Awakening your own story: A conversation with soprano Tory McKenna

March 3, 2020

 

Lullabies often summon sleep, but their quiet beauty can also inspire eye-opening reflection. That’s the spirit behind “Awakening: A Song Cycle of Lullabies,” compiled and performed by soprano Tory McKenna.

 

St. Benedict’s Friends of Music is proud to present this thought-provoking collection of art songs on Sunday, March 22nd at 6 p.m. The performance will also feature Butoh dancer and choreographer Frances Mulinix and St. Benedicts’ own Valerie Pool on piano. Among the highlighted works, you'll hear Franz Schubert, Francis Poulenc, Giacomo Puccini and several other classical music greats. 

 

In anticipation of this special event, we chatted with Tory McKenna about the story behind “Awakening,” its diverse collection of songs, and why music has such a special place in the Episcopalian tradition. 

 

What was the inspiration for "Awakening?"

 

A few years ago I was talking with a friend about possibly recording a song, and they asked me a very specific question. The question was, if I could sing one song to the world, what would it be? 

 

The answer was German lieder. My father used to listen to it, I grew up with it, and so I thought, “I wonder if there is a German lieder lullaby?” In fact, there was a virtual avalanche of them. Different lullabies are named different things in different languages, and in many ways, I feel like they called to me. At first, I had intended to choose one to sing and record, but it eventually became a whole set. 

 

What story do these songs tell?

 

When she heard about the project, my vocal teacher told me, “You’ve created your own song cycle!”  [FYI: A “song cycle” is a collection of songs, written individually, that are collected and performed together, usually to tell a story or express a theme.] I thought oh, there must be a story here, and I had fun playing with that. 

 

The story that began to emerge was the story of me, of going from unconsciousness, sort of going where the wind takes you, being unaware. So it’s an asleep start. At the middle point, there’s an awareness, there’s something more. And at the final state, it is to become awake, and to become aware of how I am connected to every thing in the world. And my intention is to offer it as my story, but also in a way that everybody can see themselves in their own story. 

 

The performance also features Butoh, a relatively recent form of slow-moving expressive Japanese dance. How does that connect to the themes of lullabies and awakenings? 

 

I always imagined that there would be movement associated with this work. Everybody familiar with classical music is very comfortable with the presentation of classical music where you stand and deliver, and people in the audience receive. And I think that’s not very engaging. And so I really wanted to get people out of their programs and experiencing this together.

 

Butoh is not a structured dance technique, it’s based in natural movement. So I think it is more appropriate for what we’re trying to communicate. And it seems like the people who are coming into this experience will connect with it, and I just feel so honored to be involved with this group of performers, who are just beautiful, sensitive artists. 

 

How were you first drawn to music? 

 

I starting singing in church in Albany, New York. Because of their love of music, my parents introduced us into the Episcopal Church when I was 12, mostly because of the tradition of music within that service. And I feel very close to the Episcopal liturgy and tradition because of that. Because music was such a part of my childhood, my upbringing; not just listening, but engaging, I heard more in it. It wasn’t just a pretty sound, it was an education. 

 

Please join us on March 22nd at 6 p.m.! Admission is free and light refreshments will be provided. 

 

 

 

 

 

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