Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Language Learning Tips!

As the school year starts, most people are facing the prospect of a new year of language study--and contrary to popular opinion, just playing Duolingo or Rosetta Stone may not be enough to really learn a language fluently for everyone :-) Over the years I've seen many different ways of studying languages--one woman in my Modern Greek class had an email penpal that she wrote to all the time, but she refused to try to speak it until she could write perfectly; some friends have learned languages just by going to the country without any previous knowledge and learned there; I've even met a few people who took German in school and were fairly fluent simply from their college (or even high school) classes!

Of course, nothing compares to going to a foreign country and being immersed in it (like the time I got lost in the mountains outside of Korinthos, Greece, and had to find my way back into the city by asking people who only spoke Greek...), but it helps if you have a basis to get started. Everyone learns differently, some of us are tactile (need to write it down), some people need to hear it, some need to see things written down--it's important to figure out what combinations of studying work best for you. Here are some tips that we've put together over the years that might be useful!

--For beginners, try to find a balance of reading it on the page, hearing people pronouncing it, speaking it yourself, being able to spell in the foreign language and understanding the grammar of your own native language.

--Learn the orthography at the beginning. Understanding how a language is spelled will save a lot of time later in understanding how to pronounce it. The [ʧ] sound in Ciao in Italian is spelled differently than Tschüss in German or Chihuahua in Spanish, and it's important to figure those differences out early, so that when you learn new vocabulary you can make your best guess at pronouncing it. Especially in our jobs, which require using a vocabulary that can be archaic, this can be very important. By the way, when it comes to foreign language spelling, English is the absolute worst--yes, worse than French!--so you've already conquered the hardest part.

--Flashcards--I always recommend making your own, although there are pre-fabricated flashcards available, as well as flashcard apps like Duolingo. If you make your own you get the benefits of:
  • writing it down (for those of us tactile learners!)
  • being able to format them any way you want (I always leave room for the plural form of the word, any irregular verb forms or stems and phrases that the word is often used it)
  • being able to write in your own phonetics, including stressed syllables, open and closed vowels, voiced consonants or any exceptional pronunciation
When I first moved to Germany, I actually created flashcards on a Powerpoint presentation, and would watch it while I walked on the treadmill in the afternoons! Small flashcards can be handy to have along when you're standing in line at a checkout counter or in a rehearsal where you are waiting for your entrance, but it's also nice to be moving around, so find ways to incorporate them that work for you.

--Flashcards II--When studying flashcards, try not to just attach the foreign word with its equivalent in your native language. Instead, try to associate it with an image or idea. For example, if you have "das Fenster" in German, say the word a few times and look at your window. Create sentences for idea words so that you're always using the words to form phrases, this will create more connections in the foreign language.

--The best verb drills ever--in French III, every time we encountered a new verb, the teacher made us go through the entire conjugation in every possible form:
  • Statement--Je suis, tu es, il est, etc
  • Question (in 2 forms!)-Suis-je? Est-ce que je suis? etc
  • Negative Statement-Je ne suis pas, etc
  • Negative Question-Ne suis-je pas, Est-ce que je ne suis pas? etc
  • then include every different tense of the verb that you've learned so far! Don't forget to study the imperative forms and that some tenses will need "que" in front of them (and then you can add in "I hope that" forms to make this even more complicated!).
It gets very complicated very quickly with all the auxiliary verbs in some verb tenses and once you hit reflexive verbs even more so! But it creates neural pathways so that your brain will start to come up with these configurations automatically and it will start to sound right to you.

