"Which comes first, Music or Text?"

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

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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Concert Tonight

Posted by on Aug 16, 2014 in Featured, Opera

Concert Tonight

Tonight at E. Glenn Giltz Auditorium in Hawkins Hall the Master Class participants with whom I have been working will be giving a concert. It is a free concert that will begin, August 16, 2014, at 7:30 pm.  Sorry that our organizers thought to put a price on the tickets and had some in the media report this decision.  I’m sorry because some of you may think any price too high to pay to hear some young aspiring artists attempt to entertain you.  Well, the real reason the tickets are free is because making this a pay to get in event may violate US law.  The singers will entertain you enough to make your trip to Hawkins Hall worth every drop of gasoline/diesel or electricity your individual conveyance utilizes to get you there.  The trip has been worth it for me.  I gladly fill my tank and show up each day to help these youngsters grow toward becoming great artists.  I can tell you that these singers are also good enough to make you forget you paid for one or two of the tickets, if the organizers had actually put a price on them.

For those of you who may pause to consider your electric vehicle which you forgot to plug in last night, go out and plug it in now.  All you need is enough charge to get to Hawkins Hall.  Our little university is almost as up to date as Kansas City.  The parking lot adjacent to the hall has an electric vehicle charging station for two where you can acquire enough power to get back home, or even to a nice restaurant like Anthony’s after the show. Sorry, I think our event is the only free offering in Plattsburgh tonight, so I wouldn’t want anyone to infer that my favorite restaurant is going to team up with us under the FREE label. OH! By the way, if there are more than two music loving, absent-minded electric vehicle owners in my North Country, I will personally see to the transport needs of those who fail to find an open charging station.

It has been a pleasure and an honor to work with these youngsters, and it is going to be fun to share them with my fellow North Country citizens.  Please come and applaud, if you are moved to do so, anytime you are moved to do so.  I’ll be the first to join you, even if the moment we choose to applaud might annoy the strict concert etiquette traditionalist who might also show up.


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Lesson 1.002

Posted by on Aug 8, 2014 in Featured

Lesson 1.002

So what should we do next?  Tomorrow I start doing a master class here in the North Country, but that is what I am going to do next.  The question is really what should be the next step in teaching someone how to sing.

Garcia gives us a lot of advice about the difficulties voices will present to teachers.  It’s up to the teacher to sift through his information in order to follow the correct Garcia suggestion relevant for each individual.  We have to discern and understand each problem as it is presented, and I can attest to the fact that every exercise of increased complication will likely uncover a new vocal fault or difficulty.  So, now that we have the student singing the best “A” vowel that the student’s voice is able to produce, we can begin to complicate things a bit.

Lesson 1.002

Because it was so long ago that Renata made me do all that “old school” exercise work, I don’t remember having any trouble doing two consecutive pitches.  This may be why I am always surprised at how many students of singing have trouble with this mini hurdle.  My advice concerning Garcia’s exercises includes challenging the student to bring what he/she has learned in each previous exercise to the next exercise.  In this lesson the challenge is very simple.  Make those alternating pitches sound as stable as the previous lesson’s single pitch.  How hard is that?

Given the evidence, it seems to be very difficult indeed.  Let’s talk about just a few of the little problems that can,,,,, let’s be clear, do crop up.

The bump: when moving the voice from one pitch to the other, the student, especially with woodwind instrument experience, will sometimes have the habit to do a little accent with every pitch change.  You know how those hollow bits of wood or metal we call woodwinds have holes and keys with pads.  Well when you  are learning to play one of those things with your fast moving fingers, each hole or key that gets closed at high velocity gives off a sound.  Something like that seems to be a necessary accessory for some students when they change pitches.  This needs to be taken care of immediately.  I have run into this habit that I call “Walking on the notes” in students who have been studying voice for a long time.  They seem unable to sing “Legato” at all.  Catching this defect early and making sure the bump does not appear when the pitch is changed will go a long way in teaching legato vocalization.

