News & notes from Claudia HommelApril 17, 2012
Spring when it sizzlesThis is a quick note to summarize the whirlwind since I last wrote.
1Our Cabaret Intourlude to France in September was a smashing success for one and all sixteen of my fellow travelers. (Sheesh! Haven't even had time to post the photos.) With so many people how did it work so well? Everyone was interesting and interested in everyone else; everything we did was a new adventure. Highlights (besides the usual great food, great music, great views) included an unexpected invitation to visit the Opera Bastille costume workshops (thanks to Kevin who is a costumer in Chicago!), getting together with my friend Jean Gilles who led half the group on a houseboat cruise in Paris, a boisterous evening at the Lapin Agile, and an American friend of the Frolichsteins joined us overnight in Dordogne and graciously took a car-full of people to the Lascaux cave nearby). Wanna join us in 2012 or 2013? Visit my Travel menu.
2It's been a busy concert season ever since. I love libraries and we've played to library audiences at all compass points of Chicagoland seven times since November. Green Hills in Palos Hills is coming up next. Accordionist Patricia Spaeth started working with me last summer and boy, am I glad. For our Jazz Age concerts, we get her husband Larry Gibson on ukelele and banjo as a bonus. I love the letter from Lisle Library's Rhonda Snelson. My feelings exactly!
3Not to leave out the wonderful visit to Tulsa, Oklahoma where Bob Moreen and I got to work with a very talented group of high school performers at Union High and to perform for the Alliance Française the next day. Charles Glenn took a quick series of beautiful photos. I just love his "cabaret in red" montage. See our portraits in the Media gallery.
4With two of my favorites chanteuses Elizabeth Doyle and KT McCammond, we launched a monthly series at the Jazz Showcase. Each of us has a solo turn, but last week we rocked the house with nine women on stage, surely a historic first for the usually male-dominated genre and venue (jazz critic Neil Tesser gave us a great heads-up in the online Examiner). Bethany Pickens, Marlene Rosenberg and Sarah Allen formed a great trio and Gretchen Marsh (on winds) and vocalists Ava Logan and Tecora Rogers joined us.September 4, 2011
When French songs are given the English treatment:
Lost in Translation or Found By The Riverbank?
When the Jazz Showcase presents the CD release concert of By the Riverbank: the Jazz Fauré Theatre Project on September 12, there will be more than one border crossed. Here I am, Chicago's "singer of French songs," producing an all-English version of songs by the great French composer Gabriel Fauré. In English? Won't my French-speaking fans object? Why sing these songs in English?
I'm the first person to resist Americanizing the great French songbook. For the past sixteen years, I've specialized in performing the French repertoire of mélodie and chanson for American audiences. And I count it a success when members of the audience say, "I may not understand French but I understood every song. You transported me to Paris!"
But relatively few Americans are attuned to hearing a second language for more than a few phrases at a time. It can take a lot of concentration to absorb a different language. And a lot of nuance gets lost in the effort. (That's why I like to give my American audience an aural break, by adding a few songs in English.)
At the same time, it can be a challenge to find an English version equal to its original French. Most French songs arrive this side of the ocean in broad adaptations if even that close. Que reste-t-il de nos amours, literally "what remains of our loves, only a photo of my youth, memories of stolen kisses, April mornings, rendezvous," becomes in the American version I Wish You Love with "bluebirds"sheesh!
A few years back, Professor Deborah Mann of Southern Illinois University and I had the opportunity to present a seminar on the challenge of creating singable translations that speak as truly as the original. Meaning in language has several layers, so translation has to take into account: l
The differences between languages run deep into our thinking patterns. A successful translation is still a matter of interpretation, a reconfiguring of thoughts. You're traveling into another culture when you accept the gamin de Paris as a charming if irascible street kid in post-war Paris instead of worrying about why a ten-year old kid is roaming the streets making trouble. The recent Broadway production of West Side Story introduces dialogue and lyrics in Spanish to underscore the lack of integration for the Puerto Rican characters in New York.
And when the idea can't be expressed in English, sometimes it's just adopted as is: the word nuance is a case in point. The French language (and the French speaker) embraces the idea of ambiguity (and one-night stands) more easily than precision-driven and moralistic English.
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Translation is already enough of a challenge before the singer asks the results to fit the music. Prosody, prosody, prosody! Fauré was a master at fitting his musical phrasing to the words. The successful song translator has to not only match the meaning but now has to take into consideration rhyme and rhythm, breath and flow of each line.
