Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mother Courage

I paid a visit to my dear friend Phyllis this afternoon. She has often appeared in these pages as 'The Other Voice Teacher', but since many of you have divined her identity, we will stick to Phyllis.

She is at home again after what I have called 'The Winter of her Discontent.' Numerous hospital stays followed by days in rehab facilities. Nobody's fun and games.

Through it all she always comes up smiling and back to her bright, intense self.

Today, having briefly discussed her health problems, she wanted to get down to our usual business of talking about singers and singing.

One of my students, a young soprano, is preparing two senior recitals; one for this fall and one for the spring. We have been going over a variety of songs and arias that she may decide to program

Phyllis and I lamented the fact that these days, the Lieder recital has become as extinct as Tyrannosaurus Rex. Outside of a college campus, nobody sings this kind of program anymore. A young singer wishing to follow a career as a classical singer, has almost no other option than to go into it through the world of opera.

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In the days of 'Community Concerts' (my youth), singers and every other sort of musician came to Battle Creek Michigan and performed at the Kellogg Auditorium. The cost of a season ticket was $5.00. Phyllis said in those days she would sing sixty song recitals a season, in addition to her appearances with various international opera companies.

When I came to New York City in 1950, every weekend I would get free passes for Town Hall concerts from the Music Office at Columbia University. I heard singers, pianists, violinists, you name it, sometime three concerts in a weekend. And the singers sang SONGS.

Well, Community Concerts and Town Hall have gone the way of the Dodo and, these days, a young singer has almost no place to sing the song repertoire.

With all of my serious young singers, I have them work on the song literature in various languages from various musical eras. But I also have them learn operatic arias.

If they expect to have a career in classical music, for better or worse, this is the route that is open to them.

We both lamented this is the way the world of music has gone, but determined that young singers need to be prepared to sing opera if they expect to have a career.

Sometimes, when they become famous, a few of them will do 'Song Recitals' and, because of their fame and reputation, actually get an audience to come hear them. Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, while she was working with me, did song recitals here and in Europe. She had made her name in opera first. She always sang to a packed house. Several of her song recitals are available on CDs.

I will continue to give my students a varied diet of songs but will lace it with operatic arias. You need to do what you have to do. The important thing is to sing!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Come to the Cabarets- All of Them!

I have been wallowing in Cabaret music this month. It has been wonderful. A steady diet of hot fudge sundaes on peppermint ice cream with whipped cream and a cherry.  (I just put on ten pounds thinking about that!)

In spite of my training in classical music, or perhaps, because of it, I have always loved cabaret music, show tunes, you name it. When I was in Junior High School in Battle Creek, Michigan about a hundred years ago, it was normal for our friends and neighbors to come to our house of an evening, gather around the piano and sing all the popular songs of the day, so I got an early start in this musical genre.

The month began with my long-time friend and student, Peggy Noecker, and I performing two cabarets, which have already been noted in these pages.

Then, just last Tuesday, my friend and student, Karen Smith Emerson, who is the Elise Irwin Sweeney Professor of Music (Voice) at Smith College, sang a beautiful recital of songs by Francis Poulenc, who was one of Erik Satie's Les nouveaux jeunes. He was also one of Stravinsky's Les Six. Satie spent a lot of time playing piano in Parisian saloons and undoubtedly had an influence on Poulenc. When Karen and I were working on her program, I said, several times to her, 'Think Edith Piaf'. So much of Poulenc's Fiançailles pour rire, which was the main part of her program, evokes the smokey atmosphere of a Paris Boite. Karen was able to bring her high soprano voice right down below the passaggio to deliver this kind of sexy sound. It was a great recital.

To round out my indulgence in Musique de Cabaret, tonight my friend Sue and I heard Brel in the Berkshires presented by Barrington Stage Company. It was not held in their usual venue but rather upstairs at the Spice Dragon Restaurant in a great room for this kind of event.

The two exceptional singers were Amanda McBroom and George Ball, accompanied by the fine pianist, Michele Brourman. I have heard Amanda several times and am blown away every time I hear her by the emotional strength and communication of her performance. She grabs you by the collar and won't let you go until she leaves the stage. She is about the most intense cabaret singer I know of. She has the kind of voice that seems able to do absolutely anything she wants it to. She is simply wonderful!

Her husband, George Ball, is equally good and together, with Michele, they brought an exciting evening to Pittsfield.

