Hollywood, Liquid Nitrogen, and Bach
Friday morning, Margo Garrett took the stage of Thayer Hall to give us an amazing masterclass on Italian Song. I learned about a composer I'd never heard of before - Santoliquido - and now I really want to sing some of his stuff. Friday afternoon my half of the studio artists had a masterclass with Sanford Sylvan where I was not part of the group that sang. That was very nice though - I got to sit back and listen to more really fantastic studio artist voices while taking a plethora of notes from Sylvan, who never seems to run out of incredibly profound lessons for young singers. Two of the five singers in the class were actually his students at Juilliard, so it was especially interesting to see how he worked with them.
Friday night, there wasn't really a concert to see, so almost all of the studio artists went to Hollywood and walked along the Walk of Fame. The Walk actually starts off in a pretty dumpy place - it's not very well kept up and it smells bad. But as you keep walking, the names on the stars start getting more recognizable and the buildings start getting bigger until all the sudden you're standing on top of Donald Trump's star next to the famous Chinese Theater, looking at the Ghirardelli/Disney store (yes that's a real thing) across the street. It was pretty magical (except for the Donald Trump part).
Saturday, I had an amazing coaching with Edwin Cahill on my "Song As a One-Act Play" song, Litany by John Musto. We both got a little teary-eyed. I don't know how Edwin does it, but somehow he's able to connect our own life experiences with the text of the song we're singing in the most visceral way, and it's amazing how much everyone in the group has come out of their shell in terms of how they view performing song over the course of this class. For example, one girl is singing a song by Jake Heggie called "Snake", which depicts Eve being tempted by the serpent in the Garden of Eden before ultimately taking a bite of the fruit. But the staging that Edwin came up with for the song depicts her sitting and facing her very manipulative ex-boyfriend who plays the part of "the snake". She sings the song as if to say "You tempted me and made me feel like you cared for me, and I bought it, even though I never should have." For every single song, Edwin has been able to find that kind of unique premise to base the intent of our performances on. The concerts next Friday and Saturday will surely be stunning.
Saturday night was a very special occasion. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of SongFest, the program flew in four notable alumni to perform in an epic recital showcasing some of the talent that had come out of this program since its founding. One of them was actually a former CCM student! Maria Valdez worked with Bill McGraw for a year of her masters degree at 19 years old before winning an Adler Fellowship at San Francisco Opera that year and choosing not to finish her masters, again, at 19 years old. She was absolutely captivating in her performance last night, not only in her native language Spanish set, but also in her English set by a composer I'd never heard of before named Tom Cipullo. She truly is a rising star, and still only 26 years old.
Sunday, after breakfast at a nice diner with friends and a masterclass with Roger Vignoles that was very interesting, but definitely aimed more toward the pianists at the program than the singers, we were treated to a concert of Bach Cantatas, directed and conducted by John Harbison, and featuring quite a few instrumentalists. The first half of the concert was duets and trios from from various cantatas, and the second half was a performance of two of Bach's cantatas in full. Stellar performances were had by all, and I think it's amazing that this program can find room to branch out into earlier music in this way, especially headed by Harbison, who is perhaps the nation's foremost authority on Bach. Sunday evening, we all went to a dessert place that is starting to become all the rage on Buzzfeed. It's called "The Chocolate Chair", and they specialize in a dessert called "Dragon's Breath", which is basically fruit loop-esque balls in a cup with a bit of liquid nitrogen poured in. The "Dragon's Breath" comes from all the steam that the liquid nitrogen makes when you crunch down on one of the balls. It was a little gimmicky, but very unique and very cool-looking.
I want to end this post by talking about a short conversation I had with girl I had just met at lunch on Saturday. This girl just graduated from the Eastman School of Music, one of the most selective music schools in the country, and when I told her that I go to CCM, she said that when she had a trial lesson with one of CCM's professors in her senior year of high school, she actually was not recommended to audition. I said "Oh, that's funny, because I didn't get in to Eastman", and we had a really interesting conversation following that. That got me thinking about some other instances I'd heard of around here. There's a remarkably huge range of schools represented here at SongFest. Not all of the students from the big fancy schools have been amazing, and one of the best sopranos I've heard here so far is from the University of North Texas of all places. From this, I've taken away that our art form really is SO subjective, and where you go to school can honestly depend on something as small as feeling a little bit too dry right before your audition. But I've also taken away that a school is just a school, whereas your voice will always be your voice, no matter where you learn to use it. All schools look for different things in their students, and if Georgia Southern University can train your voice to be worthy of young artist workshops at Houston Grand Opera, which is the case with another of the studio artists here, then who in the world has the right to tell you what all the best programs in the country are if none of them are the best for you?