Steven Blier on the NYFOS@Caramoor Residency: Day 5, March 11
Today was finish-the-staging day; work-with-the-props day; make-the-choice-about-who-is-playing-which-song day; work-with-the-lighting guy day; and (most of all) do-our-first-run-through day. In other words, the penultimate day of a week-long rehearsal period. It is usually a white-knuckle experience, fraught with “we won’t get done in time.” But today, somehow not. Everything got finished and reviewed in a non-hysterical atmosphere, and we were able to go about our business with the quiet industry of an ant farm. This had a lot to do with Alison Moritz’s infectious confidence, world-class verbal clarity, and unflagging energy; and Michael’s constant presence in the hall. He’s not playing in the show, though he’s done some of the rehearsals. But he sits out front and gives amazingly clear and usable notes to all of us. I trust him as I trust few other colleagues.
I knew going into the project that the dramatic element would take a lot of our time and attention. All NYFOS recitals have more staging than any traditional stand-and-sing concert, but this one needed even more: an increased focus on space because of the subject matter (the home) and the theater (a thrust stage in a room that had never been used in that way before). My hope was that the theatrical work would not overwhelm the music and vocal side of things. And for the most part Alison, Michael, and I were essentially working on the same issues with the singers, who are (after all) engaged as high-level, cream-of-the-crop students on the verge of their professional lives. Every acting issue ran parallel to a musical one—it all comes from the same artistic barrel, and everything seemed to fold in together beautifully.
But the realities of putting a show together in four rehearsals (after two music-only days) meant that the details of the staging indeed started to take precedence. I thanked God for Alison’s musical sensitivities, and Michael’s super-refined eyes and ears; meanwhile I was busy behind the piano trying to make the songs happen, in tandem with my duo-partner Will Kelley.
Therefore I had a passing regret that I didn’t have as much one-on-one time with the singers as I usually do. We have worked as a group or in pairs pretty much all the time. I feel close to everyone, but the truth is you have to be alone with a singer before they really let their guard down and show you where the real roadblocks are. Once anyone else is in the room they are mostly building guardrails around their weaknesses, putting up a brave front of self-sufficiency. This is an important part of being a professional, but it’s not the easiest entry into a teaching relationship.
I was reminded of this when I was leaving Caramoor today. I heard Galeano Salas practicing one of our songs in the Education Center, and decided to look in on him. It was the first time I’d been alone in a room with him all week, and we had an amazing discussion during which he confided some of his concerns about the way his material was going. I’ve been really thrilled with his singing, but I had been sensing that there was still one corner he needed to turn. In our impromptu meeting, I started to understand how to help him to the next level of his art. It’s always surprising to get a sense of the inner voices that torment singers—a litany of past failures, roles they didn’t get, people whom they suspect don’t like them, all of which filter into their sense of what they think I want from them, and what they assume I won’t approve of. In only 20 minutes with Galeano I got about three years’ worth of psychological and developmental insight. I only hope that what I was able to offer him in our brief meeting gave him the clarity to sing with his greatest freedom and artistry. He’s a tremendous performer and a thrilling tenor—he deserves to fly with freedom.
Now, of course, I want to take the same 20 minutes with everyone—Will, Abi, Liv, and Justin. Will I be able to? My heart-to-heart conversation with Galeano happened on my way to the men’s room. So perhaps I should take more frequent bathroom breaks.
Pictured: Abi Levis and Will Kelley, clutching all the teddy bears on offer for the Hahn song. My contribution was the blue bear in the middle, which was the first gift Paul Appleby ever gave me. It originally came with a jar of jelly beans around its neck, and it has a Jewish star on its sewn-on hat. Alas, it didn’t get chosen for the show.
And: Galeano Salas, costumed for the encore. ’Nuff said.