thumbnail of Success in the arts; Singing
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
Success in the arts is a recorded program produced by the University of Illinois undergraduate division under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. Today success as a singer of songs appearing on this program is the artist Richard Dyer Bennett the critic Irvin Subotic a music critic of The Chicago Daily News. The moderator for the entire series is Studs Terkel radio and television commentator. Here now to begin the program is Mr. Terkel Richard Barrett Bennett is certainly one of the distinguished interpreters of folk as well as art songs and diabetic supposedly. Start with you and you have a certain kind of audience. This is indicated from those who attended concerts and those who buy your albums. What what do you seek in terms of an audit what sort of audience do you seek.
I think that I don't think in terms of seeking an audience. I work the way I want to work and not blindly not not assuming that no one will like it I assume that that's that what I want to do will be meaningful to some other people. And I have to accept the limits imposed on me by that by that way of working. In other words if I insist on working a certain way because I want to I have to accept and the audience which will enjoy that way of working this audience are simply asking Suppose we go to the critic for a moment and come back to you and your audience or perhaps will touch upon that to you as a critic. What do you see from a performer say like Richard Dyer Bennett. What do you think in terms of the songs he sings and his instrumental work. Well as anyone who goes to a concert to hear a singer of songs what I'm really after is is the kind of
knowledge that is in the songs the kind of experience and from Mr. Dyer bender or any other singer I would look for some kind of a feeling some kind of an insight into what the song is he's the man who he's the only medium through which is song can be held up for me to look at. And it is a kind of knowledge that man has has produced. And I look for him to show it to me. You look for illumination of some sort from the performer. Yes. By the by illumination means something that will make your life different after you've heard the performance than before. Well in a large sense you could say it would make my life different because I would know something I didn't know before or know it and in a way I hadn't known before. And long as I like to know from Mr. Bennett how how he selects the songs he sings How how he determines what sort of knowledge he wants to hold up for me. I think that I learn a song because I'm strongly attracted to it
for so I can't always say what it is that attracts me to a song. I may hear someone sing it but more often I see it in a book in an old publication and as I read through the poetry and as I sound the melody and my own inner ear as I'm as I'm reading it something about the song captures me and I may have the feeling I must learn this immediately and start singing it. I may have the feeling I LIKE SOMETHING ABOUT THIS AND I WANT TO THE SONG. And then if it's in an old book and I have facilities for copying down the words and music I do sometimes I have a third to stand it if it's a book that's difficult to get at and is in a you know rather rare library. And sometimes I start to work immediately on the song and sometimes I simply keep it around the house for several years before I learn it. And I look through music when I want to feel like working on new material I look through this collection that I have built
up over the years and some of these songs will then suggest themselves to me as songs to be immediately learned. Now I can't say just what it is about them that gives me this feeling but I only thoughts learn a song when I come to feel that urgency about it because there are severe and then enough songs a sufficient number of songs that that I feel I just must sing. So that I don't have to worry about having a large enough repertoire and I just don't bother to learn a song until I feel I have to have the feeling that he looks for the same thing in a song and I look for in the performance of it. Yeah that is it tells him something he's a song that says something to absolutely you know not always say what it is you know there is a parallel similarity here that Irv's of Laska the critic seeks to be pleased something that will please him and him to some extent you are the artist in other words you say. Do you seek to please yourself before you seek to please the audience yes. But studs I think you have to be careful that that word believe is unless you make a very broad
connotation you know. I mean it is one pleased at the dead bodies on the stage at the close of Hamlet. You know if if if if pleased includes that feeling which one accepts as a as a as a tragic as a tragic necessity. Dreamy Yes. It's somehow. Significant really significant. If you mean that by please then I then I would agree with you in that sense I mean you must be moved. Yes I can be troubled as I may be drawn to a song because it troubles me in some way and I find that when I have when I am drawn for us to a song for such a reason and have then learned to successfully perform it which doesn't happen right away there are songs which I have bins which I have had the experience of singing actually performing professionally for three or four years which I have not been able to perform in such a way as to make the audience feel what I felt. But when that finally happens the audience I am aware that the audience then
has the same general feeling that I had when I was attracted to the song if the song troubled me it troubles them. This brings us back to the matter of audience. Richard Dyer Bennett and his audience. You must be moved by something and no matter how many other people or how many you people might be moved by it. In other words you could take a pop song and you could be quite pop was you have a better voice and you know you could. I want to I don't mean sing the jukebox type song but a pop song in the say folk idiom and you could reach far more people than you do today. Yeah but you won't know and I don't do it out of any goodness of I mean out of any high moral virtue. I had such a song simply would not interest me. And and I know. That if I try to do if I try to work in my way with with material it doesn't interest me. It's a it's a deadly experience. You know there's this this this
