WE ALL KNOW HELLO STAGE’S FAVORITE COLOR! WHAT’S YOURS?
WHAT WAS THE BEST ADVICE A TEACHER EVER GAVE YOU?
Three moments come to mind:
1) Hold on tightly; let go lightly
2) From Letters to a Young Poet
"Learn to love the questions themselves..."
3) Show up on time, know your $h!t, and don't be an @$$hole!
HOW HAS YOUR PRACTICE CHANGED WITH TIME?
When I first started studying singing, practice was terrifying.
I didn't know how to practice, and no one shared information
about what good practice looked like. I would often lock
myself in a room for hours seeking to re-create some
breakthrough achieved in a lesson, only for that breakthrough not only never to materialize again but to start to feel further away than ever before. Or I would just start making noise with no direct purpose. I would be reinforcing habit rather than examining my current habits and trying to form new, better ones. I also had a tendency to do everything at once in general: to start singing words without having translated, etc.
Now I 1) Have a process, 2) break things into manageable chunks, 3) practice frequently
for a short focused period of time with a set goal,
4) always ask questions/take personal ownership
of my practice/try to discover things that are new to me;
"Why this word here? Why a crescendo? Can I sing this piano?
Am I squeezing my tongue at all to make that piano
and can I not do that?"
, rather than just re-creating old things that other people told me.
I find that this deepens my practice, makes it far more specific, personal, and enjoyable, and achieves more results in less time. I work on text separately from music; I play through all my scores without singing on the piano and analyze the structure; I combine the text and piano without singing, just speaking to see how the music influences the text; I vocalize to find the most efficient/free breath and sound, stopping frequently when I feel anything squeeze or hold...spending far more time thinking and imagining a production different than my habit than time spent making sound; and then I slowly add all the parts together.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE MOST IMPORTANT TRAIT OF A SUCCESSFUL ARTIST IN TODAY’S MODERN WORLD?
For me, one of the things that most defines our modern
world of classical music is the extraordinary breadth
and depth of recorded music,
and how easy access for the public to that online library has
'changed the game'.
On one hand, it is a great gift both as a student and as a fan
to be able to Youtube many of the greatest artists who ever
lived giving repertoire defining performances.
On the other hand, we ourselves as performing artists
have to compete with those performances being readily
available, often for free, on the internet.
We are no longer the only way that an audience member will ever
be exposed to the 'standard repertoire'.
We will generally not sing the first
Die Schöne Müllerin
that someone will hear.
In fact, our audience often has recordings
of several timeless performances by artists who
were often much closer to the source:
spoke the language natively, knew the composer, were with
the composer, had a flawless technique/once
in a generation vocal gift, etc.
Therefore, I feel that today we cannot rest on technique alone.
We cannot go on learning only the 'great pieces' and
seeking audiences to perform them for,
without intensively examining which specific 'great pieces'
we ourselves have such a deep connection to or understanding
of that our performance will add something to the great
history of recorded performances.
This is a huge burden to bear on our shoulders,
but forces us to dig deeper and be more honest.
Will there ever be an Aida greater than Leontyne Price?
Do we have anything to say that she did not say?
If we cannot find anything new to say or any deep
connection with the piece that demands that we perform it,
then perhaps we should not perform it.
Performing a piece for the sake of performing it
is no longer enough.
This new dynamic forces us to find repertoire
that really speaks to us or that we really have something to say about, whether from the standard canon or outside it. In addition, it opens the playing field and live performance space for all those amazing pieces that are never heard in the recorded repertoire, whether pieces that history neglected, or new pieces by living composers.
So to sum up, I think successful artists in today's world start off with that time-honored tradition of a learned and honed technique that allows them to tell the stories they want to tell, and then adds a personal touch of an inquiring mind and unique artistry to choose stories singular to that artist, which can be told in a new way or best by that artists, and that deserve telling. It is not good enough to simply repeat repertoire in an unexamined way with high technical ability. There is most definitely a recording of someone doing it better than you, strictly technically speaking, for free, on the internet. So what do you we artists have to SAY? That is a great gift to be able to focus on that, and I think a very exciting one for classical music audiences everywhere.
HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU SPEND EVERY DAY ON FACEBOOK, TWITTER, AND WHICH OTHER WAYS DO YOU USE TO PROMOTE YOURSELF?
