Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Passing of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

The news of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's passing arrived this weekend. Memories flooded back, principally of hours spent in the Peabody College music library listening to those well-loved Deutsche Grammophon discs, thumbing through the dog-eared Schubert and Schumann editions; listening to that voice! It was a classical performer's voice that was as fresh and recognizable as any comparable pop artist.

Everyone can identify Sir Paul McCartney's voice, or Tony Bennett's, or Frank Sinatra's. One simply must stop and take note when their voices are heard. Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, and Taylor Swift also come to mind--there is that something about their voice and delivery that makes people stop and listen.

Fischer-Dieskau became, in his generation and genre, one of those voices, along with a bare handful of others such as Peter Pears. Like Frank and Tony, Dietrich understood that he sang in order to deliver poetry to the audience, and that the audience matters. The text always 'won', always shaped the performance, always guided the proceedings. He understood musical style, and how to sing stylishly. He understood the music he sang as entire pieces of music in which he participated, not as some sort of vehicle to carry his ambitions along. He knew entire scores, not just the bits he sang.

He also understood that the gent at the piano was his collaborator, not his accompanist. And he knew what to do in a recording studio, a great part of his genius.

Every time you hear a singer talk about his or her 'voice' as some separate entity, apart from the delivery of poetry in music, run the other direction.  Otherwise, you will be treated to turgid performances in which everything, in technical terms, may be correct, but not worth the time spent listening. Go watch a baseball game, a soccer match, a golf tournament. At least those folks understand the goal of their efforts.

So much classical performing training I continue to encounter seems to be geared to simultaneously equipping students with great technical chops while suppressing their individual voices. It's happening now more than ever, in our age of programmed performing children. (To quote Rozanne Rozanna-danna, 'Don't get me started!') I was, to great extent, taught as a player that my job was to perform within the expected parameters, always give the conductor what he wants; and that most of the time, my opinion just did not matter enough to express. It was a shock when I began to find my own voice as a performer.

It is a blessing that as a young man, his teachers were not able (or didn't seek) to suppress this voice. The world owes them, and him, a great debt of gratitude.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

ABRSM Exam Week Spring 2012 Day 4/5, And Wrapping Up

Day 4 was just one of those days. They happen. A few candidates just crawled through their exams, for reasons unknown, and we fell...behind.

Lipscomb University so graciously hosted us, and kudos and thanks to them. I made use of two stewards, Rachel and Mia, who did yeoman service keeping things going as best they could. But, in the end, it was just one of those days.

We made up for it with Carol joining us and a new arrival from England--a piano and flute teacher with an LRSM and CTABRSM behind her name--for Chinese dinner nearby. We made a new friend and colleague, and the day seemed less futile.

Friday was a travel day to Lake Guntersville, Alabama, for the first-ever ABRSM exams to be held in Alabama at Lake Guntersville Music Academy. Exams were held on Saturday. Things could not have gone more smoothly, and our hosts Keith and Karla Sullivan were lovely.

I trained a new steward, and hired her on the spot for next fall at day's end.

The day ended with Richard Storry speaking with a group of about fifteen teachers, parents and students. He was charming and informative, and the group was great to be with. It's inspiring, especially,  to be around parents who 'get it', who understand good music training is so important to a child's entire lifetime; and are willing to spend the money, put miles on the car, and invest the hours to make sure their children have this opportunity.

Keith and Karla recommended Lake Guntersville State Park as our place to stay for the weekend, and we were not disappointed. Beautiful lodge with views of the lake, with a friendly staff who were fascinated by Richard's London accent. We, for our part, enjoyed the Alabama accent, especially its treatment of the word 'right'. It sounds approximately like this: rrrRRaaaaaaAGHHhhhhhhht.

At the end of a visit, the examiner hands off the results of the week's work to the representative--mark sheets carefully hand-written in duplicate and exam rosters in duplicate. The rep gets to go home and sort them, making sure the bits that go back to the applicants (usually the teacher) are safely mailed, and the bits that go to ABRSM are shipped off. It's tedious--Rachel, my Nashville steward, helped out, blessedly. So, all is underway.

Richard rejoins us in Louisville in early June, and we'll see what manner of adventures he has had in Chicago, Madison, Atlanta, and other far-flung places in the US.

The Other Championship Team At University of Louisville: Kent Hatteberg and The Cardinal Singers

I admit it freely.  I love watching Big East basketball, especially my alma mater Louisville Cardinals under Rick Pitino's leadership.

This 2011-2012 season certainly had its ups and downs, but that final run to the Final Four was truly a thrill to behold. Pitino is a teacher's teacher, and it's a joy to watch him work with his young men. Toward the end of the game, even if they are twenty points up or twenty points down with ten seconds to go, Pitino is right there, teaching teaching teaching about what one does in this situation. He never, ever, lets up.

When this year's team found their mojo, they were reading one anothers' minds, and it was if they were making music on the court. It was joyful, almost effortless--dribble/pass/pick-and-roll/pass/pass/pass/give-the-ball-to-Siva--and suddenly there he was, laying the ball into the basket...

So, if you're expecting some angry musician's rant about 'Let's by golly shut down the athletic departments and fire all those pricey coaches', this is not the place to look, ever.

That said--Choirs are nearly so 'sexy' as Division I NCAA major sports teams. They make their music, in the main, standing still, in much smaller halls, before smaller audiences. But the great choral conductors and great coaches have much in common: that relentless, never-let-up, always teaching and mentoring personality that creates great performances and inspiring evenings.

My alma mater has one of those in Kent Hatteberg, and his Cardinal Singers were just rated the. world. Not just the Big East, or the US. The world.

Kent does not get up in the faces of his kids and yell 'What were you thinking?!?' at crucial moments in the process, but he does constantly inspire and teach, and the singing speaks for itself. The few encounters I've had with his students have been inspiring. They would follow him anywhere, anytime.

Take a listen--I think you'll understand why.