"Which comes first, Music or Text?"

What a trick question.... Voice is first.

Falsetto Friends

Posted by on Apr 8, 2015 in Blog, Featured, Opera, Philosophy, Singing, Teaching

Falsetto Friends

I am about to pack my bags and go back to Torino for a Master Class that will bring me back where another Falsetto kerfuffle in my life was born.

Last September I had the privilege to work with some really talented young people who offered me many opportunities to use Garcia. It was a tenor, of course, who started the ball rolling toward an incident in Rovereto.  I taught that tenor how to sing “Una furtiva lagrima” from L’ELESIR’ D’AMORE. It wasn’t the only aria we worked on, but it became a bone of contention.  I mentioned this tenor’s success in the little concert we did in Torino in a previous blog from that city.  It was a struggle to convince him, but eventually he successfully put Falsetto to exactly the use for which the Bel Canto composer, Donizetti, intended.  The result was most gratifying, but a kerfuffle was set to catch up to me a month later.

Now, my struggle with my Torino tenor was nothing new to my work.  I strove for an extended period, back in Plattsburgh, to convince another tenor to utilize Falsetto in Bel Canto music with eventual and welcome success.  Apparently Verdi loving voice teachers are loath to accept Falsetto as a worthy component of good singing, and I encountered in these tenors a shared attitude of aversion for Falsetto use.  My Plattsburgh tenor told me that his previous Maestri had told him that what I was suggesting to him was “not singing”.

Even with this background, I was not ready for the incredulous inquiry I received after the Rovereto concert.  A Rovereto home boy baritone participated in the concert, and during the crowded aftermath he got in my face (it was very noisy in the hallway) and asked me if I had, by chance, ever worked with a certain tenor. It was my Torino guy.  I told the home boy that I had worked with him in more than one master class, upon which declaration the baritone told me that he had recently been on the jury of a competition in which that tenor had sung “Una furtiva lagrima”.  He did not win the competition because of the way he sang that aria.  The baritone wanted to know if it were true that I had taught him to sing so badly.  Given that I was not there to hear what that tenor had done, I was at a loss to discuss the quality of his rendition of “Una furtive lagrima” but I did manage to bellow that I had taught him how to sing the aria “alla” Bel Canto.  I was happy that at that point in our semi-shouted conversation a bevy of fans grabbed him away from me and I was accosted by a few audience members that wanted to recount to me good memories of performances in which I sang.  I felt badly for my Torino tenor.

The baritone’s dislike for good Bel Canto style was easily understandable given his performance of Mozart’s music in the concert.  Everyone, including me, would praise the quality of the man’s voice, but I wouldn’t suggest his rendition as a model for anyone to follow in the interpretation area.  This is because I believe Mozart’s music lives best in a style of singing that this Rovereto home boy just didn’t bring to the concert.  I suspected that many of my favorite components of Mozart style are missing from the man’s vocal technique.

I subsequently learned from my Torino tenor that he was a “good friend” of this Rovereto home boy and that they had shared a voice teacher.  A light bulb switched on in my head!  It has long been my observation that teachers often teach the style of singing they employed, when and if they sang for a living, as if it were a technique. I have often heard and read references to Verdi technique, Rossini technique, Bellini technique etc. essentially mixing style and technique together.  These Torino / Rovereto events brought home to me most forcefully how limiting this way of thinking and teaching can actually be.  Vocal technique is not style specific, but empowering to all styles.  Style and technique are not the same thing.  Each style, excepting the hardest Bel Canto, has a limited set of technical requirements, and teaching only those requirements leaves the student bereft of many elements of technique necessary for the other styles.

I knew that the technical components I had taught my Plattsburgh and Torino tenors to use for “Una furtiva lagrima” would inspire an audience to applaud.  My audiences did when I used them.  Since I learned these technical things from a woman born just 5 years after Garcia’s death and I learned how to apply them to “Una furtiva lagrima” from a man of her generation who attended her alma mater at the same time she did, I assume my taste and style of execution for the singing of this aria are traditional.  Looking back at the history of music through the lens each composer offers us on the time line can be a wonderfully enlightening study, but if one of them, like Verdi, becomes a glass so darkened that his becomes the only style visible to a teacher or singer, then just about all other composers’ music will suffer damage at the hands of the teacher and the voice of the singer.  It was nice to hear from my Torino tenor about his audience at the competition that he didn’t win.  He told me that they enthusiastically approved of his rendition, even if his “good friend” Rovereto home boy, and the teacher they once upon a time shared, who was also on that jury, didn’t like it.

