DENVER ART SONG PROJECT
Founded in 2015, the Denver Art Song Project (DASP) presents innovative, themed art song programs. Below is an interview with co-founder Eapen Leubner about DASP and the many ways in which the project fulfills its mission of creating and sustaining an art song community in Denver, CO.
How and why did you start Denver Art Song Project?
The Denver Art Song Project began in 2015. Having recently relocated to Denver, I needed a pianist to prepare for a modern opera in NYC. I was introduced to Mallory Bernstein, and together we realized that there was a gap in Denver for professional art song performance. In response, we created the recording
A Single Step… Songs of Beethoven and Donaudy. 2016-17 was our inaugural season, which included 13 singers, an oboist and our audio engineer/guitarist/co-founder, Michael Bevers.
What keeps you engaged in continuing to run a small performance group?
I enjoy both the performing and programming part of art song recitals. Each production has a theme, and I work with the musicians to create performances with spoken word, curated visual art, and supertitles. The end result is more of a narrative journey through song, and less of a traditional recital. In addition to reviving our “Monsters, Creatures, and Legends” concert this season, we are adding three more programs: “Outsiders: Song Cycles from the Fringe,” “Pillars of African American Art Songs,” and “April Fool’s Songs.”
It was always important to me to run an organization where singers get paid a decent (though always striving for better!) wage. Since ticket sales don’t cover fees, DASP became a sponsored artist of Fractured Atlas, a 501c3 organization. Fractured Atlas provides us with some ease to our annual financial paperwork, as well as a platform for fundraising. Learn more (and donate) here.
How do you create and sustain an art song audience?
We are trying to build our audience with a three-pronged approach.
One performance of each production is tailored for student and younger audiences. A whole family can attend for only $25. Art songs are great for kids because if they get bored, the song is soon over and there is another story to tell. Last season, our family matinee was our highest-attended show and, most importantly, we had families return.
Second, we partner with established organizations. Arts at Cabrini, a Littleton, CO, performance group, hosts our Friday night cabaret performances. We are presenting "Pillars of African American Art Song" at the Blair Caldwell African-American Research Library. Colorado State University hosted our first production in Ft. Collins, and we continue to seek performance spaces around Colorado.
Finally, we ensure high-quality performances by paying our artists as well as possible. We believe that by supporting our artists financially, we ensure top-notch quality. We also create a community through clever and well-curated concerts, as enjoyable for the performers as they are for the audience. And we occasionally add in cheesy jokes because they make us laugh. We don’t pander though! (much)
What initiatives set you apart from other groups?
2018 High School Art Song Competition
Our most exciting announcement is our 2018 High School Art Song Competition, where Colorado singers from 9th to 11th grade can compete to win a $10,000 scholarship to Ithaca College, both my and Mallory’s alma mater. This idea began when an Ithaca College professor, Ivy Walz, came to Denver to perform a recital with Mallory. The three of us hatched the idea of a DASP/Ithaca College School of Music collaboration—a competition that would meet all of our outreach goals.
Our intention is to create a positive space for young singers to learn the joys of competitions, while ensuring that the competition lives up to our business ideals. There is no charge to compete as long as you show up at the competition. Along with professional accompanists, we will provide constructive feedback to the participants. Even if students don’t win a prize, we recognize the risk they took and want them to know that they did something brave and true by performing for us.
Promoting Colorado Musicians
Our Youtube channel and album releases are key differentiators for Denver Art Song Project. We knew we wanted to feature great Colorado singers and provide them with a legacy of their performances. We hope that the high-quality audio and video recordings will further the career of these artists. We rely on our generous donors to make these recordings. Listen here!
To learn more about the Denver Art Song Project and its current season, please visit the DASP website at www.denverartsongproject.org.