Listening exercises--the most important thing is to always listen ACTIVELY. Having it on in the background doesn't really help study, much as we all wish we could learn by osmosis! Try transcribing what you hear when you are doing listening exercises, it will help distinguish words and solidify the spelling rules, which in turn helps diction. Some free ways to get in some foreign language listening:
  • Switch the language on your favorite DVDs. Most DVDs come with several language tracks on them, try switching the language and see how much you understand. The also often have subtitles, which you can follow along (although they don't necessarily match the exact words of the dubbed speech, so don't get frustrated!). If your favorite DVD has subtitles but not a language track for the language you're studying, try turning off the sound and following the subtitles, to see how much you can understand.
  • Podcasts. I'm addicted to podcasts. I have podcasts on my iPhone in everything from Notes in Spanish to Learning Greek to Radio France (I'm addicted to On se dit tout sur France Bleu) to Binge Mode Harry Potter to How I Built This... and you don't need an iPhone or tablet. iTunes is a free download, and you can listen right on your computer. Most language podcasts include a website where you can download the transcriptions of the episodes or the answer keys to their exercises.
  • Pop music. I like to say that I turned off the radio in 1985, because I'm playing the piano so much that I don't listen to music outside of work. But I LOVE to listen to pop music in other languages! Generally the text repeats make it easier to understand, and they tend to use simple vocabulary that can be very useful. I've found playlists that other users have created already on Spotify of French, Italian, and Greek pop music that I listen to on my way to work sometimes, or you can set it to play specific genres in the Radio section. Pop songs also often use modern colloquial language that might not make it into a book, and we learn more quickly when something is set to music, so with very little time invested, you can get a big return!

Children's books are a great way to read in a foreign language, because they are generally closer to our level! I usually start with the 6-8-year-old age range and move up through the teens from there. Look up the words you don't know and try reading the book aloud every night before you go to sleep. If you have kids, make it a game you play with them--I used to read fairy tales in French to a friend's kids at bedtime, and after every sentence I would translate it into English for them. The next day, if they remembered any of the words in French, they got the first cookie out of the oven!

Get a library card! I'm always surprised that more people don't take advantage of the free resources available to us all--the city library is always the first place I go when I move somewhere new. I take out CDs and scores, as well as children's books in foreign languages, DVDs, language learning books, audiobooks in several languages, plus, of course, American/British crime fiction.

Once you're feeling comfortable enough, there are lots of different types of meet-up groups, language forums, tandem language partners--getting over the initial embarrassment of speaking a foreign language is critical, and finding someone who's in the same boat as you in your language can be really helpful in those initial steps. The shift from being able to read, to being able to understand, to being able to communicate yourself is a process. Make sure to enjoy the journey!

Do you have any tips that weren't mentioned here?

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Doing the homework

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted this on her Facebook wall:

There have been studies proving that trying to learn text and music at the same time is NOT the most efficient method to learn a new song/role. One of these very important parts of the whole (either text, rhythm, or pitches) will be short-changed, because our focus will be on whichever one is more difficult at the moment.

Have you ever been in a coaching or lesson where you were asked to recite the text as a monologue? Was it difficult? Did you need to think of the music to remember where you were in the text? And when you did recite it, did you suddenly realise what the song was about? Has your coach ever reminded you of an accent marking and suggested you use the text to create that?

This is what I call "doing the homework"! Breaking things apart, pulling out each ingredient and piecing them back together, rather than just trying to do everything at once. Take one component at a time, say your text as a monologue, look at the rhythm and any markings that go along with it, sing the melody on neutral syllables, and make sure that at each stage of this, you are really seeing what the composer actually wrote. It's too easy to miss something when you're busy trying to see everything all at once.

Let's face it--about 80% of a coach's time is spent telling singers exactly what's on the page already! Do what you can to avoid wasting your own time and money, by needing a coach to correct things you could have already seen, and use your time effectively.


Thursday, May 31, 2018

How Benjamin Franklin helped me learn Russian Diction

I never really learned how to study when I was in high school. I was one of those students who could listen in class, take notes there and then retain it long enough for the test, so I never really put in the time required to learn something in a way that would really stick with me. I was also really lazy about it, and would never double check my work, until my 10th grade Geometry teacher told me that from then on I would either get 100% or 0% on every test, as encouragement to double check my work...

