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Deceptive Cadence
Deceptive Cadence un-stuffs the world of classical music, which is both fusty and ferociously alive.
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How Do You Sweep The Ivy League? Practice — The Viola. (Really.)

Was playing a much-maligned instrument — or writing about it beautifully — part of Kwasi Enin's secret? (Not that he is playing the 'Archinto' Stradivarius pictured here.) i i

Was playing a much-maligned instrument — or writing about it beautifully — part of Kwasi Enin's secret? (Not that he is playing the 'Archinto' Stradivarius pictured here.)

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

By now, you may have heard about Kwasi Enin, the impressive young man from Long Island who has been accepted into the classes of 2018 at Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Yale (all eight Ivy League universities) as well as Duke and three campuses of the State University of New York. And you may have read about his stellar achievements: the 2250 on his SATs, his 11 Advanced Placement courses, his encouragement from his parents, both nurses who immigrated from Ghana in the 1980s, and his volunteer work at Stony Brook University Hospital's radiology department. You may have even heard it mentioned that the 17-year-old from Shirley, N.Y. plays in his public high school orchestra.

But what you may not know is that he has played the much-maligned viola for nine years, or how much music — and specifically classical music as well as the doo-wop group he sings in — seems to mean to him. (Also, it couldn't possibly have hurt his 12 winning college applications that he plays a pretty unpopular instrument.)

The New York Post quoted yesterday from his essay, but Business Insider linked to what they say is Enin's full piece (though it clearly says at the top "Draft #4"). In it, Enin writes that he simply enrolled in orchestra to meet a state requirement, but it became "the first self-taught and the longest course I have ever taken":

Music has become the spark of my intellectual curiosity. I directly developed my capacity to think creatively around problems due to the infinite possibilities in music. There are millions of combinations of key signatures, chords, melodies, and rhythms ... As I began to explore a minute fraction of these combinations from the third grade onwards, my mind began to formulate roundabout methods to solve any mathematical problem, address any literature prompt, and discover any exit in an undesirable situation. ... Lastly, music has become the educator that has taught me the importance of leadership, teamwork and friendship.

He concludes: "My haven for solace in and away from home is in the world of composers, harmonies and possibilities. My musical haven has shaped my character and without it, my life would not be half as wonderful as it is today."

I'm a little biased here as a one-time violist, avid champion of music I love and an alumna of one of the schools he might attend (not that I think that a Big Brand Name University is the key to personal happiness and fulfillment). And I hope Kwasi's experience doesn't become fodder for the junk science of the "Mozart Effect." But it is so nice to see an example of how playing music has helped make a young man shine — and, more importantly, how much pleasure and fun it has given him throughout his life. All I can say is: Go, Kwasi!

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit
19 days ago | |
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Valkyries Ride All Night To Save Opera Company

Gods, monsters and Rhinemaidens populate Richard Wagner's 16-hour epic Ring cycle. i i

Gods, monsters and Rhinemaidens populate Richard Wagner's 16-hour epic Ring cycle.

Marco Secchi/Getty Images

(Happy April Fools 2014. See you next year.)

American opera companies are producing as much drama in the boardroom as onstage. New York City Opera folded in 2013 after years of unbalanced budgets. In March of this year, San Diego Opera announced that its current season, which ends in April, will be its last. While the California company — the nation's 10th largest — isn't in imminent danger, its board feels future fundraising verges on the impossible.

Yet one opera company has vowed to do what it does best until it gets the money it needs. For more than 60 years, Texas-based Rio Grande Opera has attracted world-class singers, directors, conductors and composers to its lavish McDermott Opera House. But as the economy began its freefall, and with no new major donors forthcoming, they hit on a last-ditch strategy no one had ever tried before: a pledge drive marathon they're calling a Lone Star Wagnerrama.

"We're doing the Wagner Ring cycle. And we're not stopping until we've raised the money we need for next season," says Rio Grande Opera General and Artistic Director Christopher Hewitt. And when he says they're not stopping, he means it. Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelungs) is a set of four operas ranging from 2 1/2 to 6 hours long, generally played over the course of a week. Rio Grande Opera is starting tonight at 7 Central and playing the operas back to back with only 10 minutes in between them until they raise $8 million.

"We thought about having some sort of benefit concert with, say, a Plácido Domingo or a Renée Fleming, but that's been done," Hewitt says. "We wanted to show people how much we care, that like Davy Crockett at the Alamo, we are literally going to do what we do or die trying."

