Steven Blier, Artistic Director of the Terrance W. Schwab Vocal Rising Stars (VRS), shares his impressions in this annual blog series. VRS is a week-long mentoring intensive for aspiring vocalists at Caramoor.
I greet the Caramoor residency with a tangle of emotions drawn from my rich reservoir of neurotic complexity. I am very excited because the unique spell of the Music Room brings forth memories of powerful artistic connections in my life. I have had my musical heart broken in the most delicious ways there, hearing some of the most celestial singing of my career. Is it any wonder that I am also nervous every season my anticipation may lead to some unforeseen disappointment?
We had our first day today working on Bel Canto/Can Belto, a program of songs by Italians and Italian-Americans. It’s a demanding concert, requiring vocal fireworks, world-class musicianship, passion, irony, style, and charm. I was pretty sure I had the cast we’d need for such an audacious enterprise: soprano Chelsea Morris, mezzo-soprano Julia Dawson, tenor Alec Carlson, and baritone Shea Owens, with “apprentice” (aka “ace”) pianist Chris Reynolds. We had a pretty great first day. Their voices are, if anything, even more beautiful than the last time I heard them. And the spirit in the room was so calm and reassuring—a very mature quartet emotionally, and a group of people of such intense generosity and good hearts as to make geniality seem like a state of grace.
I am fascinated to see what forms of humor float to the surface with each group of singers. Some years we have a couple of artists (ok, I mean guys) who like to quote television shows or movies at length; others years we’ve had a share of good-natured ribbing that could occasionally tilt into frat-house humor. Today we laughed together like adults. Somehow we fell into a series of jokes using the B-word, begun (I blush to admit) by me even though I usually consider that epithet totally off-limits. We had some prize puns from Shea, to whom I’ve given the nickname “Grandpa.” Michael only told one joke today, timing out at 3 minutes (the rings-of-hell joke, one of his specialties). Alec was singing his heart out and got a nosebleed. Julia did a dead-on impression of a blessed-out yoga instructor in emotional denial, ending with the phrase “I am present in this shit.” Chris, our youngest-ever Rising Star (age 19) demonstrated a kind of calm competence that I can only call other-worldly. Chelsea made tea at 4, and proceeded to kill me softly with her song.
Yes, a good day. A very good day.
The Schwab Vocal Rising Stars will conclude their week at Caramoor with a performance on Sunday, March 15.