The SongFest Experience

On the day before the end of this program, I'd like to take a step back from the daily cataloguing of my experiences here and offer a wider view of what I believe SongFest is. 

The legend of SongFest is that it started 20 years ago when Rosemary Ritter got a couple of her teacher friends together and decided to hold a workshop on art song on the campus of UCLA - the workshop had five students. We don't know how long it was, what sort of concerts they did, or how she got the idea to have such a workshop, but we do know that rather than it fizzling out after a year or two, it grew. Perhaps it was because Rosemary has a lot of connections, perhaps it was because it was one of the only summer singing workshops in the country that didn't include producing an opera or any of the casting drama/competition therein, but perhaps it was because it was Rosemary's "baby", and she felt the need to give it the kind of nurturing that only a mother can give.

Twenty years later, SongFest is nothing short of a month-long miracle. After going through growing pains for many years stemming from trying to bring so many world-class talents into such a "family-style" program, Rosemary and staff have reached a harmonic equilibrium. What used to be a structure that tried to get everyone to be at everything has now become beautifully tiered into full-program masterclasses, group-specific masterclasses, and private coachings and lessons. When you're not at any of those, there are other classes to be at that are held in a variety of media, whether it's in preparation for a themed concert or just for fun. When you're not at a class, perhaps you're at any of the plethora of concerts held here during the month, whether it's a guest artist recital, a faculty artist recital, a CD release event, an alumni concert, or of course a student concert. When you're not at any of those, perhaps you're getting food at the Colburn Café, which is honestly such a great place to eat that it transcends what anyone's expectations of a school cafeteria are - and it's all included in the program cost. When you're not doing any of that, perhaps you're hanging out in your extremely spacious dorm suite and private single room with views of Walt Disney Concert Hall and the LA Opera building, where not only the students but all of the faculty are housed. When you find some free time, perhaps you and some friends decide to take an uber to Santa Monica beach or West Hollywood, or walk to an LA Opera production or either of the world-class art museums across the street. Sure, all of that sounds pretty great, but it doesn't even take into account the best thing about the program: the people.

At the price point of this month-long program, which is actually less than a month of out-of-state tuition/room and board at CCM, one would expect a program with the kind of structure and perks listed above to have maybe fifteen really solid teachers and a few guest artists for the 103 singers and 19 pianists studying here. Instead, there are 27 faculty members and 11 guest artists encompassing big names like Thomas Hampson, Peter Sellars, Jake Heggie, John Musto, and Libby Larsen. Faculty members come from all of the most respected places - from Juilliard to Eastman to CCM to San Francisco Conservatory to Mannes to New England Conservatory to the University of Michigan and more. All of the students here are honestly baffled that Rosemary got all of these incredible people to be in the same place with each other. SongFest really must be the greatest gathering of vocal educators for the purpose of teaching in the country. And, not only are these teachers here to give classes in front of the whole program, but they're all also expected to give studio classes, direct shows, and give private coachings. All of that makes it possible for every student here to work with every teacher here if they really want to, and that in itself is a miracle. 

The amount of incredible teachers here make two sides of an ideal environment possible. On one side, SongFest becomes an environment that you can trust. All of the teachers here are incredibly reputable, and you don't have to sort out for yourself which teachers to listen to and which to disregard. All opinions are worth seriously pondering, and much of the time, all of the opinions are remarkably similar. On the other side of the environment, SongFest becomes one of the best grounds to gain connections in the artistic community. As has been said quite a bit here, the best way to get into a school is to get at least one teacher there to really like you - so when you have teachers from literally all of the best schools in one place, just... go. SongFest even goes so far as to offer mock audition masterclasses with real heads of the departments at schools like New England Conservatory and Mannes. 

Finally, to wrap this up, SongFest may be incredibly legitimate when it comes to location, faculty, structure, auditioning, scholarships, fellowships, and treasury... but it's still Rosemary Ritter's baby. After making large changes almost every year since its beginning, SongFest has stepped out of its teenaged growth phase and become a truly world-class program, coincidentally also in the year that the program itself turns 20. Happy birthday SongFest. You've aged beautifully.

Sam KrauszComment