It was a lover and his lass that made last night’s audience fall in love all over again during Washington National Opera‘s production of Donizetti‘s L’elisir d’amore. Held up as an ideal of bel canto singing, L’elisir d’amore is one of the favorite operas in the traditional repertory. The libretto, written by Felice Romani, tells the love story of two young inhabitants of a rural Basque village. The timid Nemorino relies on the elixir of a traveling snake oil salesman, a bottle of Bordeaux, to woo Adina before she marries the suave Sergeant Belcore. Stephen Costello, as Nemorino, and real-life wife Ailyn Pérez, as the sought-after Adina, captured the hearts of the audience. Even with a few musical hiccoughs throughout the evening, the performance is full of good clean fun and some thrilling singing.
Costello is a gem for Washington National Opera this season. He returns to the Kennedy Center Opera House stage after his recent performance as Greenhorn/Ishmael in Jake Heggie‘s Moby-Dick. If WNO audiences hadn’t already fallen for him in that production, they certainly melted for him as the lovesick Nemorino. Even though he looked a bit like the young Indiana Jones, he sounded every bit the bel canto lover. Costello ranged from such affectionate moments like “Una parole, Adina” to robust and intense as in his technically impressive “Dulcamara volo tosto a ricercar.” Which explains how he had the audience in the palm of his hand by the time the famous “Una furtiva lagrima” came along. The dynamic change as well as the silence he left between the “si può morir” phrases at the end of the aria were exquisite. Just before Nemorino’s notable aria, Pérez also stunned in her Act II duet “Quanto amore! Ed io, spietata, tormentai sì nobil cor!” with Nicola Ulivieri as Doctor Dulcamara. She exhibited brilliant singing throughout the evening but found her most free and expressive moments here. While her initial “Prendi” was extremely tender, Pérez sought such delicate pianissimo at other times that did not carry to the audience effectively. However, her dramatic push and pull with Costello was honest and enthralling (something tells me they might have a bit of an advantage here…)
Nemorino’s attempts to win Adina’s affection before she marries the renowned Sergent Belcore sung by Italian bass-baritone Simone Alberghini also offers many opportunities for push and pull from the main characters. Without even a hint of “woofiness”, Alberghini demonstrated clarity and agility in the rapid Donizetti vocal lines. He also seemed to relish in the chance to ham it up on stage. Classic physical comedy abounds in this production without devolving into cliché and the opening night audience certainly ate it up. Ulivieri’s Dulcamara also reveled in the humorous elements. These two characters are often responsible for bringing the staccato, marcato patter to balance the legato bel canto lines of the young lovers and both did so with great skill. Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Shantelle Przybylo also deserves a mention for her adorable turn as Giannetta. The passing-the-plates scene that she shares with the female chorus in which she describes how Nemorino has come into his new fortune was energetic and fun.
The overall production from Director Stephen Lawless, including set design by Johan Engels and lighting design by Joan Sullivan-Genthe, was refreshing. Sullivan-Genthe’s lighting design showed obvious consideration for visual story-telling. The production moves from a gorgeous sun-drenched opening through a carefully constructed storm and finally into a clear night. The strangest disappointment in this production were the handful of tempo disagreements between the stage and conductor Ward Stare that seemed to throw the trios and quartets off-kilter. It was undetermined what was causing the rift, but it was certainly noticeable.
Even with a few hiccoughs, it is true that sweet lovers really do love the spring. What better way to celebrate spring’s return than with this fun production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at Washington National Opera? There are seven more opportunities to catch it with this and another cast featuring Sarah Coburn and Daniel Montenegro as Adina and Nemorino. Tickets and information can be found at the Kennedy Center Box Office, by calling (202) 467-4600 or (800) 444-1324, or online at www.kennedy-center.org.
There is incredible growth when musicians work collaboratively in an interdisciplinary environment. It is exciting not only for the performers but for audiences who crave new experiences. Whether it is music, opera, theatre, dance, or other disciplines, there is no limit to the depths that are explored. That is why I was excited to talk to soprano CarrieAnne Winter and get her take on her recent performance with the In Series as well as her experience in the 2013 Rhymes With Opera New Chamber Music Workshop in New York City.
We covered so much… let’s get to it!