Falsetto has a place in the House of Music, even for boys.  There is a lot of confusion about when it is called for, what it should sound like and when it is inappropriate.  I hope to get to these issues very soon.

The artist in the above video is my reason for never singing Nemorino.  I knew I couldn’t compete with Luciano.  My Torino tenor is no match for Luicano either, but he learned to do everything Luciano did in the above video and more.  I’ll be back to explain the “more”.

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Falsetto Fog

Posted by on Apr 5, 2015 in Featured, Garcia, Opera, Singing, Teaching

Falsetto Fog

Today’s confusion surrounding “Falsetto” is only one good reason modern times should make room for questions about the future of Classical Music.

On my first day in Rovereto, a big strapping young tenor, Mr. Gao Si Chen, baptized me with enough falsetto for a whole season of French repertoire.  Not that he seemed to have any idea what falsetto was.  I took particular pleasure in meeting this challenge and dragged most of his singing out of falsetto. Mr. Chen has an interesting voice but, submerged as it was in “Falsetto”, who could tell?  Mr. Carlo Vitali, one of my fellow jury members for Premio Ferrari, came to observe our progress in the master classes and noticed Mr. Chen’s results.  Mr. Chen’s singing improved so much that Mr. Vitali convinced the full jury to invent a special prize just for this tenor.

After Rovereto, Falsetto held center stage in my thoughts, and in short order two E-goads appeared from the Internet to inspire this blog.  The first one emerged from Face Book:

Caro Maestro, ieri ho discusso via facebook con Enrico Stinchelli della barcaccia, ieri nella trasmissione hanno fatto ascoltare diversi tenori nella cabaletta dell’aria vivi tu, tra i quali lei. Lui sostiene che lei usava il falsettone. Mi sono molto arrabbiato perchè non si possono dire stupidaggini così grosse in pubblico. Se lei usava il falsettone, allora non ho capito nulla di canto!!! Sbaglio??? La saluto con tanto affetto

My English translation:

Dear Maestro, yesterday I communicated on Facebook with Enrico Stinchelli of barcaccia, yesterday in the broadcast they let us hear various tenors in the last part of the aria vivi tu, among whom there was you.  He (Stinchelli) maintains the idea that you used a large falsetto.  I am very angry, because one should not say such incredibly stupid things in public.  If you used a large falsetto, then I understand nothing of singing!!!  Do I make a mistake??? I salute you with much affection

The guys at La Barcaccia are lots of fun, and love good singing, but they seem to be lost in some kind of Falsetto fog.  My Face Book pal is correct to disagree with their suggestion that my singing in the pirate recording of ANNA BOLENA they aired on RAI 3 included an example of me using a “falsettone”. Whatever a “falsettone” might be, it was not what I produced. I sang a very high pitch in Chest Voice.  There was no falsetto on display at all, but why not make the assertion?  It makes for lively controversy, doesn’t it?  It inspired my Face Book friend to write to me and I welcome all goads toward doing good things.

The next E-goad that impacted my virtual hind parts came by Email and I excerpt a bit of it here:

When I sing up, I feel quite well a resonance shift in the passaggio-area (so somewhere middle b-natural to g). But its not like a different register and there is no “break”, so thats fine.

Until half a year ago, I could never sing higher than bflat though. I would push and strain and my throat would close up or I would crack horribly which was always good for some amusement but nothing more :-). I thought that the remaining high notes would come with time and patience…

Then suddenly I discovered some sort of “click” around that high bflat/bnatural which brought me in what I thought was falsetto – so I never thought, this could be any acceptable sound. Someone then pointed out to me that this sounds just fine and nothing like falsetto because it still kept a metallic twang and even that from outside its not an audible change in “register”. But it always felt to ME like a different register. Its a bit like a scream of a baby but it is comfortable and I can “sing” up that way to super high d or higher without hurting myself (there is no blood coming out of my mouth :-).

Now, my questions:

1. Do you understand me and this sensation I feel? Do you remember feeling something similar when learning your fantastic technique?

2. You say that boys (and clearly I am a boy) stay in the same register (chest) all the time, so how should I explain this sensation?

I hope you find time to answer me! I know its hard to talk about it without hearing, so I could send a recording or something.

