Thursday, July 2, 2009

Kashudo (歌手道): A traditional and revolutionary concept: A tribute to Glenn Parker

A dear friend who recently read my latest post, responded with "Gesundheit" when he saw the term, Kashudo. I had to explain that it was a concept that came to me spontaneously as I reevaluated my experiences with martial arts and most recently with Bikram Yoga. I feel a need to dedicate a post to the concept of Kashudo. The need to articulate this, as I am working on a book (a guide to the experience of studying singing), has become very important to me. In teaching I am experiencing a widening of horizons I knew could exist but that I have not really experienced to this extent during my many years as a student of singing. The one teacher who embodied this concept in a lasting way in my life is the late coach-accompanist Glenn Parker. We became particularly close while we were doing our doctorates together at the University of Michigan. But he was my greatest teacher during my undergraduate years at Westminster Choir College. Much of the philosophy of my teaching come from my experiences with him. Glenn Parker died in the late fall of 1995 (correction, February of 1996). I was in my first year of teaching at Utah State University and I remember cancelling classes for the day. It was the most devastating loss I had suffered up to that point. Because of duties at school I could not attend his memorial service in the east coast and it killed me. I never told him in just those words how much he meant to me. He asked me to sing his last doctoral recital at the U of Michigan. It was Brahms' Magelonelieder. He narrated from the piano and I sang those beautiful songs. A few years ago, in the process moving from North Carolina (yet another academic job that often feels like a waste of time in retrospect but taught me important lessons about the dark sides of human nature and the courage of a precious few), a friend from my undergraduate days took the drive with me from the South back to the Northeast where I grew up. Among the recordings in my car was a cassette of that performance with Glenn. She was also a student and friend of Maestro Parker and she was curious what our performance together might have been like. We both cried many tears, not only in solemn memory of that unique man, but also in gratitude for what he had instilled in us.

By his side, I was a fearless performer. Although my vocal technique left something to be desired, my spirit was bold and implacable. He instilled total confidence by making the music absolutely crystal-clear. Musical interpretation was not whimsical. It was a product of hours of considering musical issues objectively. He in fact was the one that taught me that the best way to perform a piece is by knowing it inside out, which made it possible to improvise in the moment without fear of going against the nature of the music. In early 1995 when we performed that cycle together, he had transformed me from being his pupil to being his colleague. He asked me questions about the piece because he knew I came completely prepared. He had seen me conduct opera and respected my musicianship. Little did he know that my entry into orchestral conducting had much to do with my desire to become as thorough a musician as he. He even shared his fears with me during that time. A kind of intimacy developed between us that I had wanted so dearly during my undergraduate years. Back then, I often felt as an outsider among the chosen few of the Westminster Choir (the smaller touring ensemble). When I finally had that joining of the spirit with him, he already had AIDS and was not to be long with us. He was only 40 years old.

Kashudo (歌手道), The Way of the Singer, is what I learned through martial arts, tennis, yoga and Glenn Parker. Those activities have nothing to do with arrival, but rather with a lifelong process of self-improvement relative to an ideal that is paradoxically attainable and fleeting. Glenn Parker in no uncertain terms made me feel that I was ready to sing now and simultaneously that on my best day I was not up to the ideal requirements of the music. I could be infinitely confident and humble at the same time.

After one year and three months of training to make the change from bass-baritone to tenor, I feel ever closer to my technical goals. I have felt limited to a full voice high B in context even though I could occasionally touch high C#. Recently, the lighter high voice that I've always had that made one teacher say I might be a Rossini tenor may years ago is now connecting to my fuller voice and becoming more substantial. The journey continues with absolute clarity. I am not in a hurry and that feels right and good.

The Way of the Singer however is not just about vocal technique. It is about musicianship at the highest level because the musical truths of a piece of music dictate what we need to accomplish technically. It is about mastery of languages because we are less complete when we do not have a total image of the complex package of information that accompanies every word; that the English word table is accompanied by different pictures in my mind when compared to the exact same word table in French. It is about a philosophy of people, how they interact in this life, and indeed what this life and the experiences therein (both emotionally subjective and empirically objective) mean to us as a collective of souls. It is about the obvious significance of art and artists in our lives and the paradoxical devaluation of them in our daily existence.

