Oliver’s Jenavieve Moore, an opera student at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London entertained a standing-room only crowd at a fundraising concert on Sunday August 14. The concert was supported by Oliver Word of Life church and members of the Oliver Community Arts Council.
The lyric soprano performed a generous set of nine pieces, interspersed with some lively entertaining chat about her music studies. Arts council member Stephanie Salsnek acted as mistress of ceremonies, with Val Friesen working hard behind the scenes as producer.
Opening the concert unannounced, Jena sang the Bach-Gounod arrangement of Ave Maria, accompanied by her mother Dorothy Moore on piano. Her final number was to be the equally famous arrangement of the same text by Franz Schubert. Her singing voice was unaffected, warm, and surprisingly rich given her youth and light speaking voice.
Pastor Henry Wiebe, who has known the soprano from childhood, asked a series of questions about Jena’s musical beginnings. She shared some delightful anecdotes from her lessons in piano, flute and voice. She revealed that, far from finding music practice a chore as most children do, music was used as a reward for completing her schoolwork.
In an inspired bit of Friesen’s programming, Jena treated the audience to a behind-the-scenes look at the rehearsal process between soprano and accompanist. Oliver piano students Hanna and Paul Ellis took turns accompanying Jena (pictured). First was the delicate Si mes vers avaient des ailes (“If my verses had wings”) by Reynaldo Hahn followed by the dramatic Zueignung (“Dedication”) by Richard Strauss.
Jena explained how difficult it is to accompany solo voice. “Unlike most instruments, the human voice must breathe. And the singer has the job of conveying the text, as well as music. An accompanist is normally expected to have not only rehearsed the music, but also studied the text. They need to know the breath marks, the translation of the words, their context in the opera, the history of how that piece is performed by that voice.” While the Ellis siblings were not expected to have prepared the texts, it was clear from Moore’s reaction that she was impressed with their piano technique.
After each performance Jena chatted with the Ellises about how to better phrase the music to match her voice and style. At times, she needed a measure to slow down, or a pause inserted, or the volume changed, or a note delayed until she had sung a particular consonant. After listening in on this dialogue between vocalist and accompanist the audience was treated to sections of each song once more. Judging from the gasps, murmurs and nods in the crowd, the audience could well appreciate the improvements in performance when piano and voice collaborated.
“When the pianist understands my voice and the music, I feel incredibly supported, and my performance can improve dramatically,” Jena explained. It was a unique and insightful moment for the audience.
MC Stephanie Salsnek continued the interview asking questions about Jena’s gruelling class schedule at Guildhall. The audience was intrigued to learn that the instructional format focuses almost exclusively on performance, not study. Instructors prepare the students for the rigorous life as a professional artist by surprising them daily with changes to their class schedule, unannounced performances, sight readings, and other stress-inducing challenges. Students must be ready at a moment’s notice to sing on demand in a foreign language, give an interview, conduct a seminar on some operatic topic, and so on, all with a calm professional demeanour. The process is designed to weed out students who cannot handle the typical pressures of a performance artist.
The audience also had an opportunity to question Jena about her voice and education. The young student remained poised and eloquent, already displaying her Guildhall training. In response to a question about caring for her voice, Jena explained that excellent voice coaching in childhood prevented strain and injury. “Common sense” keeps her voice in shape: plenty of sleep, balanced diet, exercise, prompt medical care — and no vices!
She dispelled the stereotype about “fat opera singers standing and singing on stage” by sharing anecdotes about her stage movement classes. Being an opera singer is physically demanding. She must learn a variety of dance styles from stately Renaissance to hip hop. “Many operas are updated to modern settings, so we must be prepared for anything.” She is scheduled to learn stage fighting next year, including hand to hand combat and swordplay. With a shy smile she admitted that opera singers must be prepared to act with passion, not only fight scenes but mad scenes and love scenes as well.
Jena demonstrated the differences in interpretation between two composers who use the same text. Robert Schumann, using the text Du bist wie eine Blume (“You are like the flower”), created a passionate score that reflected a lover’s restrained desire. The ascetic Franz Liszt took the same text but gave it a sacred musical treatment, complete with bell-like chords. The resulting interpretation was a prayer for a young girl’s innocence.
President Penelope Johnson, on behalf of the Oliver Community Arts Council, presented a cheque for $1000 towards Jena’s second-year tuition. She encouraged others to meet that challenge, explaining that expenses continue to skyrocket after graduation. “Between gigs a struggling artist must still pay for rent in high-priced cities, travel, fancy frocks, and fees for voice coaching, accompanists, publicity agent and photographer,” explained Johnson, adding wryly, “and there’s more ‘between’ than ‘gig’”. Many talented hopefuls quit while waiting for their first big break.
To date, Jena has received sponsorship for half of her staggering $26,000 tuition. A free-will collection was held while Jena played John Denver’s Annie’s Song on flute, netting another $1250. In addition, some audience members picked up forms for monthly donations to Jena’s bank account.
Despite the heat of the afternoon, the audience was reluctant to leave, and more than willing to be treated to one final selection. As an encore, Moore displayed her multi-tasking abilities by accompanying herself on the piano while singing the lush Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém (Song to the Moon) from the fairy-tale opera Rusalka by Antonin Dvorak.
The audience recognized Jenavieve’s talent with a standing ovation, and many lingered to speak with her at a reception in the church hall.
For more information about contributing to Jena’s tuition, contact the arts council at olivercac @gmail.com
Photo Credits: Val Friesen (encore Rusalka photo) and Heather Fink