Monday, July 21, 2014

Friday, July 18, 2014

Review: fabulous new CD of Dring songs

"Songs of Madeline Dring," released in 2013 by Cambria, features mezzo-soprano Wanda Brister, tenor Stanford Olsen, and Timothy Hoekman, piano. Dring, a British composer who studied composition with Vaughan Williams and Herbert Howells and orchestration with Gordon Jacob, only published four songs during her short lifetime. Her husband Roger Lord, principal oboist of the London Symphony Orchestra for over 30 years, championed her work, even transcribing some pieces by hand. Slowly, they have become part of the standard repertoire, and are well worth the wait. 

This two-CD set compiles all of Dring's songs and presents them largely in the order in which they were composed. Interestingly enough, the poetry is largely from the 15th and 16th centuries, ranging from well-known Shakespeare texts to Herrick. The notable exception are the Five Betjeman Songs and Four Night Songs, set to text by John Betjaman and Michael Armstrong, respectively.

Brister's mezzo-soprano is both clear and warm, with a lovely lyrical quality all too often missing in lower voices. Limpid tones are the hallmark of her middle voice, and bright, easy top notes are a welcome surprise, particularly in "I feed a flame." The cabaret song "Snowman" was actually written for Dring herself, and is charmingly composed and sung. "Song of a Nightclub Proprietress" from Five Betjeman Songs has hints of her cabaret style as well.

One of the standard-bearers of the lyric tenor repertory, Olsen's singing is a delight in every way. Perfectly balanced and with an uncanny immediacy of text, his affinity for the music of Britten and English poetry serves this repertoire well. His "Melisande" is particularly haunting, and "To Phillis" is brilliantly engaging.

Hoekman's collaborative work at the piano is outstanding. Here is true partnership between singer and pianist. A seemingly endless variety of colors and dynamics are at his disposal, and there is an admirable synergy between him and both singers.

The liner notes, written by Brister, reveal her scholarship and depth of research on Dring. Having corresponded with many from Dring's past and having been given access to a great deal of her letters and diaries, she is a primary source on the composer.

This CD is unique and replete with gorgeous singing and top notch pianistic work. It is a treasure for those in search of English art song that is far from being overdone. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Summer Reading List

Worthwhile reading, dear students!
  • Year of the King, an actor’s diary and sketchbook – Anthony Sher (A wonderfully authentic account of the experience of creating a performance.)
  • Audition Success – Don Greene, PH.D. (Gives musicians a concrete set of skills to achieve the concentrated focus needed in these critical moments.)
  • The Best of You, Winning auditions your way – Craig Wallace (Craig’s no-nonsense approach and love for actors shines through every page of this practical and concise guide to auditioning.)
  • The Obstacle is the Way - Ryan Holiday (The timeless art of turning trials into triumph.)
  • The Open Door – Peter Brook (Thoughts on acting and theatre.)
  • Reading for the Plot – Peter Brook (design and intention in narrative.)
  • Acting for Singers – David Ostwald (Creating believable singing characters.)
  • A Good Talk – Daniel Menaker (The story and skill of conversation.)
  • You Are Enough – David J. Walker (Self explanatory and a great read.)
  • Performing in the Zone – Jon Gorrie (Unleash your true performing potential.)
  • The Empty Voice – Leon Major with Michael Laing (The means to examine characters, plot and the conflicts in any scene in depth.)
  • Aria Ready, The Business of Singing – Carol Kirkpatrick (Gain the personal and business skills and tools needed to build and sustain a singing career.)
  • The Talent Code – Daniel Coyle (The book that explains how talent grows in the brain, and how you can grow more of it.)
I have several of these in my personal library. If you'd like to borrow, let me know.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Jump-start your creativity

Here is a great TED Talk on the subject. In talk 2 of 5, he talks about guided mastery, which is used to help people overcome phobias. How could we use this in terms of our own fears, even those related to creativity and performance?

I also was moved by this talk (number 5 of 5). Embracing our limitations can actually expand how we make any medium. How liberating!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Opera assignment: last week thoughts

Folks, my apologies for having such a tough time converting the video files! Dropbox was not an option this time, and my first attempt at sharing them didn't work. At long last, they are on a private YouTube account. The URLs have been sent to you via email. I've checked them and they all appear to be working: check them from your computers today and let me know right away if there's a problem. Do not share these videos: they are rough rehearsals for our use only. A professional video of the performance will be available for you.