Every artist has had many significant apprenticeships. I should honor each of my masters and probably will right here over time. My significance as an operatic artist, with all the disciplines I have had to experience, took shape in the presence of that magnificent teacher who inspires Love even though he has been physically gone for almost 15 years. We have all had such teachers. In a time when the operatic art form seems more precarious than ever, we need to be confident, bold and indeed humble before the art itself, in order to speak the truth as we see it, forgetting for a few moments the political fallout that might threaten our career aspirations. The careers of artists is about bringing light to the darkness, about investing our souls to bring out change in the narrow minds of those who value material goods over substantial humanity. The operatic art form maybe becoming a business first and an art last, but none of us need to take it lying down. That is the meaning of Kashudo. It is a means of changing our art form from within ourselves. By developing our inner potential, we dare our colleagues to meet us at that level. If each of us is true to himself and the depths of his/her potential, then all the managers will be compelled and happy to sell a substantial product as opposed to just one that can be packaged, the general managers can concentrate on making money since the artistic product is of such quality. In the end, we can change the art form to the ideals that we hold dear simply by holding ourselves to those ideals. That is the meaning of Kashudo. That is the eternal lesson of Maestro Glenn Parker.

None of this is new. It only seems new when we as artists have forgotten our calling. I do not have the luxury of forgetting because the spirit of Glenn Parker lives in me forever as it does all of his students, many of them very famous opera singers, and pianists and conductors.

I miss you Glenn!

© 07/02/2009


Naomi of Akiva and Gideon said...

Ron, thank you for this remembrance of Glenn. It is always worthwhile to think of him and the extraordinary wisdom and passion he shared with us. (The humor, too! The man was so deliciously funny!)

Did you know my elder son's name is Akiva Jonathan Parker Lind? He is an aspiring klezmer musician (at age 5!) and I think Glenn would have loved him.

Keep up the good work! It's so nice to read you.


Dr. Kristine Hurst-Wajszczuk said...


I am sitting here in Vienna weeping after reading your beautiful tribute to Glenn. He died on February 13 (or was it 14?), 1996, and I daresay all of our lives changed that day. I'll be 40 this year, and am humbled at all he did in his short time.

I read with disbelief that you felt an outsider in Westminster Choir (I so idolized you), and envy that you had the experience of reaching a place of being colleagues with Glenn (I'd always dreamed of that). That must have been a glorious experience.

I miss him every day, and strive to be the teacher and singer he would have wanted each of his students to be.

I may have told you about my experience with Mutsumi in Boulder. Glenn was with us. If I haven't told you, I will.

Something silly: I'd been saying, "Hi folks" for years every time I entered a classroom, and it wasn't until my students started imitating me doing it that I realized that's what Glenn always said. He'd been with me and I didn't even know it, even though I'd hoped for it. His phrases come out of my mouth during lessons and opera rehearsals, only not nearly as eloquently.

I miss you, Glenn. Thank you, Ron.

Toreadorssong's Vocal Technique Blog said...

So wonderful to read your responses. I did not start this post as a tribute to Glenn. But his influence is so pervasive. In moments of artistic contemplation, he always peeks in. Always nice to hear from you guys.

Naomi, I did not know about your son, but I am sure that Glenn would certainly be proud. And yes, he had a unique sense of humor. That too is profoundly missed.

Kristine, I hope we have a chance to reconnect face to face. I get a sense we have a lot to talk about.

Dr. Kristine Hurst-Wajszczuk said...

Yes,he influences so much of what we do! Regarding his humor, I remember him once telling David Newman that Don Giovanni's ideal woman is three feet tall, with no teeth, and a flat head (so you can rest your beer there). Everyone died laughing, but someone actually had to explain to me why she shouldn't have any teeth. I guess I was a little naive.

Lord, he was funny!

I hope we get to connect too, Ron. Are you going to ICVT in Paris this month?

Toreadorssong's Vocal Technique Blog said...

No ICVT for me Kristine. I will go back to NY on the 7th and then back to Berlin in August. However, I will be in Wien on Sunday evening and Monday morning. Schedule is very knapp, but if there is any chance it would be nice to see you face to face, even if only for coffee. My info on Facebook.

Adam said...

I love this blog because the posts that contain technical information are backed by actual research and thorough understanding of the relevant anatomy, which improves MY understanding thereof. I also love this blog because every post, whether related to technique or not, reminds me to always consider musicianship. Even though I don't have any realistic thoughts of ever being a professional musician, it's always good for anyone to develop him/herself as an artist in any field, so I thank you for being an good example of how to be an artist.

I may be on the track to medical school, but medicine is a science AND an art, and neither one should be placed above or below the other. The empathy developed by learning how to really sing would do anyone good, especially (I should think) a physician. After all, nobody wants to be pitied. What people want, and in some sense deserve, is empathy.

Toreadorssong's Vocal Technique Blog said...

So true Adam!

Life itself is an art. Learning to live it requires skills. Our work, whether medicine or music or cab driving can all be done in an artistic manner, a manner worthy of our humanity.

I am grateful for your active participation. Being a singer is a multi-faceted pursuit and you seem to completely grasp that. My thanks!