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Tenor John Carlo Pierce to perform music by Dominic Dousa in two concerts with Camerata del Sol

When tenor John Carlo Pierce sets out to learn a new song, he tries to put himself in the mind of the composer and asks, “Why this poem? And what did the composer see in those words and thought, ‘I know how to write a song to this?’” And further, “how [does the composer] choose the melody?”

Last week, Pierce asked composer Dominic Dousa those very questions when they met for the first time and discussed Dousa’s song cycle, “Through the Refining Fire,” with Intermezzo host Leora Zeitlin. Pierce will perform the cycle in two concerts this weekend with Camerata del Sol. The cycle was originally composed for a Black History Month concert at UTEP in 2014.

Dousa said he read many poems before choosing three by African American poets of the 1920s. “I Must Share That Rung with You,” by El Paso poet Bernice Love Wiggins, struck him for “its vivacity, and the sense of optimism and verve.” The second poem is “Baptism,” by Jamaican-American poet Claude McKay, in which “he expresses the travails of the African-American people” with what Dousa calls “a steely resolve.” The final poem is by Countee Cullen, “The Litany of the Dark People,” which has “a vision of what it will be like after this struggle” that is recounted in the second poem, “a kind of heavenly vision.”

Dousa said, “For me, whenever I choose a text, I really need to be convinced and compelled by the text. And I want every word to be meaningfully set,” making sure, he said, that “the gestures in the poetry are going to be mirrored in a reasonable manner with gestures in the music.”

In this conversation, Dousa and Pierce share wide-ranging thoughts on the poems, the music, and the process they use to compose (Dousa) and learn (Pierce) the music.

Camerate del Sol will bring together a 16-piece ensemble for the concerts, which also include music by Hugo Wolf, Edvard Grieg, and Osvaldo Golijov. They will perform at the Women’s Club of El Paso on Saturday at 7 p.m, and at the Atkinson Recital Hall in Las Cruces on Sunday at 3 p.m.