Going straight: just before changing the pitch and for a short period after changing the pitch the vibrato will often disappear.  It is a wonder that so many singers today stop their vibrato and don’t even know they are doing it.  I know that the Baroque crowd seems to believe in making straight sounds as often as possible.  I do not.  In any event, there is no need to announce the arrival of a pitch change with a straightening of the tone… you know.. stopping the vibrato.

Push-ups: The moment before the pitch change, instead of going straight, some students will begin a small but noticeable crescendo which will continue into the higher pitch, and the return to the lower pitch will have the opposite effect added.  This one is less common than the above, but is just as serious and annoying to hear if unchecked early on.

Slurpee’s: Slipping and sliding from note to note is something that often shows up with young ones, but be careful about the cure for this fault.  I have noticed in some “trained” individuals a habit of stopping the sound between notes.  I don’t expect anyone to admit to teaching this particular stupidity, but the students who have shown me this maneuver had to have learned it somewhere.  In order to cut everyone a break, I am willing to believe it to be a confusion inserted into the mind of the singer by virtue of… sorry…. by mischief lodged in the language used to seek to correct this slimy style of ignorant singing.  “Precision” can’t be “Perfect”.

These are just a few things from my list of faults to watch out for.  Garcia’s list is shorter than mine, but printing costs were rather high in his day.  Come to think of it, the costs of printing are no laughing matter even today.

I had a note just the other day from a reader who wanted to know if I was forgetting about all you who care to read tenor thoughts.  You are all well remembered, and maybe I should clue you in.

The world of singing is in a bad way, and that is the reason for this blog and various other activities in which I engage.  If anyone has never heard: “Art reflects life and life reflects Art” please ponder this pomposity.  Next, I want to tell you that life itself is in a bad way, and I am hard pressed to ignore it.  In as much as I am able to engage the trends in society that I recognize as negative movements, I must act with that gift of ability to resist the push that moves singing toward bad and life toward feudal servitude.

Resisting the slavery our social contract seems to be approaching is why I have been a little slow…. please allow my understatement…. to get out a new blog.

Where my mind and body has been investing the greater portion of time and effort has been tax resistance, political action, gardening and home repairs.  We have a wonderful garden, a house that our North Country weather keeps pummeling and a local, State and Federal government that sees us little people as an inexhaustible source of revenue.  This I resist with the help of others in a website I manage.  We have a candidate for United States Congress that my wife, Debbie, and I are supporting and also a candidate for New York State Assembly for whom I put up a website.  There are a few family oriented events that we manage to shoe horn into our daily doings as well.

Life is good when full.


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Stolen Goods

Posted by on May 18, 2014 in Featured, Singing, Teaching

Stolen Goods

Last Tuesday was a big day for me.  I discovered what to say about the work ahead of me and I had a wonderful time rummaging through my dustbin of memories because Meg Le Fevre invited me to participate in an interview.  She is working for The Northeast Group who publishes a magazine, Strictly Business, for which Ms. Le Fevre writes and they intend to produce an arts issue.  I guess I fit the profile for inclusion, especially when she asked me if I called myself a singer or a musician.  I puffed up my chest, and in my best rendition of self-importance, I declared myself an ARTIST.

It was so much fun to be back in the career saddle again.  Tenors are always talking about themselves and enjoying it like no one else can, except a politician.  It has been a nice long hiatus for me.  I have managed to avoid that interview thing for so long that turning on the entertainer this time was a reminder of how it felt way back when interviews first became part of this singer’s life. Note: I said “singer” and not “artist”.  There you have a small diagram of the self-awareness with which I am gifted.  In those first days of becoming a professional singer my tenor presumptions included ARTIST status for self, but……  Well, even tenors can develop standards.  My memories shook off some dust and I was able to entertain myself while handing out answers to uncharacteristically good questions.  Ms. Le Fevre didn’t ask me even one boring question, like,,, you know: “What’s your favorite Opera?”

