Sunday, February 15, 2009

When it Rains, It Pours! Q&A Session with the Gunns

Actually I think it might have been snowing in Oberlin this afternoon when Ann took this nice picture:

She also wrote up a synopsis of the Q&A session from this afternoon, which I'm posting here with her permission. Thanks Ann!
Following last night's recital, I'm just back from a fascinating hour with N&J, tucked above the Oberlin bookstore, in a casual, intimate space. N&J were there with oldest daughter Madelyn, answering questions of the 30-odd Oberlin music students who invaded the room en masse at exactly 12:59.

Topics ranged from Nathan's education to his favorite singers and, of course, vocal technique. It looks like, based on my notes, it will take an hour to read this...ha! Of course, you can just skip it, too.

In college, Nathan sang 400 performances of Lieder. Julie noted that there were a few operas in there, but they were ... tertiary. Nathan: "Yeah. Good word."

Students were interested in the Gunns work/family balancing act. Nathan admitted that opera houses aren't very family oriented, and, at best, it's a negotiation to get time off--"Can I please have Thanksgiving Dinner?" But, he says, don't put having kids on hold. Things can be worked out. Julie added that it's important to find someone who likes the idea of this life. "I love to be at the opening of Billy Budd. I don't mind spending some time alone in order to have that."

They chose Illinois as home because it's more accessible to both coasts. Nathan really avoids extended commitments in Europe unless they take the whole family in summer. "My kids," he says, "used to think I worked at the airport."

Nathan was asked what future roles he wants to sing. "Siegfried." (note: I know nothing about Wagner but I think that was a joke.) He then mentioned Eugene Onegin, the Count, and, "I really want to sing Billy Bigelow!" This lead back to Nathan's observation, noted elsewhere, that his branching out in musical theater and contemporary music is not "crossover" but merely what he likes. When he recorded Billy Joel and Sting songs on his latest CD, "Just Before Sunrise," he
chose those songs because "they didn't do them very well and I thought I could do them better," he said with a laugh.

Nathan also indicated that, with current economic conditions, opera houses are opening up to the idea of staging musical theater like Carousel and South Pacific. Performing in conventional musical theater is out of the question for him because of the open ended commitment. He spoke admiringly of musical theater people as the hardest working people in the business. "I can't imagine getting an opera chorus to show up smiling, dancing, and toting boxes around 8 times a week." He did say, though, that he thought audiences have a "hunger" for a "real" voice. He said the overwhelming audience response to his singing in Camelot was an eye-opener for him.

On how to determine the range of your voice, "You are what you get hired to sing." Julie told students not to worry about "getting it right." Curiosity about the work is what's core. "If you don't allow yourself to mess up, you'll never get it right." Nathan admitted that, early in his career, he prayed not to be the one who flubbed a note or a line. When a colleague did, he breathed a secret, guilty sigh of relief. Now, he says, he's seen the world's top performers in
the most famous venues make awful mistakes--including himself. He's empathizing and pulling for them now.

Julie reminded students "don't give up 'you'. It's hard to be an artist without 'you'." Nathan added that you have to work with people who like your ideas. Not everyone will. Not everyone is going to want what you have.

Someone asked Nathan for his ultimate advice. He didn't hesitate: "Find a teacher who will physically teach you to sing. And DO what they tell you. It sounds obvious, but it's not. While you're a student, your teacher takes the weight of your vocal health on his/her shoulders. After that, it's your responsibility."

"Technique is the alphabet you learn. Beyond that point, the act of singing should be an oasis. No matter the house, the acoustics, even the emotion of singing at a friend's funeral-" Julie finished the sentence, "there is a parallel refuge in the music."

Oh, and his favorite performers? John Charles Thomas, Tony Bennett, k.d. lang...


Banawoman said...

Wow. Busy weekend. You posting nonstop (and refereeing), me doing all the hard work seeing & hearing Nathan. LOL Day off tomorrow!

Maria said...

She did a great job of keeping notes. Where is the pic of her and the Gunns? Or just one Gunn?

Susan said...

You'll have to take that up with Ann - This is all she got.