Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Ardrishaig Singers and a great weekend!

I had the most wonderful weekend at Ardrishaig in Argyll. I was greatly looking forward to going and my expectations were more than met !

The girls I worked with were the pupils of Fiona Macdonald, the teacher who put so many pupils into the festival, and does so much for them all ! She admits to not being a long trained and specialist voice teacher, but that said she does a fantastic job ! She has given the youth of that part of the world such a brilliant start in the world of good singing, and the students are excited, vibrant and full of a real love for singing.

Talent is everywhere, post code is no indicator of prowess, and I heard some beautiful voices. We needed to work a great deal on confidence and they responded so very well, and were so brave in those responses. I worked them as hard as anyone works at Song School, only for 20 minutes however, as most were under 18 and not fully developed. Two brave and slightly more mature ladies put themselves up for the torture, and like the youngsters, responded brilliantly. One had previously not realised she needed to join up her three voice registers, and worked so hard on abdominal breathing to make the changes be easier to negotiate, even lying on the floor.... ! The other is a fine natural singer already but needed to work for less diphthong interfering with the legato line. That said, I pushed her to tell the story of the Scots ballad even more, and use her teacher skills in a different world - suddenly the story opened and we were enthralled. Both of these ladies responded like pros !

I heard a gorgeous Caro mio Ben which just needed the jaw to stay relaxed and free, and a regular reminder of the 'e' vowel for the sound to be fully rounded and have a small but mature quality, with lots more to come I think. We had a very sweet Path to the Moon, at the beginning so lacking in confidence, but by the end, she was actually facing the audience. There was a delightfully youthful Silent Worship, young and fresh toned and sung with such a naturally warm voice, just needing to understand that the song is opera, when one is allowed to see the picture in the mind ! There was a truly lovely Bach Gounod Ave Maria sung by a young woman with real sincerity and warm tone. She needed me to push her to engage, but when she did it was a revelation to us all the listeners and to her I hope ! A song I did not know called Reflection was sung by a rather shy young lady, but after 20 minutes of eyeballing and singing to another singer, she finally relaxed enough to draw us in to her performance.

We had a terrific I Feel Pretty from a young lady with a voice the size of Bournemouth ! She moved well and sang with real drama, and it was so full of potential. Her duet partner had a lovely plummy mezzo voice and she used her mouth so well I could almost see the words in the air in front of her ! They sang the deceptively tricky Evening Prayer by Humperdinck and we upped the dynamic a good deal so it would actually fill the opera house for which it was written ! The lower voice youngster gave us a rich performance of Down by The Salley Gardens which was musical and so well phrased, and full of sincerity.

There was a small but worthy Amarylli - a tricky song needing much control, the young lady made a real stab at that control and always sang with such musicality. A young lady (suffering with cold and allergies!) sang A Nightingale sang in Berkley Square so beautifully, and worked very hard at the tone quality and engaging with the audience, and even under difficult conditions she had my total admiration and delight with her performance. Actually I asked her to slow the whole thing down and breathe in the middle of the phrase sometimes. Very occasionally being able to sing multiple bars in one breath is simply not the best option. If the long phrase does not say anything to the audience simply because it is restricted by the effort of singing long phrases, I will always opt for an extra breath ! I want to be touched, not impressed if you see what I mean !

We were competing with a dog training class in the big hall, so it was an interesting morning re noises..........two twin miniature poodles were definitely competing with a couple of sopranos !

There was another young woman who sang one of the many and varied versions of the folk song Waly Waly. She had incredible abdominal muscles and so she could manage long phrases very well. Again it was only confidence and the thorny problem of consistently opening the mouth to let the sound actually get out !

I hope I have left no one out! I was so impressed with these singers, and I fervently hope they enjoyed their day - I felt it one of the most splendid and worthwhile master classing days I have done in many a year. Keep it up ladies, be thankful you have such a fine woman giving you the opportunity - you are very very lucky. I was royally looked after and equally royally fed ! A very important part of my ability to do the job ! Thank you indeed.

Oh.........and please ask me back !



Thursday, 21 May 2015

Boys will be boys !

I still have a little residual soreness in my ears, but it is improving each day, and today teaching was not quite such a shock to the said 'drums' ! My young tenor E, had very good lesson today, he is singing some wonderful Schubert including the glorious Ganymed, surely one of his finest songs. Being Dutch, E has a fine command of the German language, many sounds are the same, and his understanding of the text is very very finely honed. He is a very dedicated pupil and I have a feeling he probably always has been. He thrives on success and pushes himself to achieve perfection at every turn. In fairness he is quite unusual in his work ethic..............

