Runs on food and music, will sing for chips and pasta.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Rise above...

Dedicating this little mindful post for my good friend in the passionate pursuit of excellence...

You have to rise above all that, ..all those noise ...

bad vibes,
impatience to succeed,
temptation to conform,
seduction of the ordinary,
illusion of grandeur,

to be absolutely focused, and at the same time, be contented with your objective, of going after whatever your definition of happiness is.

To me too.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Pro Musica @ Penang Hill - a picture essay

I had so much to say about the camp the day I came back to KL, last week. I waited till I can afford the luxury of a free day with no appointments before I start on the report....but by now, I have spent so much time going over the thoughts of the camp over and over again that I'm not sure if my story is going to be anything near coherent.

Anyway, I shall try.

....I think I will cheat a little, a picture says a thousand words right? I shall tell the camp story with pictures, my faithful NIKON D70s stayed with me the whole time and I managed to shoot most activities around the camp, sometimes Geneviene took over and took many interesting shots.

When & Where
The camp ran for the first time, from Sep 5-12, at Hotel Bellevue in Penang Hill. Datuk Seri Lim Chong Keat converted two of the guest rooms into coaching studios, the third coaching studio was at Campuan Room in the bird park in the hotel.
(oh poor creatures, when we had our first choral rehearsal in the room the birds must have thought that something terrible was happening to their sanctuary...they shrieked, screamed, wailed!! We got kind of used to singing with the birds through the week but it was common to hear the occasional "Oh, shut it!" from Ronny, director of interpretation and character studies)

The masters
Loh Siew Tuan, programme director and principal vocal coach

Hein Boterberg, music coach & pianist

Ronny Lauwers, interpretation and character studies coach
The pianists/repertiteurs
Standing - Catherine Lee (who is also the camp manager/coordinator), sitting from left:
Juliette Lai & Geneviene Wong

Jasmin! Ever smiling and patient with all that logistic-management

The workshop singers...or I call, the campers
(am not in the shot of course, I was the camera person)

from left: Rachel Tan, Yi Ling, Jane Soong, Yen Ling, Xiao Ting & Ryan Landis (tenor)
ah yes, ALL the female campers are sopranos, poor Ryan stuck out though we really adore having him around, humouring us with his easy American-ness.

The master classes
On each workshop day, according to the class schedule painstakingly put together by Catherine the coordinator and Tuan, the campers spent an individual thirty-minute with each coach - so that's about one hour and half of coaching we get each day. The rest of the time we spent observing and taking notes during other camper's individual master classes, or tuck ourselves somewhere in the compound of the hotel to go thro, revise, study the notes from our classes.

As the three masters coach on three completely different elements of classical singing performance, my experience for all three classes everyday were vastly different. I found that somehow I was most at ease, vocally, in Hein's sessions as I knew I would be working on diction, music dynamics, phrasing, and language with him rather than being scrutinized on my vocal technique (though Hein does give very useful tips on how to improve sound production in the course of his coaching, eg. give the note more vibrato to stay on pitch). Being absolutely meticulous, sometimes I hardly get thro half a page of song with Hein in my precious thirty-minute lesson with him. You have to be quick on your pencil in taking down all the notes and corrections on the song, though he was quick with giving notes, he was also especially good in explaining to the students why the corrections were needed.

Came my lessons with Tuan, I tend to get rather nervous sheepishly because like what I mentioned here, my biggest concern in singing at the moment lies in the vocal technique department. I think most singers there share the same `fear' as me as operatic singing is an art form that can take a life time to master. Tuan's objective was to help a student produce the most natural and healthy sound, one that is not pretentiously bigger than the one the student has. In my case she has been trying to help me focus in producing a richer tone by having more space in my mask/face when I sing. She has a fantastic memory too in remembering each student's `favourite bad habits' which she would never fail to remind us to get rid of. Some of the discoveries/lessons/notes from my classes this time are:

I have to train myself to listen to myself better
I have to learn to be able to spot a mistake on my own when I train alone at home
To relax!!! shoulders! Jaw! Upper lip!!
To stop slouching and leaning forward when I sing (Tuan had to get my fellow singers to hold my pony tail when I sing to stop me from leaning forward)
Tuan explaining about breathing and the most effective way to do it, thro some exercises

Ronny's sessions were fun but not without some nerves. Most of the time you couldn't tell what's in store for you in his session before the class begin, "What will Ronny get me to do this round?" I was able to execute most of the instructions he asked of me during the camp, like Hein, Ronny also included some notes to me about vocals during my lessons.