This assignment is due by MIDNIGHT this Thursday, April 17. Same rule applies as last time: 500 words, and it must be sent to my email account, and the date/time stamp is crucial. 11:59 Thursday means it's on time; 12:01 Friday means it's late and you lose the points. Clarification: it's 500 words total, not 500 words for each scene you are in. Just reflect on each scene within your essay if you are in more than one.

Some of you are teetering near a B or a C because you either didn't complete the last assignment and/or you were not as prepared as you could have been in early rehearsals. Don't let a simple assignment kick you down a letter grade. I, too, don't like the fact that we do not have the option of giving plusses or minuses in our grading at UAB, but it's what we've got. The only one it affects is you.

Friendly reminder about grading this final week: it is about retention, folks. There should be no wrong notes or incorrect rhythms at this point. If you've been given a repeated note about fixing these rudimentary musical things, FIX THEM. Retention also means retaining your blocking. We spent weeks on this: it's your responsibility to be where you're supposed to be when you're supposed to be, and the points you earn after blocking are earned by doing that convincingly, every time. Your job was to write what we did in the score, especially if we tweaked it. Then your job is to review it and practice it, outside of rehearsal if needed. Rehearsal is about making it muscle memory and ever more believable.

Remember to bring requested costume pieces on excuses. If you don't bring something I've asked you to bring, you lose points for that day. If you don't have it, that's fine: I won't penalize you for not owning something...but you need to let me know in advance so I can get it for you. If something you bring doesn't work, that's perfectly fine: that's why I need to see it TUESDAY so we can remedy it Thursday if necessary. If you are unsure about anything, are missing something you thought you owned, or have a creative idea, please email and ask me. Here are some specifics:

Valencia, I need you to arrange a time with me to choose a dress from our costumes. Let's aim for Monday if possible but Tuesday (perhaps during your lesson time) is also fine. If we don't find one we like, we need to know that now.

Robert: if you have dark pants that don't look terribly dressy, those would be best. A long-sleeved shirt, maybe plaid if you have it, would also be good. If you have overalls, bring them: I'd like to see them on you. For Toby, something simple like jeans and a button-down shirt would work. Plain shoes that aren't sneakers would be great.

John: bring several pairs of pants and shirts, and at least one blazer. I know I said no suit, but bring one just in case we don't like the other combinations. I don't think I want a tie, but it wouldn't hurt to bring one just in case. Bring dress shoes and another pair of dark casual shoes.

Nole: a dark suit with a lighter shirt (cream is better than white if you have it, or even yellow), with a few different ties. No bow ties. Bring dress shoes you'd wear with a suit.

Ella and Leah: the dowdiest collection of clothes you can come up with, even if they're not matching. Be ready for hair changes as we discussed. Leah, bring a few different pairs of shoes so we can see what works as you changes from your Wellies into shoes. Both of you bring something short and sexy for Baby Doe, and don't forget purses and compacts, lipsticks, etc. If you need help being dowdy, just ask me...I'm good at that. ;-)

MK, bring a simple dress or two for Monica, and if we don't like it, we'll choose another from our costumes. Bring something slightly dressier for Baby Doe: again, we can go through costumes if we need. For Laetitia, bring a black skirt and white shirt, and black shoes. I'm getting an apron, etc.

Also: it's official: there is no doorbell. I checked with Theatre (they don't have one). Plan accordingly!

Lastly, get in the recital hall and get your bodies and minds warmed up before rehearsal. All of you appear to be vocally warmed up since you've just come from choir, but if you are not, tend to that as well. Stretch, vocalize, and get into character. It is not my job to arrange the stage for you: it is your job. Come in early, set up, and be ready to start at 3:30 promptly.

Energy and focus are my main concerns right now. I can't provide it for you: you have to find it in yourselves. Sitting around right before rehearsal is NOT working for any of you. Do what you need to do, even if it means stretching backstage. This week, we run the show with everyone set backstage or wherever you're pre-set.

Thanks, folks. This is a lot of information, but we're in the final stretch. 5 days till your performance...and the last day of classes!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Remember to eat well

Folks, it's that time of the year when we think we're too busy to take care of ourselves...or that it's too expensive. An email arrived this morning to remind me that neither is true: you can cook well (and cheaply), which usually makes you feel better, too. Click here for inexpensive, healthy recipes!

Friday, April 4, 2014


We're going into the busy period in the semester, and I'm seeing the stress on a few of my students. Here are a few things you can do that might help. (But realize you have to DO them; you can't just think about them!)