Tuesday, October 18, 2005

DICHTERLIEBE DIARY 8, the good news is...

The good news is we are not canceling, which might not be good news to the many.
We are postponing. What might be mediocre and a bit of a stunt could be serious music making and fun if we do it after the holidays. Not that Ben, bless him, has any problems. But me, at 200 plus pounds and nearing a certain age, well...
(Bob Gartside who I love dearly just e mailed me " You're still young!") I have the German and the intent but not yet the stamina and materials to do this justice. So we practice and work and we wait. You know, the gift of a piece like this is that every time you finish a one or two page song, and turn the page, it's like receiving a present! The next page is always something that looks small, but is large and miraculous. All that emotion and beauty in a few notes and a few German words. It's very humbling. And I suspect neither Ben nor myself want to interrupt a rehearsal process that is affording us both, he at the key board, me not at the keyboard, a lot of growth.

So we wait!
Diary continues, though.

I just wish the wretched thing were in Italian. If I were living in Milan 100
years ago it would be easy to study L'amore di poeta!


Marilyn Horne gave a master class at Oberlin College on Oct 16, packing the large college chapel to the walls. Five students were selected to perform. Their ages ranged from 19 to 24. All were very talented, and all sounded dramatically better after Miss Horne was through with them.

To a young woman singing the Habanera from Carmen:

Ok, I can't see you breathe. Show me how you breathe. I'll say it again, I'm
all about support. Look, Carmen knows she functions as the entertainment for the girls in the factory and the fellas out in the square. So it's important that she establish a sense of fun with this piece, but also menace. Now, don't be too pretty here. And use your arms and hands! How old are you? Twenty-one? Sweetheart, it's fun to work on this but don't go near Carmen until you're twenty nine or thirty.
Carmen has to do so many things in character, the shouting, the dancing, things that are easy to lose control of, a young voice can be hurt. I know many ladies, fine singers, sopranos and mezzos who came to grief in Carmen. Now about that fun thing. Do you know Regina Resnik? She was a fantastic Carmen. She'd come out tossing an orange and catching it with one hand, very blase. In the old days it was the hands on hips and the rose in the teeth. We can't do that anymore. Now forward, honey. Put the sound higher, between the eyes. Don't growl. Sing those low notes with lots of support. Prends garde a toi! Be careful she says! That's a great line, you really need to balance the fun with a sense of menace.

To a young man singing Questo amor from Edgar-Puccini

I notice you are not observing the markings in the score. Now with Puccini you can be sure the markings are his. With Mozart, Schubert, even my Rossini, not so sure...I want you to take the 'ah' vowel high...place it up!
No, you are singing with your chin. Stop using your chin! Now, when you drop your jaw like that, so low you are throwing the sound to the back of your throat. Keep doing that and you will be in serious trouble in a few years. Do not throw your voice back. You are trying to manufacture a bigger and darker sound because you are young. Don't do it. Sing this with your voice. Okay, truthfully this piece requires more sound than you can summon at your age....I keep telling you to place the sound higher, but you don't believe me do you?? Look, just try it, just get it out of your throat.

To a young woman singing Come scoglio-Cosi fan Tutte-Mozart

You have a very beautiful voice. Wonderful. What is your comfortable top note? Can you sing an E flat? You can sing an F? Honey, then this is not for you. This is a dramatic soprano aria. It is not what I would have chosen for you now.
Good for you for wanting to work on it, but you need to sing lighter stuff, like Blondchen and Susanna very well first. This piece is a killer..You're a talented girl and I want you to do well.

Miss Horne and the audience seemed most taken with the final singer, a tall young baritone who sang Ah per semper! from Bellini's I Puritani. The sound was huge, too loud, unfocused and out of tune. But it was a wonderful sound even so! When she was finished this boy sounded like Titta Ruffo. She continued her mantras with this kid: "Support! Keep the sound out of the back of the throat! Focus!" He began to try her suggestions and suddenly all his pitch problems vanished. Horne would turn to the audience whenever a student did really well and say, "Am I right?"

"You don['t like the way I'm having you sound, do you?"
"Uh, no. It sounds very nasal to me."

"Good!" That's fine! Don't worry about it. It's a better sound out here, warmer, focused, large and honey, in tune!"

It was a great afternoon with a lady who, in the few bits she sang herself, showed she still got it. She was exacting, professional and warm to all.
I took some OSU students with me. On the drive home I played them some of her CDs. They had loved the classes but were too young to have
heard the lady herself. It was a WOW! for them.

Friday, October 14, 2005


OK, so I've spent the whole week keeping my throat open. Damned near gagged with a bulldozer, but finally I know how to squeeze out more sound from the abdominal muscles and use compressed air-the power-through the cords. I'm not saying the sound is pretty, or particularly expressive, or even nice, but there is a sound just past this side of a steam whistle.

