Saturday, November 07, 2009

Interview with Mary Beekman, Transcript, Part 3

Here is the third part of the transcript of my interview with Mary Beekman. The rest will be posted later today! Don't forget, she is conducting Musica Sacra and the Boston Cecilia in the Brahms Requiem on Sunday, 3 pm at Jordan Hall!

Interview with Mary Beekman on 10/31/09 at a Starbucks in Watertown, MA, Part 3

M: So anyway, I had the Harvard-Racliffe graduate chorus.
A: So you had that moment in Park Street.
M: Yes. And then I just really enjoyed – I loved the adulation. Now, it’s interesting, I’ve found – my own personal study, I always ask conductors what sign they were born under.
A: All right.
M: A lot of us are Leos. A lot of Leos.
A: Aries.
M: OK, I always think of Leo as being the vain sign.
A: What would Aries be?
M: Strong.
A: Oh, OK.
M: Which is good! And Leo is the next one in the same house. But we’re all about show. It’s like, “Enough about me! Let’s hear what you think about me!” Jameson Marvin? Leo.
A: [laughing]
M: Leo to the max. The perfect example of a Leo. John Ferris was a Leo. You had some link on your blog that I went to that had conductors. Four of them were Leos. It’s the perfect sign for us, because if people – you know, you could get this thing going, where – I mean, you know that as a conductor, it’s a very powerful thing. And it can work both ways. I mean, it can really work in a negative way, too. And the thing that’s difficult is that people can see you as their parent, and then it blows up in your face, because of the problem that people have with their parents. So first it’s lovely, they have this look of adulation and worship, and then there’s “I quit!” So. Anyway. So then, here’s an interesting thing. After a year of conducting the Harvard Graduate Chorale, I thought, “I want to sing again.” So I tried out for Cecilia Society. I did not get in. In fact, the person who came to tell me said, “No one would dispute your musicianship, but my dear, have you ever considered voice lessons?”
A: Oh, no!
M: And I said, “Yes, I’ve had four years of them!”
A: I’ve said that to people who have come to audition. I’ve been like, “So, maybe you should take voice lessons,” and they’re like, “I’ve been taking four years of voice lessons.” You know.
M: Well, you know, it’s interesting, because it wasn’t until –
A: People with pitch…and their voice is completely back here, you know.
M: Well, my voice was completely back there, because that’s all I’d ever used it to – and it took me fifteen years of working with singers, that one day I remember singing something, and thinking, “Oh, there it is! There it is here!” But you know, when you’re a sophomore, and you’ve been here all your life, and somebody’s talking “putting it here,” that means nothing to you, nothing. And one of the things I really appreciated about Yuko is that I had grown up having teachers that were great performers. And they’re not usually good teachers, because it all came to them very easily. Yuko was someone who really was a good teacher because she had to figure it out for herself. And I like to feel that that makes me a better conductor, a vocal conductor, because I’ve worked on my voice my entire life. And as an example – I know, I keep digressing – I’d heard a lot about McClosky. Have you heard about the McClosky method?
A: I mean, it sound vaguely familiar, but I know nothing about it.
M: Well, McClosky was a guy in the 40’s who was a voice teacher, and was having vocal issues, and couldn’t find any help from doctors, so he resolved them himself, and developed this method. And his thesis is that we have all these voluntary muscles, here, that we use to eat and speak. We don’t need them to sing, but we do use them. And so you get rid of all your voluntary muscles to allow everything to be properly placed. So I went to this, just five years ago, and there were five people in my group, and at the end of the weekend I realized the teacher was demonstrating to the other teachers the progress people had made in order of the amount of progress they had made. So there was a professional tenor, and it was me and him were the last two people. And I was like, “Please pick him first, because then I will have made the most progress, pick him first!” She picked him first. So then I knew I had really assimilated everything she had to teach. But what was interesting was that she said, “See how much freer that is?” And with everyone else, she had said, “See how much prettier that is?” And so I said, “You said freer, but you didn’t say prettier.” And she immediately, she’s like, “Oh, well, you have a nice voice.” And the former tenor soloist said, “Well, it’s true that you could never have a professional career as a soloist.” And I tell you, I was right back in Cecilia. I was like, “Oof!”
A: Ouch.
