Category Archives: Lied Austria International

City Singer, Country Singer

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City Singer, Country Singer

Schloss St. Martin is on the outskirts of Graz. We are on the side of a mountain, and though we are not at all far from the city, it is easy for us to feel very much removed from civilization. Yesterday was our first opportunity to explore the city below us, so we all threw on our walking shoes and headed down the hill to catch the bus after lunch.There’s a steep little trail that leads down through the woods from the Schloss. You’re surrounded by trees and slipping down along this damp dirt path–then suddenly you shoot out of the trees and into suburbia. Just about everyone here lives in apartment buildings, since single family homes (even very modest ones) are very expensive. The apartment buildings are often colorful and cozy though, and I imagine they’re quite nice inside.

We caught the bus and rode into the city. The central transportation hub is called Jakominiplatz; this is where all the buses and street cars converge right near the old city center. Wolfgang led us on an enthusiastic little tour of downtown and many things that we simply MUST see before we leave. He and Tracy warned us of a rash of purse-snatchings, gave us some basic directions and set us loose on the city.

This is Graz!

Doug, Joann and I set off wandering the city with few specific goals (a yarn store, a short shopping list and a beer garden). Our first stop was one of our most touristy: this floating cafe in the middle of the river where we stopped and had a mid-afternoon beer. We saw some great stuff, found some interesting stores (including an Austrian version of a  Big Lots where we checked off some of our shopping lists).

City Hall--Rebuilt in the 1800's, and includes architechtural details from several previous styles all smashed onto one big building.

We saw our first ever Smart Car Sport Coupe…which was actually a pretty cute car. We were impressed, though yellow would not have been my first choice.

We snacked a bit through the afternoon. Doug got a currywurst from a street vendor (which he said was amazing), and we all got ice cream cones. We went to the biggest bookstore in town, a four story thing that reminded me very much of a Borders. Though we never did find a phrasebook that suited our needs, Doug and I did buy some little €.98 kids books. They’re great for beginning language students and make fun presents. I bought one on dinosaurs, one about a chicken who saves Christmas somehow and one sticker book about farm animals. We stopped in a really lovely little chocolate shop for a truffle and met a super sweet little old lady who spoke nearly no English. Between our bad German and her bad English we were still able to have a nice little conversation. She gave us each a free little chocolate confection, and we assured her we’d be back. I’ll take pictures next time.

After a nice dinner at a fairly traditional restaurant the sun was starting to reappear after a day of clouds and a few sprinkles of rain. Since the weather was turning, we decided to climb the Schlossberg. This is perhaps the most recognizable landmark in all of Graz–a little bulbous mountain sticking straight up out of the middle of the city. Here’s a picture (not mine):

Now I said we climbed it–that’s not strictly accurate. Doug and Joann saw the dozens and dozens of steps to the top as a challenge, and jogged up. I decided that I didn’t want to arrive half an hour later than them and near death, so I took the lift through the middle of the hill, which actually turned out to be sorta cool anyway. I thought it’d be a total tourist trap, some thing you’d go up, see once, and kind of be done with.

On the contrary, at the top is a pretty extensive bunch of gardens and paths, a couple of restaurants, and of course the bell tower and clock. And while there were a fair number of tourists wandering around, there were also gobs of Grazer youth on blankets sitting drinking wine with friends and just hanging out. There was also a rock concert going on in a covered pavilion in the middle of the mountain, gave the whole thing a feeling of community and fun. And of course, the views were spectacular.


Ok, do you see those little yellow dots near the foot of the mountains in the middle there? No? Here, let me blow that up for you:

Well that’s Schloss St. Martin! Aaaaaaalllll the way out there in the distance. Pretty cool to realize we could see our house from up there. 🙂

Our buddy Doug


Ich habe eine kleine bisschen Deutsch sprechen.

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I’m so glad we’re taking German language classes while we’re here. Our teacher, Eva, has a Masters in teaching German to foreigners, and the difference in her teaching style compared to that of the other language teachers I’ve had is amazing. She is able to make us understand things despite not actually having the vocabulary to keep up. I’d imagine I’m slightly biased toward this approach, though, since for me this is largely review. Maybe I can harangue Joann into writing a blog about her experience as a nearly-first-time German student.

I’ve started voice lessons and coachings, and am really excited about both. Tracy is our voice teacher, and we spent most of my first lesson discussing the overall plan for the rest of the summer here. I’m looking forward to getting a different perspective on some of the same stuff I’m always working on: evening out my registers, stretching my range, improving my placement and eliminating tension throughout the vocal mechanism. She has an approach that is very much in line with my Alexander Technique study, which is fantastic. She encourages us to get out of our own way as much as possible. We concentrate on a good mental and physical setup for singing, and largely let our bodies guide us from there. She thinks I have a lot more voice lurking, and that I generally have a resonance center that is too low, which makes it hard for me to execute into the top portion of my range. It’s going to be great to work on these things with a lesson every other day. 🙂

Myron Silberstein is our coach, and he is amazing. He’s a composer and piano soloist who also works a lot with vocalists from all over. We worked on one of the pieces we were to have prepared before we arrived, Brahms’ Wie Melodien, and he had some really great ideas about how to shape the piece. We’ve got some amazing repertoire to work on together over the course of this program, and I’m really thrilled to be working with him.