I’ll let my interviewer put order to the questions and answers in Strictly Business while I tell you that one of her questions really inspired me.  Unlike many interviewers I have encountered, she actually did her homework.  She read a few pages on this website of mine and printed out a few paragraphs to read back to me.  One of them put some old memories into direct contact with present plans.  When these thought connections happen in my head I know there is a God.

If you have visited my Master Classes page lately, you know that I am planning to participate in an educational event in my North Country enclave of cold tolerant folk.  Making an announcement for that event started troubling my mind the day after Jo Ellen Miano said she was going to try to put it together.  I left Tuesday’s interview with this blog just about written in my head.  God is good!

As Ms. La Fevre read the second paragraph of ”How I Started” many memories of how I stole so many tricks of the trade from so many Great Artists flooded my thoughts.  Those memories of theft and my hopes to help young people on their quest to become ARTISTS coalesced into an idea.  Why not call what I have to offer at this Master Class “Stolen Goods”.

Before Tuesday’s sun set (it’s going down later and later up here) I thought to check my email. Ms. Miano informed me that our event had been opened for participants.  All I had to do was write down what was already rattling around between my ears to announce this event.  So why did it take so long to get this posted? Well…. You know.

Please Come to Plattsburgh and I will do my best to turn my artistic tool box upside down on the floors of Glenn Giltz Auditorium,IMGP0341 copy beginning on 9 August and I will hand out as much of the contents as you can carry with you, even all the stuff I had to purloin way back when I was only just a singer.  That is if you can carry it all.

It is a shame that my idea for a title came too late to offer to Ms. Miano for her use, but then we all know how it goes with tenors.

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Wisdom by Fortune Cookie

Posted by on May 1, 2014 in Featured

Wisdom by Fortune Cookie

Not but a few days ago my wife, Debbie, and I crossed our little lake to visit my favorite mother in law.  After various shopping activities, we landed at one of my favorite eateries.  The food was superb, plentiful and more than we could manage. While our waiter prepared the remainder of our bountiful meal for transport to our refrigerator at home, we three satisfied diners broke open the cookies that our waiter traded with us for the food we hadn’t eaten.  If you clicked the link “one of my favorite eateries” above, you would understand that the cookies had to arrive.  The tradition is inescapable, even if the style of cooking in this eatery predates the cookie tradition by several centuries.  Those cookies contained such interesting fortunes that this blog became as inevitable as the cookies themselves.

I think Dot, my mother in law, opened her cookie first.  She is a strong proponent of dessert, to the degree that she often repeats the proverb: Eat dessert first; that way you will always have room for it. IMGP0014 copy Not that she lives out this proverb in my observation.  I couldn’t say what she does when I’m not around, but then it isn’t any of my business.  Back to the cookies. She passed the fortune that fell out of her folded sugar cookie to me and I read: “Be brave enough to live creatively.” That Dot should get advice about how to live, struck me as laughable.  She has already used up almost 90% of a century doing a bang up job of  living, and seemingly as if that advice had been delivered back before she had gotten through the first 15%.

Debbie got her sugar fold out of the obligatory plastic wrap, broke the cookie open and passed me the little slip of white paper on which was printed: “Nothing is a waste of time if you learn something from it.”  Debbie’s activities as political guardian angel of our little town by the lakeIMGP0678 copy has born much fruit in the learning category, even if many of the locals would call what she does a waste of time.

Now that I had read the cookie fortunes liberated by my wife and my mother in law, I got down to breaking the seal on the cookie in front of me.  The little slip of paper protruding from the cookie came out willingly.  I read it and passed the cookie carcass to Debbie. She really likes those little folded and baked bits of carbohydrate a lot more than I.  My fortune was the kicker. “A person of words and not of deeds is like a garden full of weeds.”  OK! OK! Got it!!

