takes place every summer in Spoleto in Umbria. Spoleto Arts was the idea of C.J.
Everett, drummer and percussionist from New York. The idea of Spoleto Arts was
to bring American opera singers to Italy to study where opera had its beginnings
and to study with the best Italian and American opera teachers. More or less a 'study
abroad' program. The Vocal Jazz Workshop started in
1998 at the recommendation of pianist and composer Renato Chicco.
C.J. Everett told me that the Vocal Jazz section was birthed as a result
of wanting to give something of American musical culture back to the Italians and
so, the course on jazz improvisation was born! Its main goal was to work with jazz
singers whose first language is not English. I was astonished when C.J. told me
that he began to see that the major music schools in NY and in many places were
removing the vocal jazz programs! I asked him why this was happening. He told me
that at one university, the faculty felt that the singers did not come well enough
prepared and were not willing to work in the same fashion as every other musician
in the programs on music theory, piano, vocal technique, harmony, arranging… all
the things that would create a responsible vocalist on the level of a responsible,
capable trained instrumentalist such as we have in the form of Michele Hendricks!
And so began my week of fun, fatigue, and fellowship! The first day everyone
met to do a little performance and have Daniela Panetta, vocalist and instructor,
and Renato Chicco, pianist and artistic director, place each student into
the intermediate or master class. The next day we all met together and worked on
some basic vocal technique, the blues structure, that is, learning the bass line,
and then the walking bass line. One of the most wonderful things about Spoleto
Vocal Jazz is the size of the classes!!! They are small! Never more than 14
students in each level (this year there were 9 in the master class and 5 in the
intermediate class) which allows the students many opportunities to sing and to
apply what they are learning.
The first evening some of the students gathered for a lovely dinner together
where we got to know each other! Many students came from different parts of Italy
and there was even an American gentleman who came to Italy specifically for the
On Monday Michelle arrived with her smiling face! She is an educator
who puts you at ease and is always full of positive feedback which results in immediate
changes that help the singer to improve. It is obvious that she loves what she does
and she gives a lot of herself! In the mornings the master class met with Michelle
where she immediately began singing the bass line to a standard and with lots of
repetition, we began to memorize it! Then came the walking bass line! This is challenging
stuff! Most singers never listen to the bass line and we had to really concentrate!!
Michelle really likes singers to work with using their memory and their ears rather
than looking at a lead sheet with the chords! She feels that if you look at a lead
sheet, you never memorize a piece…. she may be right!!! Much emphasis is placed
on learning to sing the chords, singing the bass line and applying this concept
immediately. The goal is to be able to improvise acapella always keeping the chords
in your head so you don't lose the structure of the tune and you know what's coming!
We also worked a lot on rhythms (that being one of the most important aspects in
improvisation) and attitude!
In the afternoons the intermediate class and the master class met together
with Michelle to work more on improvisation and also on three choral pieces that
were performed in concert the final evening of the workshop! In addition to the
improvisation work, each student was able to perform 1-2 songs for Michelle and
receive her feedback on how to improve. And each student performed a solo or duo
at the final concert!
organization of this workshop is very good and we were treated so well! Each day
we had a wonderful lunch and almost every evening there was a jam session or activity
to be involved in! Yes, I am ‘old' and I didn't have the stamina to stay out late
every evening (smile!), but the opportunity was there for everyone to sing and have
fun! Special thanks to
Guido Di Leone
Bassi for their commitment to play at the jam sessions in addition to
accompanying the singers during the workshop!!!
Congratulations to Paola Folli who won this year's prize! Here's
what she says about the workshop. "I came to Spoleto, a bit by chance and it
was a very interesting experience… very tiring, very instructive but thrilling!
Thrilling because, after the first few days of complete chaos in our heads, we were
able to improvise with eighth notes! Eighth notes and double time feel, and even
though the beginning was very exhausting and slow, with Michelle's help it was really
great! It was truly a positive experience and I met really wonderful people.''
Benedetta Orsini said "One thing that was really appreciated was the
organization of the course. I felt embraced and cared for by everyone… for whatever
thing… there was always someone available and we never felt alone! It was like being
Mark Hinkley "It is different and better than I expected. I didn't
know exactly what to expect but I find the musicianship of the students, the teachers,
the actual content of the songs we sing to be spectacular. It is tiring and you
learn by making mistakes and you learn by talking to others and listening to others,
so I had a good week!''
In addition to the students comments, I wanted to get a perspective from
a musician and a singer regarding music and our relationship with each other… So,
I asked Renato Chicco the accompanist and artistic director of Spoleto Jazz….
"Renato, if you could speak to all the singers in the world, what would you say?"
And he responded "Singers should learn to be musicians. That means they should
learn the insides of the music… theory, harmony, form, rhythm…. all those things
that all musicians learn. A great tool to achieve that is with the help of the piano.
The piano should be a singer's best friend! You don't have to play like a pianist,
but know your way around the chords and how to apply this to your singing immediately.
Be able to play for yourself.''
I asked Daniela Panetta, instructor of the intermediate course,
if she could speak to all the musicians in the world, what would she say as a singer?
She responded that, "It is very important that musicians understand that we are
singers! We don't have an instrument in our hands… We don't have keys to press…
We have to think about the note in our head and realize which note we are going
to sing, especially when we scat, or even when we sing and then we produce the sound
with our head…. we have our instrument inside us and so our emotions and mood can
affect our voice…. If we wake up in the morning sad, our voice will be different
than it was yesterday… Musicians must understand that singing is just not mechanical.
It depends on our head and our heart and they should learn to listen. A musician
who accompanies a singer must work in a different way. He has to listen carefully…
not to play over the voice for example… and to be very sensitive to the vocalist!
Make space for the vocalist and help them…. For example, in an intro, don't play
the 9th… play a simple chord so that the vocalist can hear the key. I
suggest that all musicians learn to sing! This will help them to understand some
of the challenges that we face.''
Well, if singing isn't your passion, Spoleto Arts offers writing courses
and cooking courses with the idea of cultural exchange and an educational tourism
in mind. I can say that I received so much at Spoleto Vocal Jazz where the focus
is really on the singer and improvisation! I received so many practical tools to
apply to my singing and to improvisation. So, if you'll please excuse me, I've got
to get back to learning the walking bass line for "Bye
Hope to see you next year in Spoleto!
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Publishing Date: 16/09/2006