This all held true until sometime after finishing my undergrad, when I read a biography of Benjamin Franklin and how he basically taught himself everything he learned. The method that he used to learn rhetoric I found intriguing:
  • Franklin would read through a speech once
  • He wrote the speech out as best he could from memory
  • He then compared what he wrote to the original, paying special attention to the differences, noticing style, usage of language, etc.
  • Then he wrote it out again from memory, trying to remember the style of the original
He repeated these steps until he could perfectly imitate the style of the speech and the exact language of the speech. And then he moved on to the next one until he'd mastered that. In the end, he could read a speech once and repeat it verbatim, just by understanding the style of the author.

How many times have teachers told us how to learn effectively? How many of us have heard "work in small portions", "break things down", "practice slowly and precisely", "study in small increments several times a day"? I'd been hearing that for years (in fact, I was saying it to singers I coached!), but until hearing how Ben Franklin taught himself, I didn't really use it in my own practice.

My first semester of graduate school at CCM, I was in Kenneth Griffiths' Russian Diction class--and I decided to use a modified version of Ben Franklin's method of studying, to see whether it worked for me. Our first assignment was to learn to write the Cyrillic alphabet. Immediately after class, I went to lunch at McD's and sat over my cheeseburger doing my homework, copying the alphabet once. Over supper, I did the same homework, copying the alphabet once again. Before bed, I copied out the alphabet one more time. Before breakfast, I copied out the alphabet again... We only had classes on Tuesdays and Thursday, so by the time the next class rolled around, I had copied out the alphabet a minimum of 8 times. It only took about 5 minutes each time, and by the 5th time I tried to do it from memory.

I repeated this process with every homework assignment. As the semester went on, sometimes it was full text transcripts, and those I would break down into smaller chunks, working on a line at a time and repeating the diction rules aloud every time they came up.

After a few weeks, it was obvious that this really worked! So I applied it to my music history class--by creating a time line made up of post-it notes, that I could put the post-its in position or move them around as needed. This is also when I started created flashcards for language study, so that whenever I had a few minutes, I could pull out a handful of flashcards and study a little vocabulary, no matter where I was. I still have a drawer full of flash cards in different languages (each in its own color, of course 😂).

Everything that I learned in this manner I still remember today. Everything. That class was in 1994. Learning like this really sticks with you, if you can find the tricks that help you--some people are tactile like I am (I need to write things down), so writing it out several times a day works well; some people are aural, so maybe they need to listen to the class several times and then try to repeat what they heard; some people are visual, so they need to look at their notes and then try to visualise them without looking at the page. Everyone has some method (or combination of them) that works best for them, and any of these methods can be applied to the steps that Ben laid out for us.

In this day and age, where we all have iPads, laptops, smart phones, and have so much information at our fingertips all the time, it can be really difficult to force ourselves to really slow down and DO THE HOMEWORK. But the wiring of the human brain hasn't really changed much over the millennia; we still learn best if we break things down into smaller pieces, learn those pieces efficiently and well, and then move on. This summer, I challenge you to try some version of this method on a regular basis; whether it's breaking a text apart and doing small portions for 15 minutes several times a day, or breaking your practice time down to work on very specific gestures or phrases rather than a whole piece at once, any time spent trying this will have been well worth it!


Monday, April 30, 2018

Getting the most out of your vocal coaching, a short guide for the young singer (Part 2/2)

This is the second part of our discussion about how to prepare for a vocal coaching (if you missed Part 1, you can find by clicking HERE).

In this installment, I wanted to expand a little on some ideas to consider regarding character development. While it might seem like this would be something to worry about more with a director, and more with operatic repertoire, in reality, I spend a lot of time talking about this in vocal coachings, and not only when it comes to opera arias. Clear ideas about character will lead to very stimulating discussions with your coach, and have a direct impact on how you interpret a certain piece, how you approach text, phrasing, diction, etc. Too often, singers come into a coaching and only try to prove that they are singing the right words and notes, rather than showing us the finished product--all of the character and text choices you make will also affect the music as well as vocal production.

In the previous blog post, I talked about "doing your research", and suggested asking the following questions about your character:
  • When/where does the aria/song happens in the opera, or the song cycle
  • What is the character doing/thinking during the musical prelude and postlude
  • Who is the character, and who are they talking to
To go further, a great tool to consider is a character worksheet. Here is the one I have been using (borrowed from stage director Carleen Graham). Please note that this can be used just as well for a lied or artsong as for an aria, or even an entire role.

