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Claron McFadden: Singing the primal mystery

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Host: Folks, you've just met Claron McFadden. She is a world-class soprano singer who studied in Rochester, New York. Her celebrated operatic roles are numerous and varied. In August 2007, Claron was awarded the Amsterdam Prize for the Arts, winning praise for her brilliance, her amazing and extensively wide repertoire and her vivid stage personality. Please welcome Claron McFadden.


Claron McFadden: The human voice: mysterious, spontaneous, primal. For me, the human voice is the vessel on which all emotions travel -- except perhaps jealousy. And the breath, the breath is the captain of that vessel. A child is born, takes its first breath -- (Breathing) and we behold the wondrous beauty of vocal expression -- mysterious, spontaneous and primal.

A few years ago, I did a meditation retreat in Thailand. I wanted a place that I would have total silence and total solitude. I spent two weeks at this retreat in my own little hut -- no music, no nothing, sounds of nature -- trying to find the essence of concentration, being in the moment.

On my last day, the woman who looked after the place, she came and we spoke for a minute, and then she said to me, "Would you sing something for me?" And I thought, but this is a place of total quiet and silence. I can't make noise. She said, "Please, sing for me." So I closed my eyes, I took breath and the first thing that came up and out was "Summertime," Porgy and Bess. ♫ Summertime and the living is easy ♫ ♫ Fish are jumping and the cotton is high ♫ ♫ Oh, your daddy's rich and your ma is good-looking ♫ ♫ So hush little baby ♫ ♫ Don't you cry ♫ And I opened my eyes, and I saw that she had her eyes closed. And after a moment, she opened her eyes and she looked at me and she said, "It's like meditation."

And in that moment I understood that everything I had gone to Thailand to look for, to search for, I had it already in my singing -- the calm, but alertness, the focus, but awareness, and being totally in the moment. When you're totally in the moment, when I'm totally in the moment, the vessel of expression is open. The emotions can flow from me to you and back. Extremely profound experience.

There's a piece by a composer, an American composer called John Cage. It's called "Aria." It was written for an amazing singer called Cathy Berberian. And the thing about this piece that's so special -- if you see it behind me -- it's not notated in any way. No notes, no flats, no sharps. But it's a kind of structure, and the singer within this structure has total freedom to be creative, spontaneous. For example, there are different colors and each color gets a different type of singing -- pop, country and western, opera, jazz -- and you just have to be consistent with that color. You see there are different lines: you choose in your own tempo in your own way to follow the line, but you must respect it, more or less. And these little dots, these represent a sort of sound that's not a vocal, not a lyrical way of expressing the voice. Using the body -- it could be sneezing, it could be coughing, it could be animals -- (cough) exactly -- clapping, whatever. And there's different text. There's Armenian, Russian, French, English, Italian. So within this structure one is free. To me, this piece is an ode to the voice because it's mysterious -- as we can see -- it's quite spontaneous, and it's primal. So I would like to share this piece with you. It's "Aria" of John Cage.


♫ No other way ♫ ♫ Dans l'espace, so help ♫ (Singing) ♫ To have the fruits ♫ (Singing)


Video Details

Duration: 10 minutes and 34 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: None
Producer: TEDTalks
Views: 176
Posted by: tedtalks on Mar 24, 2011

"The human voice: mysterious, spontaneous, primal." With these words, soprano Claron McFadden invites us to explore the mysteries of breathing and singing, as she performs the challenging "Aria," by John Cage.

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