Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sweet Diversity

Much of today was consumed by the "healing" of my computer, which is recovering from a hard drive crash. However, I wanted to set down a few words of reaction to my having been able to attend the Vocal Master Class that Barbara Bonney gave at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music last night. She worked with five promising students and devoted almost all of her time to the production of quality sound. While it was fascinating to see the ways in which she combined the use of literal language, physical language, demonstration with her own body, and even a bit of manipulation of the singer's body, there was one element missing. Thinking back on what I had experienced this morning, I realized that there was a slightly disconcerting uniformity across all of the voices I had heard (perhaps even including the one tenor among four sopranos). This is not to criticize what Bonney was doing: Getting the instrument under control is clearly prerequisite to then deciding how you will control that instrument. However, by focusing on the former, there was precious little time left for questions of "content." Why did the singer make specific selections; and what differentiated her (his) performance from all those other performances than many of us had previously experienced? In that respect this was quite different from my reaction to master classes in chamber music, where there has always been attention paid to performance as a conversation among distinctive voices.

Perhaps what I took away was far less important than the fact that Bonney was as interested in getting her message to the audience as she was in working with the selected students. Anyone interested in singing seriously would have benefited from last night's class, and Bonney even fielded questions from the audience. This was therefore perhaps the most "democratic" master class I ever attended. Had I been one of those voice students sitting in the audience rather than up on stage, I probably would not have been concerned about that lack of diversity. I would have been happy to attend an event where I could take away experiences almost on a par with the students with which she engaged directly.

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