My tenor friend is on the right track.  He needs to know that the trick of the “click” he has discovered is a simple thing to explain, but is a difficult maneuver to do.  He is not switching from Chest Voice to Falsetto. He begins at his “click” to reverse the “resonance shift” (Dark Timbre application) he did in the “passaggio”.  That is to say that the “scream of a baby” character of the sound he has “discovered” in the vocal mesosphere is not falsetto.  It is Chest Voice.  Had he not done the “resonance shift” (Dark Timbre application) in the “passaggio” (transition between troposphere and stratosphere), he would have discovered the inevitable “scream of a baby” on much lower notes.  19th Century composers expected Chest Voice function from us boys when they wrote f, ff or fff in their music.  It didn’t matter whether their notes were written in the vocal troposphere, stratosphere or mesosphere.

I believe we could burn off the fog surrounding falsetto today in a minute if we would just get the facts straight.  Garcia himself mixed the voices of boys and girls together when he first published his theories.  No one likes to admit that they are wrong, and Garcia did not admit he had changed his opinion about falsetto when, in later editions of his Treatise, he changed his descriptions.  We modern types have to untangle the web of conflicting texts, because Garcia did not straight forwardly admitted that he was wrong in his first assertion that girls’ and boys’ voices move from Chest to Falsetto on the same pitches. This idea of sex synchrony disappeared when he invented the laryngoscope.  With his little mirror on a stick he could finally see the vocal chords operate, get a clear view of vocal function and complete his vocal theories.

His Laryngoscope pierced this Falsetto fog and changed his mind.

How fun is History!!!!!?

I hate Foggy knowledge and Falsetto fog is just one component of the greater fog surrounding the art and craft of singing.   I happen to love real fog when found where it belongs, like Venice:

I’m glad I’m not the only one to like fog for fog’s sake.

 

Pierre Auguste Renoir liked fog in Venice, too.

Pierre Auguste Renoir liked fog in Venice, too.

Turning full circle back to the future of Classical Music, this link will give you a chance to hear some movers and shakers wonder about how the future will support Classical Music.

I will be back to talk about these movers and shakers again because Falsetto fog figures fundamentally in the Opera example played near the end of that show.  I hope to be able to shine enough Sun light on this fog to burn it up.  I’ll use mirrors if I have to.

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Thanks for all the Happy Birthday good wishes!

Posted by on Jan 14, 2015 in Featured

Thanks for all the Happy Birthday good wishes!

I often wonder how many more of these time clicks I will be allowed to mark off in celebration with family and friends.  Tempus Fugit, and I have to remind myself that it doesn’t belong to me.  It flies like the birds who won’t stay put long enough for a good photo shoot.  So when Debbie snaps a hawk and I complete another year of life, I count these things as blessings.  I hope I will be able to share some of these blessings with you.

Hunting Hawk

Hunting Hawk

Anyway, 2015 is begun and has lifted off for a good flight.  I closed 2014 with a pause in the Blog, but with a great Garcia victory.  It seems like only a few days ago that I ventured a “Thank you” to Donald V. Paschke in a blog. Since that blog, a few years have passed during which I tracked down the man, pestered him and convinced him to let me republish his books.  My fingers are now often dancing all over the editing/formatting work that this project requires.  I’ll let you know when I get these books ready to go.

Another crusade, that distracted me from blogging, delivered a victory.  Debbie and I did our small bit to help elect the youngest woman ever to the United States Congress.  We met Elise Stefanik when she first set out to win her election to Congress, and when we had the opportunity we decided to help.  The reason we got involved is the same reason I do this blog.  Generations change as time flies, and the newest generations must live with the greater portion of the future time carries us into.  I believe Elise will be a preserving influence on our Nation.

Putting Garcia’s books into the hands of students of moderate means, and electing responsible young people to office are the same exercise.  We want to preserve the best of History’s achievements.  I want the USA and Opera to make it from 2015 to 2100 in good shape and full of joy for those who appreciate freedom and glorious singing.

As you may know, the Bible tells us about salt.  I pray to be really salty.  I expect Elise to maintain her saltiness. Garcia may be a dead white guy, but his legacy is like:

Bacalao in open market Oporto, Portugal

Bacalao in open market
Oporto, Portugal

 Saltier than these Portuguese staples would be hard to find.

Thanks again to all who remembered my Birthday.  I remember it with thankful gratitude.