The Ring includes such famous moments as the "Ride of the Valkyries," popularized by Bugs Bunny and the film Apocalypse Now. The cycle begins and ends underneath the Rhine River with a gold ring that sets off an epic struggle between various humans, gods and all sorts of mythical creatures — from a dragon to a green-faced torso named Erda.

Soprano Annabelle Spleet is one of the Rhinemaidens who open the first opera, Das Rheingold. "As a Texan," Spleet says, "I'm excited about this opportunity to help the company I grew up going to see. I swam while I was in music school at UT, so swimming for hours on end is nothing new for me."

Performing for what could be anywhere from 16 to 48 to even 96 hours isn't just demanding for the singers. It's especially tough for the one person who's working the entire time, the conductor. "I'm ready," says Rio Grande Opera Chief Conductor Domenico Campanati. "Strangely enough, the challenge is more mental than physical. If my arm starts to get tired, I just put the baton in the other hand, but I've only got one brain. Still, the music is so beautiful. It literally flows like a river — so I can let myself get swept along. And I'll have an espresso machine next to the podium."

Stagehands, ushers and box office staffs are also working 24-hour shifts until the fundraising goal is reached.

"Texas is a right-to-work state," says head stagehand José "Hoss" Dovalina, "so we had an easier time relaxing the union rules for this Ring cycle or, maybe, cycles. But if anyone can make it burn and flood over and over again, it's us."

And Hewitt says the company's development staff has come up with novel ways to raise money: "We've got a spontaneous jewelry donation program called Throw Your Ring in the Hat. The Texas Air National Guard is giving helicopter rides to people who make the biggest pledges. And by total coincidence, Conan O'Brien is in Dallas this week and using Wagner to promote his shows. So that's a good omen."

Hewitt says that if this all-night, conceivably all-week Wagner marathon works, Rio Grande Opera could do it again in early April next year. Then again, he says, this event could be shorter than anyone expects: "We've had plenty of board members who've heard we're doing Wagner and said, 'We'll pay to make it stop!'"

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit
21 days ago | |
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The Kronos Quartet: Still Daring After All These Years

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7 min 20 sec   The Kronos Quartet (from left): David Harrington, John Sherba, Sunny Yang and Hank Dutt. i i

The Kronos Quartet (from left): David Harrington, John Sherba, Sunny Yang and Hank Dutt.

Jay Blakesberg/Courtesy of the artists

Kronos Quartet is celebrating 40 years of playing music together — and to mark the occasion, they're playing a celebration concert at Carnegie Hall in New York tomorrow night. Since their founding, the San Francisco-based string quartet has become one of the most visible ensembles in classical music. The players have done it by championing new and underheard music, and by coming up with a business model that was unheard of for a chamber group four decades ago.

Violinist David Harrington dreamed up the idea of a string quartet devoted primarily to contemporary music in 1973. Since then, he and his fellow musicians have commissioned and premiered new works by some of the most important composers of our time, including John Adams, Steve Reich and Phillip Glass. Violinist John Sherba, who came onboard in 1978, says the pace has been breathtaking: more than 800 brand-new works or arrangements from composers from all over the world. That's meant learning an often complex new piece every two weeks for some 40 years.


Tiny Desk Concerts

Kronos Quartet: Tiny Desk Concert

"Every time we bring a new work, a new composition, into our rehearsal and then ultimately into a performance," Sherba says, "it's so fresh, it's a little bit like climbing a new mountain, you know. The challenges are there: Can we play it in tune? Can we play it together? Can we kind of get music out of the piece?"

They've developed very deep ties with composers they've known for almost half a century. Violist Hank Dutt has been with Kronos since 1977. "We've played many composers' works, and so there's a relationship going on," Dutt says. "And a lot of times, those composers recognize the strengths of each of us individually, and can write for that, which is terrific. But there's also the great thing about our work is that we always work with a composer."

Speaking from his home in the foothills of California's Sierra Nevada, 78-year-old composer Terry Riley, one of the fathers of minimalism, says each member of the group brings a specific personality to whatever they play: "I definitely was aware of the differences in playing between different members of Kronos. You know, if I want something really warm, I'll usually go to Hank's viola, which is I think the warmest viola sound. If I have a highly technical passage, I might give it to John, the violinist. And if I have something that is like a screaming rock-type passage, I'll give it to David."

