A conversation with Kyle Berkley (BM ‘10) | Guest Artist Recital | Feb. 9
On Sat., Feb. 9, tenor Kyle Berkley and pianist Wendy Blackwood bring a special concert to Ludwig Recital Hall titled “Through the Eyes of Time: A Recital to Celebrate Black History Month.” The 3 p.m. recital will feature the music and poetry of African-American artists, highlighting their contributions to classical music. It will also feature the world premiere of “I’ve Known Rivers” by award-winning American composer Gwyneth Walker. A long-time resident of Vermont, she is also a former faculty member of the Oberlin Conservatory.
Recently, we spoke with Kyle about his upcoming recital, working with a living composer, and growing up in Northeast Ohio. Read excerpts from the conversation below!
Q1: Your upcoming recital is called “Through the Eyes of Time: A Recital to Celebrate Black History Month.” How did this recital come together?
Let me start by saying, thank you for reaching out to me! This project means a lot to me, and I’m glad I can share it with the community. I have always wanted to do a recital that showcased the extensive contributions made by African-Americans to art song, whether that be composers or poets. Their musical contributions to vocal literature aren’t performed as often as they should unless you think of spirituals. Which is unfortunate because they wrote beautiful and uplifting art songs. Ultimately, I desired to create a different kind of recital, one that would feature lesser known vocal music by minorities. It wasn’t until I met American composer – Gwyneth Walker in November of 2017 that the recital really started to take shape. I told her about my intentions of a recital that incorporated the music of African-Americans, and I asked if she had any solo voice arrangements that would relate to the topic. She was very enthused about the idea and thus welcomed to write “I’ve Known Rivers,” a song cycle for tenor and piano with text by Langston Hughes. I felt honored that she wanted to work with me!
Q2: This sounds like an incredible recital and a terrific way to both celebrate and introduce people to new music and poetry! What has the creative and rehearsal process been like for “I’ve Known Rivers?”
I first must give thanks to Gwyneth Walker and Wendy Blackwood for all their help. It has been a pleasure working with them both. The new song cycle, “I’ve Known Rivers” has gone through many revisions since Gwyneth started writing the cycle in December of 2017. The creative process of working with a living renowned American composer has been a blessing. Gwyneth was very diligent in getting my feedback from the moment she sent me the first draft on February 10, 2018. At that time, the delivery of the score on my birthday was a great gift! After rehearsing with Wendy Blackwood and getting the songs in my voice, I knew that some changes needed to be made. Gwyneth was always an email away to offer suggestions on vocal edits to the score. We even sent multiple recordings to Gwyneth for her approval of the songs. Again, the collaboration between us all has been a delight. All-in-all the score has gone through 5 revisions and one recent revision last month. I do believe the audience will leave the recital mesmerized by Gwyneth Walker’s writing!
Q3: We noticed that you’re an advocate for American art song. What are some of the differences and similarities between it and German lieder?
Well, this isn’t an easy question to answer. In short, both are broad topics. The classical song form in any language owes a lot of its development to German Lieder. Most in part because German Lieder composers were the first to bring this genre to the forefront in the nineteenth century. A big similarity between German Lieder and American art song is the delivery of text, where diligent pronunciation and thoughtful engagement with the lyrics is essential. The singer needs to fill each syllable with meaning and color. Now, with American song, we can think of broad influences because America is a melting pot. American song showcases the diverse races, cultures, and ethnic influences into its art song form. I should also mention that art song, in any language, has the power to speak to people all over the world who have never heard a nightingale, the babbling brook, the arrival of spring after a long cold winter, or the cries for freedom.
Q4: In addition to your work with art song, you’re also an experienced opera performer. How is singing art song different to opera?
Well, opera tends to be theatrical in its purest sense. You’ve got costumes, props, stage direction, stage lighting, you are playing a character, accompanied by an orchestra and many more elements that I’m probably forgetting. Everything you say in an opera should be delivered as your character as if you were speaking the words for the first time. In simplest terms, in opera, you are playing someone else. On the other hand, art song recital is far more intimate with no theatrics. Art song recital usually is just accompanied by piano or one or two instruments. What you’re reciting is poetry rather than dialogue. What I like most about art song is the personal experience to the songs because there is room for interpretation, where you are the singer/ poet reciting the text as if you were yourself. In this way, with art song, your own personality and creativity should come through. Another difference between the two is vocal limits. One could say a whole hour of art song recital could put more strain on the voice than singing in a 2-hour opera. You see, in opera, you are not on stage the whole time, and there is room for breaks which lessen or ease the strain on your voice. In art song recital, you are using your voice for at least an hour. Nonetheless, the vocal technique you use for the two genres is essentially the same.
Q5: You’re also a native of Northeast Ohio, right? What was your musical experience like as you were growing up here?
Yes, I am from Northeast Ohio. I grew up in a very small rural area, Columbia Township, just 30-minutes from Downtown Cleveland. I must say that I had a wonderful musical experience growing up. Being from a small town meant that I had less competition and more opportunities available to me. The music teachers from High School were a blessing in disguise. This was where my love for music took shape. But it was at Kent State University where I found my true voice and calling. My time at Kent State was a musical experience that I will never forget. I wanted to make the most out of my education at the time and therefore seemed to be involved in everything from KSU Chorale, Men’s Choir, Opera, Marching Band, and all of this on top of the 18+ credit hours of other music classes. Looking back, I was in way too many ensembles.
Nevertheless, I learned from great Professors and learned how to be an outstanding musician and teacher. I still have materials from undergrad that I updated and now use in my own studio at Ohio University. Some of my music experiences from undergrad that stand out to me the most were, my first lead opera role in Dido and Aeneas, the time the KSU Men’s Chorus went to OMEA, the wonderful Yuletide Feasts with Dr. CM Shearer, the voice division going to see Renée Fleming in concert, and my award as runner up for the concerto competition. It’s because of these experiences and the high degree of learning at Kent State that allowed me to successfully complete my Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance at The University of North Carolina Greensboro (2012), and be a top-notch performer and teacher!
If I may, I also want to give a big thank to my former teacher and now mentor, Dr. Jane Dressler. She is a phenomenal individual and strived for me to be the best. Lastly, I also want to thank my parents, Tim and Lynne Berkley, for they were always supportive of my musical interests.
FREE and open to the public.
Ludwig Recital Hall is located in the Center for the Performing Arts at 1325 Theatre Dr. on the Kent Campus.
Doors will open approximately 30 minutes before the start of the performance.
About the School of Music
The Hugh A. Glauser School of Music at Kent State University, nestled in beautiful and vibrant Kent, Ohio, is one of the most distinguished schools of music in the Midwest. For over 100 years, the School of Music has nurtured the next generation of music educators, performing artists and scholars. We offer some of the most comprehensive and innovative degree programs in the country, with an emphasis on experiential learning, quality scholarship and immersive technical training. Students enrolled in our programs can expect a warm and supportive environment where fostering professional growth and personal development is a priority. Our graduates have gone on to have successful careers in music education, music performance, scholarly research, higher education and administration.
During the summer, the School of Music hosts the Kent Blossom Music Festival in cooperation with The Cleveland Orchestra and Blossom Music Center. The festival is regarded as one of the premier centers for professional music training for young artists in the United States. Now entering its 51st season in 2019, alumni hold positions of prominence in many of the world’s finest orchestras, chamber ensembles and educational institutions.