No Song is Safe From Us

No Song Is Safe From Us - The NYFOS Blog
 |  Steven Blier

My teaching week has mixed coaching sessions with auditions for the January NYFOS@Juilliard show: an all-British program called “From Lute Song to the Beatles.” I had asked the students to bring in English song, suggesting they they might offer one art song in tandem with either an operetta aria or a popular song. It’s only Tuesday and I’ve already heard Finzi, Quilter, Britten, John Ireland, and Purcell—




 |  Steven Blier

My Tchaikovsky concert isn’t till early next year, but I want to get it squared away now before the autumn hits me like a ton of bricks. Having decided to include a little group of songs by Tchaik’s teachers and students, I received some expert guidance from Antonina Chehovska, the soprano soloist for the project. She had wonderful ideas for Rubenstein, Arensky, and Taneyev, and I appreciated her promptness and her enthusiasm.




 |  Steven Blier

“Awaiting You” has all the Adam trademarks—a gorgeous harmonic progression, a lyric that provokes and stimulates, and a white-hot opulence that never fails to conquer me. Here is the unbridled Billy Porter, who gave the first performances of the song.




 |  Steven Blier

The last few days before a concert are always a little tricky to handle. I want to build confidence. I want to fix the little errors—notes, words, rhythms, dynamics—that seem to be repeat offenders. I also want to keep the cast reaching for the heights of expression from depths of their souls—while keeping their work simple, direct, and open. No navel-gazing allowed.




 |  Steven Blier

I have always had a complex relationship with the piano. But I have an especially complex relationship with the piano I am playing this week at Poquatuck Hall. Oysterponds Community Activities, the hall’s parent organization, proudly bought the piano several years ago, and it was a major upgrade from the weather-beaten wreck it replaced. But when I first sat down to play it, I had the oddest sensation of déjà-vu. In fact, I felt as if I were seeing a ghost.




 |  Steven Blier

Wednesday is always the last play-day. People are still giggling over their memory slips, I calmly look the other way when I play a wrong note (which means I am looking the other way quite often), and a certain amount of experimentation remains the order of the day. Sunday’s performance seems centuries away. Everything changes tomorrow, when the glass is definitely half-empty. But today we were in the song-sandbox all afternoon, with the glass safely half-full.




 |  Steven Blier

The music is pouring out of everyone—heartbreak from Kelsey, brio from Christine, panache from Miles. I feel as if I am driving a very fast chariot à la Ben-Hur, hoping to emerge victorious like Charlton Heston.




 |  Steven Blier

That whole song is full of double-entendres, and a lot of them come from old slang expressions. “Neither one knew where the trash is” rhymes with “someone to haul the ashes.” I mentioned it was a phrase you might see in a classic blues song. By this time Christine pulled out her phone to look it up online. “It says: ‘to have sexual intercourse.’ Wait, here’s Urban Dictionary: ‘to have sex, homo or hetero, usually casual, but wild, hot, monkey sex.’” “OK, well, then, you get the picture?” She did.




 |  Steven Blier

I met Cyndia Sieden outside her voice lesson at Marlena Malas’s studio in 1982. She was a breath of fresh air—guileless and smart, an unbeatable combo. We seemed to fall into one another’s confidence instantly. I was fascinated by her name, which happens to be the same as that of a character in Massenet’s opera “Le roi de Lahore.” Only…it’s the baritone role. I pulled the LPs off Marlena’s shelf to show Cyndia, and the sight of her name attached to a picture of a glowering, mustachioed Sherrill Milnes made us laugh like kids.




 |  Steven Blier

Sasha Cooke walked into my studio at Juilliard twelve years ago, bringing songs from Fauré’s La chanson d’Eve. My life instantly took a turn for the better. From the beginning Sasha had That Sound—I describe her voice as the love child of Janet Baker and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson—rich, intense, somehow fruity and folky at the same time. I knew I wanted to be one of her musical partners for life, also sensing that I would have to share her with a lot of other folks. (Thank God I had learned to be polyamorous as a musician.)