Prior to completing this worksheet, please make sure you have done the following: 
- Read and listen to the entire work following along with the score.
- Do a word-for-word translation of your text if it is in a foreign language.
- Based on your translation, create your own version of the text that is meaningful to you.
- Once the text is in English, write it out and be able to recite it dramatically.

Answer the following as specifically as you can.  You can always change your mind later.

Character’s Full Name & Age

Ethnic Background & Family Relationships

Socio-Economic Level & Health

Education Achieved & Travel Experience

Religious/Spiritual Beliefs

What Are Your Most Significant Relationships, And Why? 

Fondest Memory & Most Tragic Event In Your Life

Favorite Pastime

What Year Is It?  What Other Major World Events Are Taking Place And How Do They Impact You?

What Does Your Character Really Want?  Why? 

How Can Your Character Attain This Goal?

What Obstacles Keep Your Character From Attaining Desired Goal?

What State Of Mind (Mood) Are You In At The Start Of The Scene?  Why?

Does Your Mood Change During The Scene?  When?  How?

Does Your Relationship To Others Change During The Scene?  When?

Where Does The Scene Take Place?  What Is Going On Around You? 

What Do You Look Like?  Any Distinguishing Features?  What Are You Wearing?  What Do You Smell Like?  How Is Your Hair Styled? 

What & When Was Your Last Meal?

Additional Thoughts Or Important Things To Remember

  • What triggers you to sing that aria/song? In other words, what was said just before, and by whom, or how does the piano introduction move you to express the first words of your text? Is the piano representing a specific sound, like a bird's song or the rustling of a brook? It can be very useful to create a little inner monologue to play in your mind during musical introductions, so as to not just "stand there" and wait.
  • What is your character trying to achieve by the end of the aria/song? How does she go about it?
  • If you are singing an aria from an anthology, be aware of the interjections that other characters might be uttering and that have been removed in the aria format. A famous example of this comes in Puccini's "Quando me'n vo'", Musetta's aria from La Bohème when Marcello and Alcindoro exchange the following aside: "Legatemi alla seggiola! / Quella gente che dirà" ("Tie me down to this chair / What will people think?), and then later, the whole last part of the aria is extensively underscored by Alcindoro and Mimì. Knowing this, and what the other characters are saying will certainly have an impact on how you deliver Musetta's lines, even as a stand alone aria.
If you have any strategies that you like using for your character work, please share them in the comments, we would love to hear from you!

-- François

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Getting the most out of your vocal coaching: a short guide for the young singer (Part 1 of 2)

The relationship between a singer and their coach(es) is important, and one that will last throughout your career. It is therefore crucial to learn early on how to make the most of these sessions, and establish the best possible working relationship. Young singers don’t always know the difference between a voice lesson and a coaching, so here are some ideas to consider before you walk into your next coaching:


- Bring two copies of your score:
Your own working copy, and one for the coach. Don’t assume that you will simply look over your coach’s shoulder; your coach’s copy should be “user friendly”: no lose sheets, clean, with nothing cut off (I’ve become really good at improvising bass lines that have been cut off the bottom of the page, but still), double sided, and preferably in a binder; you have to be able to take notes and mark your own working copy easily, the same one that you take to your voice lessons. Over time, these scores become real treasure troves of information, and you will enjoy going back to them years later.

- Bring pencils:
It seems obvious, but you wouldn’t believe the amount of coachings I’ve had where the singer didn’t bring a pencil. I even recommend having a few different colors, in case a particular point needs to be emphasized, or highlighted in order to better grab your attention.

- Bring a recording device: It is so easy nowadays to record a coaching on a phone or a digital recorder, yet a lot of singers don’t do it systematically, probably assuming that they will remember things. That simply won’t be the case, and it is always useful to hear yourself back, in order to reinforce the points that you worked on in a given session.


