Sunday, 12 April 2015

Song School Week 2 - powerful as ever.........

Song School 2015 is over.....

I feel certain that it was hugely enjoyed by all the singers in both weeks. Each week is so very different, they seem to have a personally and life of their own. Each is vital and exciting, emotional and exhausting, but mostly in entirely different ways. Considering it is lead by the same two folk ie myself and Julia Kennard our whizz accompanist, it it interesting that one week can be so far away from the other in feel and style !

Week 2 had as many tears and laughter as week one. If I were to pick out some truly stunning moments we would span music from 20th century crooning to Britten operatic arias and song cycles.

K absolutely gripped us with her Ellen aria from Peter Grimes by Britten. It is a difficult and distressing sentiment, and she rose and rose as the music drama swelled like the waves of the cruel North Sea. I have never heard her sing so well, and with such commitment. Her husband I was at the opposite end of the genre, he sang a movingly beautiful performance of Moon River, with such joy and intimacy I don't think there was a dry eye in the house !

We had two gloriously different performances of Hahn's Ah Chloris. In fairness I already love the song with a passion, but to experience a mature and introspective version sung by the fantastic soprano M, which was heart rending and so full of warm life experience, and another from the 17year old N, who sang it with the visualisation of the beautiful Chloris being over the green landscape and unreachable as yet, was a privilege I think none of us will forget. N also wowed us with the most touching and powerful Monica aria from Menotti's The Medium. She really is so very very talented.

E sang arias and recit's from The Messiah throughout the week. He is performing a professional Messiah later in the year so we thought it would be a perfect opportunity to work with a real pianist ! He grew in so many ways during the week, vocally, personally and emotionally. It is so difficult to sing with true emotion when English is not ones first language, but his growth in this area was remarkable.

Young M who is about to sing her final degree recital in a month chose to work on some of the more tricky pieces she was using. She sang us a Sesto aria from Handel's Guilio Cesare, which like Topsy, grew and grew until she was wielding her sword with vigour, dropping her jaw (!) and letting her striking and resonant mezzo voice soar and soar. It reminded me of all my early Handel roles in my life - oh well !

J had a vocal revelation which was very emotional for her and us. She had an operation some years ago which damaged the muscles around her vocal cords and has rebuilt her voice millimetre by millimetre over the last two or three years. During a warm up session she 'felt something happen' - I can say no more than that ! Suddenly her muscles were back in place, her voice was released and she sang and sang. It was a wonderfully exhilarating moment for all in the room.

Four of my week 1 ladies took another day each this week (gluttons for punishment ?!) and really did the job. The Bach 'Konnen Tranen' was magnificent, serious and legato and full of grounded sound, P's 'An Sylvia' was a perfect example of open and free singng so the top notes practically perforated my ear drums - in a good way of course ! E sang with usual warmth and affection with her Light song, and was a shining example of a really wonderful technique - I even used her as a model of excellent mouth shapes ! K began the week (voluntarily!) with a stately and scrummy toned 'Where'ere you Walk'. It is so well known, yet she made it her own, using her height and noble bearing to such good effect !

Our young 15yr old A made a long and amazing journey from child singer to grown up in the space of five days. She was a good deal younger than the majority of singers but has a voice which is huge, tricky to control and where it will end, I do not know ! She sang a gorgeous and youthful Verdi 'Ave Maria' from Otello which was quite stunning, then on Ensemble Day, together with N, showed her real potential in a restaged version of the lovely and haunting Novello duet, 'We'll Gather Lilacs'. They both showed such maturity, such potential and great perseverance. A joy it was !

What a journey we all made. Including Julia and I. It touches us all in a real and enriching way. Thanks guys.


Lilacs and a sad Veronica.......


Monday, 6 April 2015

Song School Week 1 2015

I can't believe I am already on to the second week of Song School. It seems only a fleeting moment since I was 5000 miles away and hearing tinies singing Anna Marie, and now a week has flown by with some wonderful moments of a more grown up nature.

A week is a journey in everyday life, but a week at song school is a journey far more emotional. I love watching the changes in vocal technique and the changes in perception of songs as well as the cathartic value of the emotional content.

We swithered from Menotti to Haydn, via Bach and Mozart.......and that was only Monday ! A brave and lively 'With Verdure Clad' became a possibility and a reality after months of worrying, and 'Erbarme Dich' caused such a great stillness and admiration from the assembled singers. Menotti's sad and deranged character of Monica was beautifully portrayed with enough sadness to feel real sympathy for her, whilst a courageous Dove Sono made us all exhausted from the sheer work of the soprano, and the touching outcome.

Sometimes it only takes a short explanation of a character to turn a competent and musical performance into a truly moving and elevated moment. Just to know something of the 'back story' adds a new level of energy to the singers interpretation. That turns 'lovely' into 'magical'.

