The first month - I mean the first 4 days.
This program is shaping up to be every bit as busy as I anticipated, and we're just getting started. I've gotten a feel for the flow of the program, so I'd like to give a short explanation of the basic daily setup. The four main time blocks of the day are 9:30-11:30 am, 1:30-3:30 pm, 4-6 pm, and 7:30-9:30 pm. The first block of the day is a masterclass that everyone in the program is expected to attend. On Monday, Sanford Sylvan of Juilliard's faculty started things off. The next morning, renowned mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer gave a masterclass of Mahler song. Wednesday was all about Bach with composer and Bach expert John Harbison, and Thursday was songs by John Harbison with John Harbison. All of these artists are truly masters, and every morning I've been astounded by wealth of information that all of them possess. Besides the daily 9:30 masterclass, the rest of the day is somewhat flexible and all other masterclasses are optional to attend unless of course you're in them. But it's impossible to get to everything. Say that from 1:30 to 3:30, there's a professional program masterclass happening - I may have a lesson at 12:30, Alexander Technique class at 2, and a short coaching at 3:15. Or say that the other half of the studio artist program has a private masterclass with Sanford Sylvan from 4-6 - I may have poetry class with my half of the studio program at that same exact time. On Wednesday night, they even split up the evening masterclasses by gender! At the girl's night, Susanne Mentzer taught Schumann's "Frauenliebe und Leben" in one hall while the guys were in another hall watching Sanford Sylvan teach Schubert's "Die Schöne Müllerin". So, in short, we're all really busy. Thursday, somehow, I had 1:30 to 3:30 completely free in my schedule, so instead of going to a masterclass, I just took a nap.
Besides Sylvan, Mentzer, and Harbison, two other faculty members have stuck out this week - John Norris and Edwin Cahill. John Norris facilitates the optional but well-attended morning warmup before the 9:30 masterclass, and held one of the most hilarious and entertaining masterclasses I've ever seen on Tuesday night. I also took the opportunity to have a private coaching with him on Monday. Edwin Cahill teaches the studio artist poetry class, helping us prepare and directing our Song as a One-Act Play concert next weekend, and he gave a wonderful poetry masterclass for all of SongFest on Thursday night, in which I recited the prologue of Henry V. Edwin Cahill is fluent in four languages, has a degree in voice, is regarded as a concert pianist, now works as a very successful opera and musical theater stage director, and from his poetry class I think he's also psychic.
On Tuesday, I sang for Susanne Mentzer's private studio artist masterclass. She asked that we not put recordings of her on the internet, but I do have a (very low quality) recording of the run-through of my song for her before we worked. This song is "Wenn Ich Mit Menschen" from Four Serious Songs by Brahms. The text is from the 13th chapter of Corinthians, "Now Regard Faith, Hope, and Love, and the greatest of these is Love". The song was assigned to me less than a month ago, I was able to have only one lesson on it before coming here, and I was singing off of a transposition to a tenor key from the original bass-baritone key - so clearly, the odds were stacked against me, but Susanne really took a liking to it and worked with me an entire half hour to brighten things up, keep my support grounded, and use the intent of the words to help me hit the notes. During that masterclass, Susanne also shared with us that she was born with an inverted hard palette - the roof of her mouth dips downward rather than arcs upward - and she let us all look into her mouth to see. That's a once-in-a-lifetime experience right there.
But the main reason I waited until today to make this blog post, though I now realize just how much stuff I've had to cram into it, is because I wanted to wait until after my first voice lesson of the month with Bill McGraw. Professor McGraw teaches at CCM, and while I'm away from Professor Stucky who is my regular teacher at CCM, it's nice to be at a program like this with a familiar teacher to look after me, especially a teacher as world-renowned as Professor McGraw. He is an absolute gem, a very experienced singer and teacher who can somehow always explain the incredibly complex concepts surrounding singing in the most concise ways possible. His goals for me while at SongFest are to be able to move about my passaggio without any breaks or "blips", and to get my sound completely out of the front of my mouth, and into the top of the back of my head (if that makes any sense at all). Those are big goals, but if anyone can guide me through them, he can. We have eight lessons.
Expect blog posts from this point on to get much more frequent and (hopefully) shorter. Tomorrow, Margo Garrett, one of the most renowned coaches in the world, arrives on campus from Juilliard to give a morning masterclass on Italian arias, and I'll hopefully have some private coaching time with her next week to work on some Elixir of Love. I'll also be in one of the morning masterclasses next week, which I'm very excited about! But first, the weekend is coming up, and I didn't even have room in this post to talk about the amazing group of studio artists I'm getting to know here and all of the adventures we've been having in LA. So stay tuned!