No Song is Safe From Us

No Song Is Safe From Us - The NYFOS Blog
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We had visitors today, two people I was especially looking forward to meeting. César Parreño’s parents flew in from Ecuador to visit their son and hear next Wednesday’s concert. I am always excited to meet my students’ families, but this was something special. You see, César is the first person from Ecuador ever to attend Juilliard—in any department. After a couple of years as a Business student in Guayaquil, he decided to follow his dream of becoming a professional singer. César has a sweet, docile nature and an easy smile, so it takes a little while to perceive his strength of purpose. I’ve rarely seen someone improve so rapidly over the course of two school years. He arrived without a lot of formal musical training and a free-wheeling approach to singing—some beautiful sounds, some wild ones. He’s made huge advances in musicianship, to the point where he could take on a role in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream last summer that demanded pin-point, rapid-fire accuracy. 

He hasn’t lost the sunshine that he brings to the music he loves—not everyone manages to keep that flame alive as they work on their technique. And this is why it was so heartwarming to be with his mother and father. Their pride in César was palpable. No parents are ever sure if their kid is good enough to have a career in the arts, but it would be particularly hard to know in Guayaquil, Ecuador what the competition is like to get into a school like Juilliard. I trotted out my Spanish to speak with them. “He did this all himself,” said his dad Patricio. “We had no idea if he had the talent. But César—he is fearless. From an early age he was getting up to sing in front of people, always with total confidence.” He did that again yesterday, and we all heard the gold in that sound. 

All of the work was fascinating, including three twenty-minute sessions we were able to snag with cast members who are also rehearsing The Mother of Us All down the hall. One was with Jaylyn Simmons, who dug into a Cuban protest song, “Lamento esclavo,” with her unique blend of emotional sensitivity and physical abandon. It also led to a fascinating discussion about slavery and discrimination, made all the more intense because of the compressed time we had. 

Mary had been so entranced by Santiago’s drumming yesterday that she gave him a couple of percussion solos in his Lecuona song. (Today it was Leo who taught Santiago how to get the rhythms right. Think you can just shake a maraca any old way? Try it sometime.) And Aaron Keeney evoked the classic Latin lover in his zarzuela aria—the brooding loner with a five-o’clock shadow and a loping walk. A total girl-magnet. 

Three hours well lived.

Steven Blier

Called “the coolest dude in town” by Opera News, master collaborative pianist and coach Steven Blier is the co-founder and artistic director of New York Festival of Song. Here on No Song is Safe From Us, Steven blogs about the NYFOS Emerging Artist residencies, writes the engaging and erudite program notes for our Mainstage concerts, and contributes frequently to Song of the Day.

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