I will not give up cultivating nettles every day as I run out of gas when the sun sets, but as long as I have the energy to think thoughts (hard for a tenor) and move about, I will keep following the wisdom these cookies handed out.  I have been doing that creative thing that Dot was advised to do even if it has been for two thirds the time Dot has been at it, and I never thought I was wasting time,,,,, even while cultivating nettles.  I don’t call myself a talker, and, until I started putting words into blog form, I didn’t think of myself as a person of words.  Given my inability to spell most words worth more than two cents, I used to think I had recourse only to deeds.   Spell check has helped a lot, but Debbie is the key to me staying on solid ground sorting out the alphabet into words to put on the internet.

Those cookies were nice little reminders of the wisdom one can find in The Book that is still awaiting reading in the night stand beside many beds in the hotels and motels of these United States.  They are provided by generous people and are full of much paraphrased wisdom.  Even cookies can carry little sagacious snips of wisdom pruned from Proverbs.  That would be the twentieth book in The Book you can easily find on your travels in the USA or in any book store.  It is a best seller, by the way, and full of wisdom.

I am no fan of Fortune Cookies, but that post repast convergence of cookie recommendations surprised me, and reminded me that common sense is just remembered tidbits of wisdom read, lived and repeated in paraphrase from The Book.

Wait a minute.

I am a tenor!!!

Those fortunes had flip sides.  You know, the back side.  There used to be a nice white space nothing to look at back there.  It would seem the “nothing is a waste” fortune got interpreted by the manufacturer as “waste nothing” and, printed Chinese words with translations in that space.

On the back of Dot’s “creativity” counseling we find the verb: To Eat.  Remember the “dessert first” philosophy Dot supports?  If that isn’t creative eating, I’ll eat my hat.

The advice that all “education” is valuable that Debbie got had the flipside translation of the word: “Egg”.  Debbie’s “guardian angel” work at the Town of Plattsburgh is an egg that hatched into supporting candidates to office who inspire Debbie with hope that change for the better can take place.

The flip side of the “don’t grow weeds” fortune that came out of my cookie translates: “Eggplant”.

I have the sneaky feeling that this slip of paper is trying to call me a name.  You know. Like, TENOR!  But that may just be because of my tenor tendency toward paranoia.

So how do you think I should take “Eggplant”? If you have any ideas, I’d love to know them.  Send me a note. Please. I’ll add it to this blog.

PS. Debbie, my wife and Editor in Chief, couldn’t pass up the opportunity to remind me that she will be planting some eggplant in her garden.  She just loves those purple flowers.

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1000 Words on Chickens, Eggs, Opera and Singers

Posted by on Mar 29, 2014 in Blog, Opera

The question is about the order of things, like: “Which came first, the Chicken or the Egg?

The answer is dependent upon what you assume to be true. It is a grand scale dividing line that separates people of faith. For the person of the Christian faith the assumption that His Scriptures are telling the truth gives rise to answering that the chicken was created before it could lay that first egg. A person who has faith in another god will be much harder pressed for an answer. Wikipedia sort of rests my case.

The “HOT STUFF” of which I wrote on 8 March gives me ammunition for a much smaller argument. It’s about what is going on with “Opera” these days. Which came first; “Opera” or the “Opera Singer”?

Let me put this question in perspective. I have always felt that the craft of singing and the performance art in which I participated was not much more important to Life on Earth than flower arrangements might be to a soldier in a war zone. So this question, as applied to “Opera” “Opera Singer”, is not as important as “Chicken” “Egg”. The soldier needs to be fed breakfast: “Egg” and then for dinner: Roast “Chicken”… If you’re a Southern boy: Fried “Chicken”. If one part of the equation is missing the soldier may eventually starve and not be able to win the war. If both parts of the “Opera” “Opera Singer” or “Flowers” “Flowers in Vase” dichotomy are absent the soldier can still be fed and fight battles. Life will go on. The war for survival can still be won. My interest in the “Opera”  “Opera Singer” question is critical to all Opera Singer types, but seems to be carelessly disregarded by most members of what has become an “Opera” conservancy.

