Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Analyze This! Musical Theater (or Opera) is Not My Passion. WHY Should I Learn the Music? What Analyzing the Music Can Do for You!

There are so many styles and facets of singing that people often wonder, "Why should I learn this style of music?  Why will it benefit me?"  I often get asked that question when I present a young student with a musical theater or folk song piece.  Many jump at the chance to do Broadway but balk at the concept that it is 'legit' or from the Rogers and Hammerstein era or a song that they have never heard before.  It is not what they are familiar with, so why should they learn that style?  I like to re-phrase the question to be 'Why Not?' and 'What can I learn from it?'.

Specifically, one can learn so much from working on a song from musical theater.  Not only are we learning the notes and lyrics, but we delve into character development and what we are trying to convey or communicate (dramaturgy)!  It is often an easier avenue to approach these concepts through musical theater than folk song or art songs or opera.  It is often a great caveat to operatic study as the voice develops, matures, and helps the student to understand the value of the study of the opera as a whole not just their individual aria.  We dig deeper than just the notes on the page and make the difference of "mediocre and truly great performers" (in all realms of musical performance). (Classical Singer, 10/2009)  If we start with our own native language when studying character and historical study of a song (or aria), we can start a complicated analysis process with something that is easy to relate to for a beginning student.  We just have to carefully select the repertoire so that it is vocally and age appropriate.

To understand the seriousness of this kind of study, let's visit the practice of dramaturgy in opera houses.  If an opera house is very lucky, they have their own dramaturg coach.  If not, a very good director who understands the process.  Study of this nature helps to identify questions of who what , when, where, why, and how, and place each singer's role in the context of the opera as a whole.  If you look at the music from all angles- music history, socio-cultural context, and where the material comes from (a poet or original libretto) you can fully 'inhabit' their characters.  Read more about this process at "Analyze This" Classical Singer, October 2009.

This is a brilliant concept!  Full research of a musical piece give the most benefit to authentically perform any role or repertoire of choice.  If you get under the skin of the text and make it second nature and part of you physically, it catches the whole audience (even the squirming 10 year old!). Through research you find the true roots of the music and then can add your own interpretation.  It is the ultimate to prepare a role (opera or musical theater) or song in general!

In operatic study, we read the libretto (full script), translate it word for word (or interpret the older English translation), study the composer's true intent of how he set the words to the music, form ideas of the character and stylize and characterize the music (of course after we have learned all of the pitches and rhythms).  Why not do this with other repertoire before our voices are developed enough to sing opera?

If we start with our native language we skip one step but still need to interpret the poetry and lyrics. If we start this study with more contemporary literature or literature that has topics that are easy to relate to, we can create a process of how we learn vocal literature and authentically perform it- make the difference between an okay performance and a GREAT performance.  As voice study progresses and the repertoire difficulty level increases we then can apply the process and be motivated to research and understand music and repertoire history of long ago that might be difficult to understand in early study. Think of it this way, we don't start reading Shakespeare as we first learn to read, but read stories of young girls and boys that we can relate to.

In today's world, opera is a regarded as musical theater because 'just stand there and sing' doesn't exist. You must act and do it well to get that role!  So by doing dramatugic study of all of our songs we are doing ourselves and our audiences a favor! Not only do we learn the ins and outs of what the composer really was trying to communicate, but we can deliver it to our audience with full gusto!

If you can learn to fully inhabit a role by this kind of study it 'adds another layer to the onion' that unfolds to the audience as an outstanding performance!  Give it a try and see what happens to your performance!

No comments:

Post a Comment