The Light that is Felt – James Danner

    Thursday, December 17 at 7 pm (Eastern)

    The Light that is Felt

    James Danner, tenor, with Chris Fecteau, piano
    Songs and Carols by Samuel Barber, Charles Ives, Gustav Holst, & William Grant Still

    PROGRAM NOTES by James Danner:

    I was initially curious to put these three American composers into conversation with each other because I felt a sympathy between their handling of poetry and melodic line; at once highly integrated and complex, and yet immediately accessible to the audience. Like so many great composers, the specificity of writing breeds a clarity, a somatic immediacy that impels the listener into the experience.

    The title of the program, The Light that is Felt, comes from the so-titled song by Ives. At this time of year, there is a certain quality of light that is so present as we draw ever close toward the Solstice–of long reaching horizontal beams, that for me, evokes a very particular type of nostalgia, which is taken up by the program as a whole. 

    This type of nostalgia is no doubt to do with this time of year filled with ritual and family (so interrupted by our current circumstance), and as we are besieged with “best of” lists for everything under the sun, I find a funny consonance; this program evokes a feeling not just of nostalgia, but of having to reckon with that curious type of melancholy. You can understand why a few centuries ago nostalgia was deemed a sickness–there is a bittersweet joy and slight nausea in the longing which is prompted by certain involuntary reminiscence. All said, an intense, and arresting physical experience which demands, and commands our consideration.

    In learning and reviewing these songs, I was drawn in by this image of beams of light, stretching across a chilly room–perhaps it is the afternoon in December and for a moment no one is home; the outstretched beams are soft and brilliant as they touch and refract the interior, arcing slowly through and away. Feeling Light in its myriad aspects, the sort of sacredness of the mundane which it alights, can so catch one off guard. For me, it is so interconnected with memory and remembering–and moreover, the perspective which it can bring.

    I’ve decided to intermingle the songs (with the inclusion of one of my favorite carols) to further illustrate this effect. So many stories can be told in their rearranging, but I hope you enjoy this particular path of memory, of joy and pain, the intimate and the exposed, of bittersweet yearning which–we hope–resolves to grace. 


    – The Secrets of the Old (Samuel Barber/W. B. Yates)

    – Memories: A, Very Pleasant/B, Rather Sad (Charles Ives)
    – In the Bleak Midwinter (Gustav Holst/Christina Rossetti)

    – The Breath of a Rose (William Grant Still/Langston Hughes)
    – A Nun Takes the Veil (Barber/Gerard Manly Hopkins)

    – The Light That is Felt (Ives/John Greenleaf Whittier)
    – Citadel (Still/Virginia Brasier)

    – Song for the Lonely (Still/Verna Arvey)
    – Sure on this Shining Night (Barber/James Agee)
    – Nocturne (Barber/Frederic Prokosch)

    – A Christmas Carol (Ives)


    The Secrets of the Old (W. B. Yeats)

    I have old women’s secrets now
    That had those of the young;
    Madge tells me what I dared not think
    When my blood was strong,
    And what had drowned a lover once
    Sounds like an old song.

    Though Marg’ry is stricken dumb
    If thrown in Madge’s way,
    We three make up a solitude;
    For none alive today
    Can know the stories that we know
    Or say the things we say:

    How such a man pleased women most
    Of all that are gone,
    How such a pair loved many years
    And such a pair but one,
    Stories of the bed of straw
    Or the bed of down.

    First published in London Mercury, May 1927 as one of “Two Songs from the Old Countryside”, then included as one of “The Old Countryman” in October Blast (1927), then included as one of “A Man Young and Old” in The Tower


    A, – Very Pleasant

    We’re sitting in the opera house;
    We’re waiting for the curtain to arise
    With wonders for our eyes;
    We’re feeling pretty gay,
    And well we may,
    “O, Jimmy, look!” I say,
    “The band is tuning up
    And soon will start to play.”
    We whistle and we hum,
    Beat time with the drum.

    We’re sitting in the opera house;
    We’re waiting for the curtain to arise
    With wonders for our eyes,
    A feeling of expectancy,
    A certain kind of ecstasy,
    Expectancy and ecstasy… Shhhhh.

    B, – Rather Sad

    From the street a strain on my ear doth fall,
    A tune as threadbare as that “old red shawl,”
    It is tattered, it is torn,
    It shows signs of being worn,
    It’s the tune my Uncle hummed from early morn,
    ’Twas a common little thing and kind ’a sweet,
    But ’twas sad and seemed to slow up both his feet;
    I can see him shuffling down
    To the barn or to the town,
    A humming.