Opera News deserves applause for giving Matthew Epstein a chance to explain the tug of war in which he engaged at Chicago Lyric Opera.  He became disengaged by the loss of his grip on the rope in Chicago, but, happily, Matthew relocated to NYC to take a new position at CAMI where he can continue to influence the fate of “Opera”. The Opera News article shows us that Matthew Epstein and William Mason have strong opinions about the future of “Opera”, and, unfortunately, they do not agree.

Lets let Matthew start the argument:

“Look, there’s a dichotomy between the old-line New York and Chicago subscribers and the younger audience that goes to BAM and some of the smaller Chicago theaters. There must be a way to satisfy both groups, but it is a mistake to do only what keeps our rapidly aging big-money subscribers happy when the future is in people who aren’t yet at that point. Maybe it’s a younger audience. Maybe it’s a more last-minute-ticket-buying audience. Maybe it can’t or doesn’t want to purchase a full subscription a year in advance. But it is an audience – and a growing audience, and an audience that is going to be tremendously important. And we can’t eliminate from our seasons the very works that may bring in this new audience.”

Matthew introduces the premise that his way “may” be the way to keep “Opera” alive.  Bill Mason tugs in the opposite direction with:

“The creative decisions and wishes of a music director and/or artistic director can only be realized if there is the money to pay for them. Financial integrity is no less important than artistic integrity. If your ticket-buying public doesn’t like what you’re presenting most of the time, they will stop buying tickets and stop contributing. This is not to say that Lyric will cease presenting new opera or new and possibly controversial productions. But balance is the key.”

These guys arguments are interesting, and can be a source of syllabus for University types, but that Egg equivalent (Opera Singer) is kind of ignored until Matthew starts talking about the opera singers who have always been his bread and butter:

“The future of opera in America depends on the realization that stars won’t do the trick anymore. There are any number of excellent singers out there, but very few real stars left who will always sell out a house – and that number is diminishing all the time. The future lies in ensemble-oriented productions – well-directed, well-designed and well-conducted productions of interesting repertory, fully rehearsed, and cast with the finest singers available for their parts. And if the stars won’t commit the time and energy required to perfect such a production, you engage other singers.”

Matthew Epstein seems to suggest that the link between “Opera” and “Opera Singer” is really getting frail, and the “which came first” question irrelevant. “Chicken” is dependent on “Egg” for species survival, but Matthew seems to say that “Opera” cannot depend on “Opera Singer” to sell the seats. Why not?

Matthew’s explanation of his vision for the future is unique. It is the first public argument over the future of Opera I have heard or read that included any mention of opera singers. It’s sad that a great agent to the “Stars” only mentions singers in context of his loss of faith in them.

Matthew, from his Worldwide Director’s chair at CAMI’s vocal division, might have suggested ways to increase the number of “Opera Stars”, if he thinks they are needed, and why their number is dwindling, anyway. No. He suggests abandoning those few remaining “Stars”, if found uncooperative, to pursue the perfecting of production values.

So, let’s summate.

Matthew Epstein believes:

The “Opera Singer” isn’t worth an “Egg”. Opera singers, if we follow Matthew’s published logic, are interchangeable necessities that can detract from the genius new Operas and Opera productions that Matthew suggests as key to keeping Opera Houses healthy.

Bill Mason believes:

If he gives the public what it wants, then the public should keep coming to his theater, and contributing to his fund-raising campaigns.

Do opera singers really matter???

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Posted by on Mar 8, 2014 in Featured, Opera


The Book is open, but only just. I took a stab at updating one of my vanity pages a few days ago and decided to google Matthew Epstein for another innumerable time looking for a link to embed with his name. What I found is a Gold Mine.

