Musica Transbelgio, Part 3

Part Three and the final installment of the conversation of Daniela-Bloem Hubatka, author of “The Old Italian School of Singing” and her husband, voice teacher Jan Bloem. The conversation has been translated from the original Dutch by the contributions of Daniela, and my friend Dirk Gevers.

Petra: In the mean time I am leafing through Daniela’s book called The Old Italian School of Singing and I hit upon a lovely sentence that I wish to share with you “Once upon a time singing evoked poetry” and of course that is true. And that applies mainly to the way you are occupied with singing, Daniela? Can I say it like that or do I make you shy? But you are also a concert singer.

Daniela: Yes that certainly applies, for if you sing in this way you really prepare your voice for the composer to play upon it, the composer colors your voice in a certain way, he accentuates certain words he thinks important in a poem. You have to sing according to the music that he set to that poem, you should not sing it starting with the text for that belongs to the poet, but you must sing it from the composers view for it has become a song. Going from the music to the text, then something special will happen: then the words will get warmth and they will mirror what lives in the poem, in a different way from reciting the poem, which renders them more prosaic I would say, but truly poetic. This seems a paradox, it will come if you just perform your job singing like the composer put it down for you.

Petra: I am just trying to find a sort of comparison for myself. If you compare this with texts of a play: if you just recite them nothing special comes out, but if you intensify it and wonder what is meant and act from there something else occurs. Then you get a real person, and that applies here too, slightly different, but then you experience the song in a different manner than from the head and not from the heart – on the notes instead of just focusing on the text. We will not ask you to sing , but do you have an example from something you like, but maybe let us transfer to popular music. I think more people should listen to classical music, and what you do is not just opera but also classical song like the songs of Liszt and people should listen to them.

Daniela: I would like to go back to a previous remark that people nowadays do not listen so readily to classical singing. In my opinion that has to do with the fact that it sounds manufactured not natural and so is not easily accessible.

Petra: Does it have something to do with the language, it is mainly Italian, German and so on.

Daniela: No, for if you can sing really well you can sing in Chinese, the language does not matter.

Petra: So then it is the emotion that the music awakens.

Daniela: Yes I would say almost that the language poses an obstacle if you suppose that you have to understand everything immediately. That is impossible in a German song, for German grammar tends to mix the order of the words in the sentence, so if you get the song in a quick tempo you have to know German extremely well as a Dutchman to grasp the meaning of the text straightaway. That is impossible, so people who concentrate to understand the text will miss a lot of the music. I notice when I sing in Russian people are totally relaxed for they make no effort to understand the text, but they enjoy the music and Russian sounds reaching them. I usually tell them the contents of the song and from the music they can experience what is the gist of the song and that has to do with the natural way of singing, as I said before, it is the composer who colors your voice with certain type of song: a lullaby, opera aria, religious repertoire. It should come from the heart and not just from the head.

Petra: So you can learn that or is that present in your natural voice? You need not be religious to sing the Matthew Passion.

Daniela: Perhaps not. I have to be honest saying that I watched that Passion by famous Dutch people. There was Pearl Josephzoon, a popular singer, and she told us very simply that she was a believer and said her prayers to Jesus every day and she sang that aria “Erbarme dich” and that was truly wonderful straight from the heart, I thought it was more impressive than a good classical singer who is a non-believer and who sings with the intention ”I am going to sing this aria beautifully”.

Petra: So then we are back at “not from the head, but from the heart” and you, Jan, are also voting for that.

Jan: Of course, yes. I was taught that you get a task from the teacher and you take it from there. In the lieder that I performed I have always tried to follow the music. With my late friend the East German composer whose lieder impressed me deeply when I started with him, we visited him several times a year and then I learned together with him to sing his lieder how he meant them to be performed.

Petra. That really is the conclusion: “music is meant by the composer” and the “young and natural voice.”

I am afraid that we must end this conversation, I hope there will be another opportunity, we now have to transfer to a different program.

I hope that you will continue to bring us beautiful music.

Thank you for coming.

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