INSIDE Composers & the Voice – January 13th, Part II

February 14, 2014
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Composers & the Voice 2013-2014, Rachel Calloway

This week I was most struck by how perceptions about ourselves as artists – whether performing, creative, or both, led to differing reactions to music.

We began Monday’s session by hearing Deborah Lifton sing a new work by Guy Barash – and she did a fantastic job with Guy’s microtones! Having been nervous about this new challenge, it was amazing to hear how beautifully Deborah incorporated these pitches into the line, and how as listeners, we simply perceive these challenging pitches as part of the melodic line. Since I sing a fair amount of music in varying tuning systems both as a soloist and with my ensemble Ekmeles, I am constantly aware of how listeners are comfortable with, and open to, various tonalities and tuning systems… fascinating, particularly considering how hard we performers work to make this type of intonation as accurate as possible.

C&V Artistic Director Steven Osgood

C&V Artistic Director Steven Osgood

An intriguing conversation ensued about balance- particularly how composers translate what will be an orchestral or chamber piece to the piano. Some composers discussed how the balance of what we hear in the C & V sessions is not what they have in mind for the final piece, which may be scored for singer and orchestra or chamber ensemble. [C&V Artistic Director] Steve Osgood also raised the point of how we must ensure that the audience perceives big orchestral moments in which the singer is intentionally covered as purposeful, rather than an oversight in the balance. As singers it is difficult to know at times whether we’re being covered by the ensemble or riding above it, and we rely completely on the ears of others to make this distinction. Our entire sense of our voices in regard to balance is difficult to gauge.

Another interesting dialogue arose in regard to text, and our impression of both comprehension and diction.  Some in our group are foreign-born or non-native English speakers. Andreia Pinto-Correira raised a question about a particular word which she thought may be difficult to pronounce, but Dominic Armstrong clarified, saying that the word was not an issue for him. Kelly Horsted raised the point of syllabification in Jeremy Gill’s piece. A word which perhaps seemed strangely notated in the score, upon first glance, was actually more comprehensible due to Jeremy’s setting. During Matt Burn’s performance of Joseph Rubinstein’s piece, we again discussed the particular setting of a word and how it might be perceived as another word altogether.

This idea of how things seem continues to intrigue me, in new music most of all. We are constantly engrossed by our sense of self, of who we are as singers, musicians, people. When we perform, our perception of our strengths and weaknesses plays out in all kinds of curious combinations, all of which make our work what it is. And in a premiere, this self awareness contributes to what will be the very first hearing of a new piece of music. On Monday night I was yet again moved by the talents, openness and support in our C & V group. When our personal perceptions lead us to doubt our abilities and performances, this positive and warm environment helps us find our footing and create the best of which we are capable.

“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.” ―C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew

-Rachel Calloway


INSIDE Composers & the Voice – November 4th (Pt.2)

November 13, 2013

blog-guy barashComposers & the Voice – 2013-14 Composer fellow, Guy Barash

We were all greatly anticipating the performances of our first arias. You could really feel it, the tension, this weird energy very similar to what one can sense when waiting with a bunch of musicians in a green room for a big concert to begin. This was the exciting fifth session of American Opera Project’s Composers & the Voice program, held on November 4th.

Composers who develop a dramatic work should have a good understanding of the elements that fuse into an effective drama. So at C&V we have acting and improv lessons that provide a first-hand glimpse into the dramatic process. The afternoon improv session led by Terry Greiss started with some “brain-frying games,” as he rightly calls them. (There’s one, for example, where Terry becomes “George” and the rest of us have to remember who’s who while we keep switching names and trying to confuse one another. Brain-frying indeed.)

Terry Greiss (right) leads an  improv session during the 2011-12 season of C&V

Terry Greiss (right) leads an improv session during the 2011-12 season of C&V

In this session, each of us had to give a speech, deliver an idea or a story, and sustain everyone’s engagement level. The rest of us, the audience, provided an engagement level barometer with our hands – hand is up = curious, hand falls down = not so much. From there we moved to role playing. We improvised a few scenes as a group and in pairs. In one of them we were all in a birthday party. On cue from Terry we had to separate and converge – basically to find a reason and a way to create a unique microcosm for a few short moments, then to converge back into our group cosmos. Of course we had to do this on the spot yet in a convincing, organic manner, all within the boundaries that we have set for ourselves in our birthday party story. The concept of the next scene was to give and take stage space. We split into two pairs. We agreed on a theme and the setting, and improvised two dialogues simultaneously. Each pair had to give or take the space on cue from Terry. I was so happy to reunite with my lost little brother Steven Osgood at an Italian restaurant.

After the improv session we switched to our traditional round table discussion. Each composer was assigned a character to analyze. We shared our analyses of the the emotional transformation that each of our assigned characters have gone through in every musical number in Cosi fan tutte. This soon evolved to be an insightful discussion on the expression of emotions within the context of an opera. The limited time that we had allowed us to explore only the first few musical numbers. However, the lively debate already revealed some fascinating observations on Mozart’s musical expression, and the compositional tools that he uses to highlight emotional transformation.

When time arrived to break for dinner we were already exhausted, but satisfied with all that we had accomplished. I think the improv sessions with Terry provide an invaluable insight into dramatic processes as we apply them ourselves. It is needless to say how enriching the round table discussions are – the rare intellectual exchange that we are so lucky to be part of.

Guy Barash
November 4th


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