CarrieAnne Winter hails from Rockford, MI, and is known for her expressive phrasing and comic acting. A graduate of the Maryland Opera Studio, she made her professional opera début with Opera AACC in the role of Marietta, where she was described as having a “shimmering sound.” (Bay Weekly). The Washington Post declared her a “perky Blonde” (in Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio), and the Baltimore Sun has also praised her “stellar vocal and acting talents.”
Most recently, CarrieAnne made her Kennedy Center début as a soloist in collaboration with the Washington Ballet where she was featured in Christopher Wheeldon’s ballet, There Where She Loved. Other recent credits include Blonde/Abduction from the Seraglio with In Series, Dew Fairy/Hansel and Gretel with Loudon Lyric. A great supporter of new work, CarrieAnne premiered 2 operas, a song cycle, 2 Masses, and workshopped John Musto’s Inspector General with Wolf Trap Opera. This past year, CarrieAnne also had the pleasure to première new chamber works in the newly opened National Opera Center in Manhattan with Rhymes with Opera.
CarrieAnne has brought her voice to many productions, including Despina/Cosi fan tutte, Rosalba/Florencia en el Amazonas, Die Königen der Nacht/Die Zauberflöte, and Adele/Die Fledermaus. Her concert work includes Orff’s Carmina Burana, Mozart’s Requiem and Schubert’s Mass No. 2 in G. A diverse singer with a jazz background, she has shared the stage with Johnny Mathis, Darmon Meader, and Bobby McFerrin. Upcoming performances include Gilda/Rigoletto with Center Stage Opera.
Congratulations on your recent performance of “La Vie en Rose” with the In Series. The performance featured French chanson as well as dancers from The Washington Ballet Studio Company. What was the experience like to work in such a multi-dimensional performance?
I loved working with dancers! It was incredible to watch people who have worked so hard to master expression in their body the same way I have worked to master my voice. We all strived to achieve the same artistic moment, and when it was created, it was magical.
One challenge I found as a musician was consistency with tempos and phrasing. Just as we have only so much breath to complete a phrase, a dancer must complete a step in a set amount of time. The type of energy for a lift is very different from that of a jump or an arabesque, and you have to find that in the music. This type of collaboration is very much like working with other musicians in that you are constantly ‘listening’ to the other performers and responding. You just have to use your eyes in addition to your ears.
Working with the composers was much more like working with a director/choreographer, in that the director tells you what he/she wants the message to the audience to be. With the dancers, we were performing what our choreographer wanted from pieces that were already considered standards. The final product was much more set in stone. For the workshop with RWO, we were singing what our composers wrote for us, but we were building something for the first time, and so there was much more exploration and flexibility.
We also were working directly with the composers, and so we were able to talk to them about the meaning and source of the text. One of the pieces used text from our own individual palm readings. That particular piece was interesting because it was our own words set to music. In addition, we could say to our composers, “This phrase is really difficult for me vocally. Can we try this on a different vowel?” And the changes were made!
What do you find to be the most exciting aspects about working together in the compositional process?
I loved discovering the music with my colleagues. I remember my group didn’t know what one of the pieces, ‘Bramble Babies’, was about. We thought it was this weird thing with young girls eating raspberries. After we asked our composer about it, we found out it had a much deeper story to it — that it was actually about abortion! It totally changed how we felt about the piece, and how we sang it. The three composers I worked with were really different from each other, and exploring their unique styles was exciting. It was completely rewarding to finally hear the music come together.
Wow, what a difference that must have been! What elements did you find challenging?
The most challenging aspect was the short amount of rehearsal time for such complex pieces. We also had a last-minute replacement for our bassist, so the addition of a new personality to music that we had realized with another individual was an extra challenge.
You perform in such a wide variety of styles. How has working in new music informed your overall approach?
All music has a story. Some stories are clear, or poignant, or funny. As a vocalist, what’s most important is using your voice in a way that expresses the story. You have to be extremely aware of what your voice is capable of, what it sounds like, and what your tools are as a musician. If you want to perform in a specific style, you have to learn what it takes to sound authentic.
What I love about new music is its ability to take modern issues and ideas and give them expression. One of our pieces with RWO was about the Kardashians! I actually don’t watch much television, so I had to look it up and watch some of their show so that I could “Keep Up.”
