by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
Musicians and music appreciators alike got new views of the craft when German vocal ensemble Singer Pur returned to campus last week after serving a residency in 2013. Described by BBC Music Magazine as having “a razor-sharp sense of pitch and a focused, pure tone … something truly rich and marvelous,” the celebrated ensemble served a two-day residency that included vocal master classes with Dickinson's choir, Collegium and student a cappella groups; composition readings; a public concert; and visits to classes in music and German language and culture.
For Skylar Mead ’17 (music, history), a member of Professor of Music Robert Pound’s composition class, the pinnacle of the week arrived when Singer Pur performed two movements of her work-in-progress. “In the past, I have had readings with the JACK String Quartet, Amernet String Quartet and Relâche, but working with vocalists is a completely different experience,” said Mead, adding that after an encouraging reading (sound clip below), she has more ideas to consider as she moves forward with her project.
Brian Reid ’17 (music, mathematics), a member of the Octals a cappella group, appreciated Singer Pur’s tips on how to take a fresh approach to Dickinson’s "Alma Mater"—a piece the Octals have been performing every year since the group’s founding in 1996—in part by perfecting the visual aspects of their performance. “That’s something we don’t normally consider for very long," he said, "and it’s good to be aware of how you appear on stage to the audience, rather than just how you sound, because that can affect the audience’s perception of a particular piece.”
Singer Pur also led lessons for students who are relatively unfamiliar with the classical realm. Those taking Contributing Faculty in Music Jim Hontz’s Music 101 course received a crash course in Medieval and Renaissance styles, which helped them better appreciate Singer Pur’s Saturday-evening public performance. Students enrolled in Associate Professor of German Sarah McGaughey’s German Environments class learned about ways that nature and environment are addressed in selected German vocal music, a lesson that the ensemble delivered entirely in its native tongue.
Soprano Claudia Reinhard of Singer Pur applauds a student performance during a vocal master class. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.
“[Singer Pur's performance] of songs about the German forest was really lovely, and it demonstrated the relationship between nature and culture by making it audible,” said environmental-studies major Adrienne Brown ’16, whose week also included classroom visits with Germanist Michael Ott and actor/activist Mark Ruffalo. “I was very interested in the way the composers took texts written to be poems and turned them into songs, and how those songs captured actual natural phenomenon, such as a leaf floating to the ground.”
“It was a truly wonderful experience,” added fellow music major and vocalist Sara Tillet ’17, who brushed up her German diction with tips from the German-native pros. “Each member of Singer Pur had so much to contribute, and in a short time they were able to make a big impact.”
Published October 13, 2015