kills the part of you that is that is alive and active and and wanting and forward moving. You have to obey that impulse. I think that's the thing. This business of being pleased it isn't simply a matter of superficial pleasure it's effect it's a matter of of the person wanting something needing something and and having it as nourishment really is just it's a necessary kind of nourishment it is simple pleasure. That's it. And doesn't this come back then to the riddle. That's not really a riddle singing before a thousand people and moving them very much or seeing me for 100 million people and just touching them very lightly. And yours falls in the former category. I hope so. Yes. Well how about the matter of folk songs and art songs and Dick you sing both. Is your approach different say to Greensleeves it would be to a song of Schubert. No I can't say that my my basic approach is I don't think of all of the songs in terms of styles this word that is
used as Schubert style and this style of that style. I if you're going to talk about style then I think there is in that sense a style for every song. Perhaps several styles. There are several ways of really saying what this is and you have to find as a performer one of those ways. But my approach is it is not. I do not consciously think for instance Now here is a traditional ballad no one knows who wrote it it's been through many forms. Many people have sung it the verses have been different the melody has been different there is no set accompaniment and therefore I will approach it in this way. Here on the other hand is a song from Schubert and or personal and this is set in every note is there except in the person it would have been just a Figured Bass but. I don't have the feeling now here is the style in which personal must be sung. And here is the style of the album not a tool. These are two
songs I must find the way of singing each of them. That is that is meaningful and one is not a folk way and the other an archway. I don't make it I just don't make that distinction. In fact I feel that if I sing Barbara Allen as well as I want to sing it it is an art song. What is the difference somebody wrote it. You know we just don't know. The curious thing here stands I think is is that you might think from listening to Mr. Bennett describe this process of of stylization or lack of stylization that he would end up seeing everything the same. But this isn't what happens you see because each song contains its own style. Yes that's right he said that the style is part of the song so he sings even to Schubert songs. Won't there. You couldn't even say there is a general soup Schubert style. Now there is a style for the lyre man and there is a style for Margaret the spinning wheel. In other words exactly this is for you the interpreter. Yes.
To find what you think is a style bridge of the song. I should have said style or there is a style in in in it you have to find it. Yes yes but isn't there don't you and here's what. Don't argue aloud or don't you take more liberty say with a folk quote unquote song let's say like Barber alum or golden that of the then with one of the seeds in the center riser. It's true I take liberty in it to this extent for instance in Barbara Allen you have a melody which is repeated would be repeated if you heard it sung by real rural traditional folk singer he would he would sing the melody melody exactly the same for each of the verses. Now I do not always do this. I may sing it the same for the same melody for seven of the eight verses and in the eighth verse if it occurs to me to do so or in the seventh verse not necessarily the last
one if there is a little change a little inflection on a certain a certain word I may take it. I may I may take the liberty of doing that because there is that there is that to be said there is that difference. You feel that the Schubert song has been. Perfectly conceived. You know there is no question about it meant the melody to be you know. There it is this is the way it was written This is the way it was published. Schubert didn't question the publication of it or a few feet if he may have done that it was corrected in the next edition but you know here it is here is exactly what he intended. And in this case although I might have theoretically a musical right to change something that didn't seem musically good in another sense I do not have a moral right to do it. I feel if I am singing Shoebat it must be as sure bet that it is the completely finished the song. Yes it was it was there every note every note of the accompaniment the whole thing. Whereas with a folk
song a folk song actually is never finished never fit when you perform it you finish it for the moment. That's a good point. That's a very good point yes. On this matter of finishing something for the moment or the just trying to be faithful to an idea to a movie about this matter of concert programming. In the case of pop artists they seek there's something called change of pace a pop artist offering a program. How do you program how do you program your concert is there a specific way in terms of the songs in terms of sequence. No there isn't. I I'm I tend to divide a concert into three groups of songs usually starting with songs from the British Isles and the second group of European songs and a third group of American songs because I found that there can be an almost shocking contrast. If I were to follow a certain kind of Irish song we'll say with a certain kind of European song if I follow
and I am 18 and 19 century Irish songs with a 16th century Spanish Lute song there's a shocking contrast took to it to me. And it doesn't suggest it doesn't suggest to itself to me this kind of contrast. I think that the contrast must be within a framework. And to me a successful concert program has a certain kind of architectural form. You begin. And there is an unbroken structure to the hote to the end of the program. There are two intermissions in my programs there are two intermissions and so the structure has to be. You have to bear this in mind with the structure you have to come. You have to be able to come to a pulls at the end of the first group which is not a dead end but is nevertheless a polls and you have to leave it so that all here is a sort of a not a finish but it but if it is just the feeling of the poles then you take up the architecture again in the second in the second portion
and in a sense you continue the intention as suggested by the first group and you come then to a second pause and this must be a different kind of pause because during this pause the audience is going to get up. Walk outside. Smoke a cigarette. Their mind's going to go off the program entirely. So when they come in again for the final group you have the problem of recreating just in a sort of a résumé form with this first song of the third group. You want to quickly recreate the mood that you had established during the first two groups and when you come to the end of the third group. Here is the final statement. I think that you know I've been actually does is it sounds to me is that the whole program becomes becomes one comprehensive song with with the applause you know movement of the audience and the feelings of the audience all written into the song. Yes marginally Yes. So brazen dances and we in a sense then a mood is maintained here. Yes. Transferred to the audience. Yes and it can shift the mood can shift. But it mustn't be. There must be
