I’m writing this, fresh from my visit to Chichester University last week to give a class for some of the voice and guitar students there. I think my last visit must have been a couple of years ago, and it was so lovely to be invited back again to delve into some voice and guitar repertoire. I am such a huge fan of this genre, I think probably because the guitar creates such a sense of intimacy as an accompanying instrument, which does take some getting used to when a singer has never experienced anything other than piano accompaniment.
In my experience singers are notoriously morning-shy and to wake those voices up properly can take a little time, so we kicked off with a guitar solo, Tarrega’s Capricho Arabe, very ably played by Chris, one of the Masters course students. This is such great standard repertoire, but to make it really successful in my opinion you really need to explore the wealth of tone-colour the guitar can offer and not go completely crazy on the tumbling semiquaver passages – in fact it is quite refreshing when I hear someone play this without completely distorting all sense of the underlying pulse. After that we plunged straight into a setting of the Willow Song which originated as one of the songs in Shakespeare’s Othello. This was the first time Alice had sung with a guitar and when you are used to a bigger cushion of sound from piano it can come as a bit of a shock to feel more exposed. She warmed to the task, however, and quickly grew in confidence. These songs can be quite deceptive, and there is often much more to them than you first think. This one flits quite freely between major and minor tonality and keeps the singer on her toes.
Other contributions came from Sam, who has recently taken a strong interest in classical guitar, having played other styles previously. He performed Caravan and was able to balance the legato melody line with pizzicato basses very successfully. This had a few awkward moments and we tried out a few different fingering options to try and find one that best suited Sam’s technique. That’s the great thing about the guitar, the flexibility to be able to find alternative solutions to a phrase – even if you end up trying it out and then going back to exactly what you had before! It’s not a wasted journey and can sometimes really turn up something exquisite.
We moved back to the voice and guitar repertoire with Liam accompanied by Chris in Dowland’s Flow my Tears. This was a work in progress for them both, but they have the makings of a very suited partnership with Liam’s light tenor voice complementing Chris’s guitar playing. I quite like hearing pieces in the early stages of development sometimes as it gives the performers scope to incorporate musical ideas into their interpretation right from the start, rather than try to add them later.
There was just enough time to squeeze in a very quick Come again, Sweet love doth now invite – from Dowland’s First book of Airs with counter-tenor, Oliver . This is one of Dowland’s more upbeat airs and great fun to perform with lots of opportunities for experimenting with phrasing and colour. The session had just zoomed by, but I’m hoping to be able to return early next year for a more in depth look at the voice and gutiar repertoire with the students. Thanks to Susan Legg (Head of Voice) and all the students at Chichester University for a fabulous morning.