Listening to voices and invading personal space

December 6, 2007

Mel Shapiro invited me to two final classes that are part of the Department of Theater’s music theater program. The students go through the demanding four year course together as a class, so there is great bonding between the students. The first class final that I attended taught students how to sing gospel music (the teacher was black, all the students were white). All the students in this class were juniors. The second class devoted itself to singing pop songs, with the accompanist crashing through the songs reading from a fake book at the piano. The students in this class were all seniors.

The reason I was there is that Mel and I are scouting for voices for our new musical, HOMER IN CYBERSPACE. I was skeptical that I could find voices in undergraduate students but I was pleasantly surprised. I was struck by how these theater majors invade each other’s personal space all the time. They touch, hold hands, look into each other’s eyes and sing directly to one another. This is in stark contrast to how musicians teach our students. Our students are in classes, in chairs, each with their own little personal wall around them. Even in the orchestra, students all sit next to each other but those personal walls are firmly in place. This is likely less of an issue in opera workshop, but I couldn’t help thinking about this big difference. Mightn’t music majors benefit from a bit of the touchy-feely currency so prevalent theater and dance?

I celebrate the courage to be a personality like Leonard Bernstein, who had no problem conveying a complete set of emotions while conducting an orchestra–from the profound to the banal. He invaded the orchestra’s personal space. Bono sings lovingly into a camera as though he were addressing a lover, and ultimately and virtually invades our personal space. These models could inspire a clarinet player to shoot a glance into the audience in the middle of a gorgeous passage from Mozart and invade our personal space.

So, my music students, invade someone’s personal space. Reach out and touch them. Look them in the eye and THEN play that fabulous note!

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