May 28, 2014

Certification and the García School

When I started reading old newspapers and articles on microfilm, I was interested in finding information on two key schools of singing, that being Manuel García and Francesco Lamperti. In terms of vocal archeology, I was looking for information on how they taught, and what they taught. I was also keen on finding exponents of both teachers, and in the course of my research observed that both schools had a process of certification. The García School, in particular, had stringent requirements, starting with a four-year course of study. However, this was just the beginning. Certified voice teachers then had to prepare five students for a professional career, these students being successful in opera or concert. In addition, García exponents also had to retrain five students who had been lead astray by bad instruction—a knotty proposition at best. Suffice it to say, there weren't a lot of pupils who earned this distinction. However, Anna E. Schoen-René was one of them, her teacher being Pauline Viardot-García, who was heard to intone: Students make the teacher!

All this to say: it wasn't enough to have stacks of facts at one's disposal. The successful teacher had have an intimate knowledge of their own instrument, be adept at diagnosing the voices of students, and prescribe the necessary course of action, as well have foreign language skill, and ready access to repertoire, intuition, and insight into the human mind.

That the student's first studies were conducted in a systematic matter, and involved months of exercises and the singing of scales? It is an approach that is becoming increasing rare.

"What kind of scales and exercises did you do?' I ask the young man with an advanced degree from a major conservatory, who expresses an interest in teaching voice.

"Oh, I just sang scales for a couple of weeks, to get ready to sing repertoire." He says this without a trace of irony in his voice, having spent time in a voice lab, and having studied anatomy, physiology and acoustics.

"Ok then!" I say. "For progress to be made, you'll need to sing scales, but in a specific manner, which I will show you."

I don't wait for him to agree. Nor do I blather on about theory. Instead, we get to work on a simple five-tone scale, getting every vowel lined up to its neighbor, taking the best qualities from each. From the expression on his face, you'd think we'd landed on the moon.

Photo of "The Love Song" by Burne-Jones, currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

May 23, 2014

Spoleto Bound

Home from Paris not even a week, and am I thinking about my next big trip, which will be to Spoleto, Italy, with Umbrian Serenades at the end of July. It will be my fourth time with this wonderful group, which was founded by Paulo Faustini, who has created something quite magical. 

Led by world-class conductor Joseph Flummerfelt, Umbrian Serenades brings professional and amateur singers together for 13 days in the jewel that is Spoleto, where participants rehearse in a frescoed 17th century rehearsal space, then perform four concerts in stunning 12th century performance spaces, all the while tasting and savoring all that Umbria has to offer—which is a lot! The program is well-paced, with ample time to wander off on your own, as well as several trips to nearby towns like Assisi. Did I mention the incredible Sagrantino grape you'll experience, as well as the Tabarrini rose that will knock your socks off, and the delectable truffle pasta that melts in your mouth? It's all waiting an hour-and-half northeast of Rome, in the green heart of Italy! 

The photo above was snapped a couple of weeks ago at my home/studio in New York, when my good friend John Peschitelli—who sang with me last summer—visited for a few days. We didn't know each other before we sang in the bass section together, even though we have a mutual friend (the world of music is a small place, believe me), and bonded one bright morning after climbing Monteluco mountain, where a sacred forest and ancient monastery is located—where Leonardo da Vinci stayed for a time while outwitting hostile forces in Rome. (You can take a bus to the top if you prefer.) That's the thing about Umbrian Serenades. It's not unusual to meet people who become part of your life, music having an uncanny way of bringing you closer to others, and dare I say, closer to yourself. 

For me, music is something of a religion. It's what I believe in. When I sing and make music, I feel part of something greater than myself. What that is exactly is a matter of debate. The scientists among us will say this is simply a matter of the two hemispheres of the brain talking to each other in fine form, but I believe more is involved. Musicians are always talking about soul—whether the singer, song or performance touches one and possesses that indefinable quality which cannot be measured on a graph, but is no less apprehended by the senses. All I can say is this: Umbrian Serenades puts you in touch with THAT. Each time I go, I come back renewed, restored and reinvigorated, ready to jump back into the things that really matter to me, my purpose having been clarified. That's why John and I are standing there grinning from ear to ear. The alchemy that is Umbrian Serenades did its number on us, and we can't wait to go back.  

Paulo may have a few openings left. Please contact him for details. 

May 22, 2014

Finding Manuel García's Studio in Paris

One of my first posts on VoiceTalk was about Manuel García's (1805-1906) studio at 6 rue Chabanais in Paris, which included an account of the famous maestro's teaching there. How wonderful to be walking down that same street six years later! (Have fun using the "street view" on Google Maps!) 

Rue Chabanais is located between the Louvre and two opera houses, that is, the Opera Garnier and Opera Comique. García's studio is a short 10 minute walk from both, the Opera Comique being where his sister Pauline Viardot-García had many of her triumphs. 

