“Jesus Christ Superstar” Premiere


On Sunday evening (Oct. 19, 2014), we’ll have our premiere of Jesus Christ Superstar, the rock musical from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. This is a co-production with Theater Bonn.

In addition to my work in the chorus, I’ll be singing as one of the priests in the number “This Jesus Must Die”, which is one of my faves.

I’m really looking forward to this. This is a super production with an excellent cast and band, and I think our audience is going to love it.

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Am Sonntag Abend (19.10.2014) findet in Opernhaus Dortmund unsere Premiere von Jesus Christ Superstar statt. Das Rock Musical von Andrew Lloyd Webber und Time Rice ist eine Koproduktion mit dem Theater Bonn.

Neben meiner Arbeit im Chor singe ich auch als einer der Priester in der Nummer “This Jesus Must Die”, die einer meiner Lieblinge ist.

Ich freue mich wirklich darauf. Dies ist eine super Production mit einer tollen Besetzung und Band, und ich denke, die wird beliebt mit unserem Publikum werden.

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Moving, Deep Listening, and Creation

Can we listen deeply while moving?

Fingers in a city map

While jogging last week, I perceived a new quality to the album Absolution by the band Muse. It matched my movements to such a perfect degree so much of the time, that I wondered if the music was deliberately created to for exercise junkies. At times, I felt pushed by the music, and at times I felt great happiness as my participation with it.

This got me thinking. I do not argue against the value of deep listening, as advanced by On an Overgrown Path. I have had deep meditative experiences in concert halls and in other settings where mindful listening was required. Music such as Jonathan Harvey’s Bhakti or John Adam’s The Dharma at Big Sur does seem to loosen the unconscious and connect us with a sense of unity, but even less experimental music (by modern standards) as Beethoven symphonies can do this to me under the right conditions.

When I picture this kind of deep listening, I think of concentrated silence and restraint of movement. I wouldn’t immediately think about music-inspired movement as “deep listening”. I associate the idea of deep listening and meditation, which lines up with what – I would guess – many people perceive meditation to be: mindfulness while sitting still and being quiet.

However, there are meditations on movement, and perhaps we can say the same about deep listening. I’ve found much music benefits from simultaneous movement. No, I can’t listen to Tosca while exercising (though I, regrettably, tried once), but some music opens like wine that’s been allowed some time to breathe when the listener moves in reaction to it. The music accents and compliments the movement, and a virtuous cycle emerges of co-creation of the moment.

Most powerfully, this happens in live settings where the “musicians” and the “listeners” engage in an energetic back and forth of giving. I’ve experienced this both as musician and audience, in commercial settings and spiritual settings.

But even recordings can do this when paired well. Last night while riding my bike in an empty street, I listened to some plainchant, and the ride was transformed from transportation to a kind of dancing flight. The music changed my perception1. I’ve had many similar experiences, and I’m sure many other people have.

When music connects like this, the line between listener and musician becomes ever more blended, and together they creatively alter experience itself. Yes, the musician creates the music, but they together make the moment. The dancer does this. The jogger does this. The driver. The dishwasher. The walker. The person sitting with their eyes closed. It’s hardly glamorous, but it is relevant to them and to anyone who wants to find new musical and life experiences and deepen their love of music.

  1. I don’t, naturally, recommend listening to headphones while biking where there’s much traffic of any kind. Just thought I’d throw that disclaimer out there. ↩

The Stages of Becoming a Contributory Expert

Part VI of Singing Expertise series

Collins lists 5 stages that someone must travel to become a contributory expert:

  1. Novice
  2. Advanced Beginner
  3. Competence
  4. Proficiency
  5. Expertise1

Rather than describe each stage in detail, let’s just paint a broad picture.

As someone moves from novice to expert, they move from entirely conscious operation to unconscious. The novice requires rules, because they don’t understand the tacit information required to make unconscious and intuitive choices. The expert, on the other hand, acts in such a way that rules are mostly irrelevant because the expert has internalized knowledge. The expert can act without self-consciousness.

Remember learning to drive? Rules rules rules. And once you’ve been driving awhile, the rules become unconscious impulses.

Consider singers. A novice or beginner must consciously decide to do everything, and often times this is done clumsily because it’s based entirely on rules. A true novice looks and sounds clumsy and is almost wholly self-conscious the entire time they’re singing.

That’s not meant as an insult, by the way. I was absolutely like that too.

