Recently I was very privileged to be part of a music-making weekend centred on Jonathan Lemalu, a Samoan-born, New Zealand-raised internationally-known bass-baritone. And now I’ve run out of hyphens.
On the Friday night he took two Masterclasses, one for children and the other for adults. Jonathan’s focus for the classes was on conveying the story in the song. It was delightful watching him work with the children. He is a tall, solid man which in itself could have been intimidating for the kids, but his personality and sense of humour won them (and us, the observers) over. At one stage he was sitting on the floor pretending to be a small boy in need of distraction by lollies. One young girl sang Summertime and after her initial run-through he whipped off his jacket, bundled it up and gave it to her to hold as the ‘baby’ she was singing to. It was wonderful to see her song morph from just pretty notes to something evocative and meaningful. Not to mention that when she concentrated on painting the picture for us, her voice just flowed out and soared.
The two songs I had prepared (when I say prepared, they are definitely still works in progress for my exam later this year) were ‘La Rose’ by Fauré and ‘Hello? O Margaret it’s you!’ from Menotti’s The Telephone. Again Jonathan focused on painting the picture for the audience, and in order to do that he asked me to envision in minute detail what I was seeing. At one point, he gave me a water bottle to hold – it being the closest object to hand) – and pretend it was a rose and I was stroking the petals. Somewhat awks as the young ones say …hang on a minute, I’m young aren’t I? I am in my head anyway. He also focused me on the accompaniment at certain points, which I hadn’t done before, as helping me paint the picture. So the little rising phrases just before and with each of the opening lines prompts for statements I could make about the beauty of the rose. OK maybe you had to be there to get that.
Surprisingly, given that I generally give a good imitation of a dead stick in terms of movement when I perform, he noted that I was swaying with the music a bit at times.Note I’m not talking about tree-in-a-storm* level of swaying, just a subtle motion. As he said, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but for this song, which is intensely focused on pointing out the beauty of the rose and telling the story of how it came into being, he felt that stillness would focus the audience on the words and create a sense of desire to know more. Also, and vitally important, it allowed me to have my body completely centred and breathing supported. Lo and behold when I stopped moving my voice immediately gained intensity and ease.
We spent most of my allotted time on La Rose, so I just sang through the Menotti with Jonathan noting there would be plenty to work on in relation to painting the picture, starting with the first two ‘Hello’s. A shame there wasn’t time to delve into it.
On the Saturday night Jonathan did a wonderful concert in the Basilica, at which our combined St Mary’s and Cantores choirs also performed. Amongst other things we sang Gorecki’s Totus Tuus which was very moving for both us and the audience. The following morning he joined us for a full sung Mass complete with string players. I was granted the Kyrie from the Schubert Mass and I think I acquitted myself well. It felt good anyway! I love singing in the Basilica, as it has a beautiful acoustic.
This morning I was privileged to sing Malotte’s Lord’s Prayer at the ANZAC dawn service at the Invercargill cenotaph. There was a good attendance despite the cold and wind. Looking at the brass band, I was glad I didn’t have to use my fingers to play an instrument. Apart from a random substitution of words – ‘as we forgive our debtors’ randomly became ‘as we forgive each other’, so at least not entirely unrelated! – I felt surprisingly relaxed. It was strange to hear my voice come out of the speakers but in an odd way that gave me some confidence. We won’t mention the couple of shots of Rescue Remedy beforehand. (Does anyone else use that for performances? I only use it on ‘big’ occasions as I don’t want to be reliant on it.)
And now there’s a lot of work ahead of me as I get all my exam repertoire under my belt.
*Hyphens are like computer game lives – if you wait long enough, they fill up again.