I do my own promotion as an artist as well as the promotion for SongFest, the largest art song training program in the United States held each June at the Colburn School in downtown Los Angeles. For both of those interests, I probably spend around an hour a day on Facebook, Twitter, Klout, Hello Stage!, Squarespace for website needs, and mailchimp or constantcontact for mailings. I also believe that good old fashioned phone calls, emails, in person contact and hand-written letters, those last two most of all, are incredibly important.
Personally, I'm often uncomfortable with self-promotion and find it easier to promote an organization like SongFest, or a performance project with fantastic colleagues
that I really care about that happens to have me in it!
Also, I have found through trial and error, that the best
promotion for me is doing the best I can at every job,
and being a kind and courteous colleague.
Also: attending the events of the people I admire and want
to work with, being open to receiving their gifts, and then
having the courage to tell them (whether on social media,
email, in person, or a handwritten note) when I think they're
wonderful (and only when I truly do because I want a real
connection, not slimy fake compliments!)
and specifically why and how. As my grandmother once told me,
"everyone wants to be told they're wonderful"
I'm a bit of a wallflower and would often rather not 'bother anyone',
but I lose a chance to connect with a potential new friend,
artist, and colleague, and have learned that often,
putting positive energy into the world develops
something wonderful and surprising and positive in return.
MATTHEW, YOUR ARE THE ASSOCIATE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF SONGFEST. TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR UPCOMING PROJECTS! :)
SongFest is in full gear at the moment! We plan all year
and for the month of June have over a hundred singers and
twenty pianists, from undergraduates in their first year of study,
to professional singers and pianists, to college teachers
who continue to perform at the highest level.
Every year, the talent and openness of our student body
amazes me, as well as our extraordinary faculty.
We have daily master classes and over twenty concerts. Just
a small sample of the offerings coming up:
Ann Murray and Graham Johnson gave a glorious recital this past
Saturday. Dawn Upshaw gave her first master class today.
Our students will perform Messiaen's Harawi
Saturday. I will interview internationally acclaimed
mezzo-soprano and faculty member Susanne Mentzer on
Sunday about her life and career.
Martin Katz teaches several extraordinary classes:
from Strauss, to Russian, to aria realizations,
as well as plays a concert with our most
advanced and fully funded Stern Fellow Students.
Two faculty, Audrey Luna and Gwen Coleman Detwiler perform
a world premiere Birth Song Cycle
by another faculty member,
composer Libby Larsen...the list goes on!
Check out our website at www.songfest.us
for more information, and look for our very first CD commemorating our upcoming twentieth anniversary with a recording of pieces we have commissioned from our faculty composers over the past twenty years: works by John Harbison, John Musto, Jake Heggie, William Bolcom, Gabriela Lena Frank, Libby Larsen, Tom Cipullo and more!
YOU MUST BE VERY BUSY, AS AN ACTOR AND SINGER YOURSELF! ANY TIME MANAGEMENT TIPS FOR US?
Answer emails right away: even with one line...things die a terrible death in inbox purgatory.
Know your life rhythms: I am most productive between 10-2 and have to decide each day what that time is best spent on: Admin for SongFest, practicing, exercise, breakfast with family or friends.
Don't bring a phone/email checking advice into any important place: a meeting with a colleague, a performance, the bedroom, or a meal with a friend or loved one. When you're on be on, and when you're off, turn off!
I am a person of faith, and a while back I chose to pray
before every meal as a way to force myself to breathe and
check-in at several moments throughout the day.
Spirituality can take many forms, and regardless of religious
views, I think being able to breathe and stay calm when
juggling several things is essential so they all don't come
cascading down: finding set times during the day where
you take even a few seconds to have silence, breathe, and
be aware of beauty and what you have to be thankful for
helps that staying calm while juggling things.
It leads me to more productivity, more joy, and ultimately, informs my art, because I think all of our art is about getting people to have a similar moment where the daily noise fades away and they too stop, breathe, and become aware of beauty and what they have to be thankful for.
Have you read Matthew's post, One Teacher's Suggestion for a Method to Learn a Song/Practice for HELLO STAGE?
Full of great tips - we highly recommend it!
Follow Songfest and Matthew Patrick Morris on HELLO STAGE