Riley also says that their bonds proved a ripe ground for experimentation and finding new paths to communicating his ideas. "Especially early on, I was trying to create a kind of improvisational form for Kronos," Riley recalls, "and the first pieces I showed to them would have involved a lot of improvisational skills. And David told me from the beginning, 'You know, we do best when we have everything written out, details written out, and then polish those details.' And so what I realized is that the improvisational feeling in the music would kind of have to be written into it, the kind of interaction that might happen between like, say, north Indian classical musicians onstage when they tossing ideas back and forth in kind of a playful manner." His Serquent Risadome will have its world premiere at the Carnegie Hall concert tomorrow night.

Over four decades, the Kronos quartet (from left, John Sherba, Sunny Yang, Hank Dutt and David Harrington) has premiered more than 800 pieces.

Deceptive Cadence

Kronos Quartet At 40: Songs We Love

Kronos has also launched the careers of younger composers, and often nudged their work in new directions. Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov, 43, began corresponding with the group when she was in her 20s. Even though she was just an undergrad at San Francisco Conservatory when she first contacted them, they were very encouraging.

"We really love the first quartet that you wrote," she says the quartet told her, "and we are very curious to see what are the next pieces you are going to write. So whatever you write, just send it to us."

"And that was the beginning," Vrebalov says, "because I did send scores that were not even for string quartet, just whatever I would write. And then three years later, they commissioned the first piece."

Vrebalov says Harrington and the other members of Kronos encouraged her to tackle themes that she wouldn't have touched on her own, especially using instruments and ideas from her native country.

"Those were the '90s, and the '90s were extremely difficult for that part of the world," she says. "So a big element in that war, an extremely negative element, was nationalism, and how it was used in those years in the '90s, in Serbia and Croatia, to promote values that were just so narrow and not good at all for that time when it was happening."

Kronos encouraged her to subvert that approach. In her piece ...hold me, neighbor, in this storm... she used Serbian folk instruments, church bells and even the sound of her own grandmother's voice singing a traditional song.

Vrebalov has had many works premiered by Kronos, including her piece Bubbles, which the quartet will perform with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus at the Carnegie Hall concert, as well as a collaboration with video artist Bill Morrison and Kronos about World War I that will premiere at Cal Performances in Berkeley, Calif., next month.

The quartet's influence even extends to its own members. Cellist Sunny Yang, 28, joined Kronos last June. She says long before she ever imagined being a member, she heard them play.

"I first saw them live I think my last year of high school," Yang says. "I was studying at Interlochen Arts Academy. And I remember I sat in one of the first rows, and I couldn't close my mouth! They really made a big impression on me!"

Kronos Quartet has made an impression on musicians and composers for more than its musical sensibilities. Its business structure created a new paradigm for younger groups to follow. Janet Cowperthwaite was a senior in college when she was hired to help out with their office work. She is now their managing director, and oversees a staff of eleven that serves the quartet as well as a nonprofit organization called the Kronos Performing Arts Association.

"All of us are employed by the organization, including the members of Kronos," Cowperthwaite says. "The nonprofit part is about raising money for commissions, mainly, and for other programs. I mean, we've commissioned I think it's up to 831 new works and arrangements for quartet since the quartet was founded. So that kind of output requires a lot of fundraising. There wasn't really a model for that, or if there was a model, we weren't aware of it!"

"A lot of younger groups now have seen the model that Kronos has built and have emulated it, which is something that is very gratifying for us," she continues. "Along the way, I've talked to colleagues at eighth blackbird, Alarm Will Sound, Bang on a Can, the So Percussion group. It really makes us feel good to see other groups learning from what we've done."

But what makes them feel great, according to Harrington, is looking to the future — new music in hand. "It feels like a launching point into the future," he says. "It's taken 40 years to be able to get to where we're at right now, and I want to use every day to propel our music forward and further and wider and louder and softer, and every way it can possibly go."

And at this rate, Kronos will click by 1000 commissions by their 50th anniversary.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit
27 days ago | |
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Kronos Quartet At 40: Songs We Love

Partner content from:Q2

Over four decades, the Kronos quartet (from left, John Sherba, Sunny Yang, Hank Dutt and David Harrington) has premiered more than 800 pieces. i i

Over four decades, the Kronos quartet (from left, John Sherba, Sunny Yang, Hank Dutt and David Harrington) has premiered more than 800 pieces.

Jay Blakesberg

Most every Kronos Quartet fan who has followed the group through its four-decade career has a favorite Kronos moment. Mine is from around 1990 in El Paso, Texas, when a performance of Istvan Marta's powerfully evocative Doom. A Sigh caused me to hyperventilate right there in the theater. The immense power the group unleashed that night is indicative of the astoundingly wide-ranging trove of music it has engendered — more than 800 new works and arrangements by composers from all over the world.