Tim Page titled his lunch report “The Book of Matthew”. Tim’s scan of a very few pages in the book that is Matthew’s mind should have given him a better title, like: “The Title Page of the Book of Matthew”. That quibble aside, his article opens a small window on the arguments taking place in the inner circles of the Opera World.

Matthew looks great in the photo that Johannes Ifkovits took back in 2006. If the out of focus space behind Matthew in the photo is his Ansonia apartment, I fancy that at least one of the plants soaking up sun in the background to be a Blake donation to his decor. I love that sunny apartment, and I expect Matthew, a man of good taste, (He signed me up as an artist, didn’t he?) to hold onto it as long as his grip will allow. The “strong right arm” Tim quotes him putting on offer to artists should be matched on his left side, if his personal trainer is worth his/her salt. And, if he has been wiser than most tenors about his personal finances, then his rent will never be more than he can afford. A bit of tenor trivia… I remember Matthew telling me that his space at the Ansonia is a fraction of a larger apartment that belonged to Enrico Caruso.

Matthew’s health report that Tim includes in his “book” article is good news indeed. Once upon a time Matthew shared the news of his HIV positive report with Debbie and me at a restaurant on Manhattan. He told us that this news was fresh out of his doctor’s office which he had just visited that afternoon. He swore Debbie and me to secrecy, and we did our best to be supportive familial stand-ins and felt honored to be promoted to such intimate standing at table with him. It was only a few days later that his news was being offered to us again and again, always with the demand to keep it secret. No, Matthew didn’t forget and tell us again or again. Now that Opera News has made it public, I guess we can talk about it too.

There is a great big difference between personal and public information, and I respect the strictest interpretation of that division, but I wish Matthew would treat the world to a larger view of what he could call the public content of his “Book”. It would be wonderful if he cast even a little of what he knows and thinks into the communication universe in unfiltered form. The Tim Page article in Opera News is a nice teaser worth printing on the inside of a dust cover to a real book entitled “The Mind of Matthew” or on the landing page of a blog sight: http://www.MatthewEpstien.com or how about http://www.TheBookofMatthewEpstien.com.

Come on Matthew!! Tell us more! Forget Opera News. You’re too big for such small pages.

Matthew Epstein in the day.

Matthew Epstein a couple of years ago.

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Replacement Pedagogy

Posted by on Mar 3, 2014 in Featured, Opera, Singing, Teaching

Replacement Pedagogy

I’ve been chewing on a bit of Ha, Ha trivia I received in recent light conversation (Remember, I’m not so young, so “recent” is a relative term given my 63 years of hanging about). I have a friend, well plugged into the World of Opera, who described for me an unbelievable proposal made by a gNATS big wig. I’ll keep my source anonymous because being called a friend by a tenor can be harmful to one’s professional life in some circles. I think I will use the name “Jack” for this Opera Operative.

Jack attended a major gNATS/Singer Employer confab this century. It was also attended by a soprano I worked with back in the day. This soprano was a joy, because she had it all. Good voice, especially good personality and intelligent mind. Let’s use “Jill” to refer to her. I bet she is a card carrying gNATS member who may not like having her name dropped by a tenor taking pot shots at The National Association of Teachers of Singing.

The President of gNATS stood up and spoke…. Tenor moment…. It could have been the President Elect or the Past President, Vice President, Vice President, Vice President, Vice President, yah, there are four of them, or even the Secretary/Treasurer given my tenor memory, but it was someone BIG in the hierarchy. So let’s label this gNATS bigwig “Harry”.

Anyway, now that the players are all described, and named, the play can begin. Harry got up and essentially declared gNATS a consulting business ready to help the non-teachers in the crowd. It is logical to assume that a professional of high standing in gNATS may hold in low esteem the abilities of people who actually get their hands dirty putting together entertainments based on the employment of vocal talent. I believe the membership could support Harry believing that employers need a lot of help to discern good singers, and gNATS membership could applaud being offered as the staff of Harry’s consultancy. However what Harry offered elicited no approval from Jill.

