September 30, 2013

How to Kill an Opera Company in 5 Easy Steps

In film, murders are always very clean. I show how difficult it is, and what a messy thing it is to kill a man. —Alfred Hitchcock

The successful devolution of a great American opera company, one that gives stage experience to hundreds of young singers in myriad performances a year, involves the following steps:

1. Hire a general director who knows nothing about running an opera company. This leads to step two. 
2. Get rid of anyone who knows more about opera than you do. Start with the dramaturge and work your way through the rest of the staff: this includes the orchestra and chorus. 
3. Leave home. Make sure you lose your subscriber base, your audience can't find you, and your donors smell blood in the water. 
4. Destroy the past. This is what every effective Egyptian pharaoh does. It's not enough to simply deface it. No, you must destroy it: this includes your sets, costumes, archives and music library. Once the historical record has been erased, you can re-write it.   
5. Spend down your endowment, then rely on the kindness of strangers. 

Easy enough, right? 

September 28, 2013

The Art of Blogging

So you want to have your own a blog, huh? Having blogged for a number of years, I humbly offer the following advice.

1. Have something to offer. In my case, this has meant sharing my interest in—and fascination with—historical vocal pedagogy. The reader wants information. The more useful the better. Don't waste your time opining if you don't have a "go to" thought involved. Otherwise, you risk being like the bad director who can say nothing more than: "No...don't go there." He ultimately fails because his eye is on what not to do, rather than what to do. Wanna be stuck in a room with that guy?  
2. Have a clear understanding of why you want to blog. If you are a private teacher of singing and think blogging is going to bring you students, I have news for you: it ain't gonna happen that way. Students will come to you because you are a good voice teacher, and produce good singers who will talk about your teaching to other people. That's the dominant way in which you will build your studio. Yes, some may arrive at your doorstep after reading your blog, but they are the exception, not the rule.  
3. Keep it up! Don't write a few posts and then drop the ball. Sure, you may take a break from time to time. But once you establish a relationship with your readers, you will need to take care of it. Try to keep a rhythm going for at least a year, even if it you only blog once a week.  
4. If you blog long enough about things your readers care about, you will hear from them. This makes it all worthwhile—at least for me anyway. Case it point: I have an amazing little book in my possession that was offered to me by a reader half-way around the world. Another reader contacts me from South Africa. He lives at the top of a mountain—way out in the middle of nowhere. I love hearing from him. Still another lives in Ohio, and is still singing at the age of 80. Make sure you to respond to your readers!  
5. Create an attractive blog. If the print is too small, the colors jarring, and content lacking, you are wasting your time. The reader won't want to spend time at your site. Blogging is a visual medium first and foremost. Get the packaging right and you are halfway there. 
6. Let your interests guide you. This gives you staying power, and helps you create your "brand." When you have it: don't mess with it too much.  
7. Give the reader information wrapped in a story. Make it compelling. The post I wrote about tinnitus? It went around the world a couple time because it gave the reader information that was presented with a clear narrative "voice." This is what is lacking in journal writing, which is geared towards obtaining tenure and raising one's status among other wizards. That's all very well and good, but it's the wrong approach for a blog. Share something of yourself, and the reader will see themselves reflected in your words. Sure. You might feel vulnerable doing this, but so do singers who are first starting out. 
8. Find your voice by using it. Trying to write like another person is like trying to be a soprano when you sound like a bass. It never works. It's really Ok to have your own style and expression. Embrace it. That said: do watch your tone of voice. If you use your blog to rant about other teachers and all all manner of things, you ultimately risk losing your reader. This goes back to my first point. Negativity is a turn-off, both in the studio and on the page. Like anger (a fire that burns everything in sight), it's use must be strategic rather than habitual. If the latter, your message won't be heard.  
9. Edit and proofread by reading your post out loud! I have to remind myself to do this, of course, since I will click "publish" and then realize—oh boy—I misspelled something or left out a word. Reading your posts out loud will help you catch all your typos and fix your grammar.  
10. Have fun! Blogging is a service to the reader. It can also establish a platform for other projects—my recent book project being a case in point—and give you authority. But your platform won't be established until you have found your voice and have some experience behind you. Make it fun and interesting for both you and your reader. That way, everyone wins. 

September 27, 2013

Construction Ahead!