Ha! Watching the Kardashians for research is certainly contemporary. Another facet of your performance is improv. What inspired your interest in classical improvisation?
A musician is made up of experiences, and my interest in improv probably came from a couple of sources. In college, I had the opportunity to work with a world-class vocal jazz ensemble. We were required to learn to improvise, and it was encouraged for us to arrange and write music. I was also exposed to Bobby McFerrin’s musicianship, and learned how to create circle songs, and was inspired by his ability to improvise concerts. It was probably at that when I lost the fear of making ‘bad’ sounds. Lastly, I have to thank my composer friend, Jonathan Cook. I premiered some of his works in undergrad, and he later took a class in improvisation. During a visit, he described how he had recently improvised an entire concert, and we had an improv jam session that showed me that I could spontaneously create music using the palette of classical vocal sounds.
If you had an extra day of the week, how would you spend it?
Probably the same way I spend most of my days! I would spend some of it singing, some of it with people I love, and some of it doing things I hate, but are necessary.
Time is the most valuable thing I have — so if I’m not spending it the way I want, it’s time for a change!
Amen to that!
Thank you to CarrieAnne for joining us today and sharing her thoughts! If you’d like to see more 6 Questions RE: with singers, composers, presenters, and more from around the country sign up for our mailing list to the right under “BECOME A SYBARITIC FAITHFUL OFFICIAL MEMBER” or find me on Twitter and get the latest in an amusing 140 characters at @mezzoihnen.
Are you interested in finding out more information about the Rhymes With Opera Summer Festival? Did you know that there will be a Baltimore-based summer festival this year!? Check it out:
About the Workshop
The RWO: New Chamber Music Workshop creates unique vocal/instrumental ensembles and pairs them with emerging composers to create collaborative new vocal chamber music. RWO is based in both New York, NY and Baltimore, MD, and the 2014 Workshop will take place in both cities concurrently.
Over the course of eleven sessions, singers will be combined into small ensembles with members of the Rhymes With Orchestra, and each ensemble will be paired with two composers. Composers will write pieces specifically for their ensemble, and each piece will be developed in a series of workshops and rehearsals, offering feedback to both composers and performers in the process. The Workshop culminates in a final performance of the new works.
COMPOSERS will have the opportunity to work with singers at the beginning of the workshop, allowing them to get to know the style and strengths of each individual musician before the writing process begins. Composers will receive feedback on their work from the performers, and will work closely with the performers on their pieces from inception to performance. Composers will participate in masterclasses with RWO composers George Lam and Ruby Fulton.
SINGERS will share their strengths with their composers during the workshop, informing the composition process through feedback and dialogue. Singers will have the opportunity to première new works written specifically for their voices. Participants will be coached by RWO singers Elisabeth Halliday and Robert Maril.
In addition to the development of the new works, participants will attend sessions with guest lecturers and performers under the guidance of Rhymes With Opera. Participants will explore topics including advanced music notation, contemporary performance techniques, creating and maintaining a constructive composer/performer relationship, and the intricacies of commissioning, developing, rehearsing and performing a new work.
To apply, visit rhymeswithopera.org
The songs that sprung from the Berlin cabaret (Kabarett) scene beginning in 1901 through the Weimar era packed a powerful punch in condensed form. The scene attracted literary and music composition giants such as Hanns Eisler, Kurt Weill, and Bertolt Brecht. Their political satire and criticism was thinly veiled, at most, in their songs. Grammy-nominated singer Theo Bleckmann and celebrated composer and pianist Rob Schwimmer teamed up on Thursday night for the Strathmore Music in the Mansion series to perform music from Songs of Love and War, Peace and Exile arranged by Fumio Yasuda. In keen juxtaposition, they paired the Kabarett songs with another Yasuda arrangement written for Bleckmann’s voice, Las Vegas Rhapsody, featuring songs that highlight the golden age of the crooner. Bleckmann and Schwimmer’s “Berlin~Las Vegas” journey isn’t chronological. It soothes with the lush sounds of one era only to jump through time and give a quick bite in the next song.
