I went to Toronto a couple of weekends ago to spend some time with Sally, looking at her sketches, making some new sounds, playing with some ideas and getting inside her mind and method of composition.
Sally and I met last summer at the premiere of Did I escape, I wonder… at Theatre Ste Catherine in Montreal. She is a friend of my cherished collaborator and flute-wielding fairy godfather Jeffrey Stonehouse (of Ensemble Paramirabo.) I generally work in a pretty intuitive way, and I remembered her when I was making my list of potential composers for this project simply because I enjoyed meeting her and liked her vibe. Jeff had also shown me some clips of her opera (<– go! listen!) and I was struck by the intensity and beauty of its stillness and minimalist textures. There are many instances of solo voice (as well as solo instrumental passages) that are very full of colour, personality and drama in this work, and I thought to myself, “yep.”
Sally came up with a text inspired by a newly discovered Grimm fairy tale. She reveals the full text in her blog post, above. With this piece, as with all of the works in this collection to date, we are working with the theatrical, something I am of course thrilled about. We played with some different deliveries of the text and I sang through the sketches she wrote for me. Something that was really helpful for me was to sing a passage that is conceived with a strong harmonic structure accompanied by the chords on piano. After doing that, I was able to sing the melody with a much fuller understanding of the context of what I was singing. Singing with the memory of the accompanying chords made a difference in which parts I accented and stressed and which words and notes I ended up moving towards/pulling back on. I really appreciated having the chords written out– sometimes with solo voice work, it can feel like singing a floating, random melody that comes from the air. It can be really difficult to imagine the harmonic structure (if there is one!) the composer had in mind, and I’m not sure that it’s completely useful to fabricate one where one isn’t indicated. This also reminded me of a great exercise I did when I took some jazz voice lessons — going through my charts SINGING THE ROOTS OF THE CHORDS all the way through, to really get inside the piece, thus cultivating a stronger understanding of the framework of a song and making improvisation a lot less scary. I find this is actually a good way to approach learning most repertoire. So why not use it in solo pieces (if the framework exists), even if it isn’t heard in the final performance? This was sort of a revelation! Awesome! We also discussed possible future incarnations of this piece that would include Sally at the keyboard. We agreed that would (will?!) be pretty great.
Another idea we are looking at with this piece is achieving the effect of a loop pedal, without the loop pedal. Sally mentioned an artist, Camille, whom she’s been listening to of late. Here is a cute and fun song with a cute and fun video:
…Ahemmmmm…. (pardon. just clearing my throat there.)
In our work together, I’m going to experiement with singing two “lines” at once, basically by flipping back and forth between two or more characters at a very rapid pace in order to create a rhythmic effect and trick the listener’s brain into thinking it is hearing two distinct tracks at once. BUT THEY’LL BOTH BE COMING LIVE OUTTA MA BOUCHE! As with all of the theatrical vocal pieces I’ve looked at, it’s important to exaggerate each character so that the changes and in voice and mood are perceptible. It will be the contrast that really creates this effect.
After some very satisfying musical sessions and fun hangouts with Sally’s adorable dog Fox, we went yarn shopping and obsessed over another mutual love: fiber and needlecraft!
I’m so pleased with the community-strengthening aspect of this project– it’s wonderful to get to know people, both through their music and just as human beings. I know it can be difficult for musicians and composers to get enough social contact when so much of our time is spent in solitary: writing, creating, learning repertoire, working on technique, etc. Speaking of social contact, I’ve got to leave for a rehearsal. It’s been lovely! The next time you hear from me, I will either be at the airport or IN BANFF!!!!!!!!!! So check out Sally’s bio, go to her site and hear her music, and stay tuned for more adventures!
trickpony is a research and creation project of singer/actor/performer, Sarah Albu. Working with 8 composers on 8 new pieces for solo voice, Sarah has committed herself to a year of exploring her voice, the rehearsal and the development process.
Sarah has generously included me in this project. I had a wonderful time during our first meeting here in Toronto this past weekend. We went over some initial sketches and discussed possibilities, timelines and due-dates. Work is satisfying in the setting of workshop. Exchange ideas. Ask questions. Listen. I feel ready, armed with new information regarding Sarah’s voice, to complete a first draft of my piece this month.
When first considering this project, I was struck by Sarah’s comfort in the theatrical. I wanted to include this strength in my writing and find inroads into narrative style. Feeling that a 10 minute solo voice piece could benefit formally, from characterization and…
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