The first few fundamentals that he emphasized in performance were:

*The knowledge of the text (knowing what every foreign word means), plot background, character

*Begin performing with the piano accompaniment (he called that `getting on the plane WITH the music when the music, and not jumping on board when the vocal line begins')

For some of us, each session was like a mini stage blocking rehearsal. The objective of the `staging' was to help the singers PERFORM the song and be in the character of the song. One day, for Xiao Ting's Despina aria, he got some of us to stand in as Fiordoligi and Dorabella to get the slightly serious Xiao Ting to loosen up and performed the cheeky aria with more vivacity. Another day he got me to waltz around the room, turning round and round (" a fairy in a garden." he said) while humming my Gabriel's aria from oratorio The Creation, to loosen up the tightness of my vocals, and ease my fear for the high tessitura of the aria.

Ronny getting Jane to `picnic' while telling the story of her song

of course, there were also The soloists from Europe

The organising team flew in five young soloists from around to perform an impressive spread of Italian operatic classics for three concerts, between Sep 9-13.

Ines Madeira, mezzo, Portugal

Sabine Conzen, soprano, Belgium

Benoit de Leersynder, baritone, Belgium

Anna Maria, soprano, Spain

Enrico Casari, tenor, Italy

We were encouraged to pick the brains of these five soloists, as they are native speakers of most Western classical music languages. Sabine helped us with the French language with a few sheets of notes she put together in the camp. Enrico corrected us on the Italian pronunciation. Other singers spoke a few was really helpful having them around :) It was a pity there wasn't a lot of time for the students and the soloists to mingle more and share experience but their friendliness and their talent (those of you managed to catch them in action in Penang and Ipoh would agree with me) live in our memories of the camp....who knows, maybe I'll see them again soon.

Ok, on with the camp still, but here are some fun shots...before I go on with how the rest of the week went.

the sky dancers Xiao Ting, Rachel & Jane
Yen Ling missed the group shot so...she went solo

Singers get hungry a lot and we need lots of FOOD :)Home work before bed...

We like to eat! (and sing)
For the gala concert on Penang Hill, the stage was breathetakingly beautiful (see the picture on the program on top of this entry) and this is the view from `backstage' during tech run.

Hein and his page turner, Abel
Ronny directing Anna Maria
before the gala concert on Sep 9

The gala concert, Sep 9, Hotel Bellevue Penang Hill


Crude Furie, Serse (Handel)

Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Rossini), "Ah qual colpo, Zitti, zitti"

La Rondine quintet (Puccini)

Falstaff (Verdi), Nanetta singing "Sul fil d'un soffio' with chorus of sopranos (we sang from the screen behind Sabine)

La traviata, Verdi

On the evening of Sep 11, the students of the workshop gave a finale concert at the Campuan room, that night the birds didn't sing along, they listened. Each student presented two songs and yes, we tried as much and as best in our might could, to implement, to showcase what we have learned from the coaches for the past one week...some nerves slipped into the performances but well, they said they saw improvement :)

All smiles after the `curtain call'.
After the concert we headed to the nature lodge (where the students lived for a week) for a special treat to the Temiyan tribe's dance...and tribal snack (?) of roasted fish and chicken and some local fruits.
the children
the musicians...also staff members of Hotel Bellevue

The next morning, Sep 12, we closed the workshop with a chit-chat with the coaches, a review of the workshop and questions and answers. While waiting for the session to begin, some of us launched into cam-whoring mode.
some of us were confused but we didn't care :)

After the review chit-chat, we headed down town to Penang to prepare for the 2nd concert in Dewan Sri Penang. By then my NIKON's battery went pretty flat so I didn't manage to get Geneviene to help with some shots but here are some I managed to take backstage on NIKON and my Cybershot phone camera.

again, I introduce - Ryan, Yi Ling, Jane, Xiao Ting, Rachel and Yen Ling
and me!

oh yes! At the end of the 2nd concert, Pro Musica gave out some awards to the campers.

drum roll!!!