Jacques Brel was a Belgian singer-songwriter-actor who created  a new type of chanson that became an international sensation. His musical, Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in Paris, has been performed throughout the world for many years. Both Amanda and George have appeared in this show many times.

Amanda is a talented song writer in her own right, having penned 'The Rose' which was made famous by Bette Midler some time ago. She sang this as an encore.

This was a great evening. Let's have more of this from Barrington Stage!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Tale of Two Cabarets

My friend Peggy Noecker and I have recently performed two cabarets. We have been doing cabarets, as well as classical vocal recitals, together for about thirty years. We announced last night that we are going to keep doing them until we get it right.

Well, it's going pretty right as it is. We did the first one a week ago at my home in Massachusetts and the second last night at her home in New Jersey.

This is the obvious ambiance for an intimate concert like a cabaret. The performers have the audience literally in their laps. This makes our communication with them, and with each other, very compelling. The audience becomes a part of the show.

I have seen a lot of cabaret performances in my lifetime. Two of my favorites were Nancy Ford performing at the Firebird Restaurant on west 47th street several times, and Lena Horne doing her one woman show a number of years ago on Broadway. I worked with Nancy on the preparation of this performance. She got rave reviews in the New York Times. Lena did her own thing- as only she could do it!

Cabarets need to seem as if the performer is making it up as he or she goes along, while really having a very clear plan in mind of the direction the show needs to take. Off-hand remarks while performing need to be tested to see if they work and should be kept in the act. This may vary from performance to performance, but usually you can tell pretty quickly if something is going to sell. I saw Lena's show twice. Each time her apparent off-hand remarks and stage business was the same. She made it look as if she had just made it up. That's acting!

Whether one is performing in a private home, a café, or on a Broadway stage, the feeling of spontaneity is necessary. I guess this is true of any performance, but when singing Schubert, you can't do too much ad libbing or you'll be arrested for murder.

Not every classical singer can be convincing in both classical repertoire and show tunes. (See Renée Fleming and Barbra Streisand). Eileen Farrell could do it just fine. Lorraine was able to swing on both sides of the pendulum, stylistically speaking.

Once when we were Los Angeles to hear her sing Xerxes at the LA Opera, after the matinée we all went to dinner together and then, because it was still early, went on to a hotel lounge for an after dinner drink. Someone was playing background  piano music. One of Lorraine's friends spoke to him, suggesting he ask her to sing. After some coaxing, she got up and sang a couple of 'pop' numbers in great style, musically and vocally. The friend then told the pianist that she had just finished singing the title role in Xerxes at the Opera House just down the street. He was delighted; and so were we! It was a great evening.

Neither Peggy nor I is in our first blush of youth, but somehow we can still do it. Good luck or good genes! And lots of working together. To quote a line from the 1954 musical comedy, The Boy Friend, which introduced Julie Andrews to Broadway, 'Many a good tune's been played on an old violin'.

Think of Peggy and me as Stradivari. Priceless!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Autumn music

This is going to be a busy fall for me, performance-wise. Beginning on September 8th, I begin a two concert series with my long-time friend and student, Peggy Noecker. Peggy and I have done classical concerts which have included Berio's 'Sequanza III and Turino's 'Semana Santa á Sevilla'.

We have also done a number of Cabarets from time to time. This fall we are doing two of these. September 8th at Rood Hill Farm at 7:30 p.m.( for reservations) and in Middletown, NJ on September 15, 7:30 in the evening. ( for reservations). Seating will be limited at both venues. We will be singing songs from Sondheim to Coward; a melange of show tunes from the 40's to the present day.

Then in October and November I will switch hats and play three classical concerts with 'cellist Andrea Spencer-Linzie. We will perform works by Vivaldi, Fauré, Ginasteria, and Grieg. We will be at Rood Hill Farm on Sunday afternoon, October 7th at 4:00 p.m.
( for reservations), then at The Methodist Church in Red Bank, NJ on Sunday afternoon, October 14th at 3:30 p.m., and finally at the Cherry Hill NJ Unitarian Church on Sunday, November 4th, at 3:30 p.m. For reservations: .

I have also been asked to speak at the GLAD 'Spirit of Justice' benefit dinner at the Marriott Copley Hotel in Boston on Friday, October 26th. I will speak for the plaintiffs in the suit GLAD is bringing against DOMA. We have won at the Federal District Court level and at the Federal Appeals Court level. Our case will undoubtedly go to the US Supreme Court next year. I am proud to have been asked to speak on behalf of the seventeen plaintiffs in this case.