I hope, dear reader, that you are not too alarmed at recent changes to VoiceTalk. I've wanted to "lighten up" the look for some time now, and went ahead and did the deed this morning, which meant choosing a different "template." It will allow both of us to link posts with less fussing—among other things. The change is not complete however, since I lost the "centering" of the title and am still fiddling with colors, which will all be sorted out. My hope is that these changes will enable you to read with more ease. That's really what it's all about. 

Thank you for reading VoiceTalk. I love hearing from you! 

Addendum: September 29th, 2013. After much fiddling, I have settled on a "look" for a revamped VoiceTalk. For those curious about such things, the "header" photograph (which captures the old Met c c. 1940) has been restored to its original coloration, while the overall color of the blog has been simplified with black, grey and white—the photographs providing the accent. Everything else in its previous position. I hope it's easier on the eye for you. Drop me a line if you have concerns or questions.

The Twilight of New York City Opera

New York City Opera at Lincoln Center (1966-2011) 

The papers were flooded with headlines concerning New York City Opera yesterday, namely, that the board of directors had met and decided that they would declare bankruptcy if the company was not able to raise a million dollars by Monday. Such will be the end of a major arts organization, one which prided itself on being the means by which American singers made their way onto the stages of the nation and world. But all that is in the past. For the past two years, the once great New York City Opera has been reduced to a shadow of its former self. 

My own tenure with the company lasted twenty-three seasons, during which time I sang in seventy operas, musicals and operattas. I would leave the stage door after a performance, cross Lincoln Center Plaza, and look back at the jewel box lights on the promenade, and say to myself that I was the luckiest guy in the world. My heart will always be with my colleagues, with whom I had the privilege and honor of sharing the stage.

Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music" at New York City Opera in 1990, with Sally Ann Howes and George Lee Andrews. 

September 26, 2013

The García School: George Britton

George Britton (1910-2010)

George Britton—the handsome dapper man in the publicity shot from the 1940's—was a student of Anna E. Schoen-René, the musical daughter of Pauline Viardot-García and Manuel García. Britton—a baritone—studied with Schoen-René at Juilliard in the 1930's. 

I found the photo and searched for information on Britton some years ago, but came up empty-handed. Then today, I happened to conduct another search, and found that his Wikipedia page had been updated, and that he had died only a few years ago. To think: I could have talked to him about his studies had I known where to find him!  But that didn't happen, unfortunately.

If you know anything about Britton, please do contact me. I'd like to know more about the man, his studies with Schoen-René, and his musical life. I did come in contact with a soprano who had some lessons with him, but would like to know more. She told me he traveled to Israel and taught there, but that isn't reflected in anything currently available. Thank you for your assistance, it is much appreciated! 

September 17, 2013

Rose Pauly Sings Abscheulicher - Fidelio

Rose Pauly (1894-1975)
If you've watched the video I created for my Kickerstarter campaign Hidden In Plain Sight: The Herman Klein Phono-Vocal Method, you heard Rose Pauly sing  part of Beethoven's Abscheulicher from  his great opera Fidelio. Harmonie Autographs and Music Inc graciously allowed me to use the audio. Truth to tell: I had never listened to Rose Pauly before. What a voice and technique! She just blew my socks off!

Since I used only part of the aria for the video, I thought you might want to hear the whole piece, and have included it below. You hear Pauly's glistening voice recorded via the electric process in Berlin  in 1927.

I encourage you to click on the link to Pauly's name above, since there is excellent biographical information at Cantabile-Subito. If you haven't spent some time there, I encourage you to do so. It's a great source of information on singers within the Old School.

Regarding resources on Pauly: There is an excellent bio which you can find here. Her Wikipedia page in German is also quite good, while those who require the English translation  can find it here. If you want to hear more of her voice, ArkivMusic has this recording, while the Opera Quarterly has an interesting article which you can find here, though to read it properly, you will have to obtain an account or go to a library where you can read it via  a datebase called Jstor, which this writer has used quite a lot at the New York Public Library.
Pauly as Elektra

Speaking of which: I was at the NYPL the other day, and was shocked to find that most the reference materials that were housed in a room at the 3rd floor research division had been removed. In speaking to a librarian, I was told that a only few of them would return. To access them in the future, I would need to put in a call slip. "Are you kidding?" I thought, but didn't say. "Those are resources that I and others use over and over again, and were placed in their own room by a very smart librarian." I thought that too, but kept my mouth shut. The librarian I made the inquiry to was as shocked as I, which I could plainly see by the deer-in-the-headlight look on his face. What are they putting in the room instead of books? Tables and chairs. Are they going to need them? I doubt it. It's not like the research division is overflowing with people. I know: I am there quite a bit. However, they may have other plans afoot that I haven't seen yet. Right now, there is a Cafe on the ground floor where part of the the circulating collection used to be. Where has that gone? I have no idea.