Faculty prize - Rachel Tan
Performance prize(s) - Ryand Landis, Jane Soong & Yen Ling

Like any good race, they said that there are no losers, everyone is a winner :)

I took home with me the next day, priceless memories of the beautiful sights of Penang Hill, the money-can't-buy experience of sitting outside Campuan room overlooking the jungle below me and watching clouds float by while my fellow singers singing in next door, new friendships, recordings of my lessons with the three amazing coaches...

Who can ask for anything more?

Till the next one, nobody knows yet if Pro Musica will be back next year. I say why not, I hope the serious singers out there would be as lucky as the seven of us next year to be able to attend the workshop.



Friday, September 14, 2007

A good lament - singer's blue

I decided to sign up for the Pro Musica International Master Classes (camp) thinking, and hoping that it would help me advance in my singing. Well, I came home a week later realising how much work I need to put in before I could be elevate my singing to another level.

Ok, there are two outcome at the end of the camp for me. The bad news is that I learned that my vocal technique needs some major `spring-cleaning' and the good news is, that I know I need to work hard and I'm not giving it up.

Getting coaching from vocal coach Loh Siew Tuan during the camp master class, Hein Boterberg (at piano) was the music coach

There were a few rather encouraging moments for me during the classes, I feel that I have the temperaments (for performing) during the interpretation classes. During the music coaching classes, I think I could execute most of the corrections from music coach Hein.

It's the vocal classes that I find most challenging. Without giving the other classes any less importance, vocal technique is the one element in classical singing that easily take years and decades to master, and without it, an opera singer is nothing. Now years down the road after I have started training, I'm getting just a little anxious about how far (or how little) I have advanced in the technique department.

One can pick up the craft of acting and dramatic performance skills with good guidance; one can develop a fine musicality by studying hard, but to get, to grasp the key to making a consistently good, a clean and healthy sound seems, needing a miracle there.

Singing classical music is a complicated art, this fact has gotten increasingly more clear to me recently, with my experience at my last concert and from singing at the camp. It's really easy to sing badly, to do it well you need to master the singing technique, learn how to use it while performing with absolute respect to the music/composition, and at the same time communicating the song and music to your audience.

Since my arrival back in KL from the camp I have been thinking almost non-stop about how badly I want to improve my singing in the next...near future. It's a mixture feeling of frustration, fear, determination, sense of purpose, tinge of positivity, weariness...

In a way I hope this tangled mix of feelings stay with me for as long as I need to focus on being disciplined. I will have to make sure I train everyday, singing everyday for at least fourty minutes on classical repertoire.


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Back on earth

There is a mass of thoughts in my head, in a tangled mossy web. I need to get them out in an orderly fashion...

Am home from the inaugural music camp, Pro Musica @ Penang Hill - International Master Classes. After week-long stay at the beautiful Penang Hill and breathing in nothing but music, I felt like I have gone to heaven and back on earth.

There are a few things I needed to do immediately about my singing career in classical music, and while I devise my action are a few shots from the week-long camp and concerts but of course, as always, I shall indulge myself later in a detailed report on the music rendezvous.

There were seven participants for this first round, including myself. From left - Yi Ling, Jane Soong, Rachel Tan, Xiao Ting, (front row) Yen Ling and Ryan Landis.

Xiao Ting working with interpretation coach Ronny Lauwers during the open class on the fourth day of camp for Vedrai, carino while Ryan stood in as Masetto.
First concert held at Penang Hill, scene from La Traviata, drinking song.

more to come, more to come.

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