Friday, August 13, 2010

Matthew White and Les Voix Baroques

I spent the past month in Canada performing with some of the best singers I have ever worked with... One of the programs was with Matthew White's ensemble, Les Voix Baroques. Some years ago I performed several operas with Matthew, and to this day, I have a hard time hearing Poppea with anyone else singing the role of Ottone.
Matthew studied English literature in college, and he grew up singing in a cathedral choir in Ottawa, five services each week. He studied privately with Jan Simons at McGill. Matthew is a countertenor, which is still an unusual voice type, but it is becoming more and more common to hear excellent countertenors. Matthew said that he learned how to survive, musically, in the cathedral choir environment. He was exposed to all kinds of music in the Anglican church. He also heard the countertenor Daniel Taylor, who was a few years older. Matthew wanted to sing with this kind-of voice, and it was natural for him to do so.
Countertenors are singing more in Cincinnati. John Holiday sang in the Catacoustic Bach concert last April. Steven Rickards sang in our first season, and Daniel Bubeck has sung several concerts. Paul Flight sang in this year's May Festival performance of Bernstein's Chichester Psalms. William Sauerland, a gifted countertenor who sang in the well-known ensemble Chanticleer, moved back to his hometown of Cincinnati. Most recently, a countertenor won first prize in the second "Opera Idol" of the Cincinnati Opera.
Matthew is an amazing talent, and I was curious to know more about his ideas for aspiring young singers as well as his goals for his own musical future.
#1)His first suggestion for young singers wanting to sing early music is to go to Europe to get the languages down. Study Italian, German, and French. Knowing how the language functions will save a lot of time when deciphering scores. Also, so much is happening in Europe. It is good to be in that environment for the exposure to early music performance.
#2) Spend time working with both your regular voice teacher and coaches who know what will be expected of you in professional early music circles. Your vocal technique should not be at odds with your musical interpretation. It should be a tool for expressing yourself more easily. Subsequently, find a musical coach and voice teacher who speak a compatible language.
#3)One should learn to teach oneself. There is an enormous amount of free information out there- the most compelling artists are the ones who sound like they have digested the important facts and then made some personal decisions.
#4)Learning "early music style": Go to as many concerts as possible and buy as many CD and DVD recordings as you can afford.

Matthew founded Les Voix Baroques with Chloe Meyers and Amanda Keesmaat as a forum to explore the alto repertory. It has since expanded to be a group that focuses on one-to-a-part vocal music that features solo and ensemble singing, especially Renaissance and early Baroque polyphony. White has since taken ownership of the group. His goals are to make Les Voix Baroques the premiere vocal ensemble in North America featuring vocal soloists singing in ensemble. Much like Collegium Vocale Gent, he sees the ensemble as flexible in size but featuring a regular core of experienced early music soloists who know how to sing together.
Les Voix has made several CD recordings to great acclaim. White says that it is much easier to make CD's in Canada because there is a lot of federal and provincial funding. Their next recording is of Bach's St. John Passion, which is a collaboration with the Arion Ensemble. White's ultimate goals for Les Voix? Two goals that I absolutely respect and know will sustain them for years to come: to sing better and to have fun making beautiful music.
I strongly recommend recordings of Les Voix Baroques to anyone. I especially love their recording of Buxtehude's Membra Jesu Nostri. CD's may be purchased at

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