M: But I’ve found with my own singers, if someone has a beautiful instrument, they can do a hell of a lot wrong with it, and it’s still going to sound gorgeous. If you have an ordinary instrument, or even a not very attractive instrument, you have to really work to make it. So I feel that really stands in my stead as a director. I know what it takes to become, to produce well vocally. Because I have to really do it myself. Now, what was interesting about McClosky was that I had made all this progress, but they make the presumption you know how to stand, and they couldn’t get me to stand correctly. They were like, “Do this! Do this!” I mean, they just couldn’t do it. So then I’m like, OK, I need to do Alexander. So I’ve been doing Alexander for the last five years.
A: Do you have a teacher that you’re working with?
M: I do, I do.
A: And do you like her?
M: Yes, I do. And I got her name from a woman who was sent to her by Tamara Brooks when she was at NEC. So I’m happy to give you her name.
A: Yes, what is it?
M: Stephanie Segers. I think if you Google her, Segers, Boston.
A: I’ve been intending to do Alexander Technique for years.
M: Yes, well, I’ve done it now for four years. In fact, I had a lesson this morning. But anyway, so I didn’t get into Cecilia, so I’m 23 and I’m heartbroken. My organ teacher from college is conducting a group called Musica Sacra. She says, “Well, you know, I need an alto, so come join us.” So I sang with them for two years, and then she wanted a year off. So they held auditions. And I was the second. I did not get the job, I was the second. The first person was a guy named Jamie Armstrong who had gotten his Masters from Robert Fountain in Wisconsin. And that year was very instructive for everybody on how it was more important – there were other things that were equally important to being a good musician. The morale plummeted, because the guy – if you ask me, I went to work with Robert Fountain later, and the guy had really absorbed everything he taught, which was to never say a positive word. The two weeks I worked with Robert Fountain, the one positive thing he said was, “Well, isn’t that something.” That’s the most positive comment we ever got out of him. So the group, that year, started to look at the fact that this other conductor might not be coming back, and what would they be doing? And they said, “OK, we want to incorporate so we have more control. If somebody’s not working out we can fire them.” So they incorporated, and they held auditions.
A: So they did fire him. Or he just left?
M: Yes. Well, it was a one-year position.
A: Oh, I see, so they didn’t have to re-hire him.
M: Exactly, and he wasn’t happy, obviously, either, because –
A: He never said anything nice.
M: Exactly. So the dynamic just went “errrrrrr” [down noise].
[break in tape]
A: -- put it back on. Oh, well. [Note: I thought I had put the recorder back on and forgot, so what follows is a swift recap of the previous portion of the conversation.]
M: 26, I became director of Musica Sacra. Memorial Church in 1982, I was hired to do the spring semester. In fact, Anne Manson, who’s now a major conductor, she was a senior. So I worked with her. Samuel Wong, who was an assistant at the New York Philharmonic, he was also a senior at that time. So it was – you really had good people to work with. And then I did Chorus pro Musica, I was hired in the fall of ’86. I’m sorry, in the fall of ’83. [Note: to be their accompanist.]
A: So you were there for two years.
M: Two years.
A: And then you got pregnant.
M: Then I got pregnant. So that went, and the Concord Madrigals went. I knew I wanted to do Musica Sacra, and I knew I wanted to do church music, because that was where 90% of my salary came from. Now, just to backtrack, when I took over Musica Sacra, the budget…well, the conductor had bought all the music out of her own – she didn’t pay herself a salary, and she bought all the music out of her own pocket. So when I took it over, it was a twice-a-year performance, performing in University Lutheran Church in Cambridge, which – have you ever been inside there? You should take a look inside there. Lutheran, cement, not very aesthetically appealing. Twenty people. Tickets sold on the day of the concert only. And now we’re four concerts a year, web presence, which of course didn’t exist then. But we didn’t even have a – staff! That’s new. Although curiously and not surprisingly, the staff is paid more than I am. Because, of course, we love what we do, right, so you’re going to find –
A: Collectively or individually?
M: Well, the E.D. is paid more than I’m paid. Oh, well, yes, of course, because she wouldn’t take the job otherwise. I mean, we’ll take it regardless, right?
A: Yeah.
M: I try to be OK with that, because I knew that would happen when we finally got to that point. And the fact is, I think that relative to other conductors in the area for what I do, except for maybe Cecilia Society, I’m probably paid better. I know I’m paid better than John Ehrlich is. Because they once did a look-around at other people’s salaries when they were trying to gauge what to pay me. And I’m paid a lot relative to other groups, but I’m not paid as much as the E.D.
A: Are you comfortable, if I turn this off, sharing…
M: Yes.
[break in the tape]

(to be continued!)

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