    In the Bleak Midwinter  (Christina Rossetti)

    In the bleak mid-winter
    Frosty wind made moan;
    Earth stood hard as iron,
    Water like a stone;
    Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
    Snow on snow,
    In the bleak mid-winter
    Long ago.

    Angels and Archangels
    May have gathered there,
    Cherubim and seraphim
    Thronged the air;
    But only His Mother
    In her maiden bliss
    Worshipped the Beloved
    With a kiss.

    What can I give Him,
    Poor as I am? —
    If I were a Shepherd
    I would bring a lamb;
    If I were a Wise Man
    I would do my part, —
    Yet what I can I give Him, —
    Give my heart.

    The Breath of a Rose (Langston Hughes)

    Love is like dew
    On lilacs at dawn:
    Comes the swift sun
    And the dew is gone.

    Love is like star-light
    In the sky at morn:
    Star-light that dies
    When day is born.

    Love is like perfume
    In the heart of a rose:
    The flower withers,
    The perfume goes–

    Love is no more
    Than the breath of a rose,
    No more
    Than the breath of a rose.

    A Nun Takes the Veil: Heaven-Haven (Gerard Manly Hopkins)

    I have desired to go
    Where springs not fail,
    To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
    And a few lilies blow.

    And I have asked to be
    Where no storms come,
    Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
    And out of the swing of the sea.

    The Light that is Felt (John Greenleaf Whittier)

    A tender child of summers three,
    at night, while seeking her little bed,
    Paused on the dark stair timidly,
    Oh, mother take my hand, said she,
    And then the dark will be light…
    We older children grope our way
    from dark behind to dark before;
    And only when our hands we lay
    in Thine, O God! the night is day,
    and there is darkness never more.

    Citadel  (Virginia Brasier)

    Love can lace leaves together
    And make them proof against the world,
    Or strengthen whatever insubstantial roof houses a family.
    Sometimes at night all mothers waken
    And with the littlest light, and greatest quiet,
    Tour the rooms to see that all sleep, covered well, and peacefully;
    To chase out dreams and let in more fresh air,
    And just be glad that each is sleeping there.
    Love can lace even leaves
    And make them proof against peril,
    Or strengthen whatever insubstantial roof.

    From “The Reflective Rib,” 1955

    Song for the Lonely (Verna Arvey)

    Raindrops, soft from the mist,
    Disturb the stillness of my thoughts.
    Raindrops, soft from the mist, beat down.
    No birdnote breaks the all pervading hush,
    No ray of moonlight cuts the darkness.
    No footstep comes along the graveled pathway,
    Nor the sound of a stone displaced.
    Soft raindrops, fresh from the mist,
    Dull the pain of loneliness.
    Soft raindrops, fresh from the mist, beat down.
    Raindrops, unceasing:
    They bring again the breath of a presence.
    Raindrops, insistent:
    They bring again a long lost dream.
    Raindrops, unending:
    They fall into my soul, into my heart,
    And mingle with my tears.

    Sure on this shining night (James Agee)

    Sure on this shining night
    Of star made shadows round,
    Kindness must watch for me
    This side the ground.
    The late year lies down the north.
    All is healed, all is health.
    High summer holds the earth.
    Hearts all whole.
    Sure on this shining night
    I weep for wonder wand’ring far alone
    Of shadows on the stars.

    From a longer poem, “Description of Elysium” published in Agee’s singular volume of poetry, Permit Me Voyage, 1934

    Nocturne (Frederic Prokosch)

    Close my darling both your eyes,
    Let your arms lie still at last.
    Calm the lake of falsehood lies
    And the wind of lust has passed,
    Waves across these hopeless sands
    Fill my heart and end my day,
    Underneath your moving hands
    All my aching flows away.

    Even the human pyramids
    Blaze with such a longing now:
    Close, my love, your trembling lids,
    Let the midnight heal your brow,
    Northward flames Orion’s horn,
    Westward th’ Egyptian light.
    None to watch us, none to warn
    But the blind eternal night.

    From The Carnival, 1938

    A Christmas Carol (text by Charles Ives)

    Little star of Bethlehem!
    Do we see Thee now?
    Do we see Thee shining
    O’er the tall trees?
    Little Child of Bethlehem!
    Do we hear thee in our hearts?
    Hear the Angels singing:
    Peace on earth, good will to men!

    O’er the cradle of a King,
    Hear the Angels sing:
    In Excelsis Gloria, Gloria!
    From his Father’s home on high,
    Lo! for us He came to die;
    Hear the Angels sing:
    Venite adoremus Dominum.