City by the ocean
Portland, lovely city by the ocean—Atlantic, that is—was home to the South Oxford Six for a weekend of concertizing, teaching and general revelry in mid-April 2011. We were greeted with lovely weather, large and welcoming audiences, and a lively group of students and singers creating and realizing sophisticated vocal music.
To open the weekend residency, the University of Southern Maine presented the SO6 and Two Sides Sounding in a reprise of our October 2010 concert "Unaccustomed Earth." This included the second performance of Fragments, written especially for TSS. Read a review of the concert on the Classical Voice of New England blog.
The next morning we were all up bright and early ready to fill eager young minds with the little bit of wisdom we've gained in the realm of vocal writing. Over the course of the semester SO6er and USM composition professor Dan Sonenberg paired composers with singers and gave the duos the instruction to write a work for said singer and present it at this master class and a later public performance. To some this may sound suspiciously similar to American Opera Project's "Composers and the Voice" and, indeed, it is. A nod to our origins as a collective and to the effectiveness of the format.
TSS soprano Eleanor Taylor masterfully lead the master class, coaching each singer in their presentation and inviting commentary from the SO6 composers on the new works. Along the way we touched on collaboration strategies, techniques of vocal writing, and effective characterization in words and music.
In addition to our events, there were also quite a number of other concerts happening throughout the weekend thanks to the joint efforts of our host, USM, and the Portland Conservatory to create a new music festival. And quite a festival they made. The two concerts I attended featured quite a selection of composers from Maine and other parts of New England in engaging and eclectic programs.
My weekend, all too brief, in Portland, was a wonderful introduction to a gem of a city that I might not have visited otherwise. I got the sense of a lively cultural scene and a great deal of activity of many kinds. Not to mention a certain sense of pride in making and presenting the work of Maine's many, many artists.
And I leave you with a few questions. How is it that certain places, against all expectations, develop such thriving cultural "scenes"? Austin, TX has certainly taken the world by storm over the last decade or so (remember when SXSW was just a minor collection of concerts at bars on Sixth Street and didn't have a cool abbreviation?). Santa Fe, NM is equally impressive though not quite as meteoric in its fame. I would add to the list Portland, ME. What are the ingredients to this liveliness? Can we create it where it doesn't exist? Encourage it where it does? Can we make these thriving scenes collectively the tide that raises all ships?