What ISN’T a masterclass?

Even before the pandemic, there have been a lot of posts and ads about masterclasses and why you should take them. Famous people have been offering masterclasses on acting, writing, comedy, singing (some with stronger credentials than others) and people have been signing up for them and saying, “TAKE MY MONEY.”

But what isn’t a masterclass? What shouldn’t you expect when you take one?

A masterclass is not a place where:

  1. Someone will teach you the music if you don’t already know it
  2. You’ll show everyone that you’re the best performer there
  3. All your technical problems will be fixed in fifteen minutes
  4. You will be discovered and all your dreams will come true
  5. Your technique (and self-esteem) will be shredded and you’ll be told to rebuild everything from the ground up (and if that happens, that is the sign of a bad clinician)

What you can expect from a masterclass is that:

  1. The clinician will focus on a particular aspect of your piece that could be enhanced or improved
  2. You will hear other performers who are more advanced than you in both technique and career who still have things to learn and are willing to accept direction and change
  3. You will hear other performers who are not at your technical level who are willing to accept direction and change
  4. Even if you’re not the one performing (or you’re not performing at all), you might hear something in another person’s piece that may inspire you to try it in a piece that you’re working on
  5. If the clinician does address a technical issue, it may not be the most obvious one; it might be a lesser one that can be addressed in the allotted time that they have (and one that might, indirectly, contribute to solving a larger technical problem)

All performer slots in the Richard Carsey masterclass this Friday are filled, but there are still auditor opportunities available. Come on and listen to 7 singers, from pre-professional to established artists, sing for Maestro Carsey. You can register here or message me for more information.

The Music is the Star

The performer is not the star. The music is the star. 

The performer is the vessel, the performer is the channel through which the music passes as a prism and comes to the performer. 

                                                                                 — Leon Fleisher 

Leon Fleischer passed away this past week. He was a pianist, conductor, and teacher, who taught some of the greatest pianists of the last few generations (including my friend Michael Sheppard).

He lost the use of his right hand back in the 1960s, which resulted in his having to re-direct himself into new career paths. Although this loss was devastating to him, he said later that he enjoyed a rewarding life in career paths he never would have explored if he had continued as a concert pianist.

I saw Leon Fleischer in concert with the Baltimore Symphony in 1996, shortly before I moved away. It was an interesting concert and featured a new piece by William Bolcom, called “Gaea,” which consisted of three single movement piano concertos. The first performer was Gary Graffman, who had also lost the use of his right hand, and was playing Bolcom’s Piano Concerto #1 for left-handed pianist and half the BSO players. Fleischer then came out to play Bolcom’s Piano Concerto #2 with the other half of the BSO. They were two completely different pieces.

And then the full orchestra came out and both Graffman and Fleischer played what they just played separately, but now together in a double concerto. It just was mind-boggling – like putting together an intricate puzzle. What a wonderful gift William Bolcom gave to these two artists. I’ll never forget it.

My personal experience with Leon Fleischer was as a chorister when he was making his debut as a conductor with Washington Opera for Cosi Fan Tutte. However, he was replaced quite last-minute due to illness. When I was at Peabody, I don’t recall our paths ever crossing, unfortunately.

In the last 20 years of his life, Fleischer regained the use of his right hand and returned to concertizing with standard repertoire. I was supposed to see him play with his wife, Katherine Jacobson, in a Valentine’s Day concert at Howard Community College a couple of years ago, but unfortunately, there was an ice storm and the concert was cancelled. (Of course, we were already there, which meant we got to drive back home in the ice storm. Yay.)

Leon Fleischer was a great artist and teacher, who re-directed his life when his originally intended career path was upended. I hate the term Rest in Power – it seems contrived to me. So I guess I’ll say – Rest in Passion.

What would you do if the thing that you thought you were going to do for the rest of your life went away? How would you re-direct yourself? Many of us, in music and outside of it, are dealing with a similar kind of loss with the advent of COVID-19 – whether it’s through loss of a business, performing opportunities, or teaching opportunities.

Hopefully, it’ll come back – in one form or another. And when it does, remember that for those of us who are artists and musicians, it is not about us as performers. It is about the music, to which we are in service.

Find out more about how to serve the music in next Friday’s masterclass with Richard Carsey. One performer slot is still available – and there is plenty of room to audit.

More information on the masterclass may be found here.

Why I Audit

F0B94F0B-516E-47BF-B09C-184F9FF2CF6C_1_201_aFor those of you who aren’t Three Stooges fans (which I’m certainly not) or not of a certain age (which I certainly am), you may need to go and research the Three Stooges a bit in order to get this reference. You can start here. Knock yourselves out – nyuk nyuk nyuk (that’s also a bit of Stooges humor).

I’m pleased to announce that the Richard Carsey masterclass on August 14 has ONE MORE SPOT left, which I fully intend to fill by the end of this week. But do not despair! I still have 40 spots open for auditors (which is the point of this blogpost)!

