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Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Consternation of Coloratura Cadenza Crafting

Well, hello all! Welcome to another Thursday morning, just like any other really, except for the nagging guilt of my taking time off of cadenza research and instead writing this blog post for you! Why do I write today, you ask? Does it have to do with the cacophonous collision of c's in the title of this blog post? Why yes, yes it does. My, aren't you awake this morning!

Currently I find myself in a 'Groundhog Day' of sorts. One which was created by the dreaded task that faces all singers sooner or later, and especially those of my particular voice type: Coloratura Sopranos. Ha!- as if it wasn't enough that we have to sing the dang things, someone still decided to rub it in by naming our variety of Soprano by the very thing that is currently making me look for excuses to clean the house, namely, coloratura cadenzas. Coming up with cadenzas with coloratura passages that ultimately show off your voice but also 'fit' the style of the music is something that each and every singer will either totally love or completely dread. Guess which side I'm on? That's right, the dread side.

And sadly, dread it I do. Because what's there to love? I'm not a good enough piano player to work them out on my own (like some people can do who just sit down at the piano and say, "Hmm, this is built on a dominant chord so let's see here....(and then play something totally amazing) and then be like "....yeah, that'll work." And then they don't even need to WRITE IT DOWN to remember it. Show-offs.) No, I'm certainly not one of those people. And I'm also not one of those people who just has the creativity to keep trying to make things up by ear until something sounds good (because, let's face it, what I think sounds good and what the people who know the style think sounds good, are two very different things). So, what I'm left with (Garn!) is doing research instead. In concrete terms, that means that I listen to a thousand different versions of the aria that contains the cadenza passage (which okay, there's not a thousand, but it certainly does feel like it after you've listened to every person of note singing the aria and then rewound each cadenza at least three times to listen to what they're doing, and then transcribe it (!!!) and then compare all of them side-by-side to determine which ones you like the best, or if any of them happen to lend themselves to being combined together to make something a bit old and still a bit new....) and then finally, after that long process, figure out which ones are right for me and my voice and my sense of the drama (by singing through all of them, naturally). And until that point, my friends, sometimes days have gone by! And this is just one Aria we're talking about!!! God forbid it has a da capo and then you've got to figure out all new ornaments for the second time around.

Of course there is that moment where you finally find the cadenzas that you want to use and then it seems as if the heavens have opened up and Beverly Sills and Sumi Jo and Joan Sutherland are all patting you on the back.......but that's a very short-lived moment.

So.....while you take this moment to ponder how I can improve my cadenza research so that it takes less time (please God, is there actually a way!?) and let me know your ideas in the comments below, I'm going to go vacuum the apartment. :)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Musician's Responsibility to Humanity in Times of Crisis

In light of all the things which have been happening recently (especially the most recent mass shootings and bombings in Paris carried out by ISIS) and all of the terribly violent crimes against humanity that have happened in the recent past (the Ferguson shooting, all the horrible genocides taking place throughout Africa and the Middle East, the war in Afghanistan, the silent takeover of the Krim by Russia....the list could go on and on) I feel that I need to talk about our role as Musicians in society when circumstances like these provide us the opportunity to make a real change. Not that our music making wasn't already altering the lives of those who witnessed it, but rather, in situations of less volatility, our music's message may not have been understood with as much gravitas as is possible now.

Why is it that whenever there is too much sadness in the world people look to music to give hope, provide insight, ease discomfort and affect change? (Of course there are those who would argue that music has also played a large role in wartime; there's nothing like a spirited marching song or beloved national anthem which rallies troops. This article from Historynet.com provides some interesting insight into that topic, if you'd like to read further.) However, today I want to talk about the positive, transformational power of music, and our responsibility as Musicians in using it thusly. (Because as I am sure you fellow Musicians can all agree, any of the world famous composers whose works were re-purposed for the sake of rallying troops into battle would be utterly horrified by the fact that their music could now be connected with giving soldiers the spirit to go out and kill other human beings. I've not found anything while reading composer's bios (Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Strauss... take your pick) which indicates that they were fans of war, and in fact, the only thing I really remember taking to heart about all of these world-famous-musical-giants was that they were all incredibly emotionally sensitive and clued-in to the subtle underpinnings of our being here on this earth, so much so that many of them were recluse. So, I guess that's my way of saying, "Take that! All you people who would try to argue that Beethoven's symphonies were practically written for war. He and his other famous contemporaries were basically pacifists, or had simply too much common sense to support anything, like war, which caused harm to the human race.")

Nonetheless, I digress. (Ha- that rhymes!) Sorry.....back to the main point, which is: there is a critical amount of hatred, fear, misunderstanding and reactivity in this world we live in today, and I hope that each and every one of you takes the chance in the next few days, weeks and months, to do something about it by creating music which counteracts all this evil. We all know that there are songs which are particularly poignant and appropriate to this current climate, and we all know at least one location where we could give a concert which would reach a large audience (...whether or not you get paid! Consider- this is truly a chance to make a difference on a larger scale- and isn't THAT why we all became Musicians in the first place?!?). You could enlist your friends and colleagues to help you organize it (if you've got friends who are in advertising get them to make your posters, if you've got friends in web design get them to make you a quick, easy website, if you've got friends who are always on social media get them to spread the word about your performance, etc!) and therefore, we do not have any more excuses (about lack of time or resources, because who the heck wouldn't want to help you create something SO GOOD for the benefit of everyone?!) to not be spreading the positive energy through our performances. And then video record it and share it on YouTube and Facebook. Because one concert can go a long way nowadays thanks to recording technology.

You know, good-energy-creation is also boosted by doing more than just selecting throught-provoking repertoire. You can use the space in between pieces to talk about your own thoughts and feelings about our current global situation and how that relates directly to you and those in your community. Once you're on that stage, you've got time until the show's over. So use it- be brave and speak honestly and with compassion. Talk about how subconsciously holding onto these negative feelings lead to a stressed-out society. Or how such feelings manifest mistrust amongst people of different cultures.  Maybe you could explain how a general feeling of anxious alertness hampers your creativity? Why not remind them of the inherent artistry of each and every human being, and with the number of people dying in wars (of various kinds) nowadays, we are losing unknown riches by never allowing the voices of those who are the victims to be shared. At any rate, there are many reasons to talk to your audience members, and to help them realize that now they have the responsibility to carry the message onward.