Why go to the bother? In preparing an American musical theatre piece inspired by the Jazz Fauré Project, I turned to Arnold Johnston to translate Fauré's French poets to reveal the details of Lydia's blushing kisses, the smell of the sea, women rocking cradles while their men chase the horizons, secrets a man is keeping in one song, gifts of intimacy offered in another. Arnie's English adaptation of Jacques Brel's songs won a Jeff award for Theo Ubique Theatre Company's Lonesome Losers of the Night, so here was someone ready for the challenge.
Fauré was impeccable in setting words to music and Arnie really worked at matching the poetic arc of each line. Musical theatre composer (and French speaker) Elizabeth Doyle was 'our prosody-checker" to make sure the English scanned well when coupled to the French rhythms. It's not as easy as one might think. English words get emphasized one way and French the other.True, my francophone fans may prefer the original, but what's lost in translation is gained in a larger number of people absorbing this sublime material. And since we have all evening to celebrate, we'll offer more songs in French for the second set (because a whole evening of English can be hard for the French speaker to absorb as well).
Among my French-speaking fans, Thomas Zoells, producer and founder of PianoForte Foundation, has announced the Jazz Fauré Project will perform at the WDCB Jazz Salon @ Mayslake, on Thursday, February 9, 2012. (www.pianofortefoundation.org).
If you can't make it out to the JAZZ SHOWCASE on MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 12 at 7:00 PM or our WDCB Jazz Salon concert in February, you can buy the album complete with liner notes of all the lyrics and the original poetry. Says local writer and cabaret devotee Richard Eastline, "The new album By the Riverbank has all of the joie de vivre of its French-language predecessor plus that rewarding extra in its use of a more familiar listening format. A well-conceived concept becomes even more successful. Can't really ask for more."claudiahommel.com
And since I missed pointing it out earlier, here's the link to a lovely interview that recently appeared in France-Amériquein French, of course. The Google translator has fun with it.
April 23, 2011
Time is flying! I'm in the midst of the most intense month of touring, with stops in Wisconsin, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, and Ohio again. Elizabeth Doyle has been musical and traveling companion as we immerse ourselves with "Women of Paris".
The most unique of our presentations was a totally new version of "Picasso goes to the Music Hall" (or as I ended up calling it: "the Picasso Muse-Collage") for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The museum is hosting 175 masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso. What a treat to visit this museum and what a receptive audience for our illustrated concert. Programming Director Celeste Fetta, Elizabeth and I promised each other to put together a tour to VMFA's partner sites and a performance for the Mellon Collection of French Art, perhaps as early as 2012.
Bob Moreen joined me for a day at the Cleveland-area Laurel School for girls. How special to have a second grader say, "what I liked best was how you put feeling in your songs." From Kindergarten to 12th grade, every group was totally engaged and engaging.
All of this has been taking place while the production of a new Jazz Fauré album is underway. We completed the recording of "By the Riverbank", the songs of Gabriel Fauré with English lyrics by Arnold Johnston, with a lineup of fabulous singers: KT McCammond, John Eskola, Elizabeth Doyle, Amanda Hartley, Sean Harris, Sean Effinger-Dean, Jeny Wasilewski, and from a studio in New Jersey, my friend Johnny Rodgers. It's almost like having a cast recording of last summer's readings. Oh yes, I sing several songs as well.
Jim Massoth, our engineer at Steve Yates Recording, Bobby Schiff and I finished mixing a week ago and we're looking forward to Danny Leake's mastering session in early May. Stay tuned for a release concert this summer.
September 1, 2010
A very intense and creative quarter has just flown by, dominated by the production of staged readings of the Jazz Fauré Theatre Project. We called it "Summer on the Seine" and how apt it was. The script by Amanda Hartley was perfectly matched by an incredible "dream team" of singer-actors. Here's the cast of characters.
Over 150 fans attended the two evenings and another 30 or more sent in donations from near and far, totaling more than $6000 in contributions. I am overwhelmed with the outpouring of support. MERCI MILLE FOIS!
The talk-back sessions, the discussions by phone, email, in person were immensely positive and constructive and Yes, we're revisiting key elements of the show to strengthen the book, dig deeper into the poetry and meaning of the songs, and come out with a new projector three! One project continues developing a book musical; the second project will create a theatrical song cycle that can tour with a smaller cast, without staging; the third is to record the songs in English with members of our cast and me (I'll finally get to sing some of Arnie Johnston's lyrics!).
