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(Bainbridge Island Review)

They make beautiful music together. No metaphor, the phrase precisely describes the collaboration of Seattle composer David Paul Mesler and island vocalist Barbara Hume. Mesler composed a song cycle set to poetry by W.H. Auden, Carl Sandburg, e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost and Walt Whitman with Hume's voice in mind, songs the two will perform here April 8.

They met in 2000, when Hume sang a solo for the Bainbridge Chorale of a setting of the 23rd Psalm that Mesler had written for the group. "I went up to him and said, 'I want to work with you,'" Hume recalls.

Mesler had already penned the beginnings of a song cycle featuring text by American poets, but many of the more than 600 songs from which Mesler culled for the upcoming concert were composed over the past year. "I've been writing a lot, and many with Barbara in mind," he said, "because I like her voice and I like her style, and I like what she brings to the text."

Hume teaches English at Bainbridge High School and Mesler writes poetry, so both were already familiar with the texts, an ease that has enriched both composition and vocal interpretation. "I think that we are both mature as artists," Mesler said. "We just have a lot of life to bring to the table, a lot of artistic life to bring."

The accomplishments of these two musicians cover an intimidatingly large swath of cultural turf. Hume's solo concerts have included opera, art song, jazz and traditional spirituals for concerts in Seattle, St. Louis, New York and Los Angeles and, most recently, at Benaroya Hall, Seattle's Asian Art Museum and KING FM to debut Mesler's songs. Also trained in dance, she has performed and choreographed with companies in Salt Lake City, St. Louis, Los Angeles and New York, and has performed in musical theater revues in New York and Boston.

Emmy-nominated Mesler combines composition and piano performance. Leader of both a jazz group and a classical trio, he has pereformed for luminaries ranging from Bill Clinton to Bill Gates; composed scores for 17 films; and had his music played by Kronos Quartet, Metropolitan String Quartet and Four Winds Quartet, among others. Composer-in-residence with the Bainbridge Chorale and the Northwest Symphony Orchestra, he teaches at Seattle Central Community College.

Although classically trained, Mesler feels free to combine idioms. for the current song cycle, he defined "Americana" to include folk, blues, jazz and gospel, creating works that are melodic while astringent and challenging. "That's all American material appropriate to American poets," he said. "We present them in a different light than they are sometimes viewed."

Mesler explores the lyrical, romantic side of Walt Whitman, a poet perhaps best-known for the robust Americana of "Leaves of Grass," in songs like "O You Whom I Often and Silently Come."

Although "sexy" might not be the first word that leaps to mind when one things of contemporary composition, the adjective surely fits the sinuous twining of voice and piano around Whitman's lines:

"O you whom I often and silently come
where you are that I may be with you,
As I walk by your side or sit near,
or remain in the same room with you,
Little you know the subtle electric fire
that for your sake is playing within me."

Hume's clear mezzo builds to the unmistakable passion of the poem's close, a climax all the more effective for the restraint and subtlety that characterize her voice overall.

While listeners might anticipate Hume's nuanced interpretation of Mesler's songs set to Emily Dickinson's poetry, one is ambushed by her earthy rendition of e.e. cummings preference for naked women over statues -- for life over art -- in the song "mr youse needn't be so spry."

"This music allows you to discover every nuance in your voice," Hume said. "It doesn't typecast you in any way." While she has had to stretch to master music that includes "these incredible arpeggios from high A's to low G's," the partnership supports that growth.

"There's a connection I make to the diverse style (Mesler) creates that allows me to go there vocally," she said. "I'm not fighting the music -- it fits where my instrument is going right now."
(The Bainbridge Island Review)

Bill Covert's students don't hum just any old tune. The Wilkes fourth graders are creating their own song for a world premiere. "Making up music is fun. I like it," student Grace Campbell says. "I hope I get to hear them sing our song, but it's up to my parents."

Campbell and her classmates have been working with noted Seattle composer David Paul Mesler to craft a three-minute song as part of the year-long Bainbridge Island Arts Education Consortium. The three-minute tune will be debuted by the 100-voice Bainbridge Chorale at their upcoming spring concert.

Covert's class is meeting Mesler for the second of four sessions in the music classroom, but the song is already taking shape. "We could make our song in a major key or a minor key," Mesler tells the students. "Do you want the piece to be happy, to be celebrating something, or do you want it to be melancholy and downtrodden?"

Mesler demonstrates the difference, playing tunes on a piano and testing students at the end of his demonstration with a sneaky version of "Happy Birthday to You" played off-kilter in a minor key. When he is satisfied they know the difference, he asks for a show of hands. Emphatically waving hands denote that the song will be happy music in a medium-fast tempo.

Mesler refers all decision about the song construction to the 29 fourth graders arranged before him in a large horseshoe. "This is all about their ownership of the piece," Mesler says. "It's about their creativity."

In the first session, Mesler generated musical phrases from the letters in each child's name that corresponded to the letters denoting the musical scale. Now, he moves the children through the dizzying array of choices. They select a subject and a setting -- horses running on a beach. Mesler demonstrates possible musical motifs, from the grande mode of chorale music, to the complexity of counterpoint, to the standard-issue melody-and-accompaniment. Mesler is happy that the students decide not to stick to the familiar pop formula.

"You are a very sophisticated class," he tells them. "So, is this getting you closer to what the subject of the song is?" All Mesler's gentle direction nudges students to more specific choices that focus the creative process.

The only sticking point is "Sparky, the Fire Resue Dog," an image that a vocal contingent wants to include in the song, and which Mesler clearly wants to excise. He asks pointed questions about the choice until support for Sparky wanes, as students realize that other images will work better.

"So if there's horses running on the beach, what do you see," Mesler asks. Students eagerly put forward suggestions. After about 10 minutes, "horses running on the beach" is "wild horses running at sunset on the beach with waves crashing, and getting lost in the woods." As the second session wraps, Mesler asks students to bring in phrases that will become lyrics for session three.

"We've done a lot today," Mesler says. "We've selected tempo, mood, motives and subject matter. We have a real sense of where this song is going."

Almost ready for the Bainbridge Chorale.