Apr. 16th, 2012 11:44 pm
catchmyfancy: (story of us)
[personal profile] catchmyfancy
Tonight was masterclass, and we were doing folk songs by Benjamin Britten.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, in masterclass, one person sings for everybody, and then the person taking the class - one of the three senior voice teachers - works on improving the piece with the singer for about 20 minutes.  Rinse and repeat for a couple of hours.

The teacher taking the class (who is incidentally my singing teacher for this year) likes to have a themed class so she can work on a particular genre and download her brain into our ungrateful and inattentive craniums where possible.

Of course, anything to do with Britten means even folk songs get complexAlso kinda interesting.

My teacher actually studied with Britten's partner, Peter Pears (that's Sir Peter to you, you grubby little soprano) when she was a young singer, and that's as close to the source material as you're gonna get in this life.

So we got into the style and how Britten puts most of the things you need on the page, even if you have dig around to find them, but then she did a Teacher Question: "what makes Britten and Pears so remarkable?"

And her answer was: "As well as their enormous musical contribution, they were gay, and they lived as a couple when being gay was illegal and they could imprison you for it."

Long pause.  It is rare a class full of brainless singers goes completely still and quiet to consider a Telling Point, but it actually did happen.  (I was there.)

She went on after a moment: "That's reflected in this music - so much is embedded in it, and it is up to you to bring it out and to express those undercurrents of emotion and longing."

I'm paraphrasing here, she said it with more elegance and simplicity and complete matter-of-factness and it was a salutory lesson.  I've just gone and looked it up: the change in legislation happened in 1967 in the UK.  That's almost within my lifetime.  Britten would have been 54.  And suddenly Not A Criminal.  Sometimes I wish I wasn't an atheist so I could say DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN.  Also: WHUT.

It is all still seriously fucked up too.  "Yay, we don't throw you in prison anymore for being who you are, what's your problem?" is not the commitment one really wants from one's govt.

It's not everything Britten was about, of course, but some of his music now seems somewhat more understandable. 

After class I got stupidly teary and had to go and find my baritone friend Andrew, who got married in Canada last year to his husband Sandy, and hug him fiercely.   Being a musician, he endured this with bemused cheerfulness.  And then I got distracted because Andrew had on his new hugo boss cashmere coat, and it was like hugging a muscular cloud.  And then we sat on the tram and bitched about everyone in the class and normalcy was restored. 
There was a point to all this, but I am still tired from seven hours' driving yesterday to sing in a concert, so it escapes me.
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