Here's the transcription of the sixth part of my interview with Amelia LeClair. You can find the previous parts here: one, two, three, four, five, and there is one more part to come. Don't forget that Cappella Clausura, the group she directs, is performing this weekend! They will be at Grace Church in Salem this Sunday, May 10, at 7:30 pm. (They also performed this past weekend - hopefully some of you made it to those concerts!)
Interview with Amelia LeClair at the Cafe Algiers, Cambridge, MA, on 4/22/09, cont.
Q: Who are some of your favorite conductors?
A: My favorite conductors?
Q: People that you really respect, people that you would look to emulate, people that you admire.
A: Hm. Well. Simon, of course. I have never sung for David Hoose, but I understand he’s pretty damn good, I’d like to see him, I’d like to sing for him, but I don’t think that I ever will. Let’s see. You know, I haven’t sung for a lot of people, so I don’t really know, because I don’t have a lot of experience. This is the anomaly of my life, I haven’t had the experience to be a conductor or even a singer –
Q: Except –
A: Except…right. I don’t know. I always think I should join a choir, but I don’t have time.
Q: Yes, it’s time-consuming.
A: Yes. Another night out.
Q: Are there big-name conductors that you may have seen conduct a symphony, or not even, but have read interviews with, or…?
A: Well, actually, when I grew up, yes. When I grew up I thought George Szell was god. I loved George Szell. I never went to see him conduct, because I didn’t have that kind of money, but I bought every recording he ever made. I also really liked – well, OK. I didn’t like Leonard Bernstein. I didn’t like Seiji Ozawa. I didn’t like Daniel Barenboim. I mean, all the orchestral conductors, the big guys, the big-wigs, I was very finicky about them. Because I grew up – well, I taught myself, really, by listening to a lot of orchestral music. And, you know, when you get to know a piece really, really well then you compare the way you’ve heard it to another rendition, and you kind of know, “OK, this is what I like, this is what I don’t like.” One of the things I always liked about George Szell was I loved all the Mozart symphonies. And one of the things that George Szell did which I thought was fabulous was that he always brought out the woodwinds.
A: He brought out the woodwinds. And you would never hear them in other renditions. You know, Eugene Ormandy, oh, lush strings, and that’s all you would hear was lush strings, well, where’s that clarinet? Where is that incredible clarinet? So I’m always listening for that – somebody who brings out that thing, that particular sound that I know is in there, and I’m listening but I’m not hearing it. I don’t know, that doesn’t answer your question very well.
Q: No, that does answer it! Very well. Before I get to the little ten-question ending questionnaire, what skills would you tell young conductors to go acquire?
A: People skills. [laughs]
Q: Good answer.
A: Yes. People skills. I think – you can go a long way to being successful with your choir if you can humor them into doing everything that you want them to do. And you need to humor them. I don’t think – what’s the word?
A: Brow-beating, yes! [laughs] It doesn’t work. It just makes people feel bad. And being autocratic doesn’t work. It just makes people feel bad. And singers – I mean, I’m one of them. I’ve had my throat just kind of close up when somebody yells at me. It doesn’t work. I want my throat to be nice and open and relaxed, I don’t want it to feel like, “Ugh.” So, humor I think is really big. Looking at your singers as much as you can. Oh, I know. I sang for a guy, Norm MacKenzie. Wonderful guy. He’s the preparer for the Robert Shaw – has been for many years – for the Robert Shaw Chorale. I don’t know who he’s conducting now, but I sang for a week with him, sort of, you know, 24-7 we were together, this small group, 30 people and Norm MacKenzie. And when he conducted us, he looked at every one of us with this look in his eyes like, “You are the most important person in this piece.” And it made you feel like, “OK, I’ll give you anything.” When somebody looks at you like that, you just want to give them your entire life. You say, “OK, you got it! I’ll sing loud, I’ll sing high, I’ll sing low, I’ll sing whatever you want.” Because there’s just a look like, “Oh, aren’t you psyched about this, aren’t you excited, don’t you want to work for me?” That makes a lot of difference, I think. And I try to do that – I think that’s really important. Again, it’s people skills. It’s connecting with your singers on a level that you may not be comfortable doing outside of rehearsal, or you don’t have to do it outside of rehearsal. But inside rehearsal, you have to be the light. You have to be the eyes. You have to be everything.
[to be continued!]