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Premio Ferrari

Posted by on Oct 9, 2014 in Featured, Opera, Singing, Teaching

Premio Ferrari

It’s part of being a tenor.  There are more places to be than the number of me to be there and there is always more to do than time to do it.  I am reminded of Economics as taught by my favorite big brained thinkers.  They teach that what we desire is most often more than we can afford.  At this moment I have two places to be and one of me.  One tenor equals one location occupied by that tenor.  It is a hard truth for a tenor to accept.  That’s why tenors often used to collect contracts for two Opera productions in the same period.  I think things have changed a lot.

Walk

Walk

It is unlikely that tenors will change between the ears, but lots of them would seem desperate to have enough contracts on their calendars to pay their bills these days.

Visit

Visit

Rovereto 3

Walk Better

As usual, I want to stay home but I will ignore that desire and soon go down the airport access tunnel, after turning in my boarding pass, to take my seat on the aircraft that will take me back to Italy. The reason for the trip is almost the same as my visit to Torino.  Young singers are what the future of Opera and Classical Singing is made of.  My desire to see that future be as bright as the past in which I lived my professional life keeps my studio doors open to students and pushing me out the door of our little house to exit the North Country.

Premio Ferrari

Premio Ferrari

This trip will bring me to Rovereto, Italy.  It would be wonderful to find singers who can make conferring the Premio Ferrari a difficult decision because of how good they all are.  If you are a Soprano or a Baritone, and you think you have what it takes to help make the future of Classical Music bright, come to Rovereto on the twenty first of this month to make judging the competition difficult, or, if you are really outstanding, you might make it easy.

On top of seeking out talented singers to promote through the Premio Ferrari, I will also be doing my Master Class best to help anyone, Tenors and Mezzo Sopranos included, who want to come to Rovereto for advice.   Even if you are among the contestants, I know I have something for you.  I always find something in my tool bag for everyone who asks me to help them improve their ability to sway their audience.  There are lots of things in my tool kit to help resolve vocal difficulties.  I’m ready for anything and everything you bring with you.  Please come.  Please win.

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Lesson 1.003

Posted by on Oct 6, 2014 in Featured, Opera, Singing, Teaching

Lesson 1.003

I arrived back home from Torino just in time to see our North Country trees alight with color.  Along with putting things in Snow ready order, it also seems good to me to continue delineating the syllabus that Garcia’s writings suggest to me.  Reading and pondering his writing leads me to believe in these torturously small steps.

In Torino, a Master Class participant handed me an opportunity to apply these tiny Garcia steps.  I used exactly what I described in Lessons 1, 1.001 and 1.002.  The lesson material needed to be well packaged for a Master Class participant of long vocal experience.  He wanted answers to the nagging question for which many vocal students never find even one answer:

Close to HOME

Close to HOME

“Why can’t I sing as well as so many other singers are able to sing.”  This particular answer seeker has a vocal instrument worthy of consideration, but his sound was terribly encumbered by many, varied, extreme and extremely contradictory adjustments. He allowed me to suddenly situate him inside Garcia’s starting gate.  I knew Garcia’s principles would work if I could ease this singer into accepting them.  He accepted and they worked.  His voice began to reorganize and the faulty phonation gave way to a sound production much easier to listen to, even pleasant and promising to become reliable.   My hope is that he will have the force of character, attentive ears and good taste to continue the work, and keep improving.

003

Closer to HOME

I feel the need to talk about just one more thing before leaving Torino for today.  I repeated myself in that Master Class on many things, but I made tatters of the words: “Impose the rhythm of the language of the text on the composer’s music!”   Composers have the pitch prerogative.  Singers, however, can successfully play with the accent and syllable duration to make the composer’s vocal line correspond with the language.  Language is made up of many components, but the most important characteristics of the words are pitch and rhythm. Even film writers are aware of the importance of pitch in elocution.  So when we give that tool to the composer we should be under high motivation to resort to using the equally important tool, rhythm.  Tempo Rubato is not evil.

Now I’m ready to return to basics, and add another pitch to the scale.  There is no room for any of the deficiencies or defects I discussed in the previous lessons.  The singer travels one pitch higher. The result should be that the basic quality of the sound on the lowest pitch remains on all three pitches with only the slightest diminution of weight or some might say heft or darkness or others might call it caliber or warmth or, or, or,,,  Yes, these vocal issues are just as invulnerable to my linguistic description as they were to Garcia.  Garcia knew what he wanted to hear, as did just about everyone in the “Italian” School back then.  One day I hope to include at least one successful example from one of my students, but, until then, we will have to put up with the limitation of language.

