Oxford University Music meets One Pound Fish Man

mccaldin arts

Clare McCaldin and Dr. Toby Young

I saw Robert Lepage’s autobiographical one-man show 887 this week. Lepage came onstage unannounced to make the traditional plea to the audience to turn of its phones and beeping gadgets. His informal and fluent chat established the intimate tone of the show and led seamlessly into the first scene. The performance had begun by stealth. It’s not the first time I have seen this done (think Simon McBurney in The Encounter), but it’s undeniably effective when executed so effortlessly. It was the perfect place to start a discussion with Dr Toby Young and undergraduates on the music course at the University of Oxford, as to what actually makes a performance.

Toby’s students will be taking a course with him next year about Opera and Music Theatre since 1945, for which this was a preliminary sharing of ideas and skills. As well as attending academic lectures, the course requires the students to participate in a performance written especially for them by Toby, which will be directed by my fellow mezzo LorĂ© Lixenberg.

Today we were discussing what defines a performance and how we can control various elements to direct the audience’s attention. Not all of our students are singers, but they were each asked to present a short performance of some sort, in what turned out to be a rich mixture of genres: song, aria, electronic club music, spoken monologue, even a magic trick. Fascinating insights emerged as to why and how performances work, with discussion about boundaries between the audience and the performer, focus, (mis)direction, gesture, text, silence, rhythm, energy, pace and humour.

Walking back through Oxford town centre I was struck by the number of performances simply taking place in the street, some consciously, others less so. Buskers, shop staff offering free samples and evangelists of other kinds were all working the crowd but no-one with the innate showmanship of East London fishmonger Muhammad Shahid Nazareth who enjoyed stardom as One Pound Fish Man when his sales patter went viral.
The students and Toby will now collaborate on a piece for performance during the Hilary (Lent) Term. I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

Build it!

mccaldinarts_sem05Today we held our new seminar, Building Your Online Presence designed to offer practical help and advice to anyone wanting to be more in control of their information on the web.

I firmly believe that a website is no longer optional if we want to be taken seriously as music professionals, whether teachers or performers. A website is critical as a source of up-to-the-minute information about us when so much online data remains in perpetuity to be discovered by search engines even if it is long out of date. As an extension to this, social media platforms provide us with easy ways to integrate our communications and reach a range of different audiences. In this way we can support marketing activities carried out by organisations we work with and generate an independent following for other kinds of self-generated and collaborative projects.

It’s now pretty straightforward to create and maintain a high-quality site using no-cost tools available online. As we showed this afternoon, the site-building technology has been transformed in the last few years (perhaps in response to ‘intuitive’ software developed as apps for smartphones) and is really accessible to anyone with a couple of hours to devote to it.

Happy attendees all went home smiling – and with a website. Job done.