Three Things I Learned From The American Arias Concert

One thing you can usually depend on as a classical singer is that the composer is really not invested in how you sing your music. Mozart is not going to come back from the dead if I sing an eighth instead of a quarter somewhere in an aria. HOWEVER all that changes once you are lucky enough to work on a piece with the composer. Singing and coaching with the person who wrote the song or the opera? That’s not intimidating, right? RIGHT?

Hah. It was intimidating, but Leonard Lehrman was lovely to work with and I think everyone who coaching his or her repertoire with him felt the same way.  I’ve never experienced working with the composer of my repertoire before, and I’m so glad I got to work with Dr. Lehrman and participate in the American Arias Concert- I’ve included some little lessons below.

 One- There is a wealth of repertoire waiting to be found and performed!

This concert was full of music that I’d never heard before, and loved. Jeremy Hirsch, one of my fellow bloggers, gave one of my favourite performances of the night-  “The Cradle Will Rock”, the title song from the 1937 opera. Another favourite piece from the program was “The Nickel Under the Foot”, sung by Nicole Smith, again from The Cradle Will Rock. Those two pieces are repertoire that will never be sung by me, sadly (again with the #sopranoproblems) BUT there was also a wealth of wonderful soprano repertoire that I’d never heard before- especially “I Wish It So” sung by Laura Noack and “Dublin Song” sung by Allison Mills. These pieces would be wonderful choices for any sopranos, especially those looking to step away from typical repertoire choices. You can bet any audition panel has heard every interpretation of “Vedrai, carino” umpteen times, but it’s a far greater chance that they’ve never or seldom heard “Dublin Song”.   I know in my program at York we are strongly encouraged to seek out modern repertoire, and the jury panels and teachers welcome hearing new music. This recital program was all American music, and I’d be interested to see a similar idea next year at HSOW, but maybe with Canadian repertoire? DEAR CANADIAN COMPOSERS: email Nina and you too can be in residency in HSOW for a week and have ALL THE FUN.

Two- Solos are great, but ENSEMBLES ARE THE MOST FUN

I love ensemble work. I think singers by nature are gregarious and cooperative and whatnot, but so much of the work we do is solitary- arias and auditions and practice sessions are not team sports. Getting to work with my colleagues on duets and trios is always a lot of fun for me, so I’m glad in the recital program to have had two trios and a duet. (Thank you Laura and Allison, Alex and Pedro, and Will!)  Singing in ensemble challenges you in different ways than in solo repertoire- you have to know when to balance and blend, and when to grab your moment within the piece, and to communicate with each other in rehearsal and in performance. Laura, Allison, and I had the closer to the program- a rollicking trio from Lehrman’s “E.G: A Musical Portrait of Emma Goldman” The trio was called “If I Can’t Dance” and involved a dance break at one point where we had to grab members from the audience to dance with us (Thank you Phil!)  It was challenging but we pulled it off with at least a little pizzazz. Also verve. Perhaps moxie as well. Helene Williams, Dr. Lehrman’s wife, and a great soprano in her own right, could taught a course on pizzazz and moxie and verve- she was a dynamo, and her solos as well as duets with Max Zander and Nina Scott-Stoddart, and especially with Dr. Lehrman, were a treat to watch. So even when you’re not in the ensembles, or solos, you can learn a great deal from watching your colleagues (something that was evident in the masterclass series at HSOW, which just wrapped up this week).

 Three- it’s all in the delivery.

Dr. Lehrman refers to himself as a “non-singer”, but he performed admirably in duets and solos throughout the program. My favourite was “Penny Candy” from No For An Answer check this. You can sing the pitches correctly and be the most rhythmic musician there ever was, but if you don’t believe in what you’re singing, you won’t convince anyone. Dr. Lehrman put so much energy and conviction into his music that it didn’t matter whether he was singing with beautiful tone and perfect intonation- we believed him and loved his performance for that reason. You gotta sell it. “If I Can’t Dance” worried me before the concert because it was a low, fast patter song about a woman who was full of anger and hated by thousands of people- I don’t really “do” angry- I’m not a particularly fire-y person. However, if I wanted to close the program and sing “If I Can’t Dance” with Laura and Allison, I had to find some way to believe in myself as Emma Goldman and really sell the trio. I don’t think I did it perfectly, but I think I pushed myself more than I have before to inhabit this character who is so different from myself.

The American Aria Concert was great fun, thank you to Nina, Marja, Dr. Lehrman, and Helene, and my fellow performers for their mentoring, organization, and collaboration!

american arias



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