As I passed through this .003 lesson stage with my Torino Master Class participant, I was reminded of a difficulty.  Singing an ascending three note scale can be a challenge in itself, but singing down the scale can be an even more difficult voyage.  It is common to attain victory in ascending the scale, and then to be unable to return to the original sound on the lowest pitch.  Remember, the sound quality remains with each higher pitch, but the apparent weight of the sound should become progressively lighter as the voice ascends the scale.  Going down the scale successfully will necessitate a reversal of this sonic sliming of the voice.  The goal is to have the most beautiful sound on the first pitch which stays just as beautiful if almost imperceptibly slimmer on each higher pitch, and then to find the way back down to that starting pitch displaying all its fulsome glory.  A student failing to find that initial fullness of sound at the bottom of the descending scale and not being able to discern any difference for himself or herself, is displaying either a tin ear or total inattention.  The hearing system can be trained, and the singer can give more attention to the project. When the student can get this little hurdle behind him/her, we have confirmation that the student’s ear is developing the ability to observe his or her own voice as it operates.

It may have been revealed that Garcia himself suffered in his youth from something like the above difficulty when some of the history of his lessons with his father was reported by his biographer:

The monotony of the first portion of this training evidently became very wearisome in time, for Señor Garcia would afterwards recall how one day, after being made to sing an endless variety of ascending scales, his desire for a change became so great that he could not resist bursting out, “Oh dear! mayn’t I sing down the scale even once?”

Mackinlay, M. (Malcolm) Sterling (2011-09-07). Garcia the Centenarian And His Times Being a Memoir of Manuel Garcia’s Life and Labours for the Advancement of Music and Science (Kindle Locations 365-366). Kindle Edition.

Can you imagine what his daddy might have said?

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Road Rant

Posted by on Sep 30, 2014 in Blog, Featured, Opera, Philosophy, Singing, Teaching

Road Rant

Recently, I was a happy guest at the Sheraton Malpensa airport.  I had an early enough flight to catch to make overnighting there a comfortable alternative to getting up in the wee hours in Torino for the two hour trip to Malpensa.  Oh! How I love to travel.Road Rant Sheraton

I decided to try the restaurant, and found a wonderful acoustic space. Restaurants are usually really good for intimate conversation which means something like the environment talkative children tend to create when the “Shut up and go to bed!!!” order arrives from parent central.  With a blanket and a flashlight an intimate conversatoin acoustic is found and parent central may never know.  The space in which Il Canneto Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner is a marvel of friendly warmth…… But not the blanket type.

My fun began when I noticed an entertaining mistake in the wine list which I pointed out to my server. A little while later, during my meal, a young man came to my table to thank me for the proof reading work I had done for him.  We struck up a conversation, and with young singers still fresh in my mind, I asked if he had ever thought to have live singing in the restaurant.  The answer was no, but he was willing to bring the idea to the attention of the administration.  His superior joined our conversation and admitted to being a La Scala subscriber in her student days, but had to give it up when she lost her ability to acquire a student discounted subscription.  She also expressed interest in the idea of live singing in her restaurant.  They wondered how they would be able to know who was good and who was not. I left my card with them and asked them to please let me help if classical singing was something they decided to fit into their marketing plans.  An audience for a young singer is essential.  Who cares where you find it?

My favorite futurist sent me more relevant quotable stuff just in time for this blog. While Greg Sandow talked about his “Speaking about Music” communications course he is teaching at Julliard School, he let a big cat out of the bag.  The first sentence I quote makes reference to a “that”, and here is the full meaning of his “that” in just two words: “self-promotion”.  He contracts twenty five words in his blog with “that”:

Now students know they’ll have to do a lot of that on their own, and that they’ll have to do it in new, lively, communicative ways. Of course this is tied to the new stress on entrepreneurship in conservatories, Juilliard included. Classical musicians in the future will be much better off if they can create careers on their own, and being able to engage people about what they do is a central part of that.

jdbro13

Future Past

This is really rich. Mr. Sandow is looking into a future that seems distant but familiar. He sees a future in which highly educated, heavily indebted graduates of his university will be better served by finding work outside the traditional classical music outlets.  Does he believe that the future will look like the middle ages when guys with guitars or lutes would sing for change in market cities?  Of course those future troubadours will need to take his “Speaking about Music” classes to learn how to use their hand-helds and smartphones to market themselves on Face Book and Twitter.  Does he consider that the income level of such pursuits would never be able to pay off the debt to which an un-rich student needs to enslave himself or herself in order to pay Julliard tuition?  Maybe Julliard is just looking for a way to stay relevant.  In the retail business, I’ve heard it said that when demand is down Advertise, Advertise, Advertise.  I guess someone at Julliard overheard one of those conversations. Business is business, but I thought Julliard was a music school. Anyway, Mr. Sandow sounds bearish on the music business when he blogs.

