TUNDI OPERA: An Oasis in the Desert

On the banks of the Connecticut River near the New Hampshire border is found a beautiful little city called Brattleboro. I was invited by the artistic team of TUNDI Opera, based in that city, to participate in a little Wagner concert. Incidentally, I have a connection to Brattleboro. More than 30 years ago, Glenn Parker, the teacher (pianist/conductor) who influenced me more profoundly than any other, ran an opera program in Brattleboro until his untimely passing in 1995. I remember spending a day there so long ago. Glenn Parker imbued singers with a sense of possibility and optimism. He had an implacable conviction to musicianship and beautiful singing. Going into the world with this deep optimism and commitment to musicianship and beautiful singing, I found myself too often disappointed by people who make great pronouncements about great singing and music making (mutually compatible and beneficial) only to prove that the words have no connection to actions.

The artistic team of TUNDI, conductor Hugh Keelan and dramatic soprano Jenna Rae were introduced to me by a student who worked with them and thought we should know each other. We spent more than half a year of the pandemic sharing technical and musical ideas online over zoom and I felt an unusual connection to them. After so much disappointment in the field, it is unusual for me to feel “disarmed” so easily by people I only worked with online. So when they invited me to come to Brattleboro, I accepted immediately. I figured at very least it would be good to meet face-to-face these people who have had a beautiful impact on me during the darkness of the pandemic. My expectations were beyond satisfied…

What I had hoped to find:

  1. at least two people who are as open and honest as they were online. Expectations met!
  2. two people who were fun to share with musically and personally. Expectations met!
  3. hopefully the people they surround themselves with are equally honest and personable. More than met!

What I did not expect:

  1. An open working environment in which participants are invited to be vulnerable. What do I mean by vulnerable? Honest, no posturing, doing your best and hoping to grow in the process.

That environment was one the most inspiring I’ve experienced in my 40 years of vocal study. Hugh and Jenna believe that we can have revolutionary experiences technically and musically by being open within a supportive community of colleagues. That belief proved very fruitful! I had a number of “Aha” moments!

I was never forced to do anything! I was simply invited into an environment in which I may chose to shed my security blankets when I sing to see if I could discover more freeing solutions. I decided to play fully and benefited greatly from it. I felt the walls open and my own thoughts and ideas amplified not diminished.

Jenna Rae is an impressive dramatic soprano and teacher who lives the philosophy mentioned above. We could share ideas and suggestions with each other without expectations of what the results would be. Ultimately the results came precisely because it wasn’t about any finite results but rather about opening ourselves beyond our own self-imposed limits.

Hugh Keelan is a first class conductor/pianist, constantly making an orchestra of his piano in our Wagner adventures. Here is a conductor with a powerful tenor voice, who could have made “technical” suggestions but rather made qualitative observations and left it to me to figure out what I would do technically to implement his suggestions. The most effortless coachings I have experienced in quite some time. This is not an easy achievement. Hugh trusts his singers! Asks their opinion about interpretative choices. Everyone can contribute!

No judgment: Jenna and Hugh trusted me enough to share their students and their own voices with me. Very humbling. Just the same, I felt free and comfortable and safe to open and share my own voice and artistry with them.

At the end, I am a better teacher and singer because of that experience!

No competitive Ego: When It came up that I studied orchestral conducting and composition for 6 years (I tend to avoid this because coaches and conductors, almost invariably, feel a threat to their authority in those situations) Hugh responded by sharing his orchestral reduction of Wagner’s Ring with me.

If your goal is to just add another experience to your résumé, you’ll get that too, but you would have missed the point. What I believe that these two artists and their community do better than anyone I’ve seen out there is that they provide an environment where life-changing experiences are possible if you dare to play for real! This has been the goal of my pedagogy forever. But this cannot be done alone! It requires a community that is open to the idea of GROWTH!

As I prepare my next masterclass, my teammates and I are discussing how to prepare our participants for an environment of growth and community support. I’m still growing! Always growing!

Thank you, Hugh and Jenna!

I recommend these two colleagues without any reservation. It is my great wish to continue working with them. Both Hugh and Jenna can be reached here for online coaching or live (if you find yourself near Brattleboro).

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