|Met these guys last year at Lehigh! It's a #LePie reunion!|
In a shift in the schedule, an extra masterclass was added in, given by Mario Dellolio, who just so happens to be course director Vince Peterson's old High School music teacher! Mario's focus for the masterclass was that of choral repertoire, specifically (as a composer or a conductor/choir director), "do my choices matter?" - which, the short answer is obviously, yes, but we were able to explore the why's and wherefores in much more depth. Many things need to be considered when you're writing for, or programming music for a choir: What is their skill level? What division/parts do you have? Who is the intended audience? What is the occasion this piece will be performed at? etc etc etc.... We also considered what the market place is like for choral music, and what areas are in dire need of new music or arrangements, as well as the joys and pitfalls of writing for specific ensembles - for example, writing for 'middle school' voice (between the ages of 10-13) can be really challenging. As a vocal coach I can attest that it's even challenging finding appropriate solo repertoire for that age group, so image trying to find something that appeals to a group of singers in that age bracket, who all have very different levels of taste and maturity! What seemed to be the big take away from this masterclass was the importance of making connections. Writing for yourself is one thing, but if you want music performed, you've got to get it out there, and it might be that you need to write something that's not as soulfully satisfying to you as the artist, but gets you a great connection with an ensemble who repeatedly want to perform/record/commission your work, and could be the stepping stone for getting your more challenging pieces performed. As Vince said (and keeps saying) - Art is Work.
Following the masterclass was a real mishmash of individual moments, as everyone flitted between their one-to-one composing lessons, one-to-one 'heart-to-heart' sessions with Vince, and Tegan and I had an informal 'conductor's debriefing' with Matt at the coffee shop around the corner. There is something wonderful about doing these important sessions in an informal way, as it keeps everything grounded, I feel, and connected with the humanity involved in art. It's way to easy to get bogged down with the technical things and miss the beauty in it, and that's what I find a simple 'chat over coffee' is able to do. There's also nothing quite like practicing your 7/4 conducting technique in a trendy upmarket coffee shop in a room full of people on laptops! Matt was able to help me digest all the suggestions and the experience given to me the day before, and give me helpful insights into the things that went really well that I might have missed - for example, there's a moment in one of my pieces which requires the tenors, altos & sopranos to come off the word 'est' at different times. Matt said to me, "Did you notice that no one mentioned anything about that entire section of the piece?.... That's because it was spot on - there was nothing to mention!" - And this is another thing that we, as musicians are to eager to do: focus on the critique, the negative. We are so involved in what's wrong that we completely miss the things we did right, that actually bear no comment whatsoever!
|I do love it when a plan comes together....|
Regarding my heart-to-heart with Vince now, I'm going to be completely honest: this was incredibly emotional for me. After a brief discussion about my anxiety issue with conducting, and explaining what I thought was the issue (and thinking we were moving on from the conversation), Vince asked me if perhaps there was something deeper that was upsetting me, that perhaps I wasn't divulging because I was being 'too british' about it - of course, he was right, which promptly caused me to burst into tears - this isn't the first time I've had an emotional breakdown at one of these courses/institutes; last year at Lehigh as fellow composer's (Mike Fairbairn) work brought me to tears because it was just so moving, and brought up emotions that had be buried and not dealt with. This time though, it was something much more deep-seeded in my own being, and Vince was able to deduce that the feeling of being overwhelmed that I have is not down to my inadequacies (or perception of), but simply that my love of choral music (and voice in general) is so big that this opportunity itself is just overwhelming me with emotion. And he's right! This is a huge deal to be able to stand in front of these professional singers and lead them, and the sound they can make is incredible - why wouldn't you be overwhelmed by that?! There have been moments when I've been conducting my own choir, The Guernsey Glee Singers, when they've just got everything right and the sound they make at that moment makes me want to cry. The basic gist of this session was that, it's ok to feel that way, and that I'm not alone in that feeling (Vince himself said his first few years of conducting had him feeling much the same as I do now), and that this really is a safe space to explore these emotions. I've also got to hand it to Vince - the man knows just what to say to you when you need it most. He's said to me at least six times this week, "I'm so happy that you're here..." - and you know what?.... I'm happy that I'm here too!