Singing in Mandarin by Juliet Petrus
Nothing brings me as much joy as singing in Mandarin. My journey to a career in China began over a decade ago with the acceptance into the iSING! International Young Artist Festival, originally iSING! Beijing, bringing Western singers for a unique programme including not only lessons, coaching, and lectures with a world-class operatic faculty, but also intensive Mandarin language study during a five-week stay in China. The experience profoundly changed my life, setting my career on an unpredicted path of intense study, performing and teaching in China, ultimately leading me to become an advocate for the repertoire in the West and to co-write the book, Singing in Mandarin: A Guide to Chinese Lyric Diction and Vocal Repertoire (Rowman and Littlefield, 2020) with pianist, conductor and Dean of Tianjin Juilliard, Katherine Chu.
Most native English-speaking singers on the path toward a standard operatic or concert career have likely also sung in Italian, German and French. Beyond that, standard repertoire in performance halls worldwide often also extends to Latin, Russian, Czech and Spanish. But what of the language that represents over 1.4 billion native speakers worldwide? Why is Mandarin not yet a standard lyric language?
Those who have encountered Chinese as a written language will know that it does not employ the Roman alphabet; in fact, there is no alphabet at all. The written characters which may appear in two forms, simplified (Mainland China), and traditional form (Taiwan and Hong Kong), are pictographs with thousands of years of history. Each character represents a single syllable phoneme, and in its spoken form there are also one of four tones assigned to each syllable, although this is less important in its sung form. For singers not able to read the characters this is this the first hurdle but is by no means insurmountable. Various systems of transliteration exist, the one used in Mainland China being ‘pīnyīn.’ Pīnyīn assigns Roman letters to these phonemes, allowing a non-native speaker access to this pronunciation information. There are Chinese phonemes which are unfamiliar to the native English, Italian, French or German tongue, but no more difficult than sounds found in Russian or Czech. In fact, there is a fair amount of overlap between all these languages and Mandarin, a point emphasised in Singing in Mandarin.
As an educator, I am fortunate to have had over 25 years of experience working one-on-one and in masterclasses with students in UK, Europe, US and China. Through this, I have found that there is great value in having students first learn to sing in their native language. The novice singer expends so much energy on simply understanding the basics of posture, breath management, sound production, and tone that adding the articulation of new and foreign sounds may overload the ability of the singer, as well as the 30-60 minutes per week allotted to us as educators. Singing is profoundly engrained in Chinese culture, and as many Chinese-speaking students make their way abroad to study, one would hope that they would be encouraged to sing in their native language, not only for potentially helpful, pedagogical reasons, but for the cultural richness and diversity it creates within our studios.
After more than a decade of concerts, recitals, masterclasses and television appearances to sing in Mandarin in China, I am thoroughly convinced of music as the ‘international language’. We can begin to understand another country’s culture through their song, and when done so with authenticity and integrity, we foster a cross-cultural communication unmatched by any other form of diplomacy. My hope is that more teachers and students feel comfortable exploring the repertoire which invites them to reach across the globe, to sing in Mandarin.
– Juliet Petrus, April 2022
Report from the EDI committee
Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity is at the forefront of our thinking as we seek to improve how our organisation can better serve teachers from under-represented communities. We know only too well that we have a long way to go in these matters, but we are determined to actively work to improve what we offer.
Since the Autumn’s release of our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion mission statement, the EDI steering group has continued to meet and discuss this very important topic. We began by organising Unconscious Bias training for the whole Council, which was delivered in January by Fay Jennett from Tonic Theatre, an organisation that supports the arts and cultural sector to achieve greater equality, diversity, and inclusion. The thinking here was that we need to come together as a Council and explore and acknowledge our own bias, so that we can start to have this conversation with some shared understanding between us, a common starting point, if you will. Tonic Theatre are a great organisation with a real understanding of the arts community, and we would recommend them highly for this kind of essential work in any organisation.