I'm taking a break from curating cabaret nights at the Little Bucharest Bistro. The Second Friday Singers' Showcase continues apace under the able hands of Beckie Menzie and Carla Gordon. With accordionist Djula Milo back in Belgrade, I'm working on repertoire with a new accordionist so the monthly French Nights are on hold. However, on October 14, I will be back at Little Bucharest to open for Eric Vincent, the most engaging wild-haired Frenchman you'll ever fall in love with.
This being the "new year" for performers and students, it's a pleasure to resume the Songshop sessions at DePaul. A batch of newcomers join the veterans. The July cabaret shows were a great success for all.
Two weeks ago, I led a performance-skills workshop for Ravinia's roster of teaching artists. Wow! what's it like helping fabulous performers get even better? The session was surprising, intimate, revelatory. It was an honor to touch and be touched by these artists of blues, jazz, classical music, folk and more. Ravinia's education coordinator promises there will be more.
Memorial Day weekend 2010
Our concert at Ravinia on May 7 was a grand success. By 6 PM, the facilities crew was bringing in rows and rows of more chairs. Cabaret tables, red curtains and flood lights were judiciously placed to create the ambiance. I was putting on Michelle Coughlin's new gown. The buzz was palpable as Ravinia regulars mingled with my tried-and-true fans. By the end of the evening the artistic manager was texting the Ravinia director, "We have to find other ways to have Claudia perform here again." And the post-show testimonials and Pioneer Press review concurred.
The very next day I was driving with Amanda Hartley to South Haven, Michigan, to meet with our playwriting collaborators Arnie Johnston and Debby Percy. Forty-eight hours later, we had the first solid draft of our new musical The Luncheon of the Boating Party, based on the music of the Jazz Fauré Project and characters inspired by the Renoir painting of the same name. A few weeks later, the first gathering of our directors and arranger, Lara Filip, Elizabeth Doyle and Bobby Schiff was throwing us even more ideas including the radical decision to ditch some of the most delicious elements of the Jazz Fauré repertoire in favor of keeping the music all by Fauré (no more Cole Porter and Jacques Prévert).
The creative process can be wrenching and inexorable; the results, awe-inspiring. And our characters definitely have a mind of their own. Lydia the seamstress is huggable (and Johnny will certainly take advantage of that!); René, the artist is finding a love that's more than lovely; there may even be a redeeming song for our industrialist Mr. X.
Come meet all 13 of our characters, Monday and Tuesday, August 2 and 3. Meanwhile, visit the jazzfaure website to learn more.
Coming up next: I am a Rising Star at Ravinia and May 7 is the magic night. For the first time ever, Ravinia is creatingin their new "Private Dining Room"a cabaret venue to feature a Chicago cabaret “star”. For the occasion, I’m introducing an English-language version of Yvette Guilbert’s Madame Arthur. “Madame Arthur is quite the dame, of whom they talk and talk and talk and talk!” And let me tell you about her je ne sais quoi.
Our Vernon Hills High School performance of Souvenirs of Paris 1950 and the dialogue with French III students was a rousing success. I especially loved the question from a young woman, "How do you make the emotions in a song true when you haven't yet had the experience that's told in the song?" And later, in a one-on-one, she asked further how to bring that level of emotion to her violin playing. Now there's a subject I would love to explore with her and others more deeply. We face the challenge to keep music and arts-in-education alive in our schools. School engagements are being cut not only for lack of funds but for the crazy idea that this activity is not "basic" to their education. And what becomes of the passion for living and creating?
Cabaret at the Little Bucharest Bistro is getting rave reviews from our fansfor the music, the warm welcome, and the food. Repeat customers aplenty! So come on over Wednesday nights to catch the great Jeannie Tanner's jazz-pop-blues cabaret and Friday nights for a variety of wonderful cabaret evenings. First Fridays are French.
The new year took us by storm, and not just the snowy kind. I'm catching my breath after a flurry of Valentines. What wonderful audiences we've had: seniors at Autumn Green, a packed house for Espresso's Valentine Brew in Palos Park, rendez-vous with so many Barrington fans whom we'd not seen since July, and a new entourage of fans led by the Dean of North Park University is already planning our return next year with the Travel Abroad Quintet.
Cabaret nights at The Little Bucharest Bistro each Friday night are a delightful surprise. Folks have been grabbing floor space to dance while my singer friends like Tecora, Andrea, Carla grab the microphone.
We'll slow down enough to catch our breath and get ready for the tour of "Women of Paris" from Oak Lawn to Ravinia (not on the lawn) and on to Ohio! Mary Horton continues to help me with publicity and Kristina Buhlinger is my new booking assistant. She's successfully pursuing museum-exhibit related tours for 2010-2011.