My big challenge right now is going to be Hugo Wolf’s Lied vom Winde, which is a pretty challenging piece. And part of the process of this program is that we can’t go listen to a recording. We didn’t even get the music for a couple of days, but instead began our work on the poetry alone. It really does make some things much, much easier, but is sort of uncomfortable for most of us who usually start with the music and work in the other direction. It’s hard not to cheat, I have to say.

Your picture of the day is my first attempt at a panorama with a phone app I bought. It’s a bit blurry, since I didn’t know how much overlap to allow, but it gives you a sense of the scope of the valley below the Schloss. You can kinda see Graz proper out to the left–we’re going into town Friday, so I’ll have lots of new pictures then.

Aside

I’m about to say something that will shock you. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s a hanging offense in this part of the world.

I don’t much care for Schubert.

I know! I know! I know he’s the height of Lied composition. I know he composed hundreds of songs, perfectly marrying text to music with an artistry and attention to detail that makes men weep and women swoon.

I just don’t really like a lot of his songs. Case in point: Der Musensohn. But the poem is beautiful, and luckily part of the point of this program is that we start with the words. Our poetry teacher, Dr. Wolfgang Lockemann, is a lifelong student of German poetry and literature, and feels very (VE-RY) strongly that art song requires a totally different approach than dramatic singing disciplines like opera*. Rather than creating a character and singing the action of the poem as though it were a dramatic scene, we let the worlds of the poem speak for themselves. Its the difference between being the painter and being the paint.

Lieder singers should be reproductive artists, learning to express the innate rhythm, cadence, topography of the words themselves without deeper interpretation, but rather exacting detail and faithfulness to what the poet gives us. Don’t make up a back-story, or try to find symbolism. Don’t assume or create circumstances or facts beyond the words on the page. Choose the Occam’s Razor approach to poetry–the simplest understanding is correct for our purposes. This allows the listener to really experience the poetry for themselves, rather than having OUR interpretation foisted ineffectually upon them. It’s the audible, external version of reading a poem to oneself. Our singing is the paint that the poem uses to show itself to the audience. The poet is the painter, I am just his medium.

This approach is TOTALLY different from the way most of us have been trained, and is hard to wrap the brain around. We are all struggling to subsume our own thoughts and interpretations of the poetry, and rather learning to recognize the internal structure directions that the words themselves provide the performer. Right now, our work is spent endlessly reciting poetry in a group with Wolfgang directing and correcting us. It’s harder than one might think to read with drama but without being “dramatic” (that is, speaking as though we were on stage). On stage the goal is (in part) to make one’s speech/singing sound spontaneous, as though the thought were passing through our heads for the first time. In recitation of this kind, we approach the line as a finished thing that exists in the world already as a whole.

It is…hard. Really, really hard. And I’m pretty sure that I’m currently in the lead for the Most Annoying Student award for asking complicated philosophical and practical questions about the whole premise and process.

We have each been assigned 3 songs, the first of which for me is Der Musensohn by Schubert. After today’s poetry workshop on the text, I have an affection for and understanding of the poem, which is by Goethe. It is beautiful (though not my favorite of those that we did today. But I just don’t particularly like the setting by Schubert. I just listened to it again (last time I heard it was in Song Literature class several months ago), and am sort of bored by it about a minute in. It will be interesting to see how I feel about it once I start to apply what we learned about the poetry to singing. I’m ready to change my mind, Schubert fans–I hope that I do.

Now, it’s 8:30 here, and I have some German homework to do before language class tomorrow, a first lesson to prepare for, and about 10 more poems to prepare for tomorrow, so here’s your moment of Zen for the day:

A spontaneous Yoga gathering in the hallway.

Bis später!

*For those who would like to read more about Dr. Lockrmann’s approach to Art song singing, he has published this article  (I believe in Classical Singer? will have to check), and here on the program website: Lieder As Mini Opera?

Poetry is hard

Vacationish

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No time or brain to write much tonight–we started working on poetry, and I couldn’t be more excited. I took a little post-dinner hike tonight, and was able to record the sound of the Austrian forest. It’s totally gorgeous, and the number and variety of birds are just amazing. Since I was having a problem posting the audio file alone, I put some pictures from my walk together and made a little video out of it. 🙂