and the moon. The series runs July 22-25.