CINCINNATI SONG INITIATIVE
In 2016, the Cincinnati Song Initiative began bringing relevant and moving art song programs to the greater Cincinnati area. We asked the founder and artistic director for the Cincinnati Song Initiative (CSI), pianist Samuel Martin to talk a bit about the founding of CSI and the organization’s collaborative mission, as well as some of the lessons learned during CSI’s inaugural season.
How CSI Began
I have always been inspired by the marriage of poetry and music: it’s what distinguishes singing from purely instrumental music. The added ability to connect with audiences through language is something special, and creates a unique opportunity for singers to do good in the world. As a pianist, I appreciate the artistic fulfillment that art song provides to our breed, too – not just to singers! This intimate partnership between singer and pianist, melded together by the text, creates a beautiful atmosphere that is virtually irreplaceable in other areas of music.
With that inspiration fueling me, I identified and filled a major (and surprising) void in the musical fabric of the greater Cincinnati area. Occasionally, existing organizations would produce a concert of songs buried within their cross-genre seasons, but nowhere was there an organization dedicated to solely producing song concerts. After researching numerous other art song organizations around the country, I decided to give it a shot in Cincinnati. After all, this little southwest pocket of Ohio is a major hub for singers – so why couldn’t it work? Since our inaugural season received rave reviews and audience attendance increased concert after concert, I would venture to say founding Cincinnati Song Initiative was a good chance to take.
How CSI Works
Cincinnati Song Initiative’s mission is to promote and innovate the classical art song genre. To achieve this, we program themed projects and series that consist of multiple concerts spanning one season, or several. At any given time, CSI has multiple projects going on at once, so each concert bounces from one themed project to another, creating maximum variety. For example, our inaugural season consisted of three concerts that were part of two projects: an American song series, and a series that explores the vocal works of the six French composers known as Les Six. The first concert of the season was part of Americana, the second was part of Survey of Les Six, and the season finale bounced back to the Americana series.
As our flagship series, Americana does not have an expiration: we use it to promote the vast body of song from our own great country, as well as an opportunity to feature commissioned works and premieres by living American composers. Our season finale in April featured the world premiere performance of Christina’s World by Juliana Hall. It was a truly rewarding experience to be able to have such a distinguished composer featured (and in person at the concert!) during our very first season.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that every little logistical detail needs to be considered and carefully planned. The alternative? Confusion and chaos on performance day. Luckily, we’ve had no such drama, but I have realized that the careful planning we’ve done this inaugural season is absolutely required. In the end, it has helped CSI emerge as a professional organization, right out of the starting gate. Our artists appreciate the ease of a streamlined administrative and rehearsal process, and our audiences have been complimentary of the flair and professionalism with which our concerts have occurred.
Artistically speaking, there was a phase of growth in which I worked to take my own idea and turn it into a reality that appeals to everyone. Countless people have helped to lift CSI off the ground – teachers, mentors, friends, lawyers, and other advice-giving artists – and that is what makes this a truly community-based project. A family friend who advised me in the logistics of starting the company told me, “Remember Sam, beginning a nonprofit means it won’t be your organization. It will be everyone’s.” That has stuck with me to this day, and guides me back to CSI’s mission and core values when things work out differently than originally planned. (And that happens a lot!) There is a beauty and freshness when a project turns out differently based on the ideas and contributions of others, and I have come to relish that aspect of this team sport.
CSI has ambitious plans for its second season and beyond. In general, we look forward to developing collaborations with other Cincinnati organizations to create varied and multi-dimensional performances. We also remain committed to commissioning world-class American composers in an effort to help grow the body of art song repertoire from our own beloved country. And finally, CSI will constantly seek to push the boundaries of what a traditional art song recital looks like in the twenty-first century, with the help of top artists who have devoted their careers and lives to this living, breathing art form.
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