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Robin Fisher co-authors American art song book


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Sacramento State voice Professor Robin Fisher has proven that she’s just as talented with words on a page as she is with notes on a staff.


Sacramento State Professor Robin Fisher with a copy of American Art Song and American Poetry, the book she co-authored with Ruth C. Friedberg.

The coloratura soprano has won critical acclaim for her performances from Paris and Vienna to Prague and Chicago, demonstrating her love of art songs in her many recitals. And now she has co-written a book on the American art song – classical music set to the verse of American poets. Aaron Copland is one of the more renowned composers to have created such works, setting the writings of Emily Dickenson to music.

American Art Song and American Poetry, by Ruth C. Friedberg and Fisher, was published in June by Scarecrow Press. It’s an updating of a three-volume work Friedberg wrote and published in the 1980s.

“Ruth walks people through the poetic analysis,” Fisher says. “Students, performers, teachers and musicologists can all use this book.”

The new edition was originally envisioned as a fourth volume to the original three. When Friedberg approached Fisher about the project, Fisher suggested they revise and update the original, adding new composers and putting it out as one book.

Friedberg looks at the composer’s process, Fisher says, walks readers through the poetic analysis, and shows how the composer set the words to the music.

Fisher helped Friedberg choose material and design the scope of the book, and selected the examples of music that are interspersed through the publication.

Friedberg gives equal time to poets and composers, which has created corollaries in the biographies of the two. As an example, Fisher points to Samuel Barber’s “Sure on the Shining Night,” with Barber’s music set to the poem of the same name by James Agee. The poem was an expression of Agee’s loss of innocence when his father died. Barber was in the throes of losing his own father when he came across Agee’s poem. “So their biographies intersected in their expression of losing their fathers,” Fisher says. “And I feel that this unique aspect of the book inspires performers to find new depths of the songs they’re presenting.”

American Art Song and American Poetry includes a foreword by opera singer Thomas Hampson, who toured the nation for two years presenting concerts of American art song.

“We feel really lucky we have him as a spokesman for our book,” Fisher says.

The authors also received assistance from Jason Pano, a former Sac State music student who is now a young composer himself.

Fisher will make a special presentation of their work at the College Music Society International Conference on Saturday, Nov. 17, in San Diego, discussing the publication and performing several songs from the book.

This is not Fisher’s first foray into publishing. She is co-editor of Selected Writings of John Duke, which was published in 2007. In fact, it was their shared love of the composer that brought Fisher and Friedberg together.

The authors first met when Fisher was doing her doctoral dissertation at University of Texas, Austin, and learned that Friedberg, who lived in San Antonio, was a scholar of American art song, and was also a John Duke fan.

So for Fisher, American Art Song and American Poetry is more than just an academic partnership.

“The beauty of the book for me is the mentorship I received from Ruth,” Fisher says. “She saw in me a worthy collaborator and also someone who shares this passion with her for this kind of music.”

For more information on American Art Song and American Poetry, visit For media assistance, call Sacramento State’s Public Affairs office at (916) 278-6156.

– Craig Koscho