To mark the quartet's 40th anniversary, Alex Ambrose of Q2 Music spoke to some of the group's myriad composers and collaborators, from veteran Steve Reich to newcomer Dan Visconti of the Kronos Under 30 Project. And our own Anastasia Tsioulcas talked with Terry Riley.

The celebrations don't stop here. This past Monday night, Q2 hosted a performance by the group, recorded live at The Greene Space, that you can watch online; they will also be providing an encore presentation of a 24-hour Kronos Quartet marathon online this coming Sunday, March 30.

Have your own Kronos moment? Tell us about it in the comments section and on Twitter and Facebook. — Tom Huizenga

Copyright 2014 Q2. To see more, visit
28 days ago | |
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John Adams' Psychedelic Oratorio Gives Voice To 'The Other Mary'

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9 min 13 sec   A moment from The Gospel According to the Other Mary, as performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2013 at London's Barbican Centre. i i

A moment from The Gospel According to the Other Mary, as performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2013 at London's Barbican Centre.

Mark Allan/Barbican Centre

For the millennium, in 2000 American composer John Adams completed a compelling, large-scale oratorio based on the nativity story called El Niño. Now he's composed a companion piece, The Gospel According to the Other Mary, a Passion oratorio mounted with his usual collaborator, the stage director and librettist Peter Sellars. A recording of the two-hour work with Gustavo Dudamel leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic was released this month.

Hear The Music

The Gospel According to the Other Mary

Mary: 'I am surprised that I am beginning to pray daily'

  • Artist: Gustavo Dudamel
  • Album: John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

Purchase Featured Music

  • "The Gospel According to the Other Mary, opera [Act 1. Scene 2. I am surprised that I am beginning to pray daily]"
  • Album: John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary
  • Artist: Gustavo Dudamel
  • Label: Deutsche Grammophon
  • Released: 2014
Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?  

Describing the work to NPR's Arun Rath, Adams says, "There is no person who plays the role of Jesus. There is no Mel Gibson. There is no Victor Mature or Burt Lancaster. Actually, everyone in the cast quotes Jesus at one time or another. He's just there as a luminous presence. To me Jesus is more an embodiment, a spirit rather than an actual living flesh-and-blood person." Hear more of their conversation at the audio link.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit
30 days ago | |
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Wig Out With The Big Bach Puzzler

Match your wits against the granddaddy of composers in this big Bach puzzler. i i

Match your wits against the granddaddy of composers in this big Bach puzzler.

Wikimedia Commons

Johann Sebastian Bach, with his big white wig, might stand as the "supreme arbiter and lawgiver of music," as musicologist Nicolas Slonimsky says. But the composer, organist, choirmaster and teacher could also be surprisingly witty and irreverent. His music, as compelling today as it was centuries ago, continues to inspire artists of all stripes. So if you thought you knew a few things about the granddaddy of classical music, try this puzzler to see just how brainy you are when it comes to Bach.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit
1 month ago | |
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In The First Violins — At Least For One Night

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4 min 59 sec   Conductor Jeffrey Grogan led a motley — but very happy — assembly of professional, student and amateur musicians at the New Jersey Symphony's #OrchestraYou project in Newark, N.J. Saturday. i i

Conductor Jeffrey Grogan led a motley — but very happy — assembly of professional, student and amateur musicians at the New Jersey Symphony's #OrchestraYou project in Newark, N.J. Saturday.

Fred Stucker/Courtesy of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra

Orchestras and classical musicians all around the country are trying to figure out new ways of reaching audiences, from playing at IKEA (the Detroit Symphony Orchestra) to hosting fantasy camps (violin legend Itzhak Perlman). The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra pioneered its own experiment Saturday night, when they invited the public to play with them, if only for a few minutes, in an initiative dubbed #OrchestraYou.

After a concert at Newark's New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) that featured Hilary Hahn as soloist in the Brahms Violin Concerto, a recent Esa-Pekka Salonen piece called Giro and Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, a group of about 75 players — ranging from professional musicians in the NJSO and the Los Angeles Philharmonic to students and amateurs of all ages, from white-haired enthusiasts to kids whose feet couldn't quite touch the floor — crowded into the lobby, along with a surprising number of spectators, to make our way through the "Toreadors" section from Bizet's Carmen Suite.

