The Beauty of Text and Honesty

Today must have been one of the busiest days we will have during the Institute, as it felt like we constantly moved from class, to a meal, to a master class, then teatime, to rehearsal, and finally an amazing concert after dinner. As busy as we were, however, the feeling after a long and fun day is great, as we continue to grow and mature musically and personally.

We started the day again with breakfast followed by a lecture given by James Whitbourn on the importance of words in composition. The lecture was incredible to take part in, as James used many musical examples, as well as others, to show the importance of the text in music, and the presentation of the music. As a group, we read the Apostle’s Creed, and afterwards, James made the point that we could barely be understood, sounding as if we mumbled throughout. He had a point… we sounded awful just speaking. Then, when we started to speak with intention and meaning, the text began to come to life. The text, when speaking, must have pitch, rhythm, and intention to bring the text to life and provide the meaning and beauty it must convey. Other important ideas that I gained were that we should never take the text for granted or try to surpass the text in any way. The text is what usually evokes the music in a composer’s mind, and if the text holds such meaning in their life that they would write music to it, we must take as much time as possible to connect the music and the text to bring the work’s entirety to life. Also, when we try to surpass the text, and focus on the vowels or skip the words and focus on the sounds and music of the piece, we do not bring the work justice as again, the text holds great meaning within the piece along with the music.

Lunch ensued, with baked potatoes, chili, salad, and more, which we all ate happily. At 2:00 p.m., the majority of us watched the master class as our fellow students worked with Elin Manahan Thomas, a famous soprano who has worked with the Westminster Williamson Voices on previous occasions. She is absolutely amazing!!! She is incredibly down to earth, kind, caring, and more. Watching her work with Emily, Moira, Jon, Sara, Austin, and Storm was incredible, find ways to bring out the best in each singer in the small amount of time provided for each. Asking our friends to find more ways to connect with the music, or find the character inside, or even to open up more than they could, each student grew tremendously, and continued to grow and develop while working with Mrs. Thomas. The conductors also took time during the masterclass to meet with Frank Abrahams, who taught a valuable and informational class as the choir finished their time with Mrs. Thomas. After the masterclass, she answered any questions thrown her way, speaking about her career, how to start a career as a singer, experiences she has had, and about what her ideas were on aspects of singing. The Q & A was insightful, and for someone who is terrified to sing in front of others individually (those of you who know, taking contacts out is my permanent answer from now on for juries), learning more about her career and seeing her opinion that someone’s attitude can make or break a career, was reassuring and comforting.

Master class participants: Storm Koveleski, Moira Gannon, Austin Turner, Sara Munson, Emily Johnston, Jonathan Feinstein, Elin Manahan Thomas, and Jonathan Palmer Lakeland '14, accompanist for the masterclass and Administrator for the Institute.

Master class participants: Storm Koveleski, Moira Gannon, Austin Turner, Sara Munson, Emily Johnston, Jonathan Feinstein, Elin Manahan Thomas, and Jonathan Palmer Lakeland ’14, accompanist for the masterclass and Administrator for the Institute.

Teatime was brief so that we could take this time to warm up, but everyone is starting to get back into their voice after the fatigue is slowly disappearing. I never thought the flight and the jet lag would mess with us as much as it did, but everyone sounds great and keeps feeling better and better, which is even better for our conductor friends!! This time, my half of the choir worked with James Jordan, while working with the same conductors as yesterday. We continued to work through Sine paenitentia by Cortlandt Matthews; Os Justi by Bruckner; Video Caelos Apertos, Of one that is so fair and bright, and Crown my Heart by James Whitbourn; Salve Regina by Poulenc; and I Wonder as I Wander by Steve Pilkington, with each of the conductors participating in the institute. Each conductor continues to grow so much as we work together, learning more through trial and error, James Jordan taught the value of breathing with the choir, conducting through beat three rather than emphasizing beat one, and fantasizing about the sound before conducting. As each conductor improved and added each of these elements into their conducting, the sound that each conductor could evoke from the choir became something of absolute beauty. The room became filled with beautiful, honest, and open music that made us smile, cry tears of joy, and feel so appreciative of the moments we would create.

Finally, the concert tonight that Elin Manahan Thomas provided was stunning! Her voice constantly soared, singing beautifully with music that she enjoyed singing and that the audience loved hearing. There was such an honestly and connection between her and the music that was really amazing to see, and I hope that I develop that connection in my own singing.

It is strange to think that we have only been in Oxford for three days. As I walk around the city, exploring more each day and growing more comfortable, I feel as if I could live here. Members of the choir remind us to cherish each moment as the trip goes extremely quickly, and that Oxford will feel like another home. Everything about this trip has been incredible, and I hope that time starts to slow down. There is so much to do here, and many of us wish we could stay longer than the nine days we have. With as much as we love Oxford, I am finding more how Oxford brings out the best in each of us, allowing us to grow individually, as well as a group. We all grow together as we spend a great deal of time together, and I find that this program fosters a great deal of honesty, connection, and inner beauty that I don’t think can be done anywhere else. I love being with my second family, and I can’t imagine being with any other group in the world.

About choralmusicinstitute

Presented by Westminster Choir College of Rider University and Oxford University's St. Stephen's House, the one-week institute provides instruction to all levels of conductors.
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