School of Music Students Begin the Season with Piano Play-In, Voice Sing-In

Matthew Payne performs at the Voice Program’s annual Sing-In at Fletcher Music Hall on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. HALDAN KIRSCH/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The School of Music will begin the 2019 season with two public events where voice and piano students can show their skills to peers and faculty for the first time.

Monday, June 24 at 2 p.m. in Sherwood-Marsh Studios, each of the 21 piano students in the School of Music will perform a short piece they have chosen, approximately three minutes each, at the annual piano Play-In. At 2 p.m. Tuesday in McKnight Hall, the School of Music’s voice program will have its annual Sing-In, which is similar to the Play-In — each of the 47 voice students will get to sing a piece for the other members of the program.

The students are of pre-professional skill level and come mostly from undergraduate and graduate programs at some of the world’s top music schools. These events are their first chance to play and sing in person for their peer pianists and vocalists, who they will be working with throughout the summer.

For the piano students, it is the start of a summer that will, for the first time, last six weeks instead of the usual five due to a $1 million donation to the Piano Program.

Milbauer sees this event as the start of a particularly special season because of the extra week.

“(The Play-In is) an icebreaker for the students,” said John Milbauer, co-chair of the program. “(So that) when they play in their first real public event they’ll be less anxious.”

Milbauer said that although piano faculty have seen the talents of the students in their audition videos, they can learn more about the students through the quality of their sound on the piano that can only be heard in person. Seeing the students play live helps Milbauer and the other faculty get an idea of what each student should focus on in their course of study at Chautauqua. Most telling of all is what each student decides to perform.

“The choice of piece probably influences us more than anything,” Milbauer said.

Xizhu Liang, a piano student in her second year at Mannes School of Music in New York City, said she will play Schumann Carnaval, Op. 9 for her first performance.

“This is a very significant piece of Schumann’s work, and I like its grand opening a lot,” Liang said. “Since it has 22 variations, it’s a big challenge to perform each one with different characters, (so it’s) a good piece to improve musicality.”

Biguo Xing, a first-year pianist at The Juilliard School, will play Chopin Mazurka Op. 33 No. 1.

“I’m hoping to use the summertime in this charming town to develop my musicianship as a pianist, as well as building friendships with fellow students,” Xing said.

Similar to the Play-In, the Voice Program’s Sing-In is “a chance for everybody to hear everybody and for the students to be introduced to the community,” said Donna Gill, head coach and scheduling administrator for the Voice Program.

However, the Sing-In has an added element of pressure not present in the Play-In. Gill said she and the other members of the voice faculty use the Sing-In as an opportunity to make decisions about roles that have not yet been cast in the summer’s performances, as well as who will work with guest artists who come to teach masterclasses throughout the season. The three main shows the voice students will present this summer are two operas — A Midsummer Night’s Dream arranged by Benjamin Britten and I Capuleti e i Montecchi by Vincenzo Bellini — and one musical, The Fantasticks by Tom Jones.

Sebastian Armendariz, a graduate of DePaul University who is returning to the Voice Program in the School of Music for a second year, will be singing “Seul sur la terre,” an aria from the opera Dom Sébastien.

“It’s something that fits my voice very well,” Armendariz said. “It’s dramatic but also very exciting … It’s a good introduction to what I can do as a singer.”

Meredith Smietana, a graduate student at Mannes School of Music, will sing “Faites-lui mes aveux” from the opera Faust. It is her first year at Chautauqua and her first time at the Sing-In.

“It’s important to show who you are but also to perform something you love,” she said. “Vocally, (the piece) puts me in a good light, but I also love the aria, so I’ll be able to share what’s inside of me with the audience.”

Unlike in the Piano Program, the voice students will hold a Sing-Out event at the end of the season as a counterpart to the Sing-In.

“(The Sing-Out is) generally a lot less nerve-racking,” Gill said. “It’s more of a fun thing that we do to close out the summer.

Between the two events, students in every part of the School of Music will participate in master classes, recitals and performances as they work with their peers and faculty to improve their craft.

“I think when you surround yourself with colleagues as talented as that, you really only give yourself potential to grow,” Armendariz said.

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The author Julia Arwine

Julia Arwine is a rising junior at Miami University in Ohio, where she studies journalism and interactive media studies. She will be covering the School of Music this summer. Julia’s three main ambitions in life are to write for National Geographic, to be a chef and to own a sheep farm in Scotland — not necessarily in that order.