Road Rant Street Bass

Who needs the stuffy theater?

My eyes are always open for opportunities allowing youngsters to cut their teeth in nontraditional venues.  I hope future Julliard grads won’t need them to support themselves. Let’s get real.  Sandow gets it right in one of his later blogs that I already talked about.  Grow the audience in those traditional classical music outlets, and professional level performers will meet healthy demand for their services from those healthy institutions of Classical Music.  It’s frustrating that Sandow doesn’t tell us how he thinks this rosy future can be won.  What he does tell us is that he and Julliard want their grads to look to non-traditional venues in which to make a living.

Where you find it..

Where you find it..

Sandow would seem to be anticipating an imminent collapse of demand for their graduates.  This would create a supply of talent in the music world that main line presenters could not save from starvation.  I guess I would be wrong to even encourage young people to strive for a career in Opera if my outlook were so skeptical.  I think Sandow and Julliard are worse than wrong. If they really believe in their “new stress”, they are stealing money from students, even from those who have to borrow it.

Sandow does say that the keystone or maybe the corner stone for music’s fabulous future is to: “Create performances so powerful — and so much in tune with current culture — that people just about break down our doors to go to them.”  Now that statement is so packed with stuff that I would have to destroy my 1000 word limit to comment.

I will keep reading Mr. Sandow’s blogs, but I wonder if we will ever receive even the smallest snippets of his magic formula that forms the basis of his consultancy to classical music.

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Next

Posted by on Sep 21, 2014 in Featured, Opera, Singing, Teaching

Next

Last night was a first for me. I never thought sitting in the audience was going to become harder work than being on the stage.  The closing concert was an introduction to a nervous condition at least some parents must experience while attending their children’s dance recitals, piano recitals and school plays.  There I was trying to sit still while my Master Class students did that singing thing in front of a bunch of Opera loving Italians.  A cold sweat would have been better.  I got overheated.  When I had to wipe my brow dry, I knew I needed to calm down.

Yesterday morning, with all those singers, my work had already finished. They all allowed me to push and shove them toward the best artistic results I could envision for them, and all the twitching in the world that I might do in my seat was not going to help any of them in any way.  In fact, I could have made a spectacle of myself already, without intending it.  It wasn’t until after the program came to the inevitable finish-line that I had the freedom to think back over just how well everyone had done.

There are lots and lots of arguments about what is needed to save the economic viability of the performing arts, and I have my own angle, but what is needed by each and every singer is the approval of an appreciative audience to confirm that the artist’s efforts had the intended effect. Who cares that a teacher might be increasing the humidity of the room by sweating every detail?  The members of the audience shouldn’t, and don’t care that the artists are taking great big risks by following the advice of a sweat drenched teacher.  They are there to enjoy something that this nation may be justified to claim as their invention.  Italy was certainly integral to bringing Opera to maturity, and, back in my day, I assumed that if I could make Italians applaud my singing, I was doing something right..… You know, that singing thing.

Well, the attending Opera lovers affirmed all the singers’ efforts with one of the artists singled out for particular attention.  He gathered into his singing almost everything I had thrown at him over the desperately few days we worked together, finished his second aria to receive enthusiastic applause and bravos.  He graciously bowed and proceeded to exit the room, but before he could make good his escape, a voice, not mine, was heard from the audience: BIS!  For the non-Italian non Opera devotee that means: “Play it again Sam”, or let us hear that thing again.  The artist hesitated in mid stride and turned his head to look back over his shoulder.  I’ve never seen a happier smile.  It was almost as big as mine.

Those moments of triumph are exactly what artists need for inspiration to ever more risk taking in this art form suffering from apathy, mediocrity and let’s just play it safe singing. The organic gift cannot be improved, but the gift must be put to the best use possible.  When that is done, the gift itself becomes less important.  After all, great painters aren’t considered great artists because they used the best quality materials.  The best performing artists are often not the interpreters in possession of the best instruments.  Violinists might have to wait a long time after they are recognized as great artists before they can afford a Stradivarius.  Singers can never buy a new instrument.

