master class with andreas scholl

i have a countertenor crush… since a while already i’ve admired his voice but let me just say in person (in mountaineering clothing and hiking boots and clear glasses) he’s charmingly cute with an adorable smile and accent…

so, the master class! love. i left in such high spirit, enlightened. given i no expert in singing technique, i won’t comment much about the four students he was giving advice to, but will talk mainly about his fantastically insightful advices/comments as well as how he has shed light into why I enjoyed certain type of singing and certain composers… His main focus was to help the students connecting with the music to bring meanings to what they were singing. Much of the afternoon was to act out how they would react to each situation they’re singing in the face and in body movement: think wave, bowling, taichi, pendulum; fix your eyes on the imaginary object you are telling the audience you see; when a music phrase is repeated, what is the point? You don’t just say “i see her, i see her”, either first to yourself “i Want her”, then to the whole world joyfully “I WANT HER”, or first joyfully “I WANT her”, then internally happy “i want HER”, or some theme and variation…. but whatever theme/variation it is, have an intention.

Much of what he said made so much more sense to me now, from the listening side of thing. As a singer, the key is to know what you want to do, where you want to go with the music. Then you practice on how to get there, how to get the voice to express your direction. Regardless of tempo, even in the fast coloratura section of Handel for example, there needs to be an intention. For this part, he even slowed down the music to help the student interpret the various sections within the coloratura run (don’t we all want coloratura to say something instead of just a tiresome superfast run? (VK did say that in some interviews as well, and from listener point of view, i can only say i agree fully.)) Also, with the ABA format in Handel’s music for example, “B” has illuminated something new (either to yourself the character or the to your audience), and therefore the 2nd “A” has to be sung differently to take into account what you’ve learned in “B”. Often, to my untrained ears, that 2nd “A” sounds too showy or over-the-top ornamented, and I wonder if that’s because the intention is just to show off how fancy one can get with the ornamentation and voice instead of guiding us the listener to understand the situation better.

Another point is the starting of the phrase, it should be as part of a pendulum swing (join the the flow) instead of a jump off a cliff or jump on a table (too abrupt), especially when the intro from instruments help create such a beautiful swing to the mood. Then when the notes go high, there has to be an intention on what you want to say and therefore how you will sing the note (shade, colors, breathing, vowel articulation, etc.) and altogether you have to already aim for it before you get there with the phrasing, otherwise it’s too late. Of course to an outsider like me, a piece of singing can just sounds strange, too loud, too disconnected, too something to the ears… but now to have insights, and especially to see the effect when only a couple of things can smooth out and bring out the music phrases, that’s truly cool! And that of course explains much of why i “like” some singers’ way of expressing music but indifferent to others (all very biased and personal of course, but all has to do with personal feeling of the moment and how you feel the singing can create that stir in you.)

He took some questions at the end, and one has to do with his “repertoire”. He said his focus is mainly on how to express the music, not to fit a certain “style”, where style is what we came up with under some assumed notion of authenticity (for example what a countertenor supposed to sing or supposed to sound like). I think this is why i was drawn to him originally, how he expresses the music, not him, not his voice, nothing else, but what he thinks the music is telling us. Here is also another point, not sure if i understand him completely, but he said with the written music, our job is to try to interpret what the composer meant/thought at the time he composed, not what we think. I think he said this in reference to a Bach’s aria. And this is also where i sorted out why Handel instantly makes sense to me (remember that Alcina trip?) whereas my connection with Bach is not fully developed…

1 student sang a Bach aria (i quite like her voice actually, and i thought she connected the most with the music..) but at one point you also think she’s turning color and running out of breath.. So, Bach, his message (according to Andreas Scholl) is simply to God, his goal was to express in the deepest possible way redemption, devotion, deliverance… and if you’re good enough of a singer, then you can deliver his message (otherwise, too bad, bye). So in that sense, the music can be un-singable at times, no place to breath… Handel, on the other hand, wrote music specifically for the voice, to express the deepest human emotion, so you can do no wrong because he highlights your voice in the best possible way.

oh, one last thing which I thought was reallly cool. I was always puzzled at the rather “lose” pronunciation of certain singers, and yet when the pronunciation are clear, i often find them interfering with the music! in the sense that it becomes a singing speech which is great for native speakers but yet attention to musical phrases was lost. So, in several occasions, Andreas Scholl told the student first to start with just “a” and feel/connect to the music/phrase, then switch to “o” (singing, but just with those vowels), then explained (surely you all know this) that some vowels are easier at higher notes than others, and that a round “o” can help in some situations (so modulation of vowels sometimes are necessary), both to connect the voice with the lower body and make it rounder and larger… then finally he told them to VERY lazily pronounce words along. In several cases, one can clearly hear the letters “p”, “m”, “l” forced the mouth/tongue to close and cut off the music, so there one should give the vowels infront/behind the letter 90% of the time and make the least effort to get barely those letters “p,m,l” in to keep the music phrase flowing. If we now go back to what sometimes I perceive as VK’s way of slurring words across, at least methinks i understand the context now coz I always listened to her music phrasing and wonder how one can do differently unless one intrudes the sharp pronunciation in at expense of music… so there you have it. he left me in such high spirit with answers to several puzzling questions i’ve had for a while :-).

ps- that 2nd clip, whole playlist is here. and just discover my library has it! yes!! what a treat, Antonacci is superb, how have i looked past her singing Handel before??