Well, dear readers of this blog, I have a little something different for you today, and something that I hope you find informative and enjoyable. One of the avocational singers I have come to know through this blog, Blue Yonder, has graciously agreed to share her recent experiences attending a NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing) Workshop.
Blue Yonder is a lyric soprano who has been a commenter on this blog for many a post, and some of you may have already learned a lot from her astute comments. I recently learned that she had attended her local NATS workshop and I thought you readers might be as interested as I was to hear about it, and whether it was a comfortable environment for an avocational singer.
One of the reasons I started this blog was to help us avocational singers find each other on the Internet and share our experience of being high level singers with a passion to master the vocal instrument, yet not on a career track. I have been so happy to have heard from quite a few of you, through comments on this blog and in my e-mail.
I hope you will all benefit to hear about Blue Yonder's experience.
Blue Yonder Attends a NATS Workshop
As a high-level amateur, it's always a challenge to find the right kind of training opportunities for my level and goals. Consequently, I was delighted to learn about a performance workshop held this summer by the local NATS chapter and advertised on their website. It is a week-long program consisting of morning coachings followed by afternoon masterclasses in acting, bodywork, and diction,and culminating in a recital. Each participant brought in two pieces to coach for this program.
My first minor concern about attending was whether I could hold my own in a summer program like this. The program is non-auditioned, but I did not know what level of participants it would draw and whether I could keep up. My fears were unfounded. Ages varied from 16 to 40-something, and levels ranged from performing newbies to very good conservatory students working on master's degrees. I landed pretty squarely in the middle. Also, other avocational singers were in attendance.
The program itself was intense (for me) and enriching and positive. Every day, we sang one or both of our selections for our peers and the program faculty. We had access to well-reputed coaches with whom I never imagined I would get to work, being an avocational singer. The singers were nice people and I enjoyed getting to know them and hear about where they are in their journey. The masterclass teachers were generous with their time and expertise. They were fully engaged in working with each singer, regardless of level.
Actually, I love the masterclass/workshop format for three reasons. First, you get practice performing a selection and working on it in front of an audience. Also, you get exposure to lots of different repertoire inside and outside of your fach. And lastly, when there is diversity in the level of singers, you get to learn about the different issues faced by singers at different levels, and how to address those issues given an individual singer's particular strengths and weaknesses.
Overall, I would say that this workshop and the other local NATS events are great opportunities for the avocational singer to gain performance experience and training. I've felt welcome at the events I've attended so far, and the local NATS festival even has an "Avocational" category for participants.
I do think it's important for us avocational singers to approach performance and training situations with the right attitude. I often have doubts and ask myself, "Do I belong here with these other singers who might be career-track? Can I cut it?" I realize now that I need to take the attitude: "I BELONG HERE!!!" Aim high and prepare to work hard--but once you get in, never question whether you belong in the program, regardless of whether you got in by audition, application, or just by putting your name on a signup sheet.
I'll close with a couple of my favorite learnings from the workshop:
1. Italian texts require a surprising amount of detailed diction work. One must go through the aria or song with a fine-tooth comb and make sure all of these points are addressed
a) Vowels - Pure (non-dipthongized) and Italianate (e.g. American "a" versus the considerably brighter Italian "a")
b) Consonants - Can the listener distinguish whether any given consonant is a single or a double?
c) Vowel clusters - Can the listener hear all of the vowels in the cluster? Is the correct one stressed and/or lengthened, if applicable?
d) Text underlay - If the text underlay is ambiguous, match syllables to the notes in the manner that is the "most Italian" (observing Italian speech inflection and important words)
e) Inflection - Would a native Italian be convinced by your speech inflection? (alternating stressed-unstressed syllables - think of the stereotypical Italian accent)
f) Open/closed vowels - Are the e's and o's pronounced correctly as open or closed, depending on the word? (this one is debated by the experts)
2. 100% dramatic commitment is not just a native talent that no one else can acquire. It is something that I can practice and improve. As part of my practice regimen, I want to start doing dramatic readings of aria/song texts in a 100% committed, uninhibited way. Then I want to practice singing them with so much dramatic commitment that there's no room for thoughts about technique, mistakes, etc.