Features

Opera Corner: Young Artist Programs

August 3, 2011
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Greetings from New York City, and welcome to the first article in a series called, Opera Corner.  Here you will find information on countertenors and their place in the opera world. I begin with a personal exploration of Regional Opera Apprenticeship programs in America. While YAPs exist to serve aspiring singers, those singers must also serve the needs of the program.

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Countertenor Stephen Wallace Interviewed on RTE radio

August 3, 2011
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I stumbled upon this interesting interview of countertenor Stephen Wallace given on Irish National Radio. Excerpts of his singing, as well as some astute observations on the history of the countertenor voice and technique follow.

Listen to the interview…


Vocal Technique: The Flex

July 5, 2011
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Since my previous articles in this series on countertenor relevant singing technique have been rather general in nature, I wanted to write this month about a specific exercise. Building on the information introduced in April’s article Countertenor Technique: An Introduction to Concepts, the exercise I outline here, called the flex, is one that reveals hidden mental prejudices that work against countertenors, builds stability and an authentic sound into the lower range of the countertenor voice, and eventually helps to bridge the transition (a shortening of the vibrating portion of the folds even as the folds remain stretched) that should take place between Bb4 and B4. My hope is that the inclusion of audio examples in this article will help to explain any questions that arise, and spark an conversation about what the countertenor voice is capable of and how it might be trained.

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Vocal Technique: How to Best Practice Practicing Singing

June 1, 2011
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“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent…” ~ Calvin Coolidge


I have been through six years of music school (and about eighteen years off and on of private study), and I find it curious that the one thing that is rarely systematically addressed is how to practice. Especially when the quality of one’s practice habits, not necessarily how well one currently performs, is one of the best indicators of one’s long-term professional viability. So, here follows my thoughts on how to practice being good at practicing:

#1: You become what you practice…

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Countertenors and Castrati: Ian Howell interviewed by Bonnie North on WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio

June 1, 2011
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Ahead of my May 2011 debut with the Florentine Opera Company as Cupid & Spirit in John Blow’s Venus & Adonis and Henry Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas, I sat down with Bonnie North, Arts Producer of WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio’s Lake Effect. We discussed countertenors, castrati, the Florentine opera Company’s upcoming production, and a bit about the history of baroque music in Europe.
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Guiding Handel’s Legacy: An Interview with Handel House Museum Director Sarah Bardwell

May 12, 2011
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During my trip to England this past April, I had the privilege of sitting down with Sarah Bardwell, director of the Handel House Museum in London. We chatted a bit about Handel the man and Handel the musician, and the joys and challenges of bringing his legacy to a new generation.

Read the entire interview to learn a great deal about this wonderful museum and the man whose legacy it seeks to preserve.

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Countertenor Technique: An Introduction to Concepts

April 12, 2011
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Is countertenor technique different from standard classical vocal technique? Should a countertenor train like a male or female voice, and what pedagogical approach and conceptual model best elicits a healthy countertenor sound? Is a countertenor merely the intersection of gender and tessitura, or is there something specific to the technical approach and musical context that limits the definition?

Much of the language of our vocal pedagogy comes from the time before invasive scientific tools. It was as recently as 1854 that Manuel Garcia first viewed the vocal folds (his own, actually) in action with the use of a dentist’s mirror. By that point, words like chest, head, mixed voice, and falsetto (terms generally based on the location of the sensation of sympathetic vibrations) were so ingrained in the minds of 19th century voice teachers that the new information revealed by this direct scientific observation was made to conform to that basic conceptual system. However, success as a countertenor is no more or less physiologically likely than for any other voice-type, provided we have conceptual models that encourage singers to believe that it is possible…

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To Do-ing Well in your Singing Career

March 1, 2011
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The life of a freelancer, and a freelance singer especially, is hard to explain to someone with a regular job. You are all at once a product, a business manager, a negotiator, a public relations firm, a steering committee, a fundraiser, an accountant, a marketing director, a webmaster, an audio and video editor… the list goes on. The characteristics of a great performing artist, however – a tendency towards abstract and nonlinear thought, the ability to live in the present moment to the exclusion of future concerns, the desire to find connections between disparate ideas, and a recognition that an unaccountable passage of time must take place for your best work to emerge – tend to run counter to what you would want in an organized, reductionist-minded business manager. But, there you are, expected to direct your career regardless of your qualification to do so, ultimately accountable to no one but yourself.

You certainly have help along the way from teachers, conductors, mentors, and managers. A very few among us experience such success that the greatest challenge lies in picking which engagements to turn down. The average professional singer, however, will be significantly affected by their own ability to set goals, research opportunities, and follow projects through to completion.

So, how can artistically minded people get their sh*t together and work out the business of their art in a manageable, sustainable, and (gasp!) fulfilling way?

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Some Thoughts on Managing Freelance Income

March 1, 2011
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Unless you are extremely successful – or have married a hedge fund manager – chances are that you think about money. The nature of the classical music industry (although this is true for freelancers in general) makes it difficult to budget very far into the future: Income is not only sporadic, but the larger these sporadic fees become, the easier it is to incorrectly view them as windfalls. There have been seasons that I made upwards of 30% of my income in the month of December alone! If you sing operas, you might make $15,000 in March and nothing for the next five months.

This can be problematic for obvious reasons. I would suggest, however, that most freelance singers run into problems not with their quantity of income, but rather with living within their means and managing their cash flow intelligently…

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Nature’s Way: Vocal Production in Social Context

February 1, 2011
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Dr. Peter Henen, an Associate Professor of Sociology at The Ohio State University, contributed this fascinating and provocative article, challenging us to think outside of our current standards of ‘normal’ and ‘natural’ with respect to both voice and gender. He places the countertenor phenomenon into a logical, yet surprising social and historical framework, accounting for the seemingly random manner in which our culture has sometimes embraced and sometimes rejected this voice type.
~ The Editor

The meandering path that led me to undertake a sociological study of countertenors began rather inauspiciously in the fall of 1976. All of my high school dreams were about to come true as I stepped into the role of Tony in West Side Story. This was decades before Glee, but that’s exactly what I was feeling. At the first music rehearsal my rendition of “Maria” was coming along nicely; the sound seemed effortless, heartfelt, and strong. And then I hit the wall. At its sweet conclusion, the song asks for a sound that I didn’t know how to make, or rather, wouldn’t allow myself to make. I’d heard Larry Kert do it a hundred times on the original cast album – why couldn’t I? “Use your head voice” advised my vocal director. My what voice?

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