As you can see, the doorways in Paris are quite large! Garcia's studio was on the third floor, which has large windows which admit a lot of light, the window guards and the reconfiguration of the second floor windows being a modern addition. As the account in the link above notes, García's studio had red velvet curtains, a grand piano, and a book case. Did he live here as well? Of that I am not certain, but it is highly possible if one considers his living arrangement in London. 

Unfortunately, the shop on the ground floor was closed. Otherwise, I would have asked about the resident two floors above, and perhaps see something of the building. Not having access, I had to content myself with taking pictures of the facade, which is in the middle of the block. 

Currently, rue Chabanais has several Chinese and Japanese eateries, an art gallery, as well as a nice looking restaurant on the northern corner which borders a park. 

The latter has a lovely fountain which was built a decade before built García left Paris for London.  He would have walked right by it on his way to the opera.

This same park is one of the places where Jewish residents were rounded up before being sent off to concentration camps during the second world war. 

It was a heady experience is stand in the very same street where García taught. Of course, his teaching does not reside in a place (we have to look to his works and those of his students for that), but it was a thrill to be in the very place where he taught many famous singers and voice teachers. 

May 19, 2014

Finding Manuel García I in Pére Lachaise (and a few other things)

You really didn't think I would go all the way to Paris, locate Pauline Viardot-García in Montmartre Cemetery, and leave without locating her father, did you? That's exactly what I set out to do on a windy, somewhat rainy morning on May 12th. Finding the division in which the great García was buried wasn't a problem. However, finding his grave stone within that division wasn't easy, if only because I relied on information from a google search, which, as I later found out, was incomplete. What was I going on? Information that told me García's grave stone was near Moliére's tomb, which is true enough if you know what you are looking for. But I couldn't find anything with García's name on it. So, after looking all over the 25th division for an hour, I gave up, went back to the apartment where we were staying, and did a comprehensive search.  

Pére Lachaise Cemetery is a big place, and somewhat confusing when encountered for the first time. As it is, García's grave is located at the intersection of the 24th, 25th, and 26th divisions—right on the corner of the 25th to be exact. My second trip, on a sunny morning a few days later? Well… I forgot to take my iPhone with me, so did not snap my own photograph of the great singer's resting place as I did when I went to Viardot-García's grave in Montmartre. Sorry! However, you can see what it looks like if you go to Pére Lachaise's virtual site. Just click on the dot at the intersection of aforementioned divisions. How will you know what you are looking for? Open another page on your browser, and go to this excellent page, and then go back to the virtual site. If I had done this before my first visit, I would have found García within minutes. 

The big problem? The last link is correct insofar as the lettering on García's grave is almost worn off from the elements. That's one reason I had such a hard time. Within a decade or so, it will be unmarked. The link also shows the family grave of García II's first wife, Eugenie Mayer, which is almost directly across from that of Manuel García I in Pére Lachaise Cemetery in the 26th division, as well as that of Garcia II and his two sisters, the famous Malibran and Viardot-Garcia. All this from a Google search.

García's grave found, I stood on the path that borders division 25, which runs right in front of it, thought about his teachings which were recorded in his son's works, and which Herman Klein illuminated further in The Phono-Vocal Method, and got really, really quiet. 

May 16, 2014

Finding Pauline Viardot-García in Montmartre

If you wondered about the dearth of posts these past two weeks, I can supply the answer: I have been in Paris. While visiting the City of Lights, I observed the teaching of a highly skilled vocal pedagogue (more on that later), and took time to trace the presence of the García family, which is very much part of  the city's history, their teaching being my life's work. First on my list was the resting place of Pauline Viardot-García, which is in Montmartre Cemetery, located a few blocks away from the famous Moulin Rouge. 

Viardot-García's grave was not hard to find, if only because it is clearly marked on a sign at the entrance with other famous inhabitants. A short walk up the hill and to the left, and there she was, right in the middle of 20th division, her name clearly marked on the grave stone, which stands almost nine feet tall, and contains a niche in which I found a long dead pot of flowers. The niche itself being designed to house a light, I imagined finding her in the dusk of evening among the other tombs, many of which would also have been alight, an experience which would be quite evocative, and brought to mind Samuel Barber's song The Desire for Hermitage, which sang silently throughout my visit. 

With Mme. Viardot-García is her husband Louis Viardot (d. 1883),  Jenny Viardot (d. 1849), Mme. Viardot (d. 1831), and J. Ruiz García (d. 1912). 

Pauline Viardot-García once said that the measure of a teacher could be found in his/her students. When I consider that her student Anna E. Schoen-René was highly successful as a teacher of voice, and taught my own teacher Margaret Harshaw, who was considered the doyenne of voice teachers and had a profound impact on many singers, I count myself very lucky indeed.

It was a honor to pay homage to The Oracle of Paris