Oberlin Symposium

On January 31, February 1 and 2, a break-through symposium is happening at Oberlin College Conservatory, once of the nation’s premier classical training colleges. During this three-day event the medical experts from the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic will join Oberlin faculty and me as we look at “new things” classical singers are being asked to do in modern music and the impact they may have on vocal health.

We all know that our highly celebrated modern classical composers like John Adams, Philip Glass, Niko Muhly, Thomas Ades, Osvaldo Golijov, Meredith Monk and others write for singers but do not necessary follow tradition classical parameters when doing so. There are other composers, from the mid-20th century such as John Cage, who have written for the voice in ways that ask vocalists to do unusual things. In fact, there are successful vocalists whose entire careers are based on doing that. People like Joan LaBarbara, Laurie Anderson, Meredith Monk, Rinde Eckert and Theo Bleckman sing way “outside the box”. How do young singers address this kind of music or these pieces? What are healthy parameters? What kind of function do these sounds ask for? Is “breath support” and “forward placement” enough? If so, in what way? If it isn’t, what should substitute?

From the standpoint of combining vocal function and vocal health and putting them together as partners to solve the needs of 21st century music, you have to have a deep understanding of the human instrument. All the muscles that are involved in posture, in inhalation, in exhalation, and in phonation including everything from the collarbone up, matter. If we don’t know what they do and how they work, it is nearly impossible to determine whether or not any sound is healthy. If you don’t know how to make the sound correctly, the music suffers and so do your vocal folds.

The doctors from the Cleveland Clinic will be doing “live scoping” of the vocalists, and we will investigate how the vocal exercises change or don’t change what goes on in the throat. To our knowledge, this has never been done in a public event before. We will discuss the full range of parameters from science to “spirit”, in that we will look at what allows us to be good sound-makers and what allows us to be transcendant artists at the same time. There will be a classical master class and a recital by an Oberlin faculty member (Timothy LeFebvre) and I will be lecturing and working with students throughout the three days. We end with a panel discussion of these very important present moment topics.

I ask you to come, to tell your friends to come and to help me by posting this information wherever it might be seen by teachers of singing, students who sing classical repertoire and by speech language pathologists and otolaryngologists who would benefit from coming. The registration information can be obtained by contacting anna.hoffman@oberlin.edu or calling 440-775-8044. I would love to see you there.

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