Monday, October 20, 2008

The Joy of the Ensemble -

Most of the faults she found were those you'd expect in precocious young students -- overzealousness, emotional extravagance, a cluster of tropes that come under the gaudy umbrella of hyper-Andrew-Lloyd-Webber-ism (or, in the movie realm, Dreamgirls-ism). An actor's term she invoked more than once was "presentational," meaning you're pushing, you're selling yourself, you're outside the song instead of in it. In a couple of cases, she asked the performer to take the song down half an octave or more, thus reducing the need to draw on false energy, or to sit down with another singer, knees touching knees, and sing quietly to her or him rather than to the audience. In each case, she tried to elicit the qualities that all good teachers value -- simplicity, specificity, truth -- while assuring these talented young people that their efforts would be rewarded. Audiences eagerly "fall into authenticity," she said.

Clearly this was not just a class about singing, but about good acting as the bedrock of good singing. It was a distillation of fundamentals that do indeed still apply, to motion pictures as well as to musical theater, and a demonstration of how to apply them. And the astonishing thing was how quickly the students got it, as if all they had needed was permission to come back to themselves. Defenses dropped, posturing vanished, real feelings shone through. One singer was able, almost instantly, to turn a palpably false phrase into a piercingly beautiful passage that left people in the audience gasping. I was one of gaspers, and for a while I wondered why I was so deeply moved. Then I realized that the class had brought me back to myself too.

11:16 PM