Today I got some minute word by word coaching on the German. I'm the macro type myself, but this type of work is crucial, and to me was invaluable. One needs to breathe whether it makes sense musically, and usually-that will be where it makes sense in the words, an afterthought, a qualifying sentence, etc.

Yesterday I was asked to substitute teach a class on Dichterliebe for undergrads.
It's a song lit. class, taught by a first class teacher and artist. He took the day off to sing Yom Kippur services. I told these young people, if you are going to sing this music, then aside from technique and language you must have courage. Don't be afraid to be overtly emotional in your approach. Move your bodies, move your faces, be aware that your eyes are also important points of contact for the audience
(And don't ignore American song; nothing like singing in your own language).
The reason the song business is dying is that you have nice people getting up and singing in German. They don't speak German. Their audience doesn't speak German. But here we are doing two hours of German. So you obviously have to integrate yourselves into the language so completely that you could tell the story blind folded (or gagged!) That's what you are up there for. To tell a story. If it's about love, well what do you know about love? About loss? , pain, unrequited love (the worst) Song literature is chocked full of this.

I knew they would not know Lott Lehman and they didn't. I showed a DVD of one of her master classes. I said, This old lady was the greatest exponent of German song. She had an imperfect technique, and by the time she came to the States her voice was past its best. How did she manage to pack concert halls here for years? Because she believed every word she sang. She gave something of herself to every two minute song. She was unafraid. So must you be.

Monday, October 10, 2005


I had a voice teacher say this to me last week. I've been hearing that a lot lately.
I heard it as well in college over twenty five years ago. I even heard Maria Callas say it to a terrified young soprano in her Juilliard master classes thirty years ago. For the record, it was the only time I heard Callas be anything besides kind and supportive.

You can't sing with your mouth closed. It is possible to open up wide and have the back of your throat sealed up tight. That's what I've been doing. Thus the sound is breathy, unsupported and has no vibrato. It might be pitched speaking but singing it ain't. And I'll say it again...Dichterliebe is-nearly literally-a ball buster.
The physical mechanisms have to be in first class shape to get through this. So today, after a weekend of practicing the "beginning of the yawn" without gagging, I went to rehearsal with Ben and opened my throat, and for about five minutes the sound was big, rich, focused and terrific. After five minutes it was breathy, constricted, tight and horrible. But hell, I got those five minutes I never had before. The great tenor Mario del Monaco used to shove a spoon down his pupil's throats getting to the 'gola aperto'. Gives whole new meaning to "Gag me with a spoon".

Many artists consider 'Ich grolle nicht' to be the emotional heart of the cycle

I won't complain
Even if my heart is breaking
Love lost forever, I won't complain

Even though you gleam with the glory of diamonds
(Wie du auch strahlst in Diamantenspracht, say THAT three times fast!)
No gleam falls into the night of your heart.

I can't sing this. I know the notes, the words and the mood with it's too low, it's too high, it's a killer and I'm all over the place. It is song 7, with 9 to go.
I can't really sing song 6 either, ain't that a kick? The exhortation of the Rhine, "with its great Cathedral of the holy city of Cologne' so far requires more support and gut strength than I can muster without passing gas. But I'm working on it. The singing, I mean.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Well, here's another problem.
How to sing the entire cycle straight through without losing your voice?
I'm croaking a bit anyway, but hell, at least most of the time there's some tone there, some spin and some warmth. I said to Ben today, Let's do the whole thing start to finish, no stopping. We stopped a few times, pushing and shoving our ways through the sea wall of this thick and shifting tonality. I remember when we first discussed doing this, I thought I knew enough about German, so I could learn to do this well. I'm a pretty good musician. I've been listening to Dichterliebe since I was fifteen. How hard could this be?

After one hour of rehearsal I'm done. I need a week in intensive care. Just the
concentration required, the ability to listen and to express what's going on between the bars is an enormous challenge. Noody should throw away their Fritz Wuderlich albums, but this is a wonderful mental and spiritual excerise and I'm gratedul for the opportunity.

So -
Never mind there are two pieces back to back I can't sing because they are too bleeding low. And forget that there's a top G in the first line of the first song that doesn't exist for me. And Ben, bless his heart, says, "Now, on this page where its triple forte and high, just open up." I opened up and my bowels fell on the floor. Why torment an audience, not to mention Schumann? Didn't he have enough trouble beinb crazy?

But I'll tell you, every time I turn the page and see the next song I 'm glad to be working on this.

As my buddy Paul Cote used to say, "Who needs to be over the rainbow when you've been under the ferris wheel?" (Don't ask.)