The ensemble day was brilliant, full of humour, wit, strength and power as well as a delightful moment when one of those our regulars, J, sang a duet with her elderly mother. It was touching as well as moving, especially to see how J who has a large voice, held back with real empathy, so her mother's slight and sweet tone could be heard and appreciated.

I loved many of the moments in the week, and there are too many to mention individually.......a gorgeous Cosi trio which was almost all in tune ( quite a feat by any standards!) and an interesting and lovely arrangement of The First Noel intertwined with the Pachabel Canon was a piece I snaffled for future use with my ladies ! A delicious performance of 'Ah Yes I remember it Well' was so softly drawn in pastel colours, and very funny and well timed duet version of 'The Owl and the Pussy Cat' which led beautifully into a very lovely performance of a French translation of same poem set to music composed by our resident baritone during the week. What a clever chap !

A most tear drawing performance of Bob Chilcot's Irish Blessing brought the week to a satisfying and complete end. I apologise if I have left anyone out.......but I'm writing this after Day 1 of Week 2, so my brain is thinking about what I heard today and the neurons are firing at a slightly slower rate ! As things return to me I will elaborate.

What matters is that is was one of the most memorable weeks since the courses began 7 years ago. And so to bed !


Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Skye Song School comes around again !

I am finally home, the sun is shining and everything looks green and springlike. Blossom is appearing on my plum trees and the miniature rhododendron shrubs are all flowering. What a wonderful welcome home after a month in vocal exile !

Skye Song School begins next Monday, so I am resting and recovering in readiness for a fun filled yet intensive couple of weeks with the singers - having said that, the admin still needs tackling, but I have some days left to do the files and print offs.

This will be the first year without Penny, who has attended all but the first year, and leaves a mighty hole in the first week of singers, and Annabel will be greatly missed as she actually passed away during the first week last year. These are sad memories, but also happy memories - all the funny songs with which Penny entertained us over the years leave a sizable mark, and her performances will always be part of the timeline and history of the Song School.

My recollections of her Ballad of Jenny, The Warthog, The Elephant, I did it for Love and many many more will live with us all, and her Many a New Day from Oklahoma which was last year's song will stay with me for ever. Her complete disregard of the weeping females around her as she told them to musically 'pull themselves together' was heroic and very very funny !

Penny was solely responsible for introducing yours truly to a whole new world of light song. Ballads of the 30's and 40's and songs from Noel Coward, Ivor Novello and the 'lesser spotted' songs of the Gershwin brothers. I am so grateful for her kindly and comprehensive education in this genre of music about which I was a raw beginner ! All my students have benefitted from this education, my wider knowledge of light early 20th century song has given me a pool of songs to give them, and indeed pass on to my past pupils who now also teach in all four corners of the UK !

Thanks Penny, for many things.

A great performance from Penny February 2014

Song School 2015........bring it on !


Friday, 20 March 2015

One dedicated lady.

The choirs and ensembles this evening were very impressive. There is one teacher here who must work her fingers to the bone. She has a Chorus, a group of ensembles encompassing all ages, and in her teaching practise are adults as well. She does concerts and festivals and exams, plays for them and is there to support every day........I know only too well what commitment that takes, and how much energy it takes ! The only thing I can see that she doesn't do is a G&S show in the summer !

Her pupils are so well taught, yet she is always keen for advice on how to improve her youngsters technique. I don't think she is a solo singer herself or has had truly technical training, but my goodness she does a good job. I would love to tweak some of her pupils technical singing, there is such talent just waiting to burst out. She asked me last time I was here if I would consider coming and Masterclassing for all her singers for a day but somehow it never happened, so this time when we were having lunch I mentioned it and said I would be happy to do a day for them, she quickly texted the treasurer of her choir and he sanctioned her request ! So at some point this year I will make a trip here to Argyllshire and have the pleasure of working with them at close hand.

The ensembles ranged from girls SSA to Men's Barbershop Choir, Ladies Ensemble ( who sang The Seal Lullaby, my good Yorkshire friends will be interested in that, and I told them to let the piano have the main role !) and a Mixed Voice quartet called Veuve Clicquot who were tremendous and won with a magnificent 91 marks. The other choir which won an earlier class were called Bar None - a community choir which like Inner Sounds excludes nobody, and there is no audition. They had a wonderfully enthusiastic young male conductor who arranged the pieces especially for them, and what a delight they were - bright, breezy, well drilled and they sang with such healthy open tone. I loved it.

Tomorrow it is the Kindergarten Action Songs and the youth choirs - I wonder how many expensive props and costumes will be scattered amongst the babes in the action song class. My last lot of tinies, if you recall, had extras worthy of La Scala Milan !

Brava ! Brava !

Copy and paste this link and read about Fiona MacDonald, one dedicated lady.