Here's the transcription of the third part of my interview with Amelia LeClair. You can find the first part here, and the second part here, and there is more to come. Don't forget that Cappella Clausura, the group she directs, is performing this weekend! (Also next weekend!)
Interview with Amelia LeClair at the Cafe Algiers, Cambridge, MA, on 4/22/09, cont.
A: And then I graduated 2003, and right away I started Cappella Clausura. And I called up my friend Laurie Monahan, who had been my voice teacher for some time, and we became fast friends because she’s such a fabulous woman, and I said, “What do you think?” And she said, “Well, let me put you in touch with some students from Longy, and see what you can put together.” And I put together eight singers. And then a ninth person came along, who was a fellow parent from my elementary school where my kids were going. And her name was Sharon Kelley. And I said, “I know about you! Don’t you sing with Camerata?” And she said, “Yes, I do.” And we started to chat, because both of our sons were in some kind of little rock and roll group, and I told her that I was putting together this group. She said, “I want to sing with you! Can I sing with you?” And I said, “Of course you can sing with me!” And she said, “I’ll have to audition.” Being Sharon, she wanted to do everything right. And I said, “OK. You can audition. But I’m sure you’ll be fine, you’ve been singing with Camerata.” So she joined the group too. So I had nine singers for my very first concert. And I sang –
Q: Eight squirts and Sharon.
A: Yeah, right. Right. And it was actually not bad. It could have been better, but…
Q: And right from the beginning you decided to do women’s compositions.
A: Yes. Laurie Monahan –
Q: Told you you needed a hook, or--?
A: No, she was the one, actually – I’ve always been interested in -- have there ever been any women composers. Because part of what I did – I need to backtrack for a moment – when I went to UMass Boston I graduated with a degree in composition and theory, because I can’t play an instrument. So I thought, “OK, well, I’ll just think music.” So composition and theory were my majors, with which you can do so much in the world. And so I was always interested in why I didn’t know anything about women composers. You know, Ruth Crawford Seeger, maybe. Amy Beach, who was kind of called “Mrs. H. H. H. H. Beach.” And you kind of wondered who are these women, and why are there only two? How come we only hear about two? Laurie Monahan said to me at one voice lesson, “Oh, I know about some women who composed in the sixteenth century and the seventeenth century.” “No shhht!” So she showed me. She said, “Oh, yes, look at this, this is a woman named Cozzolani.” And she turned me on to this whole repertoire. She and Candace Smith, who lives in Italy now, went to the Schola Basiliensis back in the 70’s. And they were bombing around Switzerland and Italy together, two American girls getting their Masters degrees at the Schola Basiliensis, which is in I think Basil, I’m not sure. And bombing around Italy and Switzerland and finding all this old music. So in the 70’s they started digging this stuff up. Well, Candace Smith stayed in Italy, she’s still there. And she started a group called Cappella Artemisia, after the artist Artemisia Gentileschi, who is one of the few female artists to be recognized.
Q: And then they started the Artemisia – isn’t that a publisher?
A: Artemisia Editions, yes. She started basically – I think when computers came along, she started putting really nice editions together. So I got in touch with Candy, because she’s a friend of Laurie’s, and I said, “Can you send me the music?” And she was the one who sent me the Cozzolani Vespers, and that was my first concert, was with Candy’s music, and Laurie’s singers, and me. [laughs] Yes. So.
Q: And do you want to just – I mean, I am aware of some of it, but do you want to trace the history of Cappella so far?
A: Yes. We started –
Q: Six years, now?
