Review of Hal Leonard’s “15 American Art Songs”

Collection of Art Songs for Beginners

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Courtesy of PriceGrabber

This is my all-time favorite songbook for beginning singers requesting more songs in English. Not only are the songs beautiful, interesting, and introduce students to a more modern style; the composers selected represent a good variety of American composers.

About the Songs: Though many of the songs sound decidedly American, most lyrics are written by British poets. “The Lass from the Low Countree,” is one exception as the text was adapted by John Jacob Niles himself, but the topic would fit easily into a Jane Austen movie, as it is the lament of a poor girl who was taken advantage of by someone with a higher social status.

Many of the topics have an ecological element to them, which does give you a sense of the wide open and beautiful land of America, including “This Little Rose,” a poem by Emily Dickinson, “Loveliest of Trees,” by A. E. Housman from “A Shropshire Lad,” “Heavenly Grass” and “Cabin” poems by Tennessee Williams, “The Daisies” poem by James Stephens, and “Sure on This Shining Night,” a poem by James Agee. A few texts are religious in nature, including “The Lamb,” poem by William Blake, “Serenity,” poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, and “The Crucifixion,” poem translated by Howard Mumford Jones from Romanesque Lyric. One of my favorite bitter-sweet songs is “When I Have Sung My Songs,” words and music by Ernest Charles, which could be particularly relevant at a funeral or memorial. The words begin with, “When I have sung my songs to you, I’ll sing no more. ‘Twould be a sacrilege to sing at another door.”

Piano Accompaniment – Does it Come With a CD? You may buy this collection with CD. I find the accompaniment speeds appropriate and have performed with them on occasion. All of the song accompaniments are medium to medium difficult. Some of the selections may look easier to play, but are in more difficult key signatures.

Is it Published for Various Voice Parts? 15 American Art Songs comes in both high and low voice. The highest note is a G5 in the higher range, so may still be appropriate for some mezzo-sopranos and baritones. All songs can be sung by both men and women, though the “American Lullaby,” does include the lines, “Nursie will raise the window shade high,” and “Nursie will turn the radio on,” which many might conclude is sung by a female nanny.

Pros and Cons: Each and every song selection is beautiful, singable, and well-suited for the beginning and intermediate voice. The song selection is appropriate for the price, though I would have appreciated a short background about each song. Generally I have found very few opportunities to sing any of these selections outside of song recitals, but find it refreshing that so many of the selections are not focused solely on romantic love. This book lends itself well for beginning group voice classes, as I have the pianist switch between keys as needed.

Pricing and Availability: 15 American Songs may be available in local stores. Amazon sells the high version with downloadable music tracks for $16.93 and Hal Leonard’s price is $19.99. The low version also comes with downloadable or streaming music tracks for $15.78 from Amazon and $19.99 from Hal Leonard.

List of Songs:

Sure On This Shining Night (by Samuel Barber)
The Daisies (by Samuel Barber)
The Crucifixion (by Samuel Barber)
The Monk and His Cat (by Samuel Barber)
Cabin (by Paul Bowles)
Heavenly Grass (by Paul Bowles)
The Lamb (by Theodore Chanler)
When I Have Sung My Songs (by Ernest Charles)
Loveliest of Trees (by John Duke)
Do Not Go, My Love (by Richard Hageman)
Serenity (by Charles Ives)
The Lass from the Low Countree (by John Jacob Niles)
American Lullaby (by Gladys Rich)
This Little Rose (by William Roy)
Orpheus With His Lute (by William Schuman)