s01e01 About the project

Klára Kolonits

What will we talk about?

  • Why is it so important that many people pick up singing study?
  • What do I think about Bocuse d’Or?
  • Which great singer started out as a car mechanic?
  • Why do we need opera audience?
  • What can help a great singer who is going through vocal or emotional struggle?

I’d rather read than watch.

No problem! Just scroll down for the transcript.

When I saw the scholarship program of MMA I thought of something that many people ask my opinion on: I could take it as an opportunity to present my point of view on new techniques and ideas in singing education. Of course there are personal experiences that I would like to mention, based on which I had the idea in my mind.

For me, the solfeggio group of Zsuzsa Avar was of crucial importance. It was different, because we learned music theory, solfeggio, music literature, counterpoint all on very high level, but the practical lessons were almost all spent on simply making music, chamber music. We got an ocean of information, in which everyone was free to swim the way they could and wanted to.

Now I would like to make such a pedagogical experiment myself, also within the frames of this project. I would like to create such a place for young singers, a kind of a greenhouse for singer seedlings, where everyone would get the basics in music theory or solfeggio, because this is applicable everywhere, but I am not convinced that young people between 18 and 20 years old are ready to decide on the music genre they want to make career in.
I would happily teach art song, folk song, classical pieces, opera, but musical or jazz too. This would let us explore everyone’s talents and see which is the area when they are most successful. It may not always be the first organic interest of the young singer. I would like to involve professionals who hear the subtle colours in a voice and can tell: you have affinity for this style, and you have talent for another.

Of course, we can ask: why is it important that we attract more young people towards vocal studies? Why we should have so many candidates, among whom eventually only a couple will reach the stars?

This question has been on my mind for a long time already. In the book of Endre Czeizel (A zenei tehetség gyökerei – The roots of musical talent) there is a whole idea of inheritance of musical talents. Czeizel distinguished two models. One he called “a pyramid”, the other – “a geyser”.

József Simándy, tenor

Let’s talk geysers first. Let’s think of a singer in whose family there was no music tradition, he didn’t study music, and yet at some point in their lives someone “discovered” them. Such an example can be József Simandy, a Hungarian tenor still known and admired to this day. In the 40’s he was working as a car mechanic, when someone heard him singing and said: “Hey you! You have a golden mine in your throat!”.

Without any preparation, any anticipation, his talent exploded – like a geyser.

And apparently it didn’t matter that he did not come from a very educated family – of course, he made sure to make up for this during his studies and career – he ended up being an ideal Lohengrin. Somehow in a very visceral way he was a noble knight, even if his surroundings could hardly be described as aristocratic.
There are impromptu talents, usually male voices, who are great physics or maths professors and all of a sudden end up on opera stage. They give up a safe position of their previous job for an unpredictable life of an opera soloist. You need to consider that it is impossible to be a member of an ensemble, with a job contract. It is not difficult to understand, I think, what does it mean, especially for a man, to have no regular income. You have a hard time risking to build a family on that, and you cannot build an opera house on accidentally emerging geyser-talents.
A theatre can only work efficiently and in a stable way, when among the ensemble you have one top level soprano in each Fach, and at least two other very good ones. Anything can happen, a schedule conflict or a sickness, and if there is no one to jump in for the main role, we have a problem. Nowadays at Hungarian State Opera if someone who sings an important role gets sick, they invite a foreign singer. What’s more, there are voice types that the theatre does not have in the ensemble at all. And the reason is the lack of the Czeizel’s second model.

The pyramid model, that I find more optimal, played an important role in my life too. From my generation,

about eighty equally talented people started a singing career in Hungary.

Some went to music school, some completed their studies in private. And at some point, being 20-25 years old, all these people started to aim at a soloist career. They all aimed at Hungarian State Opera, the most important institution in this area in Hungary. They all dreamt of singing smaller, medium, eventually big roles on that stage.
I could compare it to a very difficult marathon, and I have some difficult personal experiences linked to it too, as many of my friends, much more talented than myself, ended up being ejected by the system. There were much higher expectations towards them, than initially there were towards me. Some of them had personal problems, some were affected by poor repertoire choice, some struggled with their physical or mental health. But there were eighty of us to begin with, so in some voice types there is still some of us left, two or three really great singers, of course usually rivaling with each other, all putting the bar upper and upper. The pyramid gets more like an Eiffel tower, as it approaches the top.

I think that in such an institution like Hungarian State Opera the ones being chosen should be really the best candidates, and that they should get roles appropriate for them. But this won’t work, unfortunately, as life is cruel, without the rest of the eighty people who once started this marathon.

I always say: there is no replacement in the long run, in the depth. Imagine a battle, where there is only the first row of the best warriors, but no one behind them, who can replace them. And even the best can get tired, or hurt in the battle. This can happen with a singer too.

Margit László, soprano

Time ago a vocal problem did not end a singer’s career. There was someone else who stepped ahead, and the first one could have some time to figure it all out. I can tell an example of Margit László, who had some vocal issues at a time. They called together a whole council of advisers at the opera house! They asked: dear Margit, how can we help you back to the top? Do you need time? Do you need vocal coach? Other roles? And you know what? She got back there to the top, and even higher than before.

If we want to play this sport – and consider that this is not all about one main role, it is a team sport – on a very high level, then we need to fill all the layers with singers. And yes, major part of these eighty people will end up being the audience – educated audience. You can say: what is the purpose of this noble entertainment, on a purely economic level? What’s the purpose of having eighty people trying to be a musician, but ending up as the audience? Yes, we need them, because

consumers are needed for art, and art consuming makes the society nobler.

I could compare opera to fine dining. Like Bocuse d’Or in gastronomy. Yes, you can ask: what is the economical purpose of creating these wonderful minuscule plates? The purpose is: because there is need for that too. A culture of a country can also only be built securely on a pyramid-model. Those who are consumers of the highest levels of culture, will pass the nobility of it on to the other, less educated layers.

Yes, we really are in need of the highest level of culture, because it changes the mindset of a society for the better and everything starts from there.

If we want this higher culture to be again present and impact all levels, we need to reform the education process itself.

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