Date of Submission

Fall 2012

Academic Program

Music

Project Advisor 1

James Bagwell

Project Advisor 2

Ilka LoMonaco

Abstract/Artist's Statement

When I first began work on my senior project in classical vocal performance during spring 2012, I hoped that by giving two concerts of classical vocal repertoire I would be able to consider aspects of performance that I hadn’t explored previously. As the work progressed, I realized that before I could concentrate on performance, I needed to discover how to learn and internalize the music. Figuring out how to combine the learning process with the performance aspect of vocal music has been the most rewarding part of this project, and is a lesson that I hope to carry with me to all future endeavors.

For my first concert “Domestic Bliss?” I focused on music by Robert Schumann, a German, Romantic composer, highlighting his song cycle Frauenliebe und Leben. I felt a strong connection towards this cycle, as it details the life of a young women and the domestic relationship with her husband. The second concert I’m working towards focuses on French songs rather than German, a switch in the atmosphere. Most of my current program consists of melodious and floating songs by impressionist and modernist composers such as Debussy, Ravel, and Messiaen. This is my favorite style to sing, and also one that I find the most challenging to do correctly.

In completing the second half of my project, I’ve challenged myself to sing what I prefer while still maintaining the vocal improvement that I made while working on the more direct German style. This concert is also a switch from my first, as there isn’t a common thread or character running throughout. Each song stands alone and I need to create a character and motivation for each. In addition to the French impressionist songs I’m also working on three vocalise studies, pieces sung on a vowel with no words to go with the melody. I find these to be especially difficult, as there is no poetry to explain their motivation, no word stresses to shape phrases and no clear breaks in the idea for a vocal rest. Technically, I find it difficult to maintain a consistent vowel throughout each register of my voice, meaning that these pieces are the most challenging which I am approaching.

In completing this project I’ve learned how I need to approach unknown music and have begun to perfect the process I take to internalize it. I’ve recognized the importance of the poetry, almost tantamount to the music itself in some instances, and have come to the conclusion that the words are the first things I need to understand when approaching a new piece. I’ve become comfortable with crossing the language barrier and with the help of my voice teachers and accompanists I’ve developed a working knowledge of pronunciation rules for commonly sung languages. Once I feel confident with the message the song is getting across, I then begin to work on the pitches and rhythms it employs to do so. This part of the learning process is one that I find particularly difficult and am grateful that this project has allowed me to recognize and address this weakness. I’ve experimented with several different methods for internalizing music; working with metronomes, recordings, and other music students. I’m still struggling with bringing the entire process together by adding dynamics, emotion, and direction to the phrases. I know intellectually what the words are saying and how the phrases in a song are divided, but I’m still developing the technical abilities to bring this across, meaning that I often end up dissatisfied with my performance.

This dissatisfaction is something that I had to seriously deal with after my first senior concert last spring. I’d been thinking about the music starting in September and then started working on the project in earnest over Christmas break into the spring semester. I was very invested in the music, though I realize now that I approached it in too solitary a manner. I was too wrapped up in learning the music that I neglected the fact that I needed to perform it. This meant that when I walked into my dress rehearsal I was unprepared, and had a difficult time as I floundered through the expression, the way to hold my body, and my entrances in relation to the piano. Because of this floundering, I became nervous and upset, meaning that my technique also began to fail. By the end of the run through I sounded terrible, was nearly in tears and knew that I had a lot of work to do. This was a healthy wake up call. During the week I had left before the concert itself, I completely changed my approach to the music and practiced in “performance” mode as often as I could. I sang for friends, scheduled extra time with pianists, and when this wasn’t possible, I sang along to karaoke recordings in front of my mirror. My understanding of the music took on a new character and my performance improved. In light of the lesson I learned and the amount of improvement I made in one week, the final concert was a resounding success. I was happy with the improvement, though still felt like there was much more work I could do. I recognized that it wasn’t a problem with how much work I’d done on the music. Rather, it was a problem with how I learned the songs, how I responded to the performance environment and how these two aspects worked together.

In light of this, I’ve approached my second senior concert in a new way. I started working on the performance aspect of the music right from the start. Instead of just learning the poetry, I’ve spoken it and performed it. I’ve made the learning process more of a social project, inviting friends to come with me to the practice rooms so that I can show them my music and hear their response. I’ve concentrated on the vocal skills that fell apart in performance last spring and have worked on building up techniques to express emotion without sacrificing sound. I’m hoping that by tackling it from the start, I can prevent the problem of my last concert from affecting this one, allowing me to do more justice to the music and the time that I’ve spent learning it.

I’ve enjoyed working on this project and appreciate the opportunity to spend a year developing the way I learn music. I’ve discovered many of my weaknesses and have learned how to adapt my preparation style to account for these. I’m looking forward to performing my second concert and am confident that it will be an improvement over my first, a pattern which I hope continues in all my future performances.

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