Little J however had to be given a bit of a push on the practising front ! At 10 years old he is very very enthusiastic, but very short on concentration ! He is such a nice little chap, bright and full of the joys of spring, confident and capable, but like all boys I have ever taught, committing his brain to learning is not top on his list of 'exciting things in my life!' So today Miss L brought out the big guns and threatened to remove him from the show if his learning did not improve ( bearing in mind he had forgotten his music to add insult to injury!), this threat had the desired effect and in about 5 seconds flat we suddenly got the soldier stand, the brain cogs turning and the fear of losing the good bits of his singing life !

I love a bit of bribery and corruption !

I am off to masterclass in Lochgilphead tomorrow, and I am very much looking forward to working with all those talented and enthusiastic teens whom I heard at the Mid Argyll Festival in April. What a joyful days work.

Arleen Auger sings "Ganymed" by Schubert, with Katja Phillabaum, piano - YouTube

Have a listen to this beautiful recording of Schubert's 'Ganymed'

This is final section in translation, and the melody so wonderfully describes the flight of the beautiful boy to the heavens to become the cup bearer to the gods.....

........Up, up, lies my course.
While downward the clouds
Are hovering, the clouds
Are bending to meet yearning love.
For me,
Within thine arms
Embraced and embracing!
Upwards into thy bosom,
Oh Father all-loving!



Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Gondoliers and Sweeps

We had our regular Tuesday rehearsal last night. This year we are doing The Gondoliers, a mock Italian rollicking romp of a show. The gondoliers are somewhat dim yet happy, and the Contadine are spoilt and manipulating ! Poor men or as Gilbert says 'Povero Gondolieri' !

We have to work very very fast and last night we moved on a long way, and if we keep that going, and with the wind in the right direction we should squeeze by and deliver by July 14th.........

It is a big ask as we started so very late for a show of this size, and I must trust that the quintet of the Duke, Duchess,Casilda and Luiz, plus the horrid Don Alhambra will get down to it and rehearse like hamsters on a wheel in the last fortnight before the first night. I do trust them, even given that for Luiz and Casilda it is their duel first roles ! I have faith !

The chorus are singing well - too well, to which my poor ringing eardrums will bear witness. By the end of the rehearsal I was feeling as if I had a bad case of tinnitus, the resonance had a big effect, and that was with the two highest and biggest voices suffering sore throats so unable to sing !

Two weekends ago I travelled to Durham to the Chorister School to watch my old student Miranda's production of Britten's Little Sweep. It is just so rewarding to see the work that my pupils are doing, it is the 'full circle' scenario - I feel sure Middy must have felt that too, and probably her mother Madam Constance Hall, a famous singing teacher from Hull. So these delightful youngsters in the photo are, if my calculation is correct, products of the fifth generation of the Middleton Singing Stable !

A gorgeous picture from the last scene when the little sweep boy is hiding in the laundry basket and the crabby sweeps are attempting to lift it out to the waiting horse and carriage ! Will they find him ?



Monday, 18 May 2015

Ears not working, Agh !

Hello to everyone who has continued to look for new posts ! I apologise for my absence over the last month or so. Life and work has been very busy since I had a break after Song School, and I don't seem to have had much in the way of 'writing time'.

Actually I decided to get back into it today as I have had to cancel my teaching ! For the last week I have been almost completely deaf. A worrying and odd happening for a person whose whole livelihood and vocation is bound up with my ability to hear fine changes in a voice.

I have had badly blocked ears which I could not shift, and was beginning to think I was destined for deafness, or at least partial hearing for the rest of my natural life! Most of my friends did tell me not to be so dramatic about it - I even asked one if one would get disability allowances if one could not fulfil ones natural work ! I was roundly told to get on with the treatment and wait until I could be seen by a doctor !

Tonight I am going to the local hospital to see if they can remove the blockage, or if it is internal.

Altogether slightly worrying and very unnerving. I did teach a little last week and found myself totally disorientated by the 'bending' sounds on the piano, and the muffled tone quality from the singers. The keys seemed to waver by a good quarter tone so one minute I was hearing one key and the next, another. The resonance seemed very painful, as if the sound was somehow caught in between the blockage and my eardrum and I could not easily distinguish sharp or flat........what a disaster!

I have lived with this severe disability for about 9 days now and will forever be totally compassionate about those folk who have the misfortune to be hard of hearing. I felt outside the world and outside of conversations. It was very tiring to keep asking what was being said, or to listen so intently I was almost lip reading as much as hearing. By the end of the day I was exhausted. It has been a salutary lesson and not one I will forget in a hurry. I used to get quite short with my poor old Dad as his hearing became less and less acute, and now that I understand how isolating one feels, I have a little ripple of guilt for not being empathetic !

So you see, singing teaching has not been much of an option for the last days, only an object lesson in compassion !

Hopefully by later this evening I will be able to hear properly, function normally and give thanks for medical intervention.

Fingers crossed


UPDATE - the wonders of the British NHS sorted out the problem and I have my hearing back - a little sore ear drums but I can teach tomorrow !