What Does It Take To Be a "Resonance Singer"?

We are so lucky in Portland to have incredibly talented singers who are also some of the loveliest people around!

I have come to feel that we have a musical family here, with top-notch singers and instrumentalists who are not only technically able but who commit wholeheartedly to the musical process. They are adventurous and versatile, able to do early music through wild new music.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m able to choose specific singers for a project based on the vocal color and musical demands of the project. These singers come from a list of people who I have already collaborated with or have heard audition. While our roster may vary by concert, there are skills that make a “Resonance singer.”

These musicians are:

  • technically proficient, with flawless intonation, the ability to sing with and without vibrato, and dynamic range and control
  • emotionally expressive through their voices           
  • able to read and learn complex, challenging music

But there’s an ineffable quality of our most successful Resonance musicians, too – they are gutsy and excited about doing wildly varied music. They “geek out” on early music and Schoenberg and jazz. They like the challenge of singing with Resonance, with a group of people who are asked to come to their first rehearsal having mastered the music in advance so that we can spend our rehearsal time focusing on nuance.

And, most important, they have heart.


Let's Talk about Repertoire!


When we announced this blog on Facebook, several of our supporters said they would love to hear more about the behind-the-scenes process for Resonance Ensemble events. How do the creative juices get flowing? How do our concerts come together?

So, today, I’d like to talk about repertoire! Usually there is some kernel of an idea that comes first, that gets me really excited, and everything spins forth from that seed. Sometimes the idea is for a specific theme (“Back in the U.S.S.R.”), and then I brainstorm and research particular works that could fit that theme.

Or sometimes there is a particular vocal work that I have been dreaming of doing (Stravinsky’s Les Noces was like this). I reflect on what makes that work special (musically, emotionally, poetically) and consider what other works could be a good fit on a program. Here I like to think about what works would be interesting contrasts for the audience.  I want each concert to have a rewarding arc for the listeners, so the program order needs to be just right. And, practically speaking, if the main work on a concert is going to be extraordinarily challenging for the musicians and need a lot of rehearsal time, I pair it with works that can be rehearsed more quickly.

When I know the repertoire for the concert, I can start thinking about the palette of vocal color that would be ideal for that music. The beauty of Resonance Ensemble is that we have a roster of singers with different vocal colors, so that we can tailor the roster for any given performance to the exact demands of the concert. If we are doing “Dirty, Stupid Music,” we can choose singers who are dirty and stupid! (Just kidding…) But I’ll leave off the discussion of choosing singers until our NEXT blog post!


On Resonance Ensemble + Gratitude

In December 2009, I sat down with two musical friends and started to daydream about a kind of vocal ensemble we envisioned. We dreamed of working with Portland's finest singers and instrumentalists, creating an ensemble to perform innovative, thematic, multidisciplinary programs. We wanted the ensemble to perform everything from medieval chant to cutting-edge new music, with changes in color and style to match the repertoire.

After a few truly terrible name brainstorms (while I would never name a choir after myself, we joked that the Kathy FitzGibbon Chorale would hilariously be abbreviated KFC), we opted for Resonance Ensemble, because we wanted to explore music's resonance with other art forms and with our audience.

Now, in our fifth season, we have performed dozens of concerts, including in partnerships with other Portland arts organizations (Third Angle New Music, Portland Chamber Orchestra, the Portland Art Museum, and March Music Moderne) and with guest artists including the Oregon Poet Laureate and Venerable Showers of Beauty Gamelan Ensemble.

Recently, one of Resonance's long-time singers asked me to start a blog. She suggested that our audiences might enjoy hearing more about the process of creating Resonance's programs, having some "inside scoop" on some of the composers and artists in a more regular form rather than having to wait for the concert, and our program notes, to learn more!

So here it is, my first blog post. For this first trip to the blogosphere, I'd like to express my gratitude to all of you. I'm grateful for the support of our Portland community, especially our musicians and our Board of Directors. I'm grateful that we are able to make music ranging from the naughty (this fall's hilarious "Dirty, Stupid Music," or 2013's "The Big Oh!") to the deepest kinds of feelings that music can express ("War and Peace" coming up in June, for example). (Do you like how I was able to get a plug for our June concert into a discussion of gratitude? I'm grateful that you are bearing with me, nonetheless!)

And I'm grateful to our donors who make this all possible. Working with these musicians and connecting with our audiences are really dreams come true, and it is thanks to your support that we can continue to make this vision a reality. Thank you, and I look forward to connecting with you in the blog over the months to come.

(Photo: my son Will, mesmerized at his first choral rehearsal, November 2014)

(Photo: my son Will, mesmerized at his first choral rehearsal, November 2014)