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Gradus ad Parnassum

Clementi wrote his Gradus ad Parnassum as a means to facilitate playing proficiency through a series of etudes. And what are the steps the budding singer should take to arrive at Parnassus? Who are the artists to be emulated, which are the exemplary performances to study?

Concurrently with technical training, musical understanding and eloquence should be developed through piano, solfege and musical studies. Learning entire roles, creating believable characters, and practicing performance should follow. Cultural studies would add depth to our interpretations. These and other elements will aid the performer in becoming a well rounded artist.

Sometimes singers concentrate on learning “the notes” accurately without dynamic shading or phrasing. Some mean matching the pitches in the score in the correct order and with their respective duration. Inadvertently, sometimes the singer internalizes this reproduction of “the notes” and carries it into the performance.

Some music professionals are overworked. Little by little, inspiration wanes and routine sets in. And how can uninspired music making further the musical instincts of the singer? A short note begins to have the same relevance as a long note, a sharp dissonance as a consonance, and pretty soon, the shades of chiaroscuro that translate the underlying musical gestures and relationships into sound are out the window. We are left with eins, zwei, drei…

Recently I saw a video of a performance by a star student of a leading university music program. The notes were there and little else- no phrasing, musical idea development, dynamic shading, or evidence of understanding of the text. What went wrong here? Does the student have a clear sense of the direction to follow? How far along in her artistic path should a student be to present a recital? Can that be quantified at all?

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