Both the Berlin Kabarett scene and the glamorous heyday of Las Vegas were steeped in illusion. Individuals struggled for distraction from their history and political conflicts. The music of each time period satisfied a need for escape, beauty, and a fugitive sense of pleasure or luxury. In making this observation of two worlds, it is appropriate then that Bleckmann and Schwimmer mixed the songs from both periods in a non-linear fashion. Bleckmann also pointed out in one of his short introductions that many of the songs still carry important meaning for contemporary audiences with, as he put it, “Russia being a little odd.” The sentiment was certainly not lost of the Strathmore audience many of whom who obviously did not need translations for the German songs.
Bleckmann, who moved to the States 25 years ago, has a voice like the perfect martini: clean, clear, and intoxicating. He was effortless throughout the evening with a deep understanding of the abilities of his instrument. One of the signature elements of his voice is the ability to change vocal colors quickly and intensely which he demonstrated over the course of the first half including: “Der Bilbao-Song”, “An den Kleinen Radioapparat”, and a stirring performance of Weill’s “Moon of Alabama” from the Songspiel Mahagonny. Being German has its advantages, especially when singing in the language. He stays true to the vocal line by singing clearly on the vowel while giving each consonant the exact amount of needed attention. Bleckmann threw the audience a bit of a curve ball with a cover of Kraftwerk’s 1978 “Das Modell” but elicited some laughs with his robot dance moves before returning to his smooth style with “Falling in Love Again” made famous by Marlene Dietrich.
While Rob Schwimmer seems overall more aggressive at the keyboard than Bleckmann is with the voice, he does exhibit an adroit clarity in this repertoire. Schwimmer’s dexterity on the jazzy tune, “Button Up Your Overcoat” was impressively slick. He also joined in on the singing in that tune – harmonizing with Bleckmann to the delight of the room. Later in the program, Schwimmer expertly took his time building the dramatic opening to Yasuda’s arrangement of “Chim Chim Cheree” which was a much darker look at “Hollywood’s take on the working class” than the one we remember from the movie.
The recital flowed so gracefully that I was almost surprised it was over – feeling as though we had just gotten started. Closing with Brecht and Weill’s “Surabaya Johnny”, Bleckmann and Schwimmer gave us one final example of what was so special about their performance all night — the juxtaposition of lush vocal colors with a quick bite from the text. Each iteration of the line, “take that stupid pipe out of your mouth, you dog” (in both English and German) had a subtly different shade of pain. Finally, as an encore and special thank you to Zona Hostetler of the Randy Hostetler Living Room Music Fund, Bleckmann and Schwimmer performed the Las Vegas perennial favorite “I’ve Got the World on a String.”
“That high performance light switch has been turned on… Never let it turn off again.” – Apolo Anton Ohno
Success often follows Newton’s First Law of Motion: “Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.” The daily challenges in each year of 28 Days to Diva are designed to help singers operate in a state of uniform motion when it comes to their careers. Each post focuses on small tasks that can be accomplished in a quantifiable time frame as well as the possible external forces that can change that state of motion. Incredibly successful people have found that state of uniform motion and they crave that feeling. They are constantly creating and maintaining that forward motion while defending against outside agents that slow them down.
Your Day 28 challenge is to Keep Your High Performance Switch On.
Here we are, divas. We have reached the final day of 28 Days to Diva 2014. How do you feel? I hope you feel invigorated, motivated, and inspired. I love writing this series because it reminds me every year why I love what I do. I also love being able to unpack the diva suitcase and see what’s inside. How do we go from students to masters of our craft? It’s a process and I love that process.
If there is one other thing that you should read today it is Danielle LaPorte’s “the grand pep talk.” This is part of your challenge today.
There are soul-justified reasons to cancel. There are times to just stop. This isn’t one of them. Keep going. Show up. Full on. Full tilt. Full out.
Decide to be one of those people who pull it off.
Do what you say you’re going to do.
Don’t let us down.
Decide to rise.
This is my absolute favorite part of her pep talk, “When you transcend circumstances you get special privileges.” It’s true. When you turn on your high performance switch and keep it on, amazing things will happen. You have to keep showing up. You have to show up when it is most difficult. You have to show up when you are unsure, nervous, and feeling blah. Decide to rise. When you activate your superpowers on a daily basis they become easier to access when you desperately need them.
The music world needs your voice and your singing business. We all need each other to be the best versions possible. We certainly do not need to make our field smaller. We need it to grow and be sustainable for everyone that can commit.
