INSIDE Composers & the Voice – December 2nd

January 2, 2014
We’re a little behind, but let’s ring in the New Year with the latest behind the scenes look at our Composers & the Voice season!
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Composers & the Voice – 2013-14
Jeremy Gill

Composer fellow, Jeremy Gill

I admit it: I was pretty skeptical of the idea of a bunch of composers doing improvisational acting work. My skepticism sprang in part from the fact that, were I asked to list the 10 things in life I would least like to do, making stuff up while trying to act in front of a bunch of people I barely knew and on whom I wanted to make a good impression would  certainly make the cut…

But Terry Greiss won me over, as did Steve Osgood, who was good enough to “play along” in all of our sessions—when we, the participants, were pushed to try something new, it was comforting and inspiring to have Steve, a fellow musician (read: not an actor), trying right along with us.

Throughout our improv sessions, Terry was a great coach and cheerleader—he was very good at communicating why we were doing such and so and how it might be useful, and superb at celebrating our successes, which did occur!

I have always felt that it is essential for composers to be performers of some kind—singers, conductors, instrumentalists, whatever—and that such “hands on” experiences can only enhance the music we compose. Terry showed me that it is as important for the aspiring opera composer to have some experience on the stage, moving about in a defined space, inventing situations and then living in them, and following the course of dramatic actions to their logical conclusions. He underscored the dramatic nature of opera—something I will continue to dwell on as my own operatic creations unfold.

Jeremy Gill

Andreia Pinto Correia

Composer fellow,
Andreia Pinto Correia

It was with great sadness that we finished our final workshop with improvisation teacher Terry Greiss. Throughout these sessions we not only strengthened our relationship as a group but also learned a great deal about ourselves. As I immerse myself in the writing of my opera, I catch myself taking into account matters that never would have occurred to me prior to participating in these workshops. I am now aware of a new sensibility regarding staging, engagement of my characters and story with my future audience, and the interdependence between roles and their dramatic development. I am really looking forward to our next chapter with acting coach Patrick Diamond!

Andreia Pinto Correia

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Composer fellow, Joseph Rubinstein

Composer fellow, Joseph Rubinstein

Having just finished up the improv training portion of Composers & the Voice, the thing that has stuck most in my mind has been Terry’s repeated advice to “say yes.”  In the context of improv, “saying yes” means being open to the unexpected places to which a scene or a character might take you.  It means relinquishing your will to control a scenario, and asks you to embrace the realities of the scene at hand.  The more you are able to say “yes,” the more convincing a scene will be.  In the past few weeks, I have found that being open in the way Terry has encouraged is valuable advice for writing music as well.  Composing music is a balancing act  in which spontaneity must exist side by side with carefully considered choices.  I sometimes find that a piece that I am writing is going in a direction that I did not expect, and I react by trying to bend the piece back towards what I originally had in mind.  While this approach can have its uses, I have been thinking a lot recently about letting go and letting the piece itself take over.  This increased sense of openess has already led me in some exciting new musical directions.

Joseph Rubinstein

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Composers & the Voice – Session 4

October 28, 2011

Rob Paterson, Guest Blogger
Composers & the Voice composer, 2011-12

Last night we experienced another session of Composers & the Voice,  which consisted of an evening of improv with Terry Greiss from the Irondale Ensemble Project and acting with director Katherine Amshoff.

We spent the first two hours with Terry. He had all of us play games that encouraged us to open up and explore the space around us. I find the improv exercises very interesting and a lot of fun, but as Mikah mentioned in an earlier class, what I am most fascinated with is how this applies (or will eventually apply) to our craft as composers and librettists. Sometimes the benefits of these exercises are not explicit, but the more we explore, the more I understand how everything is somehow related. As a composer, I am used to being both a nerd and living a somewhat cloistered life, so these evenings can be a little scary for me, even though I am a pretty experienced performing musician. Acting and performing music are quite different from performing music on stage. However, I am gradually becoming more comfortable, and now looking forward to these workshops every few weeks.

C&V improv session

Zach, Mila, Daniel, Mikael, and Rob are gven a new improv exercise by Terry Greiss.

Many of Terry’s exercises explore quick interaction and reflexes. One particular exercise he had us do involved standing in a circle and quickly passing around words. There might be one word that you say to the person next to you, and another word that causes you to change direction. A third word might be reserved for saying to the person directly across from you in the circle. Each word triggers a different response. As a composer, what I find interesting is how this particular technique could be used for dramatic effect in a scene, and this whole experience demonstrated how quickly dialogue can move from one person to the next. This will be very useful to know when working with librettists.

Kathleen Amshoff’s assignment for the second half of the session was two-fold: first read a chapter from a book on action by Stanislavski, then develop our own three to five minute scene that demonstrated a common task. We witnessed Zach making tuna salad, Rachel folding laundry, Sidney riding the train, Sarah putting in her contacts, Mikah checking Facebook and drinking coffee and Ronnie making scrambled eggs for her child. Preparing food seemed like an easy way to demonstrate movement without much emotion, so my scene was making pancakes and being interrupted by a phone call.
As Steve Osgood mentioned earlier, It’s amazing how comfortable everyone seems, especially since we all have such diverse backgrounds. AOP did a great job bring together a wonderful group of people, and I am really looking forward to more improv and hearing everyone’s new work in future sessions.
Oct 25, 2011

C&V Take Two!

September 28, 2011

Sara Cooper, guest blogger
Composers & the Voice librettist, 2011-12

 

Session number two of Composers & the Voice! Lots of fun and good energy in the room!

