Hampson retraces the culture of music in ‘Song of America’

During a recital at the Holland Performing Arts Center on Wednesday, internationally acclaimed baritone Thomas Hampson will give listeners a structured overview of the American song.

He will talk about how the song has progressed since the 1700s until the present, touching on everything from Psalms settings to African-American spirituals.
And he will demonstrate.

The program has all the makings of a music history class. But Hampson, a lifelong champion of the American song, says it most definitely is not. There won’t be any preaching, soapboxes or finger-wagging.

“You’re not coming to this concert to be lectured at or told what to think,” Hampson said from New York City, where he is performing at the Metropolitan Opera.

Rather, the concerts on the “Song of America Tour,” which began in November, offer gentle exposure to music that has made America what it is today.

“Song in America is such a huge subject, and a wonderful reflection of our culture,” Hampson said. “Our stories are to be found in our songs.”

The “Song of America Tour” grew out of Hampson’s many hours in the archives at the Library of Congress. Poring over scores by composers such as George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Aaron Copland and others, Hampson became increasingly aware of the treasure that was in the library. So he decided – along with Librarian of Congress James H. Billington – that more people should know about it.

At every stop, Hampson has performed recitals – not classes – that take listeners through a series of songs by American poets and composers. Along with the performance, the Library of Congress offers displays of rare objects.

During Hampson’s performance in Omaha, holograph manuscripts of works such as Louis Armstrong’s “Gully Low Blues” and Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” will be exhibited in the Holland Center’s lobby.

“After this experience, (audience members) will hopefully feel better about themselves,” Hampson said, “and clearer about how proud we can all be about what we call this American experience.”