Birds in Poetry and Song

Hoagy Carmichael, Tadd Dameron, Manning Sherwin, Horace Silver, Philip Swanson

GARY WOOD, baritone & vocals

World Premiere Recordings



It all started with William Butler Yates’ poem, The Wild Swans at Coole. One October day, as I was reading and reflecting on this wonderful poem, a melody for the opening line (“The trees are in their Autumn Beauty”) came to me. Several hours later, seated at the piano, I had written the opening to the song. In the following days, as I worked on it, the idea came up to write a song-cycle of poems on the subject of birds.

After a bit of searching, I came across a beautiful book edited by Billy Collins, former American poet laureate, called Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds. The book, which features more than 100 works by authors from Catullus and Chaucer to those of today and wonderful illustrations by David Allen Sibley, offered me a wealth of material from which to choose.

I decided to take on Wallace Stevens’ classic Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. In addition to being a great work, the haiku-like structure of the poems gave me an opportunity to express a wide range of musical voices. The listener will hear echoes of composers whose music has influenced me greatly, including Stravinsky, Bartók, Copland and Bernstein. The other poem I chose to set was a lovely piece by Annie Finch, Great Grey Owl. This work has a more popular, jazz-influenced feel to it; think Alec Wilder.

From the inception of this project, I had a performer in mind, my friend and colleague, Gary Wood – to whom these songs are dedicated. Gary is a first-rate choral conductor and has led various choirs at Salem State University over the past 25 years. He has a lovely baritone voice and sings in a variety of styles As the idea of the album developed, I thought to include a few jazz tunes that reference birds. As with the world of poetry, I discovered a wealth of material! Gary and I settled on four standards: Skylark, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, Baltimore Oriole and Lady Bird. On the spur of the moment, we decided to add a solo piano piece to serve as a transition from my cycle to the jazz tunes. I played one of my favorites, Peace by Horace Silver. Later that day I realized that even though we hadn’t planned it, the tune has a bird link, the Dove, the bird of peace. Serendipity!

Gary Wood has maintained a long career as teacher, choral conductor and vocal performer. A native Midwesterner, Wood first discovered music-making with family and friends, collecting influences from country, folk, pop, gospel, jazz and classical traditions. His primary work over the years has been as a teacher and choral conductor in university and college settings complemented with experience as conductor of community choruses and church choirs. Wood has been active as a vocalist in classical, popular and jazz traditions with forays as a recital and club performer, and has sung actively in church choirs. He has also composed and arranged sacred choral works and sacred jazz tunes. Dr. Wood, who earned a Doctor of Musical Arts in Choral Conducting from the University of Illinois, recently retired from Salem State University in Salem, Massachusetts, where he had primary responsibilities as a choral conductor and teacher.

Philip Swanson has a wide-ranging career as a composer, pianist, trombonist, organist and teacher. Swanson served as principal trombonist with the Miami Philharmonic in Florida under Alain Lombard, and has played with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops, among numerous other orchestras and chamber ensembles. As a pianist, he has performed and recorded in both the classical and jazz traditions. His compositions consist primarily of song cycles for solo voice and piano, chamber music for brass and a large body of works for solo piano. An active recording artist, Swanson has released seven highly regarded albums on the MSR label. He is currently Professor of Music at Salem State University in Salem, Massachusetts and the Organist and Choir Director at the First Congregational Church of Rockport, Massachusetts. Swanson received his Doctor of Musical Arts from the New England Conservatory of Music, a Master’s degree from the Eastman School of Music and did his undergraduate work at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and University of Miami.

Recorded 12-13 March 2018 and 11 March 2019 at The Recital Hall, Salem State University, Salem, Massachusetts. Produced, engineered, edited and mastered by Richard Price, Candlewood Digital LLC. Piano Technician: Leonard Richardson.
THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT A BLACKBIRD (Philip Swanson / Wallace Stevens)
I. Among twenty snowy mountains
II. I was of three minds
III. The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds
IV. A man and a woman
V. I do not know which to prefer
VI. Icicles filled the long window
VII. O thin men of Haddam
VIII. I know noble accents
IX. When the blackbird flew out of sight
X. At the sight of blackbirds
XI. He rode over Connecticut
XII. The river is moving
XIII. It was evening all afternoon

GREAT GREY OWL (Philip Swanson / Annie Finch)

THE WILD SWANS AT COOLE (Philip Swanson / William Butler Yeats)

PEACE (Horace Silver)

SKYLARK (Hoagy Carmichael / Johnny Mercer)

BALTIMORE ORIOLE (Hoagy Carmichael / Paul Francis Webster and Hoagy Carmichael)

A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE (Manning Sherwin / Eric Maschwitz)

LADYBIRD (Tadd Dameron / Stanley Cornfield)

MSR Classics