A: Yes, this is – actually, I think March of this year, 2009, 2004 – was our fifth anniversary. Yes. So, cool. I started it in March of 2003. No, 2004, I’m sorry. Is that right? Yes, because I graduated in 2003. So we have gone through a number of iterations. We started out with just eight people, I guess it went to nine people. And then I started out also thinking that I would go along the same lines as most choirs, which is to rehearse once a week and put on a concert at the end of the season. And do two concerts a year kind of a thing. And the more I auditioned singers, and the more I thought about how these – how the people that I wanted to work with worked themselves, and also the fact that I wanted to pay singers, I realized that I would have to go along the opera model, which is to have rehearsals close to the concert, and then no rehearsals. So that everybody could take other jobs. So that’s what I started doing, and I’ve been doing it for about four years. And we’ve gone through, like I said, a lot of iterations. A lot of people coming in and out the door. Some perhaps less qualified to sing early music than others. Because early music really requires a certain kind of instrument. It also requires a certain kind of technique which I’m still learning about. We just had a fabulous couple of workshops with a woman named Sally Sanford, who teaches, for example, the difference between Italian and French style singing. And it was fascinating, really fascinating. Wow. What a difference it makes. So the more I’ve worked with these big voices, which I love, I mean, I just love operatic voices, I love opera, I love early music, I want to put it all together. And one of the things, actually this is a little side-track, but one of the things that I think about when I think about this women’s music is that because it was written by women, it was meant for women’s voices, not boys. So you’re not supposed to sound like a boy when you sing it. You’re supposed to sound like a woman. And it was also written by Italians, who don’t go along the English model of straight-tone. They’re a little more passionate about the way they do things, and a little more perhaps chaotic, and I love that. So I was inviting women with big voices to sing this stuff. And I still am inviting women with, you know, trained voices, not your average choral voice, but trained voices, like yours, like everybody.
Q: I mean, I’m not…
A: It’s not huge, but it’s a good voice.
Q: I’m very firmly in the early music-y, baroque-y, you know…
A: Yes, your voice is actually perfect, because you don’t have to –
Q: It’s straight. [laughs]
A: Well, you don’t have to, you know, rearrange it or anything to make it work.
Q: [laughs] I have an image of you [mimes putting on gloves and tinkering as with an engine]
A: Throw this out, throw that out. Pack it together. Straighten it down, tie up the strings.
Q: Like a little cartoon where it’s a like a little blur, wshhht –
A: Here it is, it’s an early music voice now!
Q: Right, exactly.
A: But I think there’s also a really big misconception about early music voices that they need to be small, and they need to be sort of pipe-y. And I want to have, in this music, I want to have voices that are real, and full, and have a true fundament to them. And sing with a lot of gusto. But at the same time, sing in what is authentic style, which I am learning more and more about, as I said, and as I understand it, in the Baroque era, vibrato was an ornament. It wasn’t something that you had all the time. So operatic vibrato especially is something that you need to be very careful about. So you take a great big voice, and you ask that person who has never tried to sing Baroque music to sing Baroque music, and they’re going to sing it like they sing Rossini, you know, or Donizetti or Verdi. Or, god forbid, Wagner. And it’s not going to work, because the style is just so radically different. And also because you have to sing coloratura. And if you’ve never even sung coloratura, then you’re going to have big, big trouble. So we’ve been through iterations of a lot of different voices. Some of them I auditioned, and I just loved their voices, and I took them in, and they weren’t quite right. They should have been singing Brahms, which is fabulous music, but it’s not what I’m doing. So now I think we’ve arrived at a steadier roster of singers. There are eighteen people on our roster. Out of which I try to choose people who can manage to make X concert or Y concert. And because we sing music that is medieval as well as Baroque, as well as modern, there are certain voices that I will choose according to their style. For example, in February we just did an almost all chant and modern program, a fabulous program. We’re going to do it again for the Boston Early Music Festival on June 9, at 12:00 at Gordon Chapel.
Q: And are you doing the caravan piece?
A: Yes. Yes. I love that piece, it’s so great. This is a piece by a woman named Abbie Betinis, whose sister sings with Cappella Clausura. Laura Betinis. Fabulous voice. When she sings her sister’s stuff, she’s amazing. She’s just amazing. Really, it’s very cool. And so we did chant along with that. So for that program, I was able to sing, which was fun. And also take on a couple of true choral voices, you know, to sing – as they call themselves, spackle – to sing the fill. Because they can, you know, because voices that are less big and trained by NEC can sing chant very successfully. So I will have, you know, singers who can do this and singers who can do that, and choose according to the program.
[to be continued!]