no shocking change. Shocking in this in the sense of so dramatic a change that your that your mind and your feelings are shaken loose from the mood they were in a moment ago. It's a kaleidoscope thing. You know it's a little it's just what you're trying to do with your albums you now are producing your own record albums. Richard Bennett is the labels name that you seek to offer a concert form this pattern and you're on your record to yes I may. It's possible that I may change my mind about this but at the moment I have the feeling that particularly with the with the new LP form of record people tend not to single out a particular song or a particular section of a record I think they tend to put the put the needle on at the beginning and play right through. And I therefore think that there there should be this as a sense of continuity as he said to the business of it being one
one the song you know. It's like it's like a suite of songs it's like a quartet and perhaps a chamber music suite. Here's a case then of LPs. I come into the picture. Yes and perhaps revolutionizing as the making of an album on the part of a solo artist I think it has a very different it imposes don't you think so. Yes I think it's as it imposes a different form on the programming of music for records. What about a little prognosis here in terms of the nature of your singing. We are chasing a folk singer the artist who seeks to be moved first and then if it moves the audience what I'm good at what has been the tendency in terms of audience what sort of audit and you one idea as to the nature of your audience. Yes I have times I few years ago I couldn't have answered that. I think I have a partial answer now. When I say when I first started to perform and when I gave my first
concerts in 1944. This was in New York and I had a very young audience and an audience which had recently become interested in folk songs and traditional songs. There was almost a feeling of of fandom about it. You know they were intrigued with the novelty of this of the music this was a new sound to them. And I was myself intrigued in the sense with the novelty of what I was doing and enjoying the experience of reaching people with it. And then as the years would go by as the years went by and I can see this by looking at my town hall programs over the last 12 years I can see a certain musical direction. There are there were fewer there. There became fewer and fewer of the purely light humorous songs songs which have depended for their effect
for instance on a single catchphrase in the last verse almost a joke. They became more stories and less anecdotes less jokes. You know there's a kind of joke that doesn't bear repetition. I mean you hear it once and you've heard it you're not interested in hearing anyone tell it again. But there is a kind of a story a tale in the sense of a tale a tale teller can interest you in his tales several times. A great storyteller and I like as he was the documentary film man. And I don't mean just in his films in his talking. I could tell you a story and you found that the next time you saw him four or five weeks later you wanted to hear him tell that story again. You know you would say to him. Tell me that story about the captain's chair again. And as I look at my programs I realize that I had that I began moving in the ballad and and and narrative songs that I sang songs which told a tale. And the value was not in any surprise element
within the quality of the team and musically I found I began I was becoming interested in slightly more complex musical forms also. Now this did something to my audience. It meant that the people who were willing to to follow me into this slightly more. Demanding slightly more complex field became my audience and I tended to lose those who were not willing to make this effort. And I think that as I have as I have worked hard on myself I have demanded more of my audience. I don't think that an audience my audience today can sit passively in the concert hall. Those who if an audience that expects just to sit there and say Now please me entertain me without making an effort they're going to find me very very Dolly going to walk out on me. Or they may be polite enough to stay but they'll never come again. But I think I have an I am now building an audience I think I now have quite an audience of people.
Who not only will of her followed every stage of my development but they are demanding more of me. They perhaps want more of me than I can give right now. You know they're willing to make every kind of effort to understand anything I might conceivably do. And this is what this is what has delighted me in the last year or two and there are few places in the country in particular in which it has happened and interesting enough. Chicago is one. I now have the feeling of quite a sizable group of people I don't mean millions but perhaps two or three thousand in Chicago who really know what I am trying to do. They might not be able to write an essay about it but they really know what I'm trying to do and they come wanting me to do this and they almost asking me to take the next step musically with this and this is exciting. In fact if you didn't take the next step you would be betraying. Yes. Or doesn't this brilliant writer a very intriguing question of the artist demanding something from the audience now we're so accustomed to the performer giving and the audience taking
but in this instance were looking for a two way street here is a two way street because you have a kind of thought involved here and it's a kind of a thought that's communicated back and forth between the artist in the audience and the audience has to be ready to think can take the thought to the next step so the artist can go ahead in them. Yes but there is need for Earth as this so is this the case does have to be the case and in all the advanced forms of music. In any kind of permanent forms of music I'd say so. Absolutely. That's what I like to say something about what seems to me the function of the critic in this or in this respect. I mean it's just it's a personal feeling of mine. Often we tend to think I mean we we I mean people in general we tend to think that the function of a critic is simply to tell an audience whether something that has gone on was good or not so that they will know whether they should go to see it or hear it the next time it's around you know. Which I don't think is the function of the critic at all. I don't think this is this is this is his job.
