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Katie Kelley is a singer in the Concert Studio for AIMS in Graz 2014. We are excited to have her blog about her summer experiences!

July 10, 2014

All classes have finally begun, and I am feeling more settled into this strange, wonderful city. I really don’t know how to put into words how happy I am in this place and in this program. Every single member of the faculty that I have gotten to work with so far has challenged me, inspired me, and made me think in new ways. I have only been in Graz for a week, and I am already a better artist than when I left the states.

On Tuesday I had the wonderful opportunity to sing for Gabriele Lechner, a soprano whose lustrous career brought her opposite Pavarotti on several occasions. She was good. Really good, and really tough. She didn’t exactly give compliments, but she would let us know when we had achieved her objectives. When I got to work with her personally, she gave me LOTS to think about concerning legato and energy. Although she mostly focused on technical things with the singers, she is a musician who just overflows with musicality, and I learned the most from just listening to her sing example excerpts from everyone’s rep. She also had some wonderful things to say about music in general, my favorite quote from the entire masterclass series being (approximately) “Sing gently– this is not about you, you are servant to the composer and to the art”.

On Wednesday we finally got to find out who we would be studying with, and I got Thomas Harper. I was initially disappointed because he was not my first choice, but now that I have had my first voice lesson, I don’t think it could have turned out better. I have rarely clicked with a teacher so easily. Either he and I think in a very similar way, or he is impeccably good at adjusting to different students’ learning styles. I know that every faculty member here at AIMS is of the highest level, but I still feel like it was a huge stroke of luck to be placed with someone who I was able to make immediate progress with in areas that I have been struggling with for years. Also he said he wanted to help me bring out the voluptuousness of my tone, so there is absolutely no doubt that we are on the same page about things!!!

I also got to meet with my coach for the first time. I am working with Andreas Teufel, an Austrian Native and one of those people who just carries around an aura of being simultaneously hyper intelligent and genuinely very cool. Additionally he is a world class vocal coach. I have always known that there is a way to use German consonants as a tool for good legato, and I have been able to recognize this in other singers (Anne Sofie von Otter does it better than just about anyone) but this is something I have always struggled to achieve in my own singing. In the hour I spent with Andreas, he helped me make more progress on this than I have in probably the past year. His help with German diction has already proven to be invaluable, and there’s a whole other team of people here to help us just with that! He also has a great ear for what music fits which voices, and I can’t wait to find out what pieces he picks out for me.

So far, everything has wildly exceeded my expectations. There was a class on period movement, which I almost didn’t bother going to because it looked like it only aimed to teach us to curtsy, but which ended up being one of the most fun and interesting history lessons I have ever received. There was a lecture on early operatic recordings, and although this was one of the things that was most attractive to me about this entire program, it was still more wonderful and informative than I could have possibly imagined. We also have a class called “Audition Training Seminar” and while this definitely sounds incredibly useful, spending two hours a week talking about the business side of being a singer doesn’t exactly sound like fun to me. However, after attending just one meeting of the class so far, it has become one of the things I love most about AIMS. It is actually much more than audition training, it is acting class, it is art class, and it is being-a-happy-human class. The instructor asked each of us why we sing, and each of us in turn discovered how difficult yet inspiring it is to try and put our own reasons for choosing this artistic path into words. I was moved to tears by the responses of some of my colleagues, all of whom have really just blown me away every time they open their mouths, whether they are singing or not.

My experiences outside of class have also been incredible. This city and this culture are a breeding ground for art and spontaneity and community. The other night I heard strange music and followed it to a nearby courtyard, where I found an entire festival for dance and performance art. I jogged from corner to corner of the courtyard along with about 250 Austrians to try and get a glimpse of each new dance. There was a woman tied to a fence by exercise bands., a picture of which is included. There was a group of about 15 older women who, earlier that day, had learned a dance that I can only really describe as the love child of tango and the Texas two-step. Later the crowd was herded into another court yard, where there were chairs and a real stage. The next dances were moderately more conventional, but still fascinating. There was a man who did a solo dance in monkey-patterned pajama pants and stopped in the middle of his dance to slowly eat a banana. There was a woman who’s dance partner was an old fashioned baby carriage full of bottles of perfume.  My favorite act was a woman who played the accordion and spoke and then kind of half sang beautiful poetry, and then had a spastic dance that was at first infectiously joyful and then gradually became disturbing. Definitely the most fun adventure I have ever accidentally had all by myself in a foreign city.

Another night I cooked dinner with some new friends in a beautiful apartment with a great view and what I would imagine is the quintessential European kitchen. I don’t think that I have ever clicked with a group of people so quickly or so completely. These girls are so incredibly intelligent, worldly, and kind, and I already know I will be sad to leave them when we all have to hop back across the pond. Our from-scratch eggplant parmigiana was delicious, but even better was the conversation, which covered the usual: boys, school, future plans, but then found its way to topics such as Wagner’s harmonic language, why homelessness exists, Maria Callas’s love life, and which composers were probably the most clinically insane. Again I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the opportunity to sing along side such great people.

My audition training teacher summed it up best today when she said that AIMS is basically Hogwarts for musicians.