The only pre-performance requirements were BYOI — bring your own instrument — and a polite plea to please, please practice your part. And while the NJSO isn't the first to try out an experiment like this — the Baltimore Symphony did something similar (if more technically demanding) with Marin Alsop back in 2010, and the Pittsburgh and Virginia symphonies before that — this was both pretty local and low-stakes. So, summoning a little courage, I took up a violin I had at home and starting practicing positions on the fingerboard I hadn't seriously attempted in a good, ahem, twenty years.

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra/YouTube

Jeffrey Grogan is the ebullient education and community engagement conductor at the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra as well as artistic director of El Sistema-inspired programs in Newark and Paterson, N.J. He said this initiative was the brainchild of the development and education staffs: "In many respects, this is just another offshoot of the NJSO's mission." Along with its "home" performances at NJPAC, Grogan said, the orchestra performs regularly in five different major venues across the state and, over the course of a multi-year cycle, its musicians visit and perform in all of New Jersey's 21 counties.

That sentiment was reflected and amplified by James Roe, the orchestra's new president and CEO — and also its former acting principal oboist. He received his promotion after the NJSO took a bad bet on disgraced former Brooklyn Philharmonic administrator Richard Dare, who resigned after nine days on the job. Roe took his new position in July.

NJSO president and CEO James Roe addresses the musicians and audience. i i

NJSO president and CEO James Roe addresses the musicians and audience.

Fred Stucker/Courtesy of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra

"Our aim," Roe told me, "is not to have a 'broadcast' mentality, but to find ways to enjoy music together, really side by side. And this seemed like a perfect way to help accomplish that."

Before Grogan began conducting us — with a brief, three or four-minute "rehearsal" preceding the performance — Hilary Hahn was invited to speak to the assembled musicians and audience members. She noted that among her own most cherished teachers is the composer Jennifer Higdon, who taught a class on modern music while Hahn was a student at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music. "She opened my ears to 20th-century music," said Hahn, who has gone on to collaborate closely with Higdon. The undercurrent? You never know where a shared love of music might lead.

"Les Toreadors" is a piece that offers obvious benefits: one page long, not too hard, very well-known and a surefire crowd pleaser. (While I was making my way through the crowded lobby toward my seat with violin and bow in hand, a couple of concertgoers stopped me to ask what we would be playing. When I told them, they replied, without irony and in absolute unison: "Ooooooooh!") And it was amazing to see how much of the audience stayed after the concert to cheer on the assembled forces.

To the relief of all present and for the historical record, you can't see or hear me at the back of the first violin section, at least in the video that's up on YouTube. Note to the nice young woman who was my stand partner: You're a talented musician with wonderful tone and excellent articulation — and you covered up my faking very gracefully and graciously. Thank you. And to the lady who won the benefit auction at intermission to play the triangle part: Your $550 was well spent.

After the last notes sounded, I wandered through a sea of stands to chat with a trio of beaming bassoonists: 19-year-old Jessica Hughes, who also studies clarinet with NJSO clarinetist Andy Lamy; 15-year-old Natangel Robinson, who has been playing bassoon for all of seven months; and Cecilia Sweeney, an older amateur. ("Let's just say that unlike Natangel, I'm not in high school.")

Robinson told me that playing with this group, even for literally just a few minutes, was simply amazing. "I got such a feeling of ... euphoria," he told me, searching for just the right word. "There's nothing like this. There's so much energy here, so much of a sense that you're part of something much bigger than yourself."

If this kind of effort catches fire either in New Jersey or nationally, all the better. Not only was it incredibly fun, but it served as a good reminder that music-making shouldn't be divided into producers and consumers, with most people locked into a passive experience. After the performance, I was talking with Lamy when Charlene Green, the assistant head usher at NJPAC, came over to us, smiling. She turned to the clarinetist and said, "This makes me want to dust off my clarinet."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit
1 month ago | |
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For Opera Powerhouse Dolora Zajick, 'Singing Is Connected To The Body'

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39 min 5 sec   When hitting a high note, mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick says, i i

When hitting a high note, mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick says, "You have to have support. You have to have resonance. People have to understand what you're saying."

David Sauer/Courtesy of the artist

Dolora Zajick discovered opera as a 22-year-old pre-med student. "That's when I discovered I had a voice," she tells Fresh Air host Terry Gross, "and I actually had a crack at a singing career. And I decided to take the chance."

That leap landed the mezzo-soprano at the Metropolitan Opera, where she's been for 25 years. Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met, says she has "one of the greatest voices in the history of opera."