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What next?

Posted by on Sep 20, 2014 in Featured, Opera, Singing, Teaching

What next?

I will be at a concert tonight. It will be populated by some variously talented and variously prepared young singers hoping to make a mark in an art form that is having some growing pains. This concert represents a small milestone in my efforts to do my part to help that art form grow.

I am always surprised when faced with evidence that life can be really synchronous. I subscribed to Greg Sandow’s blogs some time ago, and today I opened his latest blog, http://www.artsjournal.com/sandow/2014/09/what-we-should-do.html, after my first cup of coffee in my little hotel.

It has taken Greg a bit of time to get there, but he is now on my page. Give the audience a reason to return and you will have the best reason to keep your doors open.  That is if you have a theater.

If I had more time I would have more to write. I just got back from the last class in this Torino series, and I will have to rush to be on time for this evening’s event.

Don’t worry, I’ll be back.

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Why am I here?

Posted by on Sep 19, 2014 in Bible, Blog, Christian, Featured, Opera, Singing, Teaching

Why am I here?

I made it to Torino and am hard at work with eight singers and enjoying the company of three auditing onlookers whom I hope will receive something useful from our work.

The final concert is coming tomorrow, Saturday 20, 2014 at 6:00 pm, and I think I should explain to everyone what I think it’s all about. My name isn’t Alfi, but I do have an answer.

When the youngsters, I’m trying to help, face the public we have invited to come to the Circolo della Stampa di Torino to hear our little concert, they will fulfill the spirit and substance of what it’s all about: No matter how hard we may work together during this Master Class, in the end, it is what happens in the performance that counts.

I am here to do everything I can to help these young people make that performance as close to perfection as possible. What do I intend to see happen?  Well, let me try to explain myself by listing my employers.  I know I am not an authorized employee of anyone on my list, but I feel the same responsibility as if I had contracts with all three.

  1. The Singers:

Everyone seeking to be a singer by profession is eligible for employer status. For example, this website is for you, if you are trying to find your way to that small spotlight center stage where you will have to stand and deliver.  My being in Torino is part of my effort to walk the walk.  After all, this website sure is a lot of talking the talk.

  1. The Great Creator

My most important employer is the most creative person I know: My God.  Now, I know me saying I believe in God and His creative power may seem to many of you to be an aside.  It is, however, central to everything.  Singers have voices because God forms them while the singer is in the womb, not because of a chance digestive event during the singer’s gestation.  Not for any other reason than God’s gift.  So I am happy to say that I am working for God to see that as many as possible of his gifts of voice to singers receive loving care, and that He may enjoy the product of those gifts as my singing students engage in their creative work.  By the way, I also believe that we are creative creatures because God is creative.

  1. The Audience

Unlike the theaters of the world, I do not forget that “elemental employer”, the audience. I believe that without other peoples’ ears there is no performance.  It is always just a rehearsal, or worse; a hobby.  I am working for the people still warming the seats.  Singers are remarkably hard to convince of the peculiar relationship an artist has with his fellow human beings.  Anyone wishing to be a professional using his or her voice for a creative purpose has to understand that the voice is for communicating and as such a communication must take place, and it must be with an audience.  Eventually, we’ve got to sell a sufficient number of tickets for participating in that communication to justify the professional level fees for services that theatres are finding harder and harder to pay these days.  I stand as ambassador from the ticket buying public, and do my best to direct each gifted singer toward an interesting and satisfying conversation with my employer who continues to buy tickets and hopes to be entertained.

The theater directors of the world seem to forget the audience, and I believe the crisis in the performing arts has its majority explanation in that forgetfulness. It is perhaps the largest problem for a singer as well.  Forget your audience, and it will forget you….

Oh! Let’s not forget all those audience regulars who have decided to stop buying tickets. I have no idea how to get them back into the seats, but I know why many of them decided to stop keeping those seats warm.

Singers who only fear their audience are shoulder to shoulder with the theatres of our day, and together they are the ones who can bring about the future feared by everyone who loves the performing arts.

We sing for an audience because that’s what professionals do. You can’t leave God out of the equation. He can certainly listen in while we’re at it, and, by the way, He can even hear and enjoy the voice of someone who only possesses enough courage to break out in song in the shower.  That individual would not be my ideal student no matter how beautiful the voice.  I don’t argue with God, but a great voice is often just not enough to make it in the professions.

