Saturday, December 7, 2013

Kashu-do (歌手道): A Tribute To Tom Gunnar Krause, July 5, 1934-December 5, 2013: Mentor and Friend

Tom Krause touched my heart long before I ever met him.  The year was 1984.  I was a first year voice student at Westminster Choir College and my work-study job was in the recording library.  This was a terrific job because I was allowed to listen to music when the library traffic was slow.  In my music history class, we were introduced to German Lieder in the persons of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Hermann Prey.  I found them both remarkable and took a liking to Lieder singing that developed into a life’s passion.  I fell in love with Schubert’s music and was captivated by the collection of late songs on Heine and Rellstab poems called Schwanengesang (Swang Song).  They were Schubert’s final song compositions.  I could not get enough of them and consequently I came across Tom’s recording of the Schwanengesang.  While both Dieskau and Prey touched me respectively for a certain musical precision and this “Jedermann” kind of emotionalism, Tom’s reading of those songs took directly to a part of me that was beyond precise and beyond mere emotion.  Something about the quality of his voice bore like fire straight to the center of me.  

Back then, the prospect of meeting these legends of song was unimaginable.  I got to meet Prey at a master class some four years later and only got to hear Dieskau in concert.  I had not heard much about Tom in the later years and had imagined that he either retired or perhaps had passed.  After a performance as Germont in Traviata, I got a comment that my voice could use more squillo.  My dear friend and colleague, the excellent dramatic soprano Othalie Graham asked me if I had a choice to study with anyone who would it be?  I responded either José van Dam for whom I had sung in a master class or better yet, Tom Krause if he were still alive.  I assumed she might not know who Tom Krause was.  She was in my car and looked at me astounded.  And in her classic way, she replied: “No way!!!”  I was surprised she knew the name at all.  She said: “I looooove him.  Love him!  Would you like me to call him for you?”  I thought she was teasing.  Then she pulled out her cell phone and called him and made the appointment.  The next day we both drove to Tom’s house in Philadelphia where began an apprenticeship, that though short-lived because of traveling logistics, left an indelible mark on my singing and teaching life.

The first lesson and everyone after that were “events!”  At the first lesson we spent three hours having tea and talking about life, philosophy.  Tom said we had to get to know each other before we sing together. I got to know Tom’s delightful wife Jeannie and I felt like I had just become part of a family.  For the next year and a half I traveled to Madrid and Hamburg whenever possible to meet with Tom.  In the process I got to meet his terrific daughter Danielle, who became my friend.  I remember we spent a terrific time, all four of us, in Hamburg singing, talking and having tea.  In Madrid, I remember arriving at my hotel in the center of town and it was chaos from 6pm to 6am.  The next day I went to my lesson with Tom outside of town and it was calm.  We spent two hours together and then we walked slowly back to the train station stopping along the way at a book store that had a hard bound copy of Isabel Allende’s Zorro.  I told him I grew up with the legend of Zorro and he looked at me deeply and said: “Then you have to buy the book.  It is here for you to notice it and want it.”  I bought the book and ever so happy I did.  It is the best treatment of the Zorro legend that I have ever read and it was a magical journey that began with Tom’s advice.   

Every meeting with Tom was significant.  Our meetings were not frequent because I was traveling a lot to teach and so was he.  But it was always a joy to meet.  We had a lot of people in common in the world of singing/opera.  So I heard about his advices to me repeated through trusted members of my musical family like George Shirley and Dalton Baldwin to whom he had related our stories.  

Tom’s technical approach was based on how the voice should function when technique is totally accomplished.  He looked for an ease that was difficult for me to achieve at the time because I was at the end of my baritone phase.  In fact my lessons with Tom made me open to the possibility that I might be a different voice type, although tenor never came into question.  We experimented with bass-baritone roles like Holländer and Graf Lysiart.  The lower tessitura of those pieces made it possible for me to accomplish the effortlessness that Tom wanted.  The Italian repertoire, or rather the timbre ideas I had about that repertoire, caused me to sing in a way that was causing me unnecessary tensions.  Yet Tom was surprised that I could always sing the top notes easily despite what he perceived to be tensions.  Through the process I started to experiment with pieces that influenced a warmer color from me.  It is then that I started experiment with Heldentenor repertoire.  I found a remarkable similarity between Holländer and Siegmund.  The colors and the way I approached the two characters at opposite ends of my repertoire made me realize that true “squillo” came from singing one’s true color and not by trying to sing “brightly”! The latter was what was causing me tensions.  A couple months after that it became clear that I am actually a tenor and the process began, which gave rise to Kashu-do, my brand.  Indeed the final stage of this technique is the “trust” to let the voice function.  

I realized then that I had some fundamental structural work to do to alleviate 25 years of “making” my voice sound like a baritone because that is what I thought I was.  Indeed, I realized that many young singers try to “fabricate” colors they think their voice types require instead of develop a sense of what their natural voices are.  Without trying to, Tom Krause influenced my teaching in very substantial ways.  It took me 5 years to do the structural work I needed to do such that my voice could start to respond to my imagination and not to muscular manipulation.  I can now do what Tom was asking of me and it was my hope that I would go back to him to continue to refine my voice.  Unfortunately I would not have that chance as Nature called Tom’s essence back to her bosom so that he may graduate to a different level of existence.  In truth, during that year and a half of work I believe I captured the essence of what he wanted me to accomplish and my current students who are benefiting from that approach based on “Trust” are the testimony of how important that year and a half was to my development.

I have been fortunate with teachers who taught not only information but philosophy.  They took their students “in” into their hearts and mentored them, often without them knowing that they were being mentored.  Tom made me realize that quality is always of the essence.  He expected a certain artistic quality.  

When I told a friend that I studied with Tom, he said something along the lines that Tom’s approach was cultish and “spiritual”.  Tom felt a student must be an artist to understand artistic things.  What my friend thought as cultish is simply a capacity for “higher” reflection.  It took me a long time to realize that many people posture as artists who are not really such.  Classical singing is a diverse world that celebrates “vocal athleticism” as well as the kind of singing that evokes philosophical and spiritual reflection.  Great artists have the capacity for both.  A great singing artist must be a great vocal athlete, but not every vocal athlete is an artist.  Tom was a great singer and a superior artist.  His singing touched me profoundly before I “understood” what “the art of singing” was.  He touched me in a visceral place.  As his student, by example he taught me I could go further than my intellect could grasp.  This level of faith requires a vulnerability that few students are willing to experience.  I trusted Tom and felt safe in letting go of what I thought I knew.  I became a more profound person for it.  I was rewarded yesterday when a student I have taught for almost eight years accomplished this complete release of control, trusting that his desire was enough to bring the instrument into natural, balanced function.  

His response: “I feel like I don’t know anything!” 
“Does that scare you?” I said.
“In fact, it does not.  It’s humbling and empowering!”

Thank you Dear Tom for all the things I thought I was learning and even more for the many things I did not know I was learning.  I will miss you always!  But in a crazy way you have been with me since the beginning, before I knew who I was artistically, and I know on some level I can always count on your mentorship.  You leave a mark not only on many ears but on so many hearts.  

I leave you to graduate to a higher consciousness with these words from Shakespeare from a Finzi setting I sang often:

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun
Thou thy earthly task hast done
Home art gone and ta’en thy wages...

No exorciser harm thee
Nor no witchcraft charm thee
Ghosts unlaid forbear thee
Nothing ill come near thee.

Quiet consumation have

And reknowned be thy grave.

© 12/07/2013

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