relates to private voice instruction, voice classes, singing groups for elders and other affiliations

“If you saw this notated, you wouldn’t know how to begin to learn this,” said Eugene Friesen at our recent workshop in Vermont.  We all agreed.  We were moving our feet in one pattern, our mouths in another, and using rhythmic shakers in third.  Pretty shaky, overall.  I would think I had achieved some sort of groove, then would lose it.  And then gain it back by NOT thinking, but by feeling the pulse “in the lower part of your body” as master percussionist Glen Velez suggested.

two absract figures with leaves
Matisse polyrhythms

“Your Rhythm, Your Life” was the title of the workshop, but we often felt as if we were being mugged by our fears.  And yet, we each improved, improvised over the patterns and gained confidence.  I learned a lot about how I learn and how others do as well, and I had a barrel of fun improvising with the other intrepid participants, a gaggle of string players and singers.

I LOVE being a student in musical workshops.  I get to be nervous and excited, want to please the teachers, ask questions, get plenty of feedback, and not take up too much space .  It reminds me of what my students must go through in my classes.  Beginner’s mind.  Well, advanced intermediate in this case, but you get the idea.

I learn best when I’m not expecting too much or trying too hard.  I have had some of my best lessons when I was feeling under the weather–lower expectations.  When I can play at something, I discover for myself and learn the best.  When I am praised for small victories, I thrive and feel safe to take more risks.

The third teacher at this marvelous workshop is a singer, Loire.  She demonstrated, sang duets with us and played with us musically.  The last session, she said that as she looked around, we were all scowling and focusing our faces so hard.  She observed we could say “I have no idea where I am” with either a frustrated voice or a very playful voice.  We all laughed and someone said that we actually hear better with our mouths open in a smile.  Is that why it is so pleasant to have a little open mouthed yawn as we inhale to sing?  We hear better?  And I thought it just opened the physical apparatus so I could sing better.  Hmmm…

Polyrhythms.   Easier to learn  through play and body movements than thinking too much.  In through the back door.  Start with something we CAN do and build on that.  Expect fun, set reasonable goals.  Aim high as we like and be willing to allow ourselves to make some messes along the way.

blue bran with lots of arrows coming into and out of itSometimes my brain gets full. This “information age” can be quite exhausting at times. So when I attended 4 days of wonderful concerts, master classes and workshops here in Boston at the National NATS conference last week, I felt I needed a nap every day.

Actually, I felt like that in school after lunch.

But I digress. Or not. How do we absorb all this wonderful new stuff?

I find it seeps down. Sneaky deep, as my friend Cerridwen puts it.

Coming back to teaching summer lessons and classes, I found myself trying new things, on the fly, with students.  Just simple things, like closing your eyes and feeling the sound, or placing your hands gently on your cheeks to feel the gentle opening of the jaw.  Just stuff.  And I felt excited again about my students’ progress.  And they discovered new things themselves.  It wasn’t all new information, but hearing it from a different teacher (or student), gave me a new look.

A new look.  So I was looking for some French mélodies (that’s art song, the French equivalent of German Lied) and thought of an old book I was given by one of my teachers, Woody Thornton, before he moved to Europe to sing opera in the 1980’s.   Sergius Kagan’s Music for the Voice.  Still in print, and at your local library.  Chock-full of great information on songs, their range and tessitura, suitability for high or low voices, how hard the piano part is, etc.  And Mr. Kagan edited most of the International Editions I bought over the years.  So, despite databases and new books on repertoire, here was this marvelous book right next to the piano, on the shelf with dictionaries and encyclopedias.

There are 2 anthologies of French songs in my very library, edited by Mr. Kagan, with so many composers– BUT NOT Fauré and Debussy, because everybody sings a lot of those two wonderful guys.

And that’s how it goes. Hearing D’Anna Fortunato sing a short recital of Boston composers (with the Marvelous John McDonald) reminded me of how long this great legacy is.  (I’m also a booster on West Coast composers, being bi-coastal).  And hearing 2 marvelous baritone recitals of mostly American music, more great repertoire and new composers.  Hearing the scientific basis of what we intuitively know after years of using our voices and teaching others to do so, is very cool.  It seems that body-based learning is all the rage.  Who knew our style would finally become fashionable?