- Please warm up:
You should be warmed up for a coaching, the same way you would be a for a voice lesson. The reason is simple: you want to be able to sing well, and not spend time solving vocal difficulties that are really only the result of not being warmed up.

- Work on your text ahead of time:
Translate every word of the text; Depending on your level of proficiency with a language, this should be done directly on the copy of the music you are using. Memorizing the translation is crucial to a good performance: how is an audience to believe you, if you don’t understand what you are singing AT ALL TIMES? Additionally, a coaching will be more efficient, and interesting if you can discuss meaning with your coach, without having to constantly refer to a written translation. This takes a lot of time, and practice, but the more you sing in a given language, the easier this will come. Think about how it feels to sing in your own language: each sound you make, each syllable you sing carries meaning, and is part of a broader dramatic purpose. It should be the same in a foreign language that you don’t speak.

- Work on diction ahead of time:
A major focus of any coaching is the acquisition and delivery of proper diction. Most coaches are trained in lyric diction, and can help the singers to navigate through the sounds, the inflections and the flavor of a foreign language. That is not to say that you should rely solely on your coach for this work, and you can take a number of proactive steps to ensure that the coaching is dedicated to fine-tuning and refining:
·      Make an IPA transcription
·      If you are not familiar enough with the language, get a transcription online (
·      Listen to native speakers speak your text, and listen to singers in their native language

- Be prepared musically:
Coaches are happy to “be your ears”, but we shouldn’t also be your brain. Learn rhythms and pitches accurately. We don't mind "plunking out" pitches occasionally, but really, all the preparation work you can do on your own should be done before the coaching.

- Do your research:
This is very important for a coaching, and a prerequisite to any discussion of interpretation and character.
·      If you are working on an art song: research both composer and poet; know where the song fits in the cycle, if it is part of a cycle (Schumann’s Im wunderschönen Monat Mai takes on a different meaning, when you know what happens in the rest of Dichterliebe). Establish a character: who is singing? to whom? what “happens” during the piano prelude and postlude? etc...
·      If you are working on aria:
It’s a great excuse to watch the whole opera. (Most common repertoire is available online, either on Youtube, or through services like the Metplayer. Your school library might even have a subscription).
If you are working from an anthology, go get the entire opera score, so that you can see what happens right before your aria, and what prompts your character to sing is, and what happens after, so you can know what your character achieved in that moment.


- The coach/voice teacher relationship:
We are your team, and we work toward the same goal: making you the greatest singer you can be. Sometimes, it might feel like you are getting conflicting information from us. Most of the time, we are expressing a similar idea in different ways, and it is your job to figure out how to reconcile both. But sometimes, we have different ideas about a particular point, and that is not the end of the world. Rather, try to understand what approach works for you, and build your own informed opinion on the matter.

- Repertoire:
Coaches know a lot of repertoire, but if you are planning on working on something unusual, please let us know, and maybe give us the music ahead of time. We will still be able to work with you on something we don’t know, but the more we know the piece, the best we can help you achieve your vision.

Part 2 of this post is also available here!

If you have any other tricks, strategies, ideas on how to make your coaching as efficient as possible, please share them in the comments... In the meantime, happy coachings!


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Fake it til you make it

You know the phrase “Fake it til you make it”? There may be a whole lot more to that than we think. I found a Scientific American article about a Harvard Social Psychology study regarding posture—and they found that actual physical posture is linked to the endocrine system. Oddly enough, the study showed that rather than hormone levels changing and then a confident posture came as a result, if the person was placed in a physically powerful posture, in a ridiculously short amount of time, their hormone levels would change to correspond to it. To me that means that if we act like we’re secure, we’ll actually feel more secure. In addition to that, people respond to each other based on these non-verbal physical cues. So if we see someone who acts like they know what they’re doing, we relax and assume that they do.

