Master Class


Julianne Baird's Recital January 27, 2003

Julianne Baird, soprano

      To write about Julianne Baird's singing I put on a CD of G.F. Handel's Italian Solo Cantatas (Meridian CD CDE 84189) and once again listened to the voice that is spring sunlight translated into sound. I recalled her smile that warmed our hearts in Chandler Hall. The publicity photos and album covers of a somewhat ethereal blond waif did not prepare us for this beautiful woman who stepped on stage. She is radiant with a warmth of personality and vocal sound. There is so much joy in her singing that she simply cannot keep from smiling. Difficult passages are performed with an expressive brilliance.

      The songs, several by Claudio Monteverdi, Girolamo Frescobaldi and Giulio Caccini and single selections by Benedetto Ferrari, Giuseppino del Biabo, Francesco Cavalli and Luigi Rossi were from the early Baroque bel canto period, 16th-17th century. In his January 29 review in the Virginian Pilot Lee Tepley writes of her voice: "Baird's is focused and warm, with an even quality that connects its bright top notes all the way down to the rich sound at the bottom."

      These songs take us back to the beginning of the bel canto (beautiful sound) movement in Italian music that comes to fruition in the music of Rossini (1791-1868), Bellini (1801-1835), and Donizetti (1797-1848) in the first half of the 19th century.

      After the performance we met Ms. Baird and asked for an autograph, only to find her as warm and smiling off-stage as on. A New Jersey earth mother who shared a warm hug, she has teenagers and traveled by car from Haddenfield to Norfolk with her husband who sold CDs in the atrium after the performance. Her parents were from Ohio and she is a down to earth, grounded person with vast knowledge of singing techniques of 300 years ago and a superb voice that brings this historic music alive today. This friendly, open woman gave us a gift of beauty.

Julianne Baird's Master Class

      There were several themes that emerged as Ms. Baird worked with three student singers at O.D.U. on the following afternoon at Chandler Hall. Ms. Baird is a much respected musicologist holding a Doctorate from Stanford University in music history. Her book, Introduction to the Art of Singing is published by Cambridge University press.

      She pointed out that written music from the Baroque period was a blueprint for the singer who would have been trained to add ornamentation.

      The first student, tenor Brian McGowan, sang Amarilli mia bella by Giulio Caccini. The young man had a cold and a very sweet-toned voice. "I love your tone," and "A cold can be a great learning opportunity" Ms. Baird commented as she examined his music book, Twenty-Four Italian Songs. She explained that words have been added to the text and encouraged all singers to go to the original of any song they plan to study, if possible. This passionate song is often used in college student recitals. To experience the unfolding of the piece as the singer learned to embellish the music under Ms. Baird's clear instructions and vocal demonstrations took the performance to a new level of accomplishment. "Vibrato and non-vibrato are both useful embellishments." Depending on whether it originates in the throat, lower chest or from a tight tongue under the chin, vibrato will change the pitch. Charlotte Church uses the latter technique which can be harmful to the voice.

      Some of the ornaments such as little slides and blue notes (dissonance) are common in jazz today. They were part of a singer's arsenal of embellishments in the Baroque era.

      The text should be presented as though it were just this minute created by the singer. A long pause in natural speech is often used to emphasize a point. In Baroque singing you have the freedom to use time as necessary for dramatic effect. The singer also has freedom to repeat a note as an ornament instead of holding it.

      The second selection, An Chloë by Mozart, was sung by Amanda Batcher. Miss Batcher has wonderful posture on stage. In art songs the accompanist gets the written ornaments. In Mozart's day it was considered insulting to a singer to write out vocal ornaments since the performer would do his/her own. The performer held the power in the Classical era and music was written by a composer for the singer's voice. Mozart's concert arias were often created for a singer to insert into operas by other composers, or substituted for those in his own operas.

      Chromaticism was the "hot new thing" in Mozart's time. A Handel aria would have been based on a seven note diatonic scale (on a piano, the white keys only) with ornaments. Mozart used an octave of twelve semi-tones. The chromatic scale is an ascending or descending line that advances by semi-tones (adding the sharps and flat notes of the black keys to the white keys of the diatonic scale). The term "chromatic" (in Greek "colored") generally applied to notes marked with accidentals foreign to the key in which the passage is written. As I understand this it was a matter of degree of use of enharmonic notes. Compare Haydn and Mozart. There is a similar sound, and yet Haydn's music often seems dull to this listener; Mozart's never. Haydn further developed the diatonic system. The development of chromatic music grew hand-in-hand with expressive, affective text setting. (Grove Dictionary: Chromatic).

      Once again the singer was encouraged to "go back to the source and you'll be surprised by how the music has been changed."

      The third student, Erin Maurer, sang Intorno all'idol mio by Antonio Cesti. This song, taken from his stage work Orontea (1649) which has otherwise been forgotten, was beautifully sung by a young woman who "had no breaks in the voice." Ms. Baird, who did not know this song before the master class, looked over the music and demonstrated just how accomplished a performer she is by singing suggested ornamentations for various parts of the song. A singer should take the music as written by the composer and add essential ornaments. Not much more will be necessary.

      The mordant (bite) is the only ornament that you can use on the first note. Slides, trills, appoggiaturas, etc., are all part of what a singer can use to bring a feeling of life and creation to a song. The written music is a blueprint; what you do with it makes it interesting for the listener as well as the singer.

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