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The Problem is the Product

Posted by on Aug 25, 2014 in Featured, Opera, Singing

The Problem is the Product

So let’s get down to basics.  Is there a problem?  Yes.  What is the problem?  Apparently we are suffering shrinkage of opportunities for singers and musicians to make a living.  The arts, as a jobs program, is getting very weak in the knees, and a search for leg braces seems to be getting under way.

I think the search for leg braces is destined for failure.  Those who are in the know about the problem seem to be trying to figure out how to market “The Arts”… that is, arts organizations’ need to deal with funding short falls and diminishing audience attendance.  Almost everything I see being discussed in public about the action needed is off point. Arts organizations are being advised to find new ways to dress up the concert hall and design events relevant to an audience which seems willing to spend money, but not on tickets to “The Arts”.

Another big problem is a discussion today among deep pocket donors, which is bubbling into public view here and there. It places those who support “The Arts” in a difficult defensive position.  I can imagine it would be very hard to argue the survival of “Classical Music” as being as important as alleviating some of the suffering of the starving among us while sipping Champagne in opulent surroundings.  I wouldn’t think it possible to survive making such a case in many soup kitchen lines that are set up across our own still relatively prosperous country.  My opinion on what these 1% ters ought to do with their bank accounts aside, I do believe the problem for the 1%ter is much the same as for the ticket buyer.

If you are selling a product that does not outshine your competition, then your result is going to be less impressive than your competitions’.  I have seen some grudging admission that “The Arts” are really part of the entertainment industry, even if turning a profit seems to keep almost everyone else in the industry afloat.  I see “The Arts”, “The Press” and just about any other form of communication as entertainment when they are not essential to a person’s survival.  I have a friend that has a police scanner for entertainment.  Lawyers may think of scanners as tools, but my friend has a toy.  Tracking communication among emergency service personal is serious business, especially if you are going to chase the ambulance your scanner catches being sent out to gather victims of a traffic accident.  It’s all about billing, about money, about survival.

Life is not “a box of chocolate”

No one can guarantee anyone anything, and the entertainment industry can only offer you opportunity.  It can only offer an empty box that you must fill with what you have to offer in order to attract an audience.   Artists might like to be able to define the product they are producing in terms of cultural values, but there is only one system of valuation that makes any difference at all.  The price someone will pay.

If you are seeking to feed yourself and your family in the entertainment industry, you need to view the crisis, if you believe in it, from the point of view of anyone seeking employment.  My first visits to the Guidance Counselors’ offices at Peru Central School, most likely during the time I was first getting to know my Renata, were dedicated to searching through employment categories in the catalogues  strategically placed in the little waiting room outside the counselors’ offices.  I trolled those catalogues in order to overcome my ignorance about the job market.  I wanted to study something that could be my magic carpet to ride out of the life style to which my extended family had become accustomed.

I didn’t find my ultimate choice in those catalogues.  I dedicated myself to the art and craft of singing without really knowing how risky a choice it was.  I found out, when  I applied for unemployment benefits just after leaving my military service with the Navy.  I didn’t know what to write in one of the blanks on the application form I was filling out.  The big book of job titles in that office gave me the approved wording to insert in the appropriate blank on the application form that I successfully filled out. It was: “classical singer”. Forget the fact that I was an unemployed “classical singer”.  I was happy to be classified as one.

Needless to say: I found work and my little magic carpet revved up and carried me to many parts of the world I never dreamed to be able to visit.  Oh! And yes. My life style never resembled the comfortable hard-working lower middle class life style of my dad, which now seems to be disappearing.  You may not have noticed, but there is a crisis there as well.

Back to the product: be aware that there is only one honest way to make a living.  Deliver value for the fee you collect.  My dad bought himself his second new truck (I bought his first new one for him.) with money he earned by proving his labor valuable enough to become an employee rather than a jobs program participant.  He was long past youth, but still full of energy.  He loved the job he landed after the fur farm, where he worked most of his life, died, and his new job funded his life to the end of it.  Artists and Arts Management personnel have to prove themselves just like my dad did and just like I did.

People will buy tickets, subscribe to and donate to whatever inspires them.  If you want to make a success as a performer, you must entertain.  If you want to make a success of an organization that presents the efforts of performers, you have to know what will entertain.

Last week-end I found an example of just the sort of entertainment I believe to be the cure for the “crisis”, if you believe there is one.

The Allant Trio at Hill and Hollow.

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