There's a theme here, even though my part about the library is trivial compared to the life of Rose Pauly. What is that theme? Knowledge and access to it. Pauly studied with Rosa Papier-Paumgartner, who had been a student of Mathilde Marchesi, herself a student of Manuel García. When you listen to Pauly, you really do hear the technique of the García School. That is what jumped out at me. You hear a highly placed voice, one that is full and rich in compass, and seems to come right from the face. That's the García technique in of the mouth of a dramatic soprano. It's also a technique that is being displaced by newer methods. Take it out of sight, put it in another room  - a conceptual one if you will -  one where Old School teachings are discarded as obsolete - and  it as good as gone.

Photographs courtesy of Harmonie Autographs and Music Inc.

September 15, 2013

Hidden In Plain Sight: LAUNCHED!

It's almost 1:30 AM here in New York as I write, and I don't think I've ever written a post while my heart was pounding. Why is that, you ask? I just "launched" Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method based upon the Famous School of Manuel Garcia at Kickstarter

I've been at work getting Hidden in Plain Sight out to the world for a long while now. Now, it is finally happening!

For all my readers out there: please know that this book is the heart and soul of all that I believe in, which is giving people information that can make a difference in their singing and teaching. Real stuff too, not just theory. That has been my intent behind this blog since the very beginning.

Many people have helped me create this project, none the least of which is the generous assistance of Bill Ecker at Harmonie Autographs, who provided the fabulous recording of Rose Pauly that is featured in the video. The truth is that, for the really important stuff? Well...we don't do it alone. I am reminded of that now more than ever. 

Thank you for taking a look at Hidden In Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method based upon the Famous School of Manuel Garcia. All you have to do is click on the "K." Once there, you'll see what the cover looks like: what is contained in Klein's text: and the details about getting it published. 

Thank you for your support! It is so greatly appreciated! 

September 5, 2013

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based Upon The Famous School Of Manuel Garcia (1909)

Herman Klein (1856-1934)
Quite the title, isn't it? Let me shed some light on it. 

I became the founding editor of VOICEPrints - The Official Journal of The New York Singing Teachers Association in 2003, holding the post for five years until relinquishing it to the very able Matthew Hoch, who has been at the helm ever since. While editor, I contributed a number of articles to the journal (which you can find in the right hand column of this blog), but had not written another another until Dr. Hoch graciously made an overture. I said yes, of course, and then thought about what I would write. It didn't take me long to decide. 

Ever present in my thoughts was a book I "discovered" almost by chance after attending a interview/masterclass given by Joan Sutherland in 1998. It informed my teaching and the lessons I received from Margaret Harshaw, clarifying what I knew of the studio practice of Anna E. Schoen-René, Manuel García and his sister Pauline Viardot-García. That is the professional way to say things. The real deal? Finding the Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method set my hair on fire, and I thought it time that other teachers and students of the voice knew about Klein's book.

The article has just been uploaded at The New York Singing Teachers Association website. You can find it here. It gives the reader a taste of a much longer 84-page document, one that was once considered lost. Its historic important should not be underestimated. Herman Klein (sharp readers will notice the variation in spelling of his first name) provides the reader with actual studio practice by virtue of having studied with García for four years; having taught voice for fourteen years at the Guildhall School of Music in London; and having founded the National Association of Teachers of Singing. Klein had a life-long association with García, and came to teach in New York with his blessing. (He wrote The Phono-Vocal Method while trying - and failing - to institute professional standards for singing teachers in America.) I can say without exaggeration, having researched a great number of texts, that there are only a handful that contain García's pedagogical fingerprints. This is one. Reading Klein's words, you feel as though you are having a lesson with the Master himself - a very rare thing indeed.  

I am preparing Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based Upon The Famous School Of Manuel Garcia for publication later this Fall. My article will be expanded and Klein's original text presented in facsimile. My hope is that you will gain as much from it as I have.

Klein's "lost" work has come home - as it were - since he was the first chairman of the organization that now calls itself The New York Singing Teachers Association (NATS changed its name to NYSTA in 1917, while the current NATS was founded in 1944). I am honored to reintroduce Klein's historic book to members of NYSTA and readers here. 