In undergrad, I studied Alexander Technique, which, if you haven’t heard of it, is basically a body learning technique. The basic principle is about is how the head sits on top of the spine, the neck's relationship to the spine. It also talks a lot about the Fight-or-Flight response and how we get stuck in that—that just means, whenever we get nervous, our necks shorten so that our bodies are prepared to either fight something or run away from it. It’s a natural reaction that every animal has—just watch Miss Kitty Fantastico when she’s about to make a high jump, and you see her entire spine shorten like a spring so that it can lengthen into the jump. We all have the same process built into us, but because we get nervous and then stay there (like in an audition), we don’t lengthen out of that spring, and our bodies aren’t always functioning as efficiently as they can.

Especially in an audition situation, this reflex is something to work out. We’re all insecure. As I like to say, anyone who tells you they aren’t insecure is lying about it because they are insecure about it. So fake it—not with overconfidence, but with pure physiology. In your practice, find techniques that get you to stand up straight, without tension, that give you a feeling of openness, strength and relaxation at the same time. Tie it into the breath, so that before you walk into the audition, you can take a good breath and get your body into line. Pretend that you are comfortable so that the auditioners are relaxed and ready to listen, rather than feeling for your nerves.

The best example I have personally happened when I was first on staff at Carnegie Mellon University. My best friend and roommate at the time was still a voice student there, and she auditioned for the Concerto Competition with a song cycle she and I had also performed on her junior recital. They heard one piece and then asked for the slowest movement in the cycle—and somewhere on the second page of that, she lost her place completely. My page turner looked at me in horror, cause whatever we were playing had nothing to do with what was on the page—and I mean that very seriously. We made up 2 entire pages of music together, it must have lasted almost a solid minute. The judges even had a copy of the score to follow along. 

And you know what? She won the competition! She and I never panicked, she never looked as though she was lost, she just kept singing convincingly, I just kept playing convincingly, and even though it had nothing to do with the actual piece, the judges never even noticed that, they never even looked down at the music. They only noticed how beautifully she sang.

Now I'm NOT saying that you shouldn't do your homework--in fact, just the opposite. One of the surest ways to feel confident is to do all your homework and be very solid in your preparation. Then add in this idea of a power-posture, of faking it til you make it. When you’re nervous, pretend that you aren’t, and as all the hormones kick in and the people listening relax with you, you’ll find that you forgot to be nervous anymore.


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Birth of an Opera, Part 2: The Music Workshop

Almost a year ago, you may remember, I wrote a blog post dedicated to the libretto workshop for Tom Cipullo's new opera Mayo. (If you would like to refresh your memory, you can click here to read it).
One year later, I am just back from a week-long music workshop at Opera America in New York City, that culminated in a public performance of the first two acts of this amazing new work.

Music workshops have become an essential tool in the development and production of new works for the operatic stage. With so much at stake and considering the cost of mounting a new opera, producing entities, composers and librettists want to ensure that they have the best work possible on their hands, and part of that is generating a positive response from the audience. The benefits of a workshop in that regard are two-fold:
- Through the rehearsal process, we get to discover how the piece comes together, what the challenges of a production might be, what works and what doesn't work (vocally, musically, dramatically...), and the creative team then has a chance for changes and revisions before delivering a final product.
- The culminating public performance gives everyone one involved a real first look at the work, with a little distance, and also allows to gauge what the response from an audience will be.

For this particular workshop, we had four days of rehearsals (two three-hour sessions each day) to put together two acts out of what will ultimately be a three-act opera. The first priority was, of course, to get things together musically (under the direction of Kirk Severtson, and yours truly at the piano), but as the week progressed more and more of the focus went into making things work dramatically and scenically, in order to tell this poignant story. Our group of terrific singers (some Crane students, and some young professionals hired for the occasion) worked under the watchful eye of Dean Anthony, stage director, Cori Ellison, Dramaturg, and of course Tom Cipullo himself. Having the composer present this whole time was invaluable, and helped the performers to develop a better understanding of his musical style, and of the characters they were portraying.

As a good example of the purpose of the process from the composer's standpoint, it is worth noting that Tom added some new music during the workshop, when he realized that two particular pivotal scenes needed to be fleshed out and clarified a bit more. Written one night, delivered the next morning, it doesn't get more "fresh off the press" than this.