Zajick is best known for singing in Verdi's operas, including Il Trovatore, Un Ballo in Maschera and her signature role of Amneris in Aida. Offstage, she's the founder and director of the Institute for Young Dramatic Voices, a program designed to encourage young singers with big or unusual voices to develop healthy, expressive instruments for the stage.

Interview Highlights

On how operatic singing feels

"Singing is connected to the body. So there's a depth in the body that's necessary to perform this kind of music and a lot of the expression comes from a kinesthetic awareness and that's one thing that I think people identify with — you don't have time to think, you don't have time to dwell on anything because you're in the moment. You have to be concentrating on what's happening right then and there."

On 'kinesthetic awareness' and connecting to the audience

"The audience hears something entirely different than what you feel. Well, the singer is listening for focus. You're being expressive. There are sensations that you're feeling physically that the audience isn't feeling. There is a kinesthetic, sympathetic awareness that audience has if you are really using your body when you sing that they are feeling at the same time. A lot of the times the audience doesn't realize that's what's happening. Some of them do. It's a very visceral thing."

On teaching 'kinesthetic empathy'

"One of the tests we use for younger singers when we're testing their ability to absorb a vocal technique — it involves putting a blindfold on them and you sing a vowel and see if they can duplicate it. Perhaps you sing an E and then you do something different. You tighten the upper lip or you jut your jaw out and you go 'E.' Somebody with kinesthetic empathy is going to tell that there was a difference. You'll see an almost imperceptible flicker on their upper lip and then it's almost subconscious, and then they'll make the new sound. The more you have of that, either as an audience member or as a singer, the more you're going to connect in that way. There's always some amount of it that we do that we don't even realize that we do, but it's all done through sound."


On how to hit high notes

"You have to have support. You have to have resonance. People have to understand what you're saying. You have to be expressing the music. And you have to find a way to technically achieve that. There are some basics. The jaw has to be relaxed. The tongue has to be relaxed. Your mouth has to be in the right position. That just comes from doing it with the right person, the right teacher at the beginning, and then it becomes a habit and then you don't have to think about it anymore."

On singing in different languages

"The biggest chunk of operatic training is in linguistics and musicianship. It's not in vocal training. [I have to understand] not only what I'm singing, but what everyone else is singing. I sing Italian, Czech, Russian, French, German, English."

On why the Institute of Young Dramatic Voices focuses on 'unusual' voices

"I think they're often the most misunderstood during their development and we've got more people on the planet than we've ever had, why do we have fewer dramatic voices? Something is happening that's cutting them off at the pass somewhere and I've discovered where some of those places are. One of them — I think we lose the largest amount at the high school level and I think the reason for that is because they don't sing classical music as much as they used to, and the other reason is that when they do, the voice that matures and has a big sound usually does not fit into a high school chorus, a cappella choir ... Some a cappella choirs make room for [big voices], but most don't. If they're going for a choral sound, that voice is just going to be shut down to try and fit in."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit
1 month ago | |
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Bless You!

We've all been there: You try (and try, and try) to hold back a sneeze, and nature prevails.

When this happened recently to a trombonist in the Salvation Army's amateur London Central Band, the results were sheer slapstick — the unnamed musician wound up letting loose through his horn during a particularly quiet moment in a performance at a church in Tiptree, Essex. The epic, elephantine sound was as the ensemble's conductor, Julian Bright, told the BBC, "lethal."

LC Fellowship Band/YouTube Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit
1 month ago | |
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Pitch Perfect: 3 Must-Hear Vocal Albums

A late 15th-century icon of St. Sergius of Radonezh with the Saints of Rostov adorns the cover of a new album of Russian Orthodox Church music by the vocal ensemble Conspirare. i i

A late 15th-century icon of St. Sergius of Radonezh with the Saints of Rostov adorns the cover of a new album of Russian Orthodox Church music by the vocal ensemble Conspirare.

Harmonia Mundi

The human voice, the true original instrument, is still the most expressive and personal of all. It's one reason more than 42.5 million Americans sing in choirs, and why we seem to be hardwired to tell our stories through song. It also probably explains why I'm a vocal music junkie, eagerly pawing over the operas, recitals and choir albums that land on my desk and in my download folder. Below are three recent releases well worth repeated listening — an evocative glimpse of traditional Russian Orthodox choral music, a blistering account of Beethoven's Solemn Mass and a perfectly ripened example of the kind of post-Romantic opera that blossomed in early 20th-century Vienna.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit
1 month ago | |
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