Some of the discourse around EDI can be challenging as we take a hard look at our own practice, and as we come to better understand the areas that we need to improve what we do. We have noted that members can be unsure about asking questions on social media platforms for fear of ‘getting it wrong’, ending up in a heated discussion, or even being ‘shot down’ for using what is seen by some as inappropriate or undermining language. We came to the conclusion that members need to be able to be curious, ask open questions and raise subjects that can be discussed with compassion rather than judgement in a rapidly changing landscape. To this end we have organised a ‘Brave Space’ discussion to close our conference this summer. This is a forum designed to be a safe space to unpick some of the thorny issues around promotion of diversity, awareness and implementation of inclusive practice in the studio and actively promoting equality and broader representation. We have a panel of people who are invested in this conversation to lead the discussion, but we really want to hear from you, our members, and hope people feel able to bring their queries to the forum and engage in a discussion that is likely to raise more questions than it answers, but will hopefully be thought-provoking. We hope to cover all sorts of fascinating and thorny subjects, and imagine that the sorts of subjects that may crop up will range from working with neurodivergent students or students with impairments, learning difficulties or disabilities, to questions around gender, trans voice and opera roles, through to racism and repertoire choices, to programming composers from under-represented groups and the whole question of proactive promotion of diversity in a work culture. No doubt there will be many, many more subjects besides.
The steering group is now to be led by Rachel Sherry, and will continue to meet approximately three times a year. The focus of the committee is to provide a voice on Council when programming, and a voice that will speak when important decisions are to be made, bringing awareness to considerations of equality, diversity and inclusion. With the help and collaboration of our members, we dearly hope to be able to welcome increasing numbers of members from diverse backgrounds or communities. My inclination is always to look towards a younger generation for help when it comes to change. Young graduates starting out along their teaching path can often have a fantastically firm grasp on new directions and an easy relationship with change, and if the more experienced can team up with these fresh young minds we stand a great chance of moving forwards. To this end we are particularly keen to engage in conversation with our new teachers and welcome them to come forward and help us!
Perhaps the most obvious starting point for change will be the Council itself. As roles come up over the coming months and years, we do very much hope that lots of people with a wide variety of ages, gender identities, ethnicities, religions, races, interests and backgrounds will put themselves forward to serve on the Council and truly steer the organisation in new directions, whilst never losing sight of its core aims. But first, they need to become members of the Association, so please, keep bringing in your friends and colleagues, and proactively welcome new members to our community.
Book of Remembrance at the Musicians' Chapel
I am delighted to announce that after a delay caused by the pandemic two former Chairs of AOTOS are to be commemorated by their names being inscribed in the Book of Remembrance which is held in the Musicians’ Chapel. The Chapel is part of St Sepulchre’s Church (Holborn Viaduct, London, EC1A 2DQ) and was established following the death of Sir Henry Wood.
In 2019 the Secretary of Friends of the Musicians’ Chapel agreed to the committee considering the names of former Chairs of AOTOS not already listed so that they might be added to the Book, which commemorates many distinguished members of the musical profession. After some research I was able to submit several names for consideration and was pleased to hear that this year’s inscriptions will include Mollie Petrie (1988-89) and Paul Deegan (1989-90; 2006-08). Apart from their periods of leadership both these colleagues made enormous contributions to the development of our Association.
A Service of Thanksgiving will take place at St Sepulchre’s on Wednesday 18 May at 5pm. During the service the names of musicians who are being inscribed will be read out. This annual service is an Anglican Choral Evensong but people of all faiths, or of none, are welcome to attend. Special music is provided by the students of music conservatoires and this year the Chamber Choir of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire will be singing, directed by Paul Spicer.
If you are able to be there, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org by 11 May for further information, and I can give the organisers some idea of the numbers for the short reception after the service.
I do hope that some members of AOTOS will be able to attend the service, so that we can meet to remember Mollie and Paul together.
– Margaret Hopes, Almoner
Member of the month: Charlotte Newstead
Who am I?
First things first – everyone knows me as Lotti. As an impressionable teenager I sang Lotti's Crucifixus and decided on the spot to adopt the name. Hence the unusual spelling. I now sing as a concert soprano in the south west, mainly performing oratorio and recital repertoire. I also have a private singing studio in Bristol helping students from 8 to 78 explore and enjoy their voices. The rest of my time is dedicated to helping people from all walks of life widen their musical knowledge through online music appreciation classes.
The majority of my singing students are adults who sing for fun. Many are avid concertgoers and sing in choirs themselves, but I realised they often lack background knowledge about the wider repertoire, the way music works and its history that perhaps limits their ability to fully inhabit a song or a particular style. And as we all know, there is never enough time in singing lessons to address this aspect of their musical journey. Having previously delivered music history and theory classes for the adult learning department at the University of Bristol it was a small step for me to begin private classes tailored to this need. I started with one small group 12 years ago, and now have 6 groups. Since Covid, all classes now run on Zoom with people attending from all over the UK and abroad. Between these groups, I cover at least five different works every month.
