Brian Zeger hopes to bring an appreciation of how multi-layered singing is to Chautauqua.
Zeger, artistic director of the vocal arts program at The Juilliard School, will hold a master class for voice students and the public at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, July 4 in McKnight Hall.
Zeger helps select the operas that Juilliard will perform each year, and he leads the charge in casting, and selecting the conductors, directors and designers for those operas. Zeger, who has been at Juilliard for 18 years, has also come to Chautauqua to teach for many years.
Based on Zeger’s own experience teaching master classes, he finds “that people that come watch singers being taught come away with an appreciation for how multi-layered vocal education is.”
Zeger himself is a leading collaborative pianist who has performed with many of the world’s greatest singers, so he’s aware of the multi-layered challenges that are exclusive to singers, including text and acting.
“Unlike an instrumentalist, who of course is dealing with playing their instruments and all the musical challenges, singers are also dealing with text, very often dealing with foreign languages, which they did not grow up speaking,” Zeger said. “And they’re dealing with an acting dimension, which is extra for singers on top of what instrumentalists have to do. So it’s very multi-layered.”
And for Zeger, these layers reinforce one another.
“I find that the acting encourages the vocalism, and the music-making encourages the examination of texts, et cetera,” he said. “So you go from one point of view to another, and each of them strengthens the other as they improve.”
Zeger also finds it “a huge pleasure” to meet singers who are new to him, especially those in Chautauqua, where Marlena Malas is chair of the Voice Program. Zeger and Malas teach together at The Juilliard School.
“Marlena has a fantastic nose for finding new talent from all around the country and all around the world, so Chautauqua has always been a very fertile place for me to come meet new talent,” Zeger said. “Some … may audition for Juilliard. Some won’t. But in any case, it’s just wonderful to meet talented young people who are new to me from all over the place.”
During the master class, Zeger will be teaching art songs and working with voice students at the piano. Zeger picked art songs because they are primarily written for voice and piano, whereas opera songs may require additional instruments.
“Song is a wonderful place for singers to learn their skills because they are working with first-class poetry and first-class music at the same time,” Zeger said. “So it gives them a wonderful place to negotiate that fascinating intersection of of words and music that make great singing.”
In terms of teaching, Zeger hopes to give the voice students a few more tools to put in their toolkit.
“It’s the work that a singer does in the practice room, working hard on the music, which we do for our entire career,” Zeger said. “So we have to always be sharpening our tools, and adding tools to our toolkit for how we approach songs, … because (of) this multi-layered nature of singing. There are many, many aspects to consider. So, young people are constantly learning new strategies for how to work on music.”