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Starting again

Singing classes which double as performing groups–what’s not to love?  Two groups start this week, plus private lessons in Central Square and Jamaica Plain.

The Platinum Singers at USES meet after an excellent exercise class on Wednesdays…see below for complete list of classes (and can you spot us in the little photo?)

senior-services-fy17

Red and Green

Now it starts!

Lessons, Classes, High Holidays, time to sing!

describes the class and its goals, when it meets (Friday mornings at Curtis Hall, JP)

2. United South End Settlements’

Platinum Singers

Wednesdays, 2-3:30pm                                                 September 16, 2015 thru December 16, 2015

Location:  Harriet Tubman House,                                       566 Columbus Ave (at Mass Ave.), Boston’s South End

Elizabeth Anker, instructor/conductor

 Come learn to sing and share music with others seniors

In this class, we learn to use our speaking and singing voices in a healthy way, boost our air power, volume and expressivity.

 We sing together and harmonize, and have FUN!

 Pre-registration is required. Contact Heidy Viarruel at (617) 375-8114 or write: hviarruel@uses.org
A $15 donation for the entire semester is requested, however, no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

3. Private voice lessons in Jamaica Plain and Cambridge’s Central Square begin Sept 15.

4. I am cantorial soloist at a very welcoming Havurah on Cape Cod–no tickets required, no fees (kind of like my classes).  In Orleans:  Am HaYam Cape Cod Havurah

 

 

Our beautiful minds and hearts

“I don’t want to be known as ‘The Aphasia Guy’” said John to me at his lesson.

John came back to voice lessons after a break of several years. He said he wanted to sing to “keep the black dog” away. I figured he meant some kind of depression. He told me after a few weeks that he had recently been diagnosed with aphasia – the Greeks said it was “speechless”– and he was already having trouble remembering words.

I do my best to not furnish words for him, but instead let him describe around the word or just nod patiently and wait. But when it comes to singing lyrics of songs, he sometimes gets frustrated and shuts down. His normal lyric tenor sounds tight as he closes his mouth, tightens his jaw and sings a half-hearted “luh luh” instead of the words to the art song.

His love of music has remained, and he brings in familiar songs he knows, in German, Italian, French and English — Renaissance and 19th century — and some family songs from his childhood (He rarely gets the words wrong for those).

At first I encouraged him to sing a nice open Italian “ah” or some other open neutral sound when he forgot the words, but he really wanted to do as many lyrics as possible.

Late this summer, John wrote me an email saying he wanted to learn how to “read music better.”  I knew what he meant. He had always learned a few things wrong in each song, even before the aphasia. And once we learn a mistake, it’s hard to correct. But now the musical notation was feeling less decipherable. I wrote back that he reads music fine, but his rhythm has always needed work, so we should focus on keeping the beat, which has always given him confidence that he’s singing what’s on the page.

I don’t know why this works, incidentally, but in my years of working with singers I have witnessed again and again a great improvement in everything—words, rhythm and melody—when a student taps the beat with their hand, or even marches. John and I have done a lot of walking in lessons, when he wasn’t slapping his thigh loudly.

One day I was speaking with my friend Daniel Kempler, a professor of speech pathology whose specialty happens to be aphasia.  He told me that perhaps there is too much going on in printed music, and maybe just reading the words would be easier.  He told me that we “overlearn reading” so that it stays as a skill, even when someone might not understand the meaning of the words. I agreed. Writing the words is helpful to me, as I learn and memorize my songs. Indeed, I give an assignment to all my students before their first lesson to write down the words of their song. It’s a great way of getting in touch with the poetry without the tyranny of a notational representation of what the composer heard in his/her head.

John was unsure if this was the way he wanted to go.  After all, he is hoping to retain these musical skills. But he wrote down the words of his Purcell songs and in the lessons, we worked out a way to handle repeats.

He reads great!  We stayed with English for quite a while.

One odd thing: he keeps reading as if in a sentence, even if the melody expands on a single syllable (many notes on one word).  So we are working on a system that he can devise (and remember) that will make sense to him.  “Come, co-ome a-way-ay-ay-ay” might end up sounding like “Aye, Aye,” if one loses the context, which he can do.

In the early Fall, he told me he wanted to sing with his wife playing piano.  I consult with her teacher, a colleague at the Cambridge Music Consortium, about a good piece for the pianist, and I am delighted we all love a Schubert song, “Gute Nacht”, the first song in the long cycle, Winterreise.

John used to sing pretty well in German, but there are many long verses in “Gute Nacht.”   I suggest we look for an English translation he can sing and maybe cut some of the repeats.

John comes back the next week with his lyrics and a decent translation, not singable but at least we know what each word means.  He tries to sing it, but of course it does not scan–I tell him that singable translations rarely get the total gist of the original.

The next week he comes back with several verses for which he has made his OWN translation. And a lot of it really scans well and even has some of the alliteration and vowel sounds.  This excites me to no end.  We work on the awkward spots, and still, he sometimes just keeps reading the words.  We still get to work on the “good ni-i-ight”.

But it is coming.

I know John was a journalist. He was the Washington correspondent for a major newspaper during the Watergate era.  It is a thrill to witness the tenacity and inventiveness in his preparation for the lessons. To me, he is a Noble Member of the “Enemies List” of a certain president of the United States. And a really fun student to teach.

 

 

Sheet music to Gute Nacht

Cambridge beckons

 

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.

 

Find Middle C

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"

Fruits

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.