Ah, the Wintry Mix. It means that I get to catch up on the blog, nag my son about cleaning his room, finish the audition feedback requests, and attack a 3-month backlog of ironing.
Back when I was doing my music therapy degree, we used to study biofeedback. In the mid-70’s it was a new thing and a big deal – we used to do experiments that would use feedback from things like respiration rate and skin temperature to reduce anxiety. It’s a model that I think of often when I’m trying to correspond with singers in reponse to their request for comments on their auditions. The biofeedback signals didn’t make a lot of sense, never telling a coherent story. Crafting a useful response to them really required a sensitivity and attention to the strength and patterns of the signals.
Likewise with what I’m struggling to do every winter with these audition comments. In auditions we hear things without context. Questionable intonation, lack of phrasing, messy diction, bland characterization, troublesome vocal timbre, compressed vocal range… We have no way of knowing from whence these things arise and whether they are root problems or passing symptoms in a developing technique. But so much the better. All we can do is make a note of them and pass the information on. Feedback. It will only make sense within a context of which we are only one tiny part. It’s incumbent on the singer to incorporate our signals into the web of information they receive from everyone else who’s involved in their training.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve had to learn is that I need to step away from most of the instincts I developed in years of opera coaching. Then, I would feel the need to create context. To perceive any problem within a larger frame that would help us figure out how to address it. Sometimes a screwy vowel is just that. Sometimes it’s so deeply embedded in the technique that it can’t be addressed by itself.
Anyway, my job now is different. No matter how difficult, it’s important that outsiders like myself are able to respond impartially and somewhat impassively. I have no desire to be cruel in my bluntness (and in these days of American Idol, we all know what that means), but neither is it a good use of anyone’s time and energy for me to be simply a cheerleader. We all need those unconditionally supportive people in our lives. But in spite of the fact that my temperament rebels against being the bad guy, it’s probably my most important role in this scenario.
So now you see why it’s so traumatic for me to write these emails :)
What I Did Last Week
A weekly feature justifying my pre-season existence and sharing my administrative pain.
Foundation Board Meeting: Sucked up a lot of the week, including a full day’s preparation. All for a 10-minute presentation. But it was important, and we all know how hard it is to be informative, entertaining, persuasive and succinct all at the same time. Because the Board exists to serve all of Wolf Trap, there are many people on it who are not at all involved in the opera company. So it’s not just a matter of sharing information – there’s a significant element of proselytizing.
Discovery Series 2007-2008: Finished booking next year’s chamber music series!
Contracts! Hard copies ready to go out for the summer season. It always takes so much longer than you think it should to get the paperwork churned out, passed through channels and refined.
Bumps in the Casting Road: Some serious jigsaw puzzle things happening with our summer roaster. I’ve never seen it in this much flux before.
More Planning for Barns Opera #1 (yes, still nameless for another couple of weeks): What we thought might be a re-mount of a previous production has now turned into a brand new exciting take on this piece.
Closing Out FYA 2006: Took the final look at ’06 income and expenditures.
Unions: Informal talks with local rep for one of the unions with which we work.
To Houston Grand Opera 2007 Concert of Arias Winners Faith Sherman (First Place) and James J. Kee (Second Place and Audience Choice Award). Faith was on our roster both last season and this season, and James joins us this summer.
You should encourage your readers to join the Wolftrap Associates program. The first priority ticket order form arrived today – it included all the opera performances.
I received your feedback email recently and felt that it was the perfect balance of critical and kind. And your observations were pretty spot on as far as what my current technical issues tend to be when I get into an audition setting. So, thank you for writing these emails, despite the challenge, because they can be very helpful!