This may be a corollary of it. If you come to find that you trust a certain man's judgment who is writing regularly in the press you are you are influenced by what he says. And if you have found from past experience that he likes something that I imagine that you like it also you will tend then to go and hear something which you have previously missed and which he thinks is very good. But I think that that the critic's real function and most most important function is almost as an intermediary between. An artist and a critic not an intermediary for one specific event but a kind of a permanent or semi-permanent intermediary between what an artist is doing with his whole career with his whole work and the audience that exists there. Here is what the critic is after all a member of the audience. He's a human being but he's And but he is also more
specifically interested perhaps in the whole creative process than other members of the audience. So he both hears as a member of the audience and he is aware of the audience because he has a certain kinship with the performer and he can all it's almost a business of interpretating one to the other. One groove to the other. I think I agree with you wholeheartedly I think what it boils down to is is that the critic. Is basically a reporter. That is his that his question to himself is is what happened there and what happened is considerably more than that somebody saying in though that singing was good or bad yet something happened between this performer in the audience and in essence it goes a great deal deeper if the critic tries to tell what happened there he begins to have to dig pretty deep. And again just to what Dick said the he begins to interpret the audience to the to the performer the performer to the audience and this whole thought process is well communicated thought process that
goes on there in the hall. So here then we come back to this matter of it being a mutually a bilateral job here then something unilateral in the critic is the guy who sees this. I mean it's not just a critic in tempering the work of the performer alone but the effect of the work of the performer upon the audience. Everybody sees it but the critic has to report it. Yes. Have you ever had the experience of listening to a performer as part of a sizable audience finding the audience tremendously enthusiastic and not feeling so yourself. And have you been influenced by the enthusiasm of the audience. I mean and I would say this is a very puzzling experience I want. It makes one feel what are they getting you know what yes what is this what's happening what am I missing. Yeah and I do find that all I can do is report that the audience was more enthusiastic than I was like no you know I can only report
what I saw and I was just apparently missed what they were saying. Yes we probably have time for just one more round robin here comes the question and I know you admire John McCormick very much as an artist you did. Yes I did and it didn't McCormick very often in his concerts singing something a potboiler. I what was his purpose in saying was a to reach as many people as possible. Well I don't know what was in McCormick's mind. But I think that he enjoyed all the songs he sang. I think that although he might not have heard of her he might not have admitted were he writing an essay about it that he thought Mother McCready or the barefoot trail or where the river Shannon flows were fine songs or as good as leave me or would you gain the 10 degrees or the Schubert. I don't think if you were writing an essay you would he would have said this music is all music of comparable
worth but I somehow feel that in his own feeling in his own virtues he thought these were wonderful songs lovely songs the river Shan and so forth and he liked them. He liked Mother McCree. He enjoyed singing it and this was part of the of the of the power of the man. He could honestly sing that song you see and he could reach there for an enormous audience because a large audience could be reached and moved by that very sentimental song and I confess. That's no I don't find it a great song and though I would not walk one yard to hear another singer sing it I prized John McCormick's recording of it. You know the thing is that it's the song which moves the singer to sing that in the audience that he has just yes. This then gentleman is a good way to wind it up. The singer of songs has to be true to himself and being true to himself he is true to the audience. Thanks a lot Richard Barry Bennett
Success in the arts
Producing Organization
University of Illinois
WILL Illinois Public Media
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-9z90dh49).
Episode Description
This program, which discusses skills needed to excel at singing, includes panelists Richard Dyer Bennet, singer; and Irving Sablosky, music critic, Chicago Daily News.
Other Description
This series presents panel discussions that focus on various aspects of the arts, including the skills needed to excel. The series is moderated by Studs Terkel and produced by Alfred E. Partridge.
Broadcast Date
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Moderator: Terkel, Studs, 1912-2008
Panelist: Sablosky, Irving
Panelist: Dyer-Bennet, Richard
Producing Organization: University of Illinois
Producing Organization: WILL Illinois Public Media
Speaker: Partridge, Alfred E.
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 57-19-12 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:53
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Success in the arts; Singing,” 1957-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 9, 2022,
MLA: “Success in the arts; Singing.” 1957-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 9, 2022. <>.
APA: Success in the arts; Singing. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from