The performance itself is a slightly peculiar thing: without the benefit of a fully staged production, with set, costumes, lighting, or an orchestra, most of the story telling relies on the singers and whatever interaction they can have with each other within the constraints of the format. An added difficulty lies in the fact that each singer portrays several characters throughout the piece. Projected slides above, as well as information in the program was designed to help the audience follow the story, mostly by indicating where the action is taking place, and what characters are in the scene.

After the performance, just like after the libretto workshop, Cori Ellison led the audience thought a moderated feedback session: she used Liz Lerman's critical response process for this, which is comprised of four parts:
  1. Statement of meaning: audience members express what was meaningful to them, what "got" to them in the piece. These should be specific, and positive comments, such as "I loved it when...", or "I was moved by...".
  2. Questions from the librettist to the audience: the writer asks, the audience responds, and a dialogue ensues. For instance: "Was it clear to you that...?", "what did you think of...?".
  3.  Questions from the group to the librettist: sometimes what is clear to the librettist is not clear for the audience, and some points of the plot might need clarification. This is helpful for the composer/librettist in order to gain a different perspective than his own on the work.
  4. Opinions: audience members can express opinions about any aspect of the work BUT, they have to ask the writer whether he/she would like to hear them. Sometimes, hearing an opinion might influence the piece too much, or inadvertently push it in a direction that wasn't the writer's initial intent. The audience member would ask: "I have an opinion about such and such, would you like to hear it?".
The response was overwhelmingly positive, and much was said about how clear and gripping the storytelling was; surely a great testament to Tom's incredible skill, dramatic instinct, and beautifully evocative music.

You can watch the whole reading as well as the feedback session by clicking on the link below. I am also copying the program description in order to make it easier to follow who is who and where each scene takes place.

If you would like to know how what happens in Act 3 and how the story ends, come to the premiere in November at The Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam, in Potsdam, NY. You can visit the Pellicciotti Facebook page, to stay up to date on the project.

A Musical Reading of the First Two Acts of


Winner of the 2018 Domenic J. Pellicciotti Opera Composition Prize
Composer and Librettist – Tom Cipullo
Conductor – Kirk Severtson
Pianist and Coach – François Germain
Director – Dean Anthony
Dramaturg – Cori Ellison

                                                                              Mayo Buckner: Ben Edquist 
                                                                 Valeria, Soprano roles:  Emily Misch 
                                            Mrs. Buckner, Carolyn, Mezzo roles: Rebecca Ringle Kamarei
Leader of the Eugenicists, Beckmann (an orderly), Tenor roles: Jason Weisinger 
                                                   Superintendent, Baritone roles: Steven Eddy 
                                                                  Ms. Goodrich, Chorus: Samantha Martin
                                                                                     Jo, Mezzo: Gianna Grigalonis
                                                                     Wimpy, Tenor roles: Tristan Lesso
                                                                      Jimmy, Tenor roles: Kirk McAuliffe
                                                                 Timmy, Baritone roles: Wesly Clerge
                                                            Eugenicist, Baritone roles: Henry Horstmann

Act I – Autumn

Preamble:       On a train, 1906.
Prologue:         A public street in middle America, ca. 1906. A group of eugenicists are   recruiting marchers and passing out signs for a rally.
Scene 1:          The Superintendent’s Office, the Iowa Home for Feeble-Minded Children,
                        Mrs. Buckner, Ms. Goodrich, Superintendent. 1906
Scene 2:          A Boys’ Dormitory at the Iowa Home, 1927.
                        A group of boys, Mayo, Beckmann, Ms. Goodrich

Act II – Valeria

Scene 1:          In the garden of the Iowa Home, Autumn 1927.    
                        Jo, Valeria, Carolyn, Beckmann, Mrs. Goodrich
Scene 2:          In the Chapel at the Iowa Home, later that week. 
                        Valeria, Mayo, Ms. Goodrich
Scene 3:          In the Superintendent’s office, later that day. 
                        Ms. Goodrich, Superintendent, Beckmann, Mayo