So, my takeaway from all this is that a nap is a good thing.  I once heard that Pavarotti said “90% of my practicing is done in bed.”  Before you get snarky and lewd, think about this: we used look at the vocabulary list before bed and be better able to give those definitions on the next day’s test.  We absorb, and the knowledge filters down, sneaky deep.

 

 

 

 

CMC Open House Flyer

I’m going to be teaching at the Cambridge Music Consortium beginning in July. I’m thrilled to be rejoining my excellent faculty colleagues from Longy in a wonderful space they have created over the past year. While I enjoyed my studio in Arlington and walking to Spy Pond on breaks,  I can now walk in beautiful neighborhoods around Broadway and do my grocery shopping at the “old Bread and Circus” on Prospect. There is an open house for the whole of CMC this coming Sunday, and I will be there in the evening shift. (There’s a “petting zoo” in the afternoon for kids. I’m not sure what one could pet on my instrument, so I’ll skip that.)  I’ll be on their website before too long, and you can contact me here if you are interested in lessons.   I will be accepting new students there on Mondays and Thursdays.

 

I was good in school, but bad at two things: penmanship and conduct. Got “Satisfactory” in both subjects–like a gentlewoman’s C.
I spent a lot of time in first grade in the hallway, mostly from talking. “Yes, I know the other children were talking, Liz, but we HEARD you.”

Well, I’m not sure I behave any better as an adult, but I am learning to conduct better. Conduct others, that is. Turns out, it’s a neat trick to be able to telegraph musical ideas in new ways. I’m used to singing, breathing, moving to give signals to colleagues when I’m performing. I’m accustomed to guiding the student(s) with my piano playing. Now, I am actually working with a pianist (a very good one–Megan Henderson is a singer, player and conductor herself) who will follow my gestures and take my tempi, all with a wave of a hand.

I had some great choral conductors in my life. Tom Fettke was my high school chorus teacher at Oakland High School. William F. Russell at Pomona College, Louis Magor in the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, Roger Nelson in the Port Costa Players, and Craig Smith at Emmanuel Music in Boston. All these folks LET US SING, they let us BE MUSICAL. You have no idea how many conductors try to control a group of singers and get no music made at all. Others try but are ineffective at keeping a beat or showing what they want.

The leaders who inspire me clearly LOVE their players and the music. I once sat onstage to watch Bernard Haitink conduct the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Brahms 2nd Symphony (We called it the Tweedy symphony after that because of the Dutch spelling of 2nd: Tweede). He looked at his players with such warmth and respect, and wow, did he get a sound from them.

This past weekend I heard and saw Maria Schneider and her Orchestra perform in Boston. This woman attracts the very best jazz players, folks who ordinarily wouldn’t be playing with such a big group–they are all marvelous soloists on their own. And she not only writes such beautiful arrangements, but she clearly lets them do their musical thing. Not just on their solos,  but being musical partners to her tunes all through.

group of singers standing around a guitarist, having fun

So as I begin my new phase of conducting these voice classes of elder adults–away from the piano, just standing and waving and breathing–I am inspired by the marvelous models above. And others. So far, so good. We sang a dress rehearsal at a senior residence this morning, and I really enjoyed just being with the music and with my group. Listening, loving, not worrying about how I was doing, being in the moment.

What a gift.

JP Jubilee in concert tomorrow night, Jamaica Plain branch library, 7:00, free. Very short program.

Platinum singers begin their summer session May 7 at the Harriet Tubman House.

The chorus at the Simon Fireman Home in Randolph is making a couple of field trips in June (one to visit the Platinum Singers, their “cousins” through me, and the other to the “Mother Ship” of Hebrew Senior Life in Roslindale.)  We’re working on “Goin’ to Boston” and other tunes about Time and Place.

I hesitate to call my elder singers “cute.”  But that keeps coming to mind.  My mom used that word plenty and I’ve used it from everything to describe shoes, food, people and especially animals.   Can’t help it.  But what is NOT cute about:

  • folks who have already proven themselves as capable, competent,  distinguished and all the other adjectives that describe adult behavior AND
  • are willing to be silly and playful in order to find creative expression.

It’s not that we try to act silly in class or onstage.  It’s just that we are willing to let go of those carefully crafted personas we developed as we grew into adulthood.  We let go of having to be in charge and set an example to the kids, the bosses, the clients.