Divas, I am so proud of the work you have done this month. Stay in motion. Keep yourself in high performance mode until that is your normal operating procedure. You deserve every success. I hope you will keep in touch with The Sybaritic Singer here in the comments, on the Facebook page, and on Twitter at @mezzoihnen. Tell me about your performances. Tell me about your triumphs! Share your stumbling blocks with the rest of the crew. You’re not alone.
I encourage artists to stop worrying about everything. The audience is going to tell you when you’re doing something right. The response that you get is your information. Pay attention! They will lead you to the next thing. – Mary McFaul, McFaul Book & Management
Every singer, heck every business person, comes to a moment in the life of their work when they feel stuck. There you are staring at a blank wall willing the universe to tell you how the heck you are supposed to get from where you are to where you want to be. Point “A” -> Point “B.” Time passes. You are busy. But, you feel the wheels turning without any traction. You again turn to the universe… “what is the next thing?”
Your Day 27 Challenge is to Figure Out the Very Next Thing.
The hardest part about having big dreams is figuring out ‘step one.’ We did a lot of work on breaking 10-year dreams down into quarterly goals. But, here you are on Day 27 and we only have one day left of 28 Days to Diva. You want to plan a recital, get a top-level audition, work with a coach, record a CD, and on and on. A mountain of goals can make you feel just as stuck as when you didn’t know what to do at all.
The part that I love most about Ms. McFaul’s quote at the top is, “The response that you get is your information… They will lead you to the next thing.” When we do our timelines and our assessments, we can clearly see the connections that were formed. In the present, that task is much more difficult. For certain personalities, planning is akin to breathing. We plan and we plan and we plan some more. Isn’t it funny though, that no matter what you plan it happens to be those seemingly innocuous connections that spur such great results? That is one of the main reasons I believe it is extremely important to have a mentor on your singing team. Your mentor isn’t your voice teacher, best friend, or parent for good reason. Your mentor has a different perspective. When your mentor says, “have you ever thought about x” pay close attention. In fact, take that suggestions home and mull it over. It could be your next big break.
Have you ever heard another singer get honest feedback that they weren’t ready to take in? That advice could be monumental but not if the singer isn’t ready to hear it and act on it. “The response you get is your information.” Prepare yourself to really listen to what other people are telling you. Take action on their suggestions that align with your passion. Develop the thick skin it takes to really listen to the people who have your best interests at heart. You can always decide, “no, that won’t work for me,” after you have weighed the pros and cons.
Don’t be afraid to take a big step when one is indicated. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps. – David Lloyd George, British Prime Minister (1916–22)
What recent feedback have you been getting?
What about that really resonates with you?
What is the very next thing that you are going to commit to with passion and make it happen?
List all the reasons why you should and will commit to it at this time.
Here we are, determining our future in the service of art. The way you choose to live your diva life is up to you. There may be times when you question whether the work is really paying off. Or, there may be times when you are stuck. That is okay as long as you remind yourself to listen to your feedback. Your mentors, audience, and singing team will tell you what comes next. You cannot do this job alone.
I can’t do it alone either which is why I truly enjoy connecting with all of you! Many of you have left comments on the various posts and it has made my day every time. I’ve had a chance to connect with so many divas via Twitter (@mezzoihnen) that my heart is about to explode into glitter. If you would like to share in the comments your “very next thing”, I would love to read it! Thanks again for being here.
There’s a pretty familiar runner joke: “How can you tell if someone has run a marathon? Oh, don’t worry, they’ll tell you.” It’s true because runners work hard to train for those endurance tests and they want to share that with other people. 26.2 miles is no easy feat. They’ve put in so much time training their body to be ready for performance. Isn’t that what we also do as singers? We train our brains, voices, and bodies to get ready for performances. We put in countless hours picking music for the program, studying the score, and scheduling a venue. Therefore, we must develop an audience and communicate with them regularly to make sure our labors do not go to waste. Having a plan for developing ourselves as musicians and developing our audiences is going to be make that process easier.