Jack told me that Jill lost control of her jaw at the moment it became clear that Harry was declaring his faith in technology. Harry let all those non-teacher attendees know that gNATS was ready to point out future stars for the Arts Industry by processing submitted recordings with Voice Analysis Software. All those tiresome, leave the office, travel across the county or down to the auditorium, rent a hall if you don’t own one, organize pianists and spread the word about auditions could be, like, so yesterday. Harry was suggesting that Arts Organization Management stop wasting time, and let gNATS’s computers lead the way to the new Renata Tebaldi, George London, Maria Callas etc.. Jill’s jaw dropped. Jack did not mention applause.

We have seen an early version of the techno helper (Click Here) that Harry seems to regard as a mature technology. Just because they don’t use pen and paper anymore doesn’t really mean that the present “advanced” state of the technology is any better at replacing “Ears“. Silly is as silly does. I wish gNATS’s Consulting every success among the stuck on stupid, but what about the rest of us?

I believe that Jill’s jaw dropped with surprise because of the outright silliness of the proposal. It is one thing to play with computer toys and even create University departments to house them. It is another thing entirely to try to sell the idea that a computer could replace the discernment of casting directors in Opera houses.

If I were a gNATS member, and dependent on teaching voice as a means of paying the mortgage, the rent, for food on my table and keeping the tax man happy, I would feel very uncomfortable with a high official in my trade association suggesting a mechanical or electronic replacement for auditioners. By un-silly extension one need only travel a little to arrive at Harry telling Universities that the same techno- service could replace voice teachers. Last I heard, the standard work load of a Music School voice teacher was a one half hour lesson once a week for each student. If one can replace a few of those sessions with “Voice Lab” under the tutelage of a technician then the staff at the voice department could shrink a lot. Where will all those gNATS members, replaced by Computerized Voice Coaching, go to earn the money necessary to pay their dues? Oh! I forgot. Maybe teaching advanced courses in Vocal Analysis (oops, not at MIT,,,, yet).

By pushing the above silly logic a lot farther down the road, a future “Harry” might suggest that gNATS could populate Opera auditorium seats with the future tech voice terminals that our present “Harry” might expect to see available. They could be programed to applaud the singers who had received training from their sister terminals at major Universities. Given ticket sales trends around the world, there should be plenty of seats available by the time those Voice Appreciation Appliances become objects of admiration of future “Harrys” at gNATS.

I’ve waited a while since I heard about Harry promoting his Opera Star Recognition Software. I just wanted enough time to pass so that I could stop seeing RED when I thought about it, and for the real name of my insider friend to become hard to discover. No one should suffer for talking with a tenor, or even singing with one.

More links for believers:




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White Christmas Extended

Posted by on Feb 23, 2014 in Blog, Featured, Garcia, Teaching

White Christmas Extended

Remember the Water Walk in White Christmas? That white ice is still mostly there. We just need a little snow to refresh the attractiveness of that walkable water, and our Frozen North would again look pristine. Some other northerners up here wish for Spring while I pray for decorative snow, but one wise citizen of these here hills proposed we should be grateful. While a fellow Plattsburghite and I were blocking an isle at Sam’s Club exchanging pleasantries that included opinions on the weather, my interlocutor proposed that we should be thankful for Global Warming. “Can you imagine how cold it would be without it?Siberia might come to mind.

