NYFOS@North Fork 2023: Day 1

Written by Steven Blier

Artistic Director, NYFOS

In category: Blier's Blog

Published August 22, 2023

I reluctantly tore myself away from the lunch table today to begin rehearsals for my annual concert out here on the North Fork. This year we’re doing a program called 100 Years of Broadway Love. I chose the theme because I thought that it would have a user-friendly, end-of summer appeal, and because I assumed it would be a breeze to program—so many wonderful songs! It turned out to be a nightmare to whittle the list down from 200 to 20, and I made things even more complicated when I decided the program had to go in chronological order. My breeze was suddenly a gale force wind.

I wrestled it to the ground, and I am extremely happy with the result. But my late-summer concerts always kick up a mixture of excitement and resistance. I know how much the audience out here looks forward to these performances, and it is always an intensely satisfying experience to make music for the denizens of Orient (NY). On the other hand, it’s late August and I have a strong impulse to wind down and spend my afternoons with a good book and a long nap.  
There are two siren calls that I cannot resist: the singers, and the music. I’ve brought a lot of great performers out to Orient, and the standard is very high. Every season I worry that I won’t be able to maintain the standard, but I am happy to say that this year’s trio—Kerrigan Bigelow, Sophia Baete, and Shavon Lloyd—is as good a team as I’ve ever had. Sophia has a staggering voice and a tremendous sense of rhythm; Shavon is an exuberant free spirit with a baritone sound to rival the Broadway greats; and Kerrigan brings a heartbreaking sweetness and clarity to her “Broadway soprano” material. 
All three are classically trained—in fact, I work with them at Juilliard on their opera and art song. But they swing into this material with total ease. It’s in their blood. An operatically trained singer can succeed in musical theater rep only if they have an innate understanding of a few things. First of all, the lyrics must be crystal clear, and the vowels absolutely natural, not manipulated for phony color or “resonance”; next, they need to know the rhythmic style of each song—swing time or square, back-phrased or driving forward; and finally, they have to sing with shorter vowels in theater songs than in classical music, allowing the consonants to clip off the vowels more abruptly. I am not an extremist about this—real Broadway coaches have been known to shave the sung vowel down to a mere blip, preferring their music to sound as close to speech as possible. Me, I’m a voice guy, and with talent like this it would be insane to inhibit the flow of the sound too much. Still—it can’t sound like Puccini. 
Shavon, Kerrigan, and Sophia don’t need me to explain this. They already know. Our work, even on day one, was more subtle and refined. Each of them is playing a gallery of characters during the concert, and while they sing the bejeezus out of all their numbers, some of the theatrical demands come more naturally to them than others. Sophia needed some help with Desirée from A Little Night Music; Kerrigan is looking for a way to play Venus, as conceived by Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash (and created for Mary Martin, America’s sweetheart); and Shavon is finding his way into a very funny, very off-color song by Irving Berlin called “Through a Keyhole,” which is about exactly what you think it’s about. 

We had a four-hour rehearsal today—with a tea break, of course. Time for me to turn in. Stay tuned—and join us on Sunday if you’re in the nabe. 

Image: Having too much fun: Kerrigan Bigelow, Sophia Baete, Shavon Lloyd

author: Steven Blier

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Called “the coolest dude in town” by Opera News, master collaborative pianist and coach Steven Blier is the co-founder and artistic director of New York Festival of Song. Here on No Song is Safe From Us, Steven blogs about the NYFOS Emerging Artist residencies, writes the engaging and erudite program notes for our Mainstage concerts, and contributes frequently to Song of the Day.

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    This program sounds so wonderful, I wish I could attend. Maybe you’ll think about doing it intown at some point? Anyway, good luck with it; good weather, no freak storms, no crazy winds or rains. Only beautiful singing, and of course spectacular songs.

    Perry Brass


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