An expert singer singing their best repertoire, on the other hand, can summon technique and voice seemingly at will in order to serve a piece of music. Dynamics, phrasing, legato and so on come more or less unconsciously from an expert singer to serve the emotional needs of a piece or whatever other artistic goal the singer has set. The expert singer moves and acts in unconscious ways that they themselves are often unaware of but are nevertheless important for the piece.

The expert can achieve what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “Flow”. It is goal-based rather than rule-based. He writes:

Although the flow experience appears to be effortless, it is far from being so. It often requires strenuous physical exertion, or highly disciplined mental activity. It does not happen without the application of skilled performance. Any lapse in concentration will erase it. And yet while it lasts consciousness works smoothly, action follows action seamlessly.2

This is what we’re after.

  1. Collins, Harry (2007-10-01). Rethinking Expertise (pp. 24-25). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition. ↩

  2. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2008-08-18). Flow (P.S.) (p. 54). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.  ↩

The Eight Types of Singing Experts

The fifth part of my Singing Experts series

This is part 5 of a series on singing expertise. I think you can read this one first and then go back and read the others later without being totally lost. Nevertheless, here they are: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.

Based on the system of expertise expressed in this series, where should we place the various experts on singing? My belief is that there is no such thing as a single “singing expert”. Instead, there are eight primary categories of singing specialist with further subdivisions.

My Beta1 List of Singing Experts

I’m proposing this list of broad singing expert categories:

  1. Expert Listeners and Researchers (expert fans, reviewers and music journalists, music historians, radio hosts, etc.)
  2. Singing-related business experts (agents, managers)
  3. Singing-related technicians (sound engineers, stage managers, costume and makeup artists for singers)
  4. Performing musicians (coaches, conductors, music historians, accompanists, concert masters, other instrumentalists)
  5. Singing performers (with many subdivisions based on repertoire)
  6. Singing teachers (subdivided with rep and special knowledge on certain voice types)
  7. Medical doctors with singing emphasis (ENTs, and voice therapists who specialize in treating singers)
  8. Voice scientists (with subdivisions based on field)

None of the categories are inherently mutually exclusive (there’s nothing that would stop someone from being both a singing teacher and a singing performer, for example, other than a lack of experience). Instead, the categories are comprised of people who must consider singing as part of their expertise. That knowledge then forms someone that defines them at least somewhat as an expert and is not ubiquitous. They needn’t be able to discuss singing deeply with a singer to meet that qualifier, but often, they will have knowledge that a singer doesn’t possess. Recording engineers, for example, often have quite a set of techniques to get the best recording from singers (both technical and psychological), and these techniques are probably unknown by the singer. This list considers that a kind of singing expertise, and it is an exclusive expertise that other singing experts may not have.

The Rainbow of Singing Expertise

There’s a rainbow of singing expertise, where each specialist has some knowledge that the others don’t. Added together, they embody “singing expertise”, but no one alone embodies the whole all at once. Singing, as it turns out, is a broad term. In the same way that there’s not a single type of scientist, there is not one kind of singing expert. The list above is an expression of the rainbow’s components, like ROYGBIV.

Important: being an expert in one of the above does not automatically make you an expert in any of the others. Being a contributory expert in singing doesn’t make you a voice scientist, nor does it automatically make you or me a singing teacher, an agent, a classical DJ or reporter, a coach or any number of professionals that fall within one of the above categories.

For examples; a common understanding amongst singers and teachers is that coaches help with musicality and languages and the overall artistic impression of a piece, while a voice teacher helps with technique. Those skills aren’t immediately interchangeable.

Nor are the skills between singers and voice teachers. Professional singers who have not done much teaching are often considered not very good teachers. The negative stereotype is that they apply the primary techniques that work for them in their specific repertoire to all situations, whether it’s appropriate or not. Of course, those singers are expert singers. It’s just a different skill set. It doesn’t mean they can’t learn to teach well, but that would involve learning those skills.

To do so would require starting again as a novice and learning the ropes from experts in that field all over again. If we’re willing to give it the time, then it’s possible.

We’ll look at the process of becoming an expert in the next post of this series.

  1. I could accept some changes to the list if someone argued persuasively enough. This is a beta of sorts, and I’m happy for feedback. For example, I could potentially see that some categories could be combined or the names changed. I just didn’t make a convincing enough case to myself that some further combination is better or that some other name is better, but perhaps someone else can argue more eloquently. Additionally, the names might seem overly long, but I tried to make them broad. For example “singing performers” includes opera singers, but it also would have included actors who have to sing. They would then occupy different subdivisions below that based on their different sets of skills and values.  ↩