I teach all ages and learn from them all.  That’s the fun of teaching, continuing to learn.  What I notice is how LITTLE my older students complain about what they cannot do or what ails them.  They go on, move forward and keep growing.  It inspires me to be a better conductor and pianist.  So, come to one of the class concerts I’m conducting in the next few weeks.  JP Jubilee is the new name for Singing for Seniors at The Boston Public Library. Our concert will be short, free and full of fun.  Thursday December 5 at 7:30 pm in Jamaica Plain, see full info below.a group of energetic senior singers with their mouths open in song

…And The Platinum Singers are performing at the Harriet Tubman House on Wednesday, December 18 at 2:30 in the afternoon.  An in-house concert of an hour with these sweeties.  We just had a grand pre-Thanksgiving lunch with a terrific group called “Grandparents Raising Grandchildren”.  They sang along with us and told us their stories (if we asked).  Directions to the Tubman House:  www.uses.org  Flyer to follow shortly…

Liz standing in front of the small chorus, all wearing Platinum Singers/USES banners around their necks

So, is there a better word than cute?  Let me know and I’ll try to incorporate it…

colorful piano keyboard

During an exercise class  I was moving in the wrong direction, as the teacher was keeping us on our toes by mixing things up. It reminded me to “find my feet”, a comment that helps in all sorts of situations.

Well, in music it helps to find middle C. Working with a 12-year old student, we kept finding C in songs and exercises (her clever teacher knows the material).

And I am learning a Handel role that is in alto clef. Nice to have our own clef, but it requires finding middle C and adjusting, after years of treble and bass clef. It is certainly familiar; after all, I have sung Baroque pieces in this clef and I am in a trio with a viola, who also uses this clef. But even a seasoned contralto needs to “find her feet” by finding Middle C, just to stay balanced.

Middle C is a great way to get grounded, and also to remember what is truly important.  As I prepare to sing a benefit for a cure for folks with MS, I am aware that health is a huge middle C for us all.

alto clef with description of where middle C is locatedMy back in hurting tonight, so I’m keeping things simple and not attending the social event that was planned.  Staying home and keeping quiet is a good balance for a gregarious performer.  We need quiet time and time to get centered before performances.   I don’t usually listen to recordings of works I’m preparing, but since I’ve known “Schlummert Ein” for about 30 years, I figured it might be nice to check out my shelf of CDs.  I knew I had Lorraine Hunt and Will Parker, both lovely colleagues who died at the height of their careers.  I also found Max von Egmond, the Dutch baritone with whom I studied and later sang a Christmas Oratorio with here in Boston.  What a delight to hear such beautiful performances, and such memories of all of them.   Each brings their special interpretation and character to this piece. I used to feel intimidated by recordings, especially someone as close in age to me as Lorraine.  But something changes as we age–the sense of unworthiness, frustration at not being perfect, or sheer ambition simply shifts.  I look forward to ours tomorrow.

Appreciation has many rewards.  Being able to keep singing and doing what I love is the best.   I get to teach a master class this coming Tuesday at NEC on Baroque ornamentation.  I’m no huge expert, but I’ve been doing this long enough and I love to mentor less experienced singers.  Introducing them to the joys and thrills of making up their own improvisations.  I found out some of my colleagues who are more expert than me are quite reluctant to put themselves out there.   What have we to lose?  Let’s share what we know and encourage others.

When I write exercises on a classroom board, I usually say:

I’m writing this in C major, but life is not in C major.”

Thanks to a student named Virginia, who made me this button

Yellow button with "Life is not in C major"

in his retirement, Mr. Longy pictured with his rabbits
in his retirement, Mr. Longy pictured with his rabbits

Last week, nine of my private students came and sang a recital in Pickman Hall at the Longy School of Music, where I have taught for 26 years.  It was a bittersweet event, but more sweet than bitter.  The students sang beautifully, we had duets and improvisations in addition to classical solos.  I invited two alumnae of the Longy Continuing Education program to sing, and both singers have  blossomed into a master teachers and performers.

I made a flyer from my favorite picture of Georges Longy, seen here, in his retirement from the Boston Symphony Orchestra (he was principal oboe for many years).  Of course the bunnies theme has predominated a lot of my attention since Fran Trester wrote her wonderful opera for us.  I keep spotting bunnies at dusk, and on the grounds of the Longy school as well.

