22 January 2009

Let Horne Resound!

Here in New York, the 75th birthday of Marilyn Horne has been the occasion for all sorts of celebration, and it stirred me to action. Though the great lady is renowned for her master classes, I’d never attended one; surely this was the moment at last to see and hear for myself. I doubt that anyone, least of all Marilyn Horne, can count the young singers she’s worked with, sharing with a new generation the lessons she’s acquired over a lifetime in song. She’s tough and direct, though never nasty. She sweeps aside the mistakes and excuses, seizes on a singer’s potential, and instantly locates the technical flaw or interpretative shortcoming.

As ever, I’m fascinated by the discipline of musicians. A painter or writer need hardly even be conscious in order to work at her art, and indeed for many visual artists I’ve known, sketching and painting are almost a tic, involuntary, or a nervous habit that can’t be dropped. Musicians must practice. Moreover, they can spend hours — perhaps days — maybe even years — breaking apart a musical phrase, analyzing its components, and putting it back together again. Indeed, that process is what a master class encapsulates. I knew that Marilyn Horne’s master class would be instructive. Yet — even though I knew she’s a pistol — I wasn’t entirely prepared for how entertaining the evening would be. More than once, she had me in stitches.

As a service to myself, first and foremost, and maybe even to you, I took note of some of the smart things Marilyn Horne said on Wednesday evening. More than a few of her remarks contained wisdom applicable to almost any endeavor, so take heed. (All comments are those of Ms. Horne, except as noted.)

Long time, no see!
*
This is Legato City — but remember, we want all those consonants.
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Why did you crescendo there? [Without waiting for an answer.] Because you didn’t want to support!
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[At her suggestion, the singer and accompanist attempted to resume in the middle of a line. They failed.] It always happens! You try to shorten it, and you have to start from the beginning anyway.
*
If you’re gonna take a breath, you better take it fast. I don’t recommend doing without it.
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I know you want to be glamorous.
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Don’t be afraid.
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I don’t think that’s a new [vocal] color.
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What do mothers think about their children — mostly? They adore them. [Then, gleefully.] And then they get grandchildren!
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Do you have to breathe there? Don’t!
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Chickennnnn. [After a singer failed to attack a phrase.]
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The only reason I moved your hands is I don’t want you standing there like studentesca.
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Tie it up in a bow and serve it on a platter! One of the things we’ve got to learn as young singers — and even old singers — is you’ve got to end it.
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You know the word Schwung? You need much more of it. The French call it élan. What do the Americans call it? I think we just call it Schwung.
*
[After a singer confessed she’d “listened to too many recordings” while preparing her song.] That might have been somebody who couldn’t hold the note!
[Moments later, Horne correctly identified the recording artist that the young singer had listened to.]
*
[In response to the lyric “If you only knew”] Do you know?
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If somebody hears you breathe, it’s okay. That makes it more dramatic.
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This is the glory of your voice! Now you’ve got to let ’er out. Not everybody has that.
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Just slam your cords with some air.
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It’s got to have some drama in it! The words! Always go with the words!
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You know how bad the economy is if I read Paul Krugman before I do the crossword. [The audience laughed, but the young singer looked confused.] You know who he is? Big economist, Nobel Prize. Beside the point.
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If you get this [song] really right, you’ve got one of the great encores of your life.
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[When a young singer admitted that “I don’t know that I know” a particular piece.] I wanted you to learn it. I’ll survive.
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[As the singer proceeded, Horne approached him and began to dance and sway before him.] I’m gonna direct you a little bit.
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[To the accompanist] Be prepared! For everything.
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Don’t think you can squeeze it out — everything is based on support.

You see what I mean. She’s right in what she says — about more than music. We’re lucky to hear her.

1 comment:

Elizabeth McDonald said...

Thanks for the great review for those of us not in NYC! MH has worked with so many great Canadian opera singers that I just had to link your blog to mine!

Best,
Elizabeth