Frozen Strandberg

Frozen Strandberg

Just a few days ago we had sonic events that disturbed the peace and tranquility of the evening. These booms that brought a few of us curious northerners out into the dark with flashlight or oil lamp in hand were reported as cryo – something events,,, “seisms”,, blamed on moisture, some of which is visible as white stuff scattered about us, and freezing cold that insists on penetrating the soil. We had little mini earth quakes because the ground is freezing under our feet. I guess Global Warming, manmade as it is assumed be, has some self-help blessings most of us just never considered, like saving us Rock Eaters from the permafrost suffered by Siberia, but I’m wondering if the thaw will be accompanied by the same sort of unsettling seismic activity in Plattsburgh and in Toronto, Canada. If we do, I expect someone will be thanking or blaming Global Warming for it just like the freezing that brought it.

OK, I’m back from the edge of politics and ready to talk about the important things of life. The snow may still be with us, but our Christmas tree is down, and in storage, so we have more room in the…… Wait… I said important things, didn’t I? OK! OK!! Let’s regroup. How about a question? Like: What should follow “Lesson One.001”?

Dividing lessons with such minute decimals would seem ridiculous but for the problem of keeping within my own blog size limitation. The word count necessary to cover everything I want to say may be inestimable, but I count on my word processor to warn me when I’m going overboard in a blog. My wife, Debbie, is good at it too, but Microsoft Word just keeps adding up my words for me in the lower left corner of my screen as I type my thoughts. Rules, rules, rules. If I make them, like: 1000 words per blog, shouldn’t I follow them?

Label the rest of this blog “Lesson One.001-A” because it’s about the vowel “A”. So here goes. I’ve got five hundred and fifty one words to go. Wait, I just used eleven of them. Ooops there goes another seven… OK! I’ll get to the point.

The “A” vowel is the best vowel. It is the central station of vocal color. The full character/personality/beauty of any vocal instrument is best heard in that vowel. It is true for everyone and not just certain voices. When that vowel is just the best for the voice at hand then we can advance to the rest of them.

Capture2So what is the “best”? The best is always a hyphenated best: Personal-Best. Each instrument has a personality. Something really brought home to me when Bruno Price presented a violin blind tasting party after Soovin Kim played a whole bunch of PaganiniCapture for LCCMF at the home of the Vermont Youth Orchestra in Burlington, VT. Mr. Price came packing a trunk load of violins. Jessica Lee and Nelson Lee played each of these instruments for Soovin’s Paganini audience. It was great to hear the differences among the violins and compare the results that two different expert players could get with these precious violins. I was totally blown away. Unlike humans, these instruments couldn’t be bothered to try to sound like theCapture3 one that the majority of the audience picked as having the best sound, the Strad. Singers, however, face a vocal world today that invites bad choices even at this “.001-A” early stage of training. Tenors will try, or be advised to try to emulate the “A” vowel of Pavarotti, for example, when to do so is to distort the instrument with which the tenor is gifted. Some of the non Strad violins I heard in Burlington might be “improved”, somehow, with chisel, sandpaper and varnish to bring them closer to the Strad, but such work would destroy the personality of each and every one of them. Among the lesser violins played for us was a southern Italian number that truly fascinated my ears. I won’t get into the why or how of it here, but, because that Neapolitan grabbed my mind, the whole affair refuses to leave the premises.

In the day, nothing has changed, violin makers did the best job they could to fulfill their ideal. The collection that we Paganini appreciators heard in Burlington gave evidence that mans’ hands are capable of wonderful things, but every craftsman producing a Strad, even if it were desired, is not Historicity. Those violins all sounded different, and refused to change character even under the influence of the pros playing them.

In the day, a lot has changed, voices were appreciated for the individual character that each displayed. No parallel here, right? I heard within the differences among those violins the best examples of what pedagogues are told by Garcia to discern in voices. The beauty of Pavarotti’s “A” vowel may have been our Strad of the day, but trying to copy it would be just as bad as dismantling those non-Strad violins, gratefully heard in Burlington, just to push their individual sounds toward the sound that the lone Strad had in the group.

28 words left.

An “A” of beauty that a vocal instrument can produce has a personality unique to itself. Promote it! Not Pavarotti, or Strad, but the beauty in vocal difference!


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