Your Day 26 challenge is to Create a Content Plan for Your Singing Life
Great businesses, no matter their size, work hard to create a superior product or service; but, they also make sure they are reaching the right audience for it too. Audience development is more than just “build it and they will come.” For this exercise we are going to cultivate a following for your specific talent. Have you ever heard a voice teacher or master class presenter recommend keeping a practice journal? I realize the superb benefits of such a journal but sometimes it seems so difficult to keep it together. That all changed for me, however, when I started thinking about crafting a content plan for singing and connecting with my supporters. Bloggers often create content plans to help them post consistently on topic. So, we’ll borrow a page from that textbook and work out our own singing content plan. In fact, I fell head-over-vertiginous heels for these free printable blog planners from Jenni at A Well Crafted Party. We can use them as an outline for creating our own plan.
Have a Plan
8 Days a Week
Doesn’t it feel like you need 8 days in a week to get to everything you want to do? Once you start planning ahead what you’ll do with the time you have available for practicing, you can become more efficient. Plus, you may plan what you need to cover and realize you need to make more time in your schedule to sufficiently prepare for your performance. That’s why I really enjoy Jenni’s “Weekly Blog Planner” for our purposes. It leaves enough space to write what you need to accomplish each day of the week. I imagine all you wonderful divas sitting down with your Sunday morning coffee (or evening Malbec?) and making a plan for your week, entering it into your calendars, and finally checking off the little “scheduled” box in the bottom right. Then, you can change the “published” box to “accomplished” and put a triumphant check mark there at the end of your practice session.
The social media icons are a good reminder to keep sharing consistently with your fans. This is a big part of the audience development aspect. You could even add another box for your occasional eblasts so that they aren’t an afterthought but something you plan ahead. If a recital happens in a forest… which is to say, remember to use your social media to its greatest power and connect with your main fan base.
Jenni’s planner includes: backup blog, comment replies, check design, and check links. To reframe this for our singing content plan, think of this checklist for your singerly things that need regular updating. You could easily add things like update repertoire list, check website calendar, reply to singing emails, look through YAPtracker, and check sound files. What other weekly tasks would you add to this category? If I’m gearing up for audition season again, I might include aria package run-through/review here. Maintenance is musical, physical, and digital when it comes to the diva life.
This is different from the social media connection above. This checklist serves as a list of the people you are meeting with to drive your singing business. Have a lesson? Have a coaching? Meeting a conductor or presenter for coffee? Put those face-to-face business meetings here. Include the repertoire that you will bring and a goal for the meeting and you are reaching super-planner diva status.
The only way to move forward is to look in that direction. Go back to your dream list and pick up those goals that you want to accomplish this quarter. Insert them into the plan and (it will seem like magic at first) you will be crossing them off the to-do list in no time. How will you continue to develop your audience next week? Write it down and commit to making it happen.
It’s time to make some noise. I would love to hear that runners joke re-purposed as such, “How do you know if someone’s an opera singer? Oh don’t worry, they’ve already invited you to their show and convinced you to bring ten friends.” That would sure make people sit up and take notice. Sometimes singers shy away from talking about their upcoming gigs. Maybe they feel like they’re crowing? Talk about your passions. People dig that!
Finally, having a content plan for bettering yourself as a musician and developing your audience is going to make you feel more in control of your diva life. Do you already use a content plan in this way? I would love to hear about how you make it work. Share your experiences with me in the comments below. I can’t wait to hear about it. Or, if you would like to share your super-planner diva status with the twitterverse, hit me up at @mezzoihnen.
Divas, we only have a couple of days left in my favorite month of the year. I hope you’ll join me for the last posts of this year’s 28 Days to Diva!
A musical score is a boundary object. “A boundary object is an artifact, document, or even an idea that helps people from different communities build a shared understanding. Boundary objects essentially provide a common point of reference for conversations and conventions; everyone can agree that they’re talking about and working towards x, even though they might not be actually thinking about the same specific things, ” Megan Winget observed in a report on “Annotations On Musical Scores By Performing Musicians…” The score is the object a composer gives to a performer to indicate her intentions for performance. To go from reading the score to performing the composition is what makes us specialized and skilled workers. You must be able to make musical decisions. How important is my part in the larger picture? Where should I stand? How can I build the musical tension to the climax of the piece? How can I sing with fabulous technique and still achieve the tone color the composer desires? All of these are questions that will arise during your score study and practice. As you excel in your field, you will only have more repertoire to learn at a quicker pace. Give yourself the advantage by being the most prepared one in the room.