And take a look at our new Jazz Fauré website as we prepare to launch the musical version of the Project with staged readings this summer. Amanda Hartley and Arnie Johnston are steadfast and great writers with whom I'm collaborating.
November 2009The party season is upon us and I haven't even had time to update my Private Affair calendar. Didier Durand grabbed us for New Year's Eve so come on down to Cyrano's for the 2009 grand finale. And there's still time to book us for a few more events before the year is over .
Elizabeth Doyle and I celebrated the arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau at Cliff Bell's Nightclub in Detroit. The wine was pouring thanks to Jean Jacques Fertal of Eagle Eye Imports. The songs were soaring thanks to our new collaborators Jordan Schug on bass and Carl Cafagna on drums, clarinet and alto. Very HOT! A smooth-moving fellow (who was that man?) whirled me around the stage and local tenor Jimmy Rico sat in for a tune. Friends old and new packed the place from 9:30 to past 1 AM. We're looking forward to a return in 2010, for sure!
Getting ready for a very busy April9 shows, 4 cities, and more. April starts with a rare treat, bringing the Jazz Fauré Project to the Evanston Space, a new venue with a growing reputation. The Project goes on the road to perform at the Frick Museum in Pittsburgh two weeks later. Then, Bob Moreen and I will be performing in Detroit at another recently revitalized venue, Cliff Bell's. Our first appearance there is also my first collaboration with world-class jazz accordionist Julien Labro. Check out his website and you'll see why I look so forward to singing with him.
We'll grab a moment on April 20 to join the Chicago Cabaret Professionals' production of "April Love" at the Drury Lane Water Tower . I'm not the one singing "April in Paris" but I'll be there with bells on, some wonderful songs and a fabulous lineup of Chicago singers. The following week I'll be with Elizabeth Doyle and Sean Harris to perform and work with audiences from age 5 to 85 during a four-day residency in Jacksonville, Illinois. One more quick stop (on May Day) at Cyrano's bistrot to welcome you and a group of Greenville, Michigan, students in a reprise of the rarely-public Souvenirs of Paris, 1950. Shortly thereafter, to Paris!
Photographer and sales wizard Mary Horton has joined me part-time in the office to help with promotion. Day 1 she landed us her first gig and April dates are filling in with her help. As the French would say, "Elle est super!"
January 12, 2009
I'm in the glow of two shows yesterday, one at the Glenview Library and the other at Cyrano's cabaret room with participants of my weekly "Songshop" song workshop. I am especially proud of the Songshop Cabaret performance. The audience gave a great round of applausesometimes right in the middle of a song, and cheered the entire ensemble. As several spectators were heard to say, there was "magic in the air". Congratulations to all who sang and played (Sue Keller, Adrienne Minnes, Carmen Bodino, Carol Weston, Jo Rainey, Michelle Greenberg, Mike Ward, and Sue Susman). It does our heart good.
On Sunday, October 26, 2008, we had a fabulous evening with Eric Vincent and a World of Friends, at the newly opened Morse Theatrein Chicago. It truly was an international event, with audience members from the Ivory Coast to the Philippines, from Ukraine to Haiti. We opened with Greta Pope, Bob Moreen and myself offering up some Parisian classics. My friend French Consul Jean-Baptiste Main de Boissière earnestly sang and played guitar. And then, with energy gathered from four corners of the world, Eric Vincent bounded on stage for the second act. By the end of the show, the whole audience was singing and all the performers and the Haitian Consul Lesly Condé were on stage clapping and dancing through yet another encore of Haiti Kimbé Fò.The Morse Theatre's directors caught the fever and assure us there will be more opportunities to perform on their stage. We love the uncrowded intimacy, heavenly acoustics, and great staff.
We thank our many recent sponsors.
- Chicago Sister Cities International Program--Paris Committee
- Nicole Claude for Pluriel Magazine
- Carl Fombrun, parlant de Tout et de Rien
- Groupe Professionnel Francophone
- Hébo-Coffee Co., (773) 274-0800, locations in Rogers Park and Lakeview
- The Energy Detectives(TM) at Informed Energy Decisions
- Our printer and designer Owen Leroy at DIGIWORLD, 312-593-8598, 2026 W. Montrose, Chicago
- Lisa Malina of Malina & Associates, an accounting firm serving the music community, 773-576-0401
- Sandra Mesrine, Photographer of La Chambre Noire, whose photos grace the sidebar of this site.