Yoga and Jogging Impact Singing But a Singer's Gym? What a unique concept and it actually exists. Classical Singer featured a Singer's Gym in an article in June 2009. It is an intense audition only program which accepts 10 singers for 4 weeks to workout an aria and scene with other singers. It is intense and not something we all have time for, but we can learn a lot from it's model. I am intrigued by its concepts are valuable tools to increase the authenticity of a performance
The Singer's Gym is a place to "work out, try things, experiment, fall and get up, and do it better the next time. These are the things you need to do as you're strengthening yourself as a performer." Ben Bernstein, co-director of the Singer's Gym in San Fransisco. Why do we not create more of this opportunity on a smaller scale in studio workshops?
Think about it; as a performer, we have to learn to do each and every one of these things. We should learn to do it in front of others besides our teacher and learn how we will cope with the learning process. College environments provide a version of this opportunity to most voice majors through weekly masterclasses for each voice studio. There is an opportunity to perform the song you are working on in front of the other students in the studio and feedback given by your teacher that day in front of the other students. You work a little bit on the suggestions the teacher gives and get to watch others do the same. This is a modified and skeletal version of the Singer's Gym, but a start in the process.
Many students in private voice studios do not get this opportunity. Sure the opportunity to perform in a recital is present, but the idea of a 'masterclass' is foreign to many. As we guide our students in their singing endeavors, I think it is valuable to add masterclass opportunities either by means of a Saturday group class once a semester or an additional workshop which they can sign up to do. By taking extra time to work on pieces in front of others you can do 2 things: 1. Get performance experience and 2. Get an opportunity to work on being engaged in what you are singing. It is easy to say, pretend you are singing this love song to an imaginary character. It becomes real when you actually put a person there to sing to. When you add real people to the mix who are working on some of the same things, the dynamics and ability to really communicate the meaning of the music changes. It is all about connecting with the musical piece you are singing and working it in different ways to truly express the music with your voice and your experience.
In preparing music for performance (especially in my summer program), I try to incorporate some activities to help students truly connect to their songs from an emotional standpoint. Research the opera, art song, or musical theater song so you know your character or poem. Look at the text and find a descriptive word or emotion for each section. Repeat that sentiment to yourself first before you sing each section and then internally as you sing each section. Bring your own interpretation to the song- how can you make the topic something you can truly relate to? All of this guidance is easier said then done. Sometimes doing it with a group makes it easier. I may try it in my next masterclass.
The model of the Singer's Gym is in depth, but deserves some merit to include in our studios and encourage our very serious performers to explore. In summary, each of the 4 weeks has a focus and involves individual and group work to truly get in touch with the character, meaning, and performance of a piece of music. Week 1 is devoted to studying the score and everything the composer put in it. Week 2 is spent on 'space' and learning the awareness of the space around you and your function within it. Week 3 is character work, including how to find and embody your character and week 4 focuses on onstage relationships. The psychology of relationships of characters and of the individuals doing the work comes into play as to how the music is sung. The whole program focuses on "grasping the idea that you have to know not only what happens in the aria (song), but what happens the moment before and the moment after, and in the accompaniment or orchestration. Interpretation from their own distinct voice and person." Kathryn Cathcart.
When we sing we are communicating something and need to spend time on that aspect of performance. It is directed by the instructions of the music written by the composer,text of the song or aria, and placement of the song within the larger overall work, but artistic license should allow for individual distinction and exploration. The end result of spending this kind of time and dedication to preparing a performance equals one thing- an authentic and enjoyable performance. Happy Singing!