12 September 2010

Festival at Canari, 2010: Teaching

You gotta have heart: Bacquier (seated at left) with a student,
in the 12th-century Church of Sainte-Marie.
Photo by Rita Scaglia© Used with permission.

At the reception following the final concert of this year’s Festival International du Chant Lyrique de Canari, I spoke with most of the student singers. In particular, I was intrigued by the Japanese singer who was participating in the Festival for the third time, as well as by the Armenian singer, who struck me as having substantially more training and practical experience than the other students in the master classes. What brought them here, I wondered?

The desire to work with Gabriel Bacquier and to learn both from him and Michèle Command about French repertoire, the students answered. As they spoke, I realized that I hadn’t taken nearly enough notes during the master classes, and I’ve already reported on several of Michèle’s lessons. But herewith, I offer a few more words of wisdom from Michèle and Gaby.

Michèle, running through several vowel sounds, all based on the letter E: “There’s a whole palette of colors there. It’s very expressive. People always say, ‘Oh, it’s hard to sing in French!’ I don’t think so.”

Later, however, listening to an Asian student’s struggles, Michèle admitted that, “Believe me, if we were singing in Japanese, we’d have the same problems you’re having.”

Michèle: “Work with a mirror. Watch the gestures, the attitude, the face.”

Gaby: “The voice isn’t here [indicating his throat], it’s here [his mouth]. So it’s here [the mask] that you have to look for the sound.”

Both Michèle and Gaby are constantly on the lookout for images that will help singers visualize the lessons they’re trying to teach. This extends to gesture and dancing, but also to verbal metaphors, and in Gaby’s case, the language can get pretty salty.

Trying to get one young singer to relax, Gaby argued: “If you want to take a shit without feeling it, you’ve got to open up. It’s the same with singing.” Then, looking around the 12th-century Church of Sainte-Marie, Gaby added, with a shrug of his peerlessly expressive shoulders, “It’s an image.”

Gaby, to a young soprano: “You’d rather sing tears than coquetterie, right? It’s possible that, in a season or so, a director will say to you, ‘Why don’t you sing Sophie [in Massenet’s Werther]?’ And you’ll say yes — for the money. You’ll make an effort to be Sophie, but only for the money. The role won’t last long in your repertoire.”

Gaby, to a student who protested that “It’s complicated!”: “No, it’s not.… You have to work, but you have to use what’s natural for the voice.”

Gaby, to a student: “Technique bores me. It’s theater that interests me.” He turned and saw me taking notes. “You can write that down,” he advised me.

Gaby:Mélodies you can sing by yourself. In opera, you have to find partners, which is a pain in the ass.”

Gaby, to a student singing about Palermo: “I want you to see Palermo. It’s not complicated.”

Gaby: “Don’t sing ‘Ah!’ just as ‘Ah!’ Sing it with the color you see in your mind. Dolorosa, in this case. The ‘Ah’ must express your thought. You could just as well sing ‘Oh,’ but the note is there for a reason.”

Gaby: “Sing with your heart.”

No comments: