Sunday, October 18, 2009


Yesterday, I went to visit Martin Isepp for lunch. Martin is an incredible vocal coach with whom I've spent the past three summers working on various song repertoire at Marlboro. My summers working with him have deepened my love of lieder and reconnected me with my passion for music in general. He's pushed me to demand the best from myself in my work and to constantly dig deeper. The main thing I've taken from him, though, is the importance of conveying the heart of the music. In all of my sessions with him, I am constantly humbled by how great the music we perform is and how much it demands of us, and at the end of our sessions I am always left feeling as if there is always further for me to go in being able to convey all that is there. At one point during our lunch yesterday, I was asking Martin for some feedback about a recital program that I have been thinking about for an upcoming recital tour next fall. After listening to some of my ideas, he considered them for a moment, and then said in his gentle manner, "it sounds like it could be really lovely, but one has to be careful not to get too intellectual about things."

Lately, I've noticed a lot of PR-hype about the booing at the new Tosca at the Met (which I did not see, being in England), and many reviews complaining about how the director's "concept" seemed to get in the way of the emotional impact of the piece and Puccini's vision of the story, leaving audiences, at the very least, dissatisfied. I've also seen many blog posts recently offering young artists as much business advice as possible so that they can groom themselves to be picked up by one of the many apprenticeship programs now that audition season is upon them. It's all had me thinking about being a bit "too intellectual" about things for the past month, so what Martin said resonated with me and struck a chord. It's all reminded me of my young artist days at HGO and at Glimmerglass, when I heard a ton of advice about what to sing in auditions, what to wear in auditions, I reformatted my resume countless times, spent hours in the copy room making sure my audition notebook was just right, fussed over which headshot to pick, and lost many an evening pouring over the internet worrying which manager would be best for me to contact or which program should I apply for. Yesterday at lunch, I recounted to Martin a story about how I used to offer the most difficult and flashy list of arias, trying to market myself as a certain type of singer, of a certain fach. The catch was that I was not really singing the music that I really had a passion for. I over-thought everything in order to fit myself into the box I thought I needed to fit into in order to move ahead. So, rather than have any sort of fun preparing and performing these pieces, I would simply fret and worry. I used to get incredibly nervous every time I auditioned, because rather than focus on my joy in singing, I was trying to sell myself as something. In the end, I realized that I was only selling myself short.

Hearing Martin's counsel, I also thought about a video celebrating Leontyne Price's NEA Opera Award last year (via Yankeediva) that I've watched a couple of times over the past few weeks. In it, Ms. Price said two things that really struck me. The first was: "To sing, I think, is the most human. You are the vessel, everything depends on how YOU feel as a person…you must have JOY to deliver this sound," and the other was: "…it needs ALL of you to be delivered, it needs EVERYTHING you have, but you must ENJOY giving everything you have."

While all of the business ends of this vocation are crucial to know and our intellects are vital, I was reminded yesterday that what is most important is that we not lose our passion in what we put forth as singers and musicians. Every time we open our mouths to sing, it's our responsibility to say what is in our hearts. Otherwise, it's just noise.


Unknown said...

Very well put, and what a coincidence; At the first award ceremony of the Birgit Nilsson prize ( last Tuesday, German director Hans-Peter Lehmann, quoted the singing parents of Astrid Varnay, Maria Javor and Alexander Varnay, who once said "A great voice is one with a great heart".

JR said...

Thanks for this important reminder.