Studying Voice Abroad: Summer Programs in Europe

Dale Morehouse of UMKC, my dear mentor and friend, has a witty and informative blog of his own, singeronthehoof.blogspot.com. When he posted about options for summer programs in Europe, I knew I had to share them here.

I believe that even in today’s global village, there is an irreplaceable value in going to the places where the greatest of western music was conceived and in absorbing all we can once we’re there. Language, architecture, cuisine, ethos, and lifestyle reveal music along with score study. Experiencing music’s masterpieces where they were created unstops our inexperienced ears.

And so, from our home in America - the land of air conditioning, ice cubes, free drink refills, and screens on our windows, I rise in praise of European study for today’s young classical musician. English-language programs flourish all over the continent now, each offering its own opportunities. Take care to find a program that matches your level of ability and interest, and you will grow beyond your imagination.

He has overviews of four great programs and who they work best for. Opera Viva in Verona, Italy; Classical Music Festival in Eisenstadt, Austria; Orvieto Musica Chamber Music Festival in Orvieto, Italy; and American Institute of Musical Studies (AIMS) in Graz, Austria. Dale has taught and/or sung at all of them, so he has great insight into their workings. If you're interested in options for summer study abroad, check them out.

"How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm?" - A Paean in Praise of European Study

Great Advice from Joyce DiDonato

Joyce DiDonato is one of my favorite singers, and now I see that she is thoughtful and funny and wise. This is from the end of a master class at Julliard where she took time to answer questions from the audience. The video is more than 30 minutes, but if you are interested in pursuing life as a performer (or even if you want to be a successful in a challenging career of any kind) it's well worth watching. She offers excellent advice on how to overcome that nagging inner voice we all have and shares some of her personal experiences.

Why Do Our Voices Sound Different To Us Than To Other People?

Voice students often have difficulty separating the sounds that they hear when they sing from what it will sound like to the rest of us. As anyone who has heard themselves on a recording knows, you sound very different in your own head. This can lead to singing in a way that sounds great to you, while it sounds "covered" or muffled to the rest of the world. Mental Floss has a great, short article on some reasons for this. Check it out. Why Do Our Voices Sound Different To Us Than To Other People? | Mental Floss.

How to Practice: 10 Tips for New Voice Students

Many new voice students do not have a full understanding of what it means to practice between lessons. Singing through your pieces several times may help you memorize them, but you won't learn how to correct musical and technical mistakes. Students should approach each practice session as they should each lesson; with an open mind, and willing to experiment. This list is by no means complete, but here are 10 tips to incorporate into your practice time.

  1. Record your lesson. This is useful for remembering what to work on between the lessons since there often isn't time for your teacher to make written notes for you. You will also be able to hear the difference your practicing makes over time.
  2. Practice often. It is much better to work on your singing a little bit each day rather than one longer session the day before your lesson. Singers are like athletes; we are training our muscles to perform special skills. Like athletes, waiting until the last minute and doing one long prep session will get you nowhere.
  3. If you are ill, feel pain in your throat, or if you begin to loose your voice, stop singing. Singing should always feel free, not forced. If there is pain or you become horse, you are doing it wrong or there could be a medical issue that may need to be addressed by a doctor.
  4. Warm-up using exercises your teacher introduced in the lesson. Take this time to focus on different technical aspects of singing such as breath, posture, resonance and diction. Often, each exercise is meant to work on a particular skill. If you are unsure what skills go with each exercise, ask your teacher. If you work better with imagery, use the image you've worked out with your teacher for each exercise.
  5. Work on pieces in sections of 4-8 measures. You can do various exercises in each section to work on different technical aspects. For example: to work on breath, sing a section on a tongue trill (rrrr); to work on phrasing sing legato on a vowel instead of the words; or to work on rhythm, count a section while singing. Once each section is perfected you can put the piece back together by grouping sections together.
  6. Take note of trouble spots. If you make a mistake more than once, go back and correct it. Sing the notes on different vowels and then with the words. Then put the trouble spot back into the rest of the phrase to give it context.
  7. Remember that the way you say the words matters as much as the meaning. Work on correct diction as part of your practice time. One way to do this is to speak the words with a resonant voice, both with the rhythm and as you would if you were in a play.
  8. Learn to read music using solfeggio (do, re, mi, etc.) or another system. Learning notation and music theory will help you learn pieces more quickly and you will understand them better. Learning another instrument is a good way to achieve this.
  9. Approach each piece as an actor. Your job is to interpret the intent of the composer and poet/lyricist for the audience. This means you must understand the meaning behind the words and the notes. Practice time needs to include some time for research.
  10. Take time to listen to many other singers in many different styles. You have a unique voice, so listening to others, both those who have voices similar to yours and those who are very different, will give you a better frame of reference for your own voice.

Cosi fan tutte: "Soave sia il vento"

This trio is one of my favorite compositions by W.A. Mozart and this is my favorite recording of it. Despite the Peter Sellars production feeling very dated, (hello, 1986!) there is something about this performance that is very touching. Susan Larson plays Fiordiligi (in pink), and I had the honor of studying with her my junior and senior years at the University of New Hampshire. She and the other singers (Janice Felty as Dorabella and Sanford Sylvan as Don Alfonso), along with conductor Craig Smith give a beautiful performance.