This year as Young Songmaker with Songmakers Australia, I have had the great pleasure of working with Andrea Katz, Artistic Director of Songmakers Australia. Together we have been preparing a recital program of songs by Paolo Tosti, Henri Duparc, Ludwig van Beethoven and Erich Korngold. Consisting of sixty minutes of music, this concert on September 23 will mark my most ambitious program to date.
So what can I convey of my experiences so far? Well, it has been stimulating, challenging and rigorous. In light of my previous education and past experience, I somewhat regard this period as a second growth spurt; a period of enlightenment, if you will. As a teen, growing up in Melbourne and set upon becoming an airline pilot, I was not at all interested in the arts or literature. Although I really enjoyed singing in choirs and rock bands, other forms of art never took my fancy. Additionally, my talent as a singer did not really become apparent until the age of seventeen, when I auditioned for the role of Nanki-Poo in The Mikado as part of a school production at Scotch College, Melbourne. Having really enjoyed that experience, I decided to pursue singing further by majoring in voice at the University of Melbourne, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, which is where Andrea and I first met.
In my first year, I was fortunate to join the Trinity College Choir. For someone with relatively little understanding of musical theory (I could barely read music!) and the classical world in general, I think it was a miracle in retrospect that I was offered a position in the Choir at all. Thankfully, I was admitted and by the end of my first year in the Choir, I had developed the confidence and skill to sight-read just about anything that came my way. Following the conclusion of my studies at the University, unsurprisingly there were still many gaps in my knowledge as a young artist. My work with Andrea this year has helped enormously to address and bridge some of these gaps. Andrea has pushed me to explore and incorporate knowledge and ideas from not only icons of the music and singing world but also of other art forms: painters, poets, influential thinkers, etc. The study of artists like Gauguin, Baudelaire and Van Gogh (to name a few) has contributed to understanding of my chosen vocal works in ways I did not expect.
Though sometimes reluctant due to its seemingly foreign nature, I have been opened to embrace these other marvellously interconnected fields. Some of my prescribed reading has included The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry), Narcissus and Goldmund, as well as The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse.I have also learned a great deal more about the symbiotic relationship between pianist and singer and the responsibilities we have to each other in order to keep the lines of communication open. Andrea has inspired me to uncover not only musical details written in the score that may not be directly apparent but to also explore the culture and period in history in which these songs were conceived. It has become clear that one must look beyond the vocal line and study the piano or orchestral parts as well. We have also discussed the significance of colour and what certain colours represent in nature and culture.
For instance, the colour white being a symbol of innocence and purity while green represents nature or envy. These ideas were previously little known to me and have aided my understanding of song texts.Another discovery I have made recently has been in relation to possessing absolute pitch and its practical implications for a professional singer. Since the age of fifteen, I have been using perfect (absolute) pitch to my advantage in musical endeavours and I have come to realise, unfortunately, that it is somewhat of a double-edged sword. Not only does one need to be able to switch it off at will when working in a cappella or Baroque settings and actually start listening more carefully, but I have also found it has had a negative impact on my ability as a singer to produce a tone of absolute clarity, purity and evenness — qualities for which a singer must constantly strive.
For me, discovering this has forced me to rethink my listening skills in a way that I never anticipated. To always be in the process of learning new things and adopting that permanent mindset of the ‘student‘ has been most beneficial. My physical training as an athlete over the years taught me the same principle: one must always be on the lookout for new information. However, it is only more recently that I have made this connection with my music. Now as a young artist, I feel like an empty vessel in a shipyard that is gradually having equipment and infrastructure added to it: an engine room, rudders, a navigation system, artillery cannons, food supplies, crates of wine for emergencies—you get the idea. The progress I have made thus far as a Young Songmaker, while at times frustrating, has given me insight into the way I function and has motivated me to ensure continued growth over time. “Complacency is the death of art“. I have come to really embrace this philosophy in my practices.
If I had to pinpoint just one aspect which has served as a real revelation for me this year as a pre-professional artist — one that is still very much honing their craft—it would be my realisation as to the sheer amount of energy and concentration demanded of a professional singer at work. Through these sessions with Andrea as well as those with my own vocal coach Raymond Lawrence, I have learnt (soberingly) that losing focus even for a split-second can have a significant impact on not only the quality of sound but what the audience hears and feels as well. There have been occasions in rehearsal where Andrea, in her frustration, has loudly reproached me for ruining a special musical moment that would have stayed alive had I not lost concentration suddenly. This has been great feedback.
At the time of writing we are officially three weeks out from our performance, and Beethoven’s An die Ferne Geliebte would easily be my favourite part of this program. Fashioned as one continuous piece, this song-cycle makes you feel a great deal what the poet Alois Isidor Jeitteles writes about. It is an absolute gem and I feel quite privileged to be able to present it along with the rest of our program to our audience on September 23.I have no doubt there will be many more growth spurts to come!
Songmakers Australia present Lyndon Green and Andrea Katz in recital at Richmond United Church on September 23 at 6pm. Tickets and more information available here.