What sort of music do we cover?
It's entirely a “classical” repertoire, but within that definition, the repertoire is as varied as possible. We rove across all historical periods from Renaissance to the 21st century. There is vocal and choral music and opera of course, but also chamber music, symphonies, ballet, piano solo and organ works. Over time, each group is building a rounded and ever-bigger understanding of the different genres and historical landmarks. I try to provide a good mix of old favourites with lesser-known gems and I strive to promote diversity amongst the composers I select.
What's the format?
All classes take place on Zoom and are led by me. I introduce the music and relevant background information, pointing out useful aural signposts and then we listen to it together. There is ample opportunity for discussion and questions. Discover Classes last 40 minutes and carry the option to catch up via recorded video link for those who prefer to watch in their own time. Explore Classes are 90 minutes.
Who are the classes for?
Anyone who loves music and would like to know more. Attendees are by no means all drawn from my own singing students. Many sing in a choir or play in an orchestra. Several are rather experienced in discussing music. Some are coming to appreciate classical music for the first time.
Different classes have acquired different characteristics. I am happy stretching the boundaries for those who already know a lot as well as reaching out to the nervous newcomer who wants hand-holding as they begin to explore the classical repertoire for the first time. Some are retired and just see it as a nice thing to do one evening a month or on a Saturday morning when their options for going out are more limited. The classes are also ideal for anyone preparing for higher grade exams and auditions where a background understanding of a wide range of music is beneficial. I'm hoping to start a group specifically for people brand new to classical music as soon as I get five minutes!
Where can you find out more?
My website is www.charlottenewstead.co.uk and all the classes can be booked from there. Discounted rates are available to regular subscribers. I'm also really happy to offer a discount to anyone recommended by my colleagues, so please do tell your students and friends to enter AOTOS at the checkout to get 10% off all listed prices.
– Charlotte Newstead
EVTA report by Nicki Kennedy
At the last Council meeting, I was co-opted to a new role within AOTOS, to become the representative of AOTOS with EVTA, the European Voice Teachers’ Association. This strikes me as a perfect moment for organisations like EVTA to help us to connect, not only by attending conferences in-person, such as this summer’s exciting ICVT conference in Vienna, but also to make friends and connections with fellow members using online platforms like Zoom.
Membership of AOTOS means you automatically become a member of this umbrella organisation representing 23 European member associations. EVTA seeks to broaden connections and community across Europe, exploring vocal pedagogy, research, and all things singing.
I take over this role from Janice Thompson, the acting representative since the very sad and untimely passing of Paul Deegan, who was a passionate representative, and I relish the prospect of working on furthering these international links.
Susan Yarnall Monks, (Chair of EVTA), Ed Pitt-Mansfield, Janice Thompson and I met to discuss how EVTA and AOTOS can continue with the work of the past... Susan paid tribute to Paul Deegan, who she says was instrumental in getting the EVTA constitution off the ground again in 2004, and making it correct and understandable in both German (the language and home of EVTA) and English. She said: 'We welcome Nicki as the newly co-opted EVTA/International representative for EVTA and Ed as the Chair Elect, who we look forward to meeting in Vienna at our Council before ICVT. Thank you all for your enthusiasm, all the hard work of Janice in keeping the 'show on the road' when we lost Paul. I shall report back to the EVTA board with a big smile on my face!'
Janice Thompson commented:
‘I have been proud to serve AOTOS as Acting EVTA representative since the untimely departure of our dear Paul Deegan in the early stages of the Covid pandemic. Today we held an exciting introductory meeting to introduce Nicki Kennedy, our newly co-opted EVTA Representative, to members of the EVTA Board. Nicki is a multi-linguist with international musical connections and I know she will do a fantastic job in furthering the links between AOTOS and EVTA. Thank you Nicki, I feel I can stand down knowing that the role is in experienced and capable hands!
Edwin Pitt Mansfield commented:
'I am really looking forward to working with EVTA during my period as Chair and strengthening the relationship between the two associations. I am delighted that we have such an energetic new EVTA rep in Nicki Kennedy and very much look forward to meeting Susan Yarnall Monks and other representatives at the EVTA council meeting in August'.
We are also pleased to share the first edition of a brand new project, EVTA Echo, a collection of articles selected from some of EVTA member associations’ magazines, translated into English so that they can be more widely read. Click here to read EVTA Echo 1 - April 2022.