Our audience included several former students in my classes and private studio, including one woman who was visiting from Cairo!  We all sang the Beatles’ “In My Life” together after Louise Grasmere and I had put our marks on it, as well as some improv and “Bye Bye Love”.  It was a love fest, and it was a terrific way for me to honor the spirit of the school that I enjoyed so much all these years.

COZZOLANI!  This magnificent composer–a 17th century nun–has been a labor of love and delight for my colleagues on the West Coast for many years–stretching back for me to 1999.  I just received my copy of the final CD in the set of her complete works, performed as she heard them, with women’s voices.  I must admit I forgot about some of the chamber works I recorded in 2002 and even some in 2010, shortly before my mom died.  But hearing these again brings me such joy, and I am giving a small sample here.  I’m not on every track, but the funniest part is sometimes I do not recognize myself!  My wife does, though.  “Honey, that’s you.”  Oh yeah.  I was just grooving on the music.

I am also happy to read Warren Stewart’s dedication to Judith Nelson, who died last year.  It was Judy who brought Chiara Margarita Cozzolani to Warren’s attention, and I sang my first concert of her works with Judy; she on top soprano and me on the very bottom of the 8-woman ensemble.  Judy had me over to tea in 1985, before I went to study in Europe, and said to me “Don’t let anybody tell you can’t use your vibrato.  You can quote me.”  A wonderful artist who pioneered early music singing style.

NEW STUDIO!  I have a new teaching studio in Arlington Center, starting in September.  Lessons will be offered on Mondays all day and Thursday evenings.  Of course the Jamaica Plain studio is going strong (Tuesdays and Fridays), as is the New England Conservatory (Wednesdays).  I’m offering an adult education class on Handel this fall at NEC on Wednesday nights.     http://necmusic.edu/ce/voice-opera

If you want to discuss lessons or classes with me for the fall, press the contact button!

Fruits of many seasons continue to ripen.  May yours do the same.

 

Private lessons

Jamaica Plain

All levels & styles

www.elizabethanker.com

 

Voice classes for adults

in

Boston and Cambridge

See below

Singing for Everyone

(Longy School of Music CS005A)

Registration ends soon!

Learn breathing, improve range and tone,

all repertoires welcome,

No prerequisites!

Thursdays, 7:30 PM -9:00 PM

Begins Thursday, September 20

10 meetings per semester $395

communityprograms@longy.edu

617-876-0956, ext. 1650

www.Longy.edu

Bach Arias

For Singers and Instrumentalists

(New England Conservatory’s School of Continuing Ed)

Sing the fabulous arias and duets of Bach with instrumentalists. Develop style, phrasing, and rehearsal techniques; Perform at end. Prerequisite: Familiarity with singing German and ability to learn music on one’s own.

Wednesdays 7:30 – 9:00 pm
Begins Wednesday September 19      (no class Sept 26)
15 meetings per semester $640

 

Platinum Singers

(Boston’s United South End Settlements)

Seniors have a blast singing, learning vocal health, and performing!

 

Harriet Tubman House, Corner Mass. Ave and Columbus Ave.  South End

www.USES.org  617 536-8610 Registration:  hviarruel@uses.org

Wednesdays, 2-3:30pm, Begins Wednesday, October 3, 2012

12 meetings, $15 suggested donation per semester

Watch: http://www.boston.com/video/viral_page/?/services/player/bcpid19067533001&bctid=68935457001

Today I led  260 Senior Citizens singing  “My Girlin harmony at the Elder Expo in Boston.  Can’t get better than that, or can it?

Upcoming:  Classes start soon at Longy, NEC and the United South End Settlements (where the hip Seniors find me on Wednesday afternoons).

High Holidays on Cape Cod–I am the cantorial soloist and cannot resist this chavurah (not a congregation, but a great group) that does NOT CHARGE ANYTHING for High Holiday seats (or even to belong).  How 60’s is that? http://ahycc.org/

Just finished a wonderful conference for singing teachers–New England NATS–where I learned even more about singing cabaret style and using my “non-legit”  voice.  Even (especially) singing teachers want to be able to be non-legit…

Upcoming:  A new piece by John McDonald on Elizabeth Bennet’s shakuhachi recital at Tufts onOctober 16 (3 PM at Tufts)…come to this free concert and find out what a shakuhachi sounds like.

334 Bunnies in January, February and May (Longy School, JP Concerts and Shirley Meeting House, in that order).  More to come!