We started out with two hours of improv with now-familiar face Terry Greiss. Terry led us in a number of very interesting exercises, my personal favorite of which was involved building ourselves into a machine. The way this was worked was this: One person would get an idea for a machine. He or she then stood and made a full-body gesture and a noise, acting as a distinct part of this machine. One by one, the rest of the class added on with their own gestures and noises until the machine had been built. Everyone had a different idea of what the machine was and what their part in it would be; the whole thing was fascinating.

We also began scenework in a similar game. This time, however, there was no repetitive gesture or noise; Terry asked us to find an action and play it as realistically as possible. In this way, we are beginning to recognize the active dramatization of character.

Terry got a little trippy this session. He asked us to put our hands a little apart, palms facing together, and try to understand the space in between. For many of us, that space became very physical. Terry then had us combine our individual spaces with other individual spaces until the whole class was holding one space. A few people ventured inside the space. Ronnie was surprised and amazed to find that she actually felt the space.

Mika raised a great discussion: How does improv relate to us as composers and librettists? Terry explained the importance of openness and vulnerability in art, and how understanding physicality can greatly enhance our ability to realize character.

After a short break, Steve had a little Q&A for us about the program in general—very helpful!

We then dove into our very first acting class with Kathleen Amshoff. Kathleen got to know us a little (have any of us acted? It turns out most of us have some performance experience, and Rachel has a degree in theater, and Daniel is actually a professional actor and singer!) and then we began doing some very intense exercises in partnering. Kathleen had us make eye contact with a partner for an uncomfortably long period of time, after which we closed our eyes and she asked us details about our partner’s physical appearance.

With the same partner, we were then asked to make eye contact and, alternating, very calmly tell the other person how we felt (ie, “I feel hungry.”). It was surprisingly difficult to come up with feelings to feel, or at least to say out loud.

Kathleen then had us line up across from a different partner and, again making eye contact, step forward or backwards as it felt right. Zach and Steve looked, in Kathleen’s words, “like [they] were playing chess.” Sidney and I felt like we were doing a tango. Ronnie and Rachel had a more emotional connection, feeling rejected when the other stepped back, and Daniel and Mika found themselves looking for patterns. All in all a fascinating experiment.

Excellent session! Only two weeks till the next!!


Composers and the Voice 2011/12 – Workshop Day 1

September 16, 2011

And they’re off!  Monday, September 12 was the first day of the Composers & the Voice 2011/12 Workshop Series, and it was a long invigorating day.  More on that below.  This blog post, and the ones that will follow more or less every 2 weeks, are intended to serve two purposes.  First, they will provide an ongoing forum for discussion and reflection by the 8 Composer and Librettist Fellows, as well as the Artistic Team— a place where ideas and questions that came up during the workshop session can be investigated further.  Second, these blog postings will provide the greater AOP family, and new opera enthusiasts everywhere, a glimpse into our workshop room.

The workshop day began at 3:00 with a quick orientation session, but then dove right into the fray with the first of our 9 Improvisation and Theater Games sessions, led by Terry Greiss of the Irondale Ensemble.  I first met Terry 23 years ago (yikes!) when I began a semester-long internship with Irondale– the final part of my undergrad degree at Drew University.  I ended up working with Irondale for close to 5 years, and so much of what I learned through my immersion in the company’s use of improv and theater games as tools for generating theatrical material, as well as building strong cooperative teams, continues to have a profound influence on my day to day work today.

In Monday’s 2-hour session Terry led us through the following games:

Terry Greiss

Instructor Terry Greiss leads an improv session while composer Sidney Marquez Boquiren and C&V Artistic Director Steven Osgood listen.

Zip Zap Zop

Mind Twist

Chair Tumble

One Word Story

One Word Fairy Tale

String of Pearls

Upside Down Drawing

One Word Letters/Scenes

Tell Me about the Time

My advice to the Composer/Librettist Fellows going into this course of Improv study was to dive in, play the games, and not to worry about how this all relates to the writing process.  It was great fun to sink into the high-energy full body challenge of Zip Zap Zop, and Mind Twist.  I found Chair Tumble to be an intriguing look at how difficult it is to TRULY risk falling down.  One Word Story, One Word Fairy Tales, and String of Pearls had our group of 10, who had just met an hour earlier, building stories together with the freedom to respond intuitively.  I think I was messing with the CD player when Terry was giving instructions to Upside Down Drawing.  While everyone else copied surprisingly skilled portraits of Igor Stravinsky, I was having a blast more or less coloring mine in.  Ah well….  One Word Letters/Scenes and Tell Me about the Time got us all out of our heads, and investigating a greater freedom of telling a story.

Soprano Andrea Arias-Martin sings

Soprano Andrea Arias-Martin sings for the 2011-12 composers & librettists.

After the dinner break we were joined by the Music Directors and Singers who we will be working with throughout the season.  Each of the singers had about 25 minutes to sing and dissect three arias that they feel are perfectly suited to their particular voice.  I love this session, and the look it gives into how each singer approaches singing, how difficult it can be to express in words this most elusive of physical acts, and how wonderfully these particular singers can articulate the process.  It is the crash-course part of Composers & the Voice, after which things relax a little as each composer gets to write for the singers one by one.  Once 10:00 rolled around, it was time for a glass or two of Riesling.

Next Session– September 26.  Just composers and librettists.  Improv 2, and Acting 1.


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