Your Day 25 challenge is to Develop an Effective Score Study System
Time is money, darling. Which means two things. First, you can make more income by learning music better and faster than your competitors. Second, you will definitely lose money by not being prepared. Nobody has the time/money for you to learn the music during rehearsal. In school it may have worked to learn your part at home and everyone else’s in rehearsal. Not so in the professional world. You will need to show up knowing your part and the parts of other characters or ensemble members. Tears and gnashing of teeth are guaranteed if you do not heed this warning.
Have a Process
Your goal is to internalize the score so you could hear it in your mind as if it were being played out loud. We can turn this in to a checklist so that you have a practice plan. There are many elements of score study that are silent or require minimal sound. This is perfect for air travel, bus rides, and late nights in small apartments…
The First Glance
What do these basics tell you about the piece and how it should be performed? Use your considerable education to draw inferences and make conclusions from the beginning.
- Historical context:
- Tempo indications (mark them all)
- Expressive markings (mark them all)
- Dynamics (mark them all)
- When was the text written and by whom?
- Publisher (aka: is this the best edition available?):
- Any extended techniques or unusual notations or effects:
“Full-score preparation procedures of Upper-Level Undergraduates were similar to those displayed by Lower-Level Undergraduates in that there was little effort demonstrated to establish a general context of the piece, and participants tended to address elements in a similar random style.”¹ Be careful not to fall into this score study trap. We do not read books by just registering which letter is being used and in what order. We read for context. The first glance is just an overview. But, let that motivate you to look deeper into the context.
You may want to make a practice copy of your score so that you can mark it to your heart’s content. Lots of conductors like to use different colors for different considerations. You may choose to do the same.
- Number all measures.
- Get a sense of the landscape of the piece.
- Determine the key/modality & mark all key changes clearly.
- What is the big picture? How many sections are there and what happens in each?
- Melodic development
- The melodic development is going to be particularly important for singers. Identify motives and repetition.
- Harmonic organization
- For example, what is happening in the piano? How is that complement the vocal line?
- Rhythms — Be a singer who can count. Don’t make me say it again…
- Ask how complex meters will be grouped by the conductor.
- Text relationship
- Read the text aloud.
- Clearly mark the syllabic stresses (and any areas that should be purposefully unstressed – perhaps a schwa at the end of a rising line?)
- Write the literal translation word-for-word.
- Mark all breaths.
- What is the connection between the text and the composer’s harmonic/melodic choices?
Bring Your Best
- Distinctive characteristics: tension/release. How will you execute changes and distinctive characteristics without ‘giving away the surprise?’
- Check tempos and changes.
- How does the piece evolve?
- Are there any potential balance issues?
- Memorize structure and order of entrances.
- Mark any physical cues/gestures you may want to remember.
- Finally, listen to other recordings, if desired.
Next Level Sh*t
- Be able to describe the piece or parts of the work. How do you want the audience to respond?
I love these considerations from Geoffrey Thomas’ blog which he attributes to The Art of Delivery by Keith Hill and Marianne Ploger and Twelve Techniques for Increasing Listener Interest and Comprehension which is a summary of The Art of Delivery.
Gesture: Shape the voices like natural forms which we find pleasing: e.g. eggs, leaves, and swan’s necks.
Distortion: Without a few rough edges your music making will be insipid or plastic.
Sans souci: A bit of elegant abandon at the right moment is a sign of mastery. Without this a performance is tense and off-putting.
Stride: Certain tempos work because they correspond to the rate at which we process information.
Evaporation: This is a means of emphasis by whispering something important.
Hesitation: This is a means of emphasis by waiting before saying something important.
Crunch: This is where you allow extra time for something which is clashing.
Singing is about so much more than notes and words. Once you give yourself over to the details, emerge again to look at the piece as a whole. Fuse all of your findings from the process above into your performance. You’re right to think that it takes time to learn music this way. And yes, we’re all busy. We all have a choice how we spend our practice time. Being prepared helps ensure that you get asked back to perform with that company or ensemble again. Do you have some good score study tips that I can add to the list above? Share them with me in the comments. I’m always on the look-out for good suggestions that I can add to my process. Or, let me know on twitter at @mezzoihnen.