September 4, 2013

Teresa Radomski: Manuel García (1805-1906) A Bicentenary Reflection

Manuel García (1805-1906) 

If you asked me what would be on a short list regarding the García School, I would tell you an essay by Teresa Radomski is right at the top. Presented in 2005 at the International Congress of Voice Teachers in Vancouver, her adroit and comprehensive study of the García School celebrated the two hundredth year of Manuel García's birth. Radomski's essay is a perfect jewel in its construction. She has a complete grasp of the historical and technical achievements of the great maestro's discoveries. Read it here. Then send a link to this post to someone you know. Students and teachers of the voice need to know of Ms. Radomski's excellent work. It's great stuff. 

September 3, 2013

Learning from Gérard Souzay

Gérald Souzay 

I've written about Gérard Souzay's singing before (which you can find by clicking on the label at the bottom of this post): yet today, I want to revisit his singing -  if only because I have been working on a Duparc song he sings so eloquently. I've been on my own vocal journey - and Souzay has been there from the beginning. 

Teaching has been a big part of that journey too. Having to demonstrate keeps me on my toes. I don't find it tiring. On the contrary, it gives me a lot of energy. (Yes- I do have to pace myself. The day can't be too long.) 

There is also the matter of what I teach, and in the studio that means breathing, pure vowels, open throat and placement- to use terms from the Old Italian School. One important vehicle? The five cardinal vowels. /i/ /e/ /a/ /o/ /u/. One by one, one to the other, mixed and matched, on simple scales and single tones. Each one gives the student a specific aural experience. Learn what they have to give and the voice eventually takes off.

My tack has always been to find what works and then "transfer" over from that. If /e/ works better then /i/, then we start with that, these two vowels being useful in obtaining "ring." (For many people /i/ is spoken and sung with a closed throat, while /e/ is more open.) Once the student has the experience of what works and what doesn't, I hear myself using the "Bowling Lane" analogy.

If you get the ball going the right way at the beginning, you are more likely to make a strike.
 However, if you start in the gutter, you are doomed from the start. 

This "start with what works" approach makes things a lot easier for everyone. The trick is getting the student to remember how to help themselves when practicing at home in ten minute sessions. How to find their "strike."

Using what works is a training wheel. It's taken off only after balance in obtained - which takes awhile. It's put back on when there is trouble, which is a necessary part of the learning process. It has to be utilized a ga-zillion times, just like kids who say "ma-ma" over and over until other sounds and sentences start coming out. I've written before that singing is a language, which I believe now more than ever. You don't learn the grammar of singing, that is, anatomy and physiology, to "speak" singing: you learn the sounds! You immerse yourself in them! 

Sometimes a student comes into the studio with the express purpose of fixing a specific problem, and while I am happy to address their concern, I am acutely aware that what they think of as the problem may not be the problem at all. 

Can't get that high note? What about that weird vowel you are singing on the note before it? You know, the one that sounds like "uh" instead of "ah"? 

The five vowels. Get them right in your middle voice and the heavens will open. That's what the Old Italian School teachers thought anyway. It's simple of course. So simple as to be overlooked. 

In the end, what we learn to do—if we have learned anything—is to become our own teacher. Of course, I didn't make that idea up. I've heard it expressed by both the Buddha and Pauline Viardot-García, the latter saying that someone can help you a little, but in the end you have to do it yourself. The Buddha? In the moment before his death, he is quoted as instructing his disciples to rely on themselves. 

Of course, someone has to give you the tools. I am getting a little aural help from Souzay, since our voices are similar (not forgotten is the coaching I had with a very gifted colleague who encouraged me to sing Mélodie with Souzay as my model). Then I am reworking Duparc's Chanson triste. Why now? It's teaching and singing all those vowels in the studio. I've learned a thing or two.

September 2, 2013

Katarina Pilotti: The Road to Bel Canto

You have only to google certain things to end up halfway across the world, reading about another singer who has the same interests as you. 

That's how I found Katarina Pilotti and her master's thesis entitled "The Road to Bel Canto." Click on the link and you enter the world of Garcia and Lamperti - one which, of course, fascinates this writer. It is an excellent work: containing clear, concise information regarding the acquisition of classical bel canto vocal production. What is most interesting about her thesis is that she credits historically-based vocal techniques as regenerating her voice and career. 

Readers will learn about Signe Hebbe (1817-1925), who studied with Francesco Lamperti in Milan, and observe that Anna E. Schoen-René is referenced, as are many other important 'bel canto' voice teachers. Ms. Pilotti really has done her homework.

She's also an accomplished singer with a beautiful voice, as you can hear below.