You may ask, “Why should I audit?” [Or, to keep the Three Stooges theme going, “Why oughta I audit?”]

I have audited hundreds of masterclasses over the past 30 years. Auditing is a wonderful way of watching experts in their fields work with aspiring artists and gaining insight and wisdom without having to get up onstage yourself. It may inspire you to do something different in your own performing or teaching. It may give you a new perspective on a piece of repertoire that you have retired because you couldn’t find a way to make it fresh. It might introduce you to brand new-to-you repertoire. It might give you the courage to participate yourself the next time an opportunity becomes available.

This morning I was scanning my old notebooks from the various workshops and conference I’ve attended to see what insights I’ve gained from masterclasses. Here are just a few (see which ones of these you’ve heard me say):

NATS Intern Program, Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY, June 2000

  •  Snap your fingers against your cheek to listen to the pitch and determine how much space that pitch demands. (George Shirley, Metropolitan Opera tenor, faculty – UM-Ann Arbor)
  • “Resonance cannot make the sound better than it is in the larynx.” (Paul Kiesgen, bass, faculty – Indiana University) (RIP)
  • “People who work too hard to lift their soft palates look like dogs eating peanut butter.” (Paul Kiesgen)
  • Balancing on one foot to find the coaxial balance point, elongate the spine, and put your head in the right place. (Paul Kiesgen)
  • Practice with books in front of your ears when in a small space to perceptually focus your ears. (Paul Kiesgen)
  • “The middle voice is a treasure that, if abused, steals from the top.” (Carol Webber, soprano, faculty – Eastman School of Music)
  • “When your desire to tell [the story] overrides your fear.” (Carol Webber)

NATS National Conference, Minneapolis, MN, July 2006

  • “Don’t try to solve the audience’s problems for them; invite them up on the stage with you to solve it together.“ (Hagan Hagegord, Swedish operatic baritone)

Teaching Men to Sing, Indiana University, June 2007

  • “Breath is the raw material that we turn into voice as it passes through the throat.“(Paul Kiesgen)
  • “All that one does technically is to build an instrument that can eloquently and hopefully elegantly communicate. Because that’s what we have to do in the end.” (Dr. Robert Harrison, tenor, faculty -IU)

Wisconsin NATS Spring Meeting, March 2009?

  • “To sing correctly is to use only the muscles that are contributing and no others.“ (Paul Kiesgen)

NATS National Conference, Louisville, KY, June 2008

  • “Anything that seems honest and true is OK, movement wise.“ (Dawn Upshaw, internationally known operatic soprano, faculty – Bard College)

Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method, Shenandoah University, Winchester, VA, July 2011

  • “A song should be performed as though it’s been created on the spot.“ (Robert Marks, NYC vocal coach)

MDDC NATS Spring Meeting, Washington, DC, April 2014

  • “Walk in and let us know who you are.“ (David Sabella, NYC voice teacher and actor)

Masterclass, Loyola University, Baltimore, MD, November 2014

  • “The second the music starts – the story starts. The story needs to keep being told until the music ends.” (Jeff Blumenkrantz, composer)

(I’ve been to masterclasses since then, but I’ve been taking notes on my iPad so that I don’t have to carry around big notebooks. Which I kind of miss doing. My handwriting has really deteriorated since 2000!)

What notes will you be taking at the Richard Carsey masterclass?

Don’t be a wise guy (more Stooges humor – can’t help it – my dad loved them) – register here,

Soitanly.

Avoiding FOBO

I can hear you know: “FOBO? Christine, don’t you mean FOMO?”

Nope.

Today I was puppy-walking and listening to a new podcast called Money Girl (which I may or may not listen to again because the host has a  wicked case of vocal fry that makes my skin crawl – not to be confused with VocalFri). The guest was Patrick McGinniss, who created the term FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out.

I’ve heard of FOMO. I’ve heard of JOMO (the joy of missing out). They’ve become part of the contemporary lexicon, especially in podcasts and blogs. People are cautioned to avoid taking on too many projects out of FOMO and focus on the important things, thus embracing JOMO.

But toward the end of the interview, McGinniss mentioned that he had created another term at the same time he created FOMO, which he thought would gain even more traction: FOBO.

Fear of Better Options.

Rather than doing too many things, the victim of FOBO is paralyzed by too many choices and does none of them, out of fear that they’re going to make the wrong choice. What if they pick something now and something better comes down the pike? They’re waiting for a better option. One that may never come.

In other words, I overthink, therefore I am.

Make decisions. Take risks. Take a class in something you need to learn but don’t consider yourself very good at. Audition for a show (when we can do that again). Sing online for, oh, I don’t know, an internationally renowned conductor giving a masterclass – like this one:

Richard Carsey Insta post

And after you’ve sung for Richard (or before), maybe cut your hair. Dye your hair. If you don’t like it, don’t worry, it’ll grow back/out/you can get a wig.

#FOBOBegone #AchievementUnlocked