Blier’s Blog: NYFOS@North Fork / Day 4

Day 5: August 21, 2014
Officially Thursday is the second-last rehearsal, but since it is the day before dress rehearsal it is really the last time I can tinker with the songs. What does tinkering mean? A short sampling:

1. With William, working on the approach to a high note at the end of one of his Frank Bridge songs. For a tenor, modifying the vowels as you go to the top is nothing short of a science. To the listener, it sounds like five ordinary words in English, “and a rose her mouth”; for us, it’s “and euh rooz—heuh—m-eh + ow—–(silent th).” Tenors can debate this stuff like Talmudic scholars, adding in arcana about intercostal support and uvular lift. All in a day’s work for me. I have to admit I love it the same way I loved my chemistry set when I was a kid. And I love the sounds William got yesterday even more than that.

2. Chelsea (below) has such immaculate technical control of her voice, a sweet, intense, timbre that fascinated me the moment I first heard it. She can do anything, but she has to work a bit to find what I think of as a tragic, haunted timbre. So we went hunting for shades of blue yesterday, and I think we found them. Lauren was in the room when we did the saddest of Chelsea’s songs, “Zur Rosenzeit”; she put her hand over her heart when Chelsea floated the reprise of the melody. I think of her as a sort of Helden-Elly Ameling, the iconic Lieder singer of the 1970s and 80s–“Elly on Steroids.”

3. It’s been pretty thrilling to see how far Lauren’s “Tonadillas” have come this week; before this, she’d never sung in Spanish at all. Suddenly she is finding the flair and soul of her Granados women, and playing with all kinds of colors and sounds. 98% of them are fabulous; the trick is keeping her sense of adventure vibrantly alive while weeding out the 2% of her experiments that go slightly awry. It’s like laser surgery for singing: do not disturb what is healthy and blooming, and just zap the parts that need zapping. Fortunately she’s not fragile—just wants to try those phrases again and make them right.

4. Theo is his own little eco-system: a unique swirl of arty wind and rain and sunlight. He’s perfect for Gabe Kahane’s songs—a gallery of crazy, brash, horny, defensive, belligerent, sensitive, smart, dumb guys Theo inhabits with virtuosic ease. He’s doing fine: I am the problem in this particular equation. Gabe wrote the Craigslistlieder for himself to sing and play, and when he performs them he uses a microphone. We are acoustic, of course. No mikes. The piano parts are notey, rambunctious, and extravagant. Translation: LOUD. (Also difficult.) I need to put some ice on them today to get the swelling down, and we might lower the piano lid for this group.

It’s been interesting to listen to the ensemble pieces, which range from Broadway (Candide Act I finale) to blues (“You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me, in my arrangement) to English madrigal (“Come Live With Me and Be My Love”). The vocal blend and stylistic command have been pretty astonishing, and the singers’ patience with each other (at least in front of me) has been exemplary. Again, getting darker colors has been a little bit of an issue. The hall is bright and resonant, and young singers are taught to look for pink and yellow, not blue and burnt sienna, in their palette. So far we’ve made it to teal and avocado, and I expect the other crayons over the weekend.

–Steven Blier

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