ROB MCGINNESS on SONGFEST and coOPERAtive
Editors note: We asked two music performance students, a singer (Rob McGinness) and a pianist (Renate Rossol), who attended multiple programs where they worked on Song to talk about their experiences. When the time comes to choose the song program you would like to attend next year, this will be of some help! Rob's article is below, and Renate's will follow in next month's Pianist Issue - so check back!
I’m entering my senior year at Oberlin Conservatory, majoring in Vocal Performance. In 2012 I attended two excellent summer programs on opposite sides of the continent: Songfest in Los Angeles, and the coOPERAtive program at Westminster Choir College (WCC.) Each of the programs has a different focus, but I found both to be stimulating and professionally informative. Below is my overview of the two programs and my thoughts on the key differences.
Songfest is a four-week program held in downtown Los Angeles, at the Colburn School. This was the first year Songfest was at Colburn (before it had been at the Malibu campus of Pepperdine University). The facilities at Colburn were excellent. The school is next door to Walt Disney Hall, so every morning we were greeted by a large poster of a smiling Gustavo Dudamel.
The Songfest program is, as the name indicates, primarily focused on art song, though opera does feature occasionally. Songfest offers different levels, including a shorter program for high-school students called the Intern program; the Young Artist (YA) program, which I was in, aimed at undergraduate and graduate students; the Professional program (older graduate students and levels beyond that); and the Mentor program for voice teachers. There is also a cohort of pianists who help to make the program what it is.
The average day at Songfest is mostly master classes – more master classes than you could ever imagine. Two, sometimes three, master classes happen concurrently with faculty ranging from esteemed coaches like Margo Garrett and Martin Katz, to composers including John Musto and Jake Heggie. The YA program also included morning classes in acting and movement. These were led in part by Matthew Morris and Michael Rader, who brought more traditional theater training to their teaching, which I found enormously helpful. Along with the master classes, there are performances throughout the program to showcase students and faculty, primarily in art song, but some opera and musical theater as well. Overall, the schedule is very intense and requires stamina, particularly if you are to get everything you can out of the program.
Learning your music before you arrive is essential to get everything out of the program. All participants sing works by the one or two of the composers in residence at Songfest, works that can be quite difficult. The schedule for each day is only posted the night before, and occasionally master class schedules can change just hours before they happen.
The master classes are wonderful, but you need to pace yourself. Attending them all is impossible, so you must choose wisely what you want to hear. What particularly excited me was the coaching time with all the amazing musicians, and rehearsing with my peers. Speaking of peers, the camaraderie at the program was really wonderful. I interacted with people of all different levels, and we all taught and learned so much from each other. Getting this chance to meet people at different places in their careers, and with different backgrounds is invaluable.
CoOPERAtive is a three-week program that normally takes place at Westminster Choir College (WCC) in Princeton, New Jersey. This year they split the program between the WCC campus and the campus of Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey due to construction at WCC; future participants should expect the program to return to its normal venue.
In contrast to Songfest, coOPERAtive focuses more on opera and arias, and also the business and personal aspects of a singing career. The program offers two levels: Young Artist and the coOPERAtive Fellows. Young Artists are usually preparing for graduate auditions, and the Fellows are in or have just finished graduate school and working to put together their aria package. The largest difference between the two levels this year was that the Young Artists worked on art song and arias while the Fellows focused only on arias. However, in 2013, with Martin Katz in residence, everyone will be doing some song for the program.
CoOPERAtive has several master classes a week, as well as classes on technique, interpretation, and movement. There are also yoga classes and studio-style classes for the Young Artists to work on art song. The rest of the time is taken up with numerous coachings, including diction and drama. All this leads up to several performances each week. It’s also worth noting the community sings that take place at WWC. They’re not directly affiliated with coOPERAtive, but they use coOPERAtive students as soloists in the sings. This year we sang though Bach’s Magnificat, the Verdi Requiem and more. The schedule here is obviously intense as well, but I did not feel constantly overbooked as at Songfest.
I went to coOPERAtive to sharpen my Opera skills. I spent a lot of time working on a couple arias, but I actually learned more about singing, and the life of singers, than I learned about opera. CoOPERAtive, with its motto, “Take the next step towards an operatic career,” prepares you for whatever is the next logical step on your path, whether that is graduate school auditions, Young Artist programs, or something else entirely. Program directors Prof. Laura Brooks Rice and Dr. Christopher Arneson bring together an expert and diverse faculty that can advise on all parts of the business such as auditions in Europe or young artist programs here in the United States. There were several long talks on the business of singing and what we as young artists can and should be doing right now, and into the future.
Another wonderful aspect of the program was how warm and encouraging it was. The teachers were always kind, but not just to be nice. They offered advice from their experience, and were willing to use their connections to help you if they could (in fact that’s how I ended up writing this article!)
I spent more time on art song at coOPERAtive than I expected – but as art song is important for graduate school auditions, that made a lot of sense. Dr. J.J. Penna, in addition to his excellent coaching, put together three diverse and interesting programs for the art song component of coOPERAtive.
To conclude, Songfest is a wonderful program if you love art song. It is a feast of repertoire, different styles, languages, and time periods. It will stretch you and expand your repertoire. CoOPERAtive gives you an excellent insight into the various different ways that singers have begun their careers, and into how to prepare you to achieve your goals. What both programs have in common is excellent faculty. It is the faculty that really made the experiences so valuable for the participants and pushed them to learn as much as they were ready for.