Boston Singers' Resource News Bulletin, May 21, 2003
He is a joy to work with both onstage and off,
my friend, Jason McStoots, talks about his busy tenor life in Boston
and offers advice on how we can have the same. His recital at Old South
Church on May 25 features Franz Schubert's DIE SCHÖNE MÜLLERIN.
JASON MCSTOOTS recently had his professional debut in the Boston Lyric Opera production of Tod Machover's RESURRECTION. His recent accomplishments include a portrayal of the title role in Benjamin Britten's ALBERT HERRING with the Red House Opera Group that was described by Richard Dyer of the Boston Globe as "particularly outstanding...projecting the greengrocer's shyness, sense of duty, and longing to cut loose with sweet, appealing tone and real acting ability." His recent operatic roles include El Remendado in CARMEN with Granite State Opera, Don Ottavio in DON GIOVANNI with Longwood Opera and the Lyric Tenor in Argento's POSTCARD FROM MOROCCO as a returning guest artist with the Boston University Opera Department. He is a frequent concert singer appearing AS JUDAS MACCABAEUS (Handel) and SAINT NICHOLAS (Britten) with the Newburyport Choral Society, soloist in the LORD NELSON MASS (Haydn) and the MISSA BREVIS IN D MAJOR (Mozart) with Old South Church as well as soloist in the Mendelssohn and Bach MAGNIFICATS with the Dedham Choral Society. His repertoire of concert works is broad and includes Bach's B-MINOR MASS and CHRISTMAS ORATORIO, Mendelssohn's ELIJAH, Handel's MESSIAH and Haydn's CREATION. An accomplished recitalist, Mr. McStoots recently completed a recital of Ned Rorem's quartet song-cycle EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN with Boston's Floristan Recital Project as well as a recital of Pre-Word War I British works including Vaughn Williams's ON WENLOCK EDGE and Liza Lehmann's IN A PERSIAN GARDEN. He has appeared in recital as a fellow with the Tanglewood Music Festival as well as with the Cambridge Lieder and Opera Society and the Old South Church Concert Series. A frequent interpreter of new music, Mr. McStoots has performed a number of world and local premiers most recently being the world premier of STORM a work for Orchestra, Chorus and Soloists by Tufts Composer Don Schecter and the world premier of Brian Hulse's opera THE BLUE HOTEL where he sang Mr. Blanc (The Easterner). His upcoming engagements include a reprisal of ALBERT HERRING with Red House Opera this June, ALEXANDER'S FEAST (Handel) with the Providence Singers, as a member of the Radio Trio in Bernstein's TROUBLE IN TAHITI and DER WEISE in Hindemith's HIN UND ZURÜCK both with Intermezzo.
Award winning pianist, LINDA OSBORN-BLASCHKE has performed extensively across the United States as a chamber musician and vocal accompanist. Performance highlights include regular recital appearances in both Europe and the U.S. with Stephen Salters, the 1999 First Prize Winner of the Walter W. Naumburg International Vocal Competition. Ms. Osborn-Blaschke has also been a featured instrumentalist in performances of Stravinsky's LES NOCE, Orff's CARMINA BURANA and Bartok's SONATA FOR TWO PIANOS AND PERCUSSION amongst others. She studied art song and opera at Songfest at the University of California with Martin Katz, and the Britten-Pears Institute for Musical Studies in England with Graham Johnson. Ms. Osborn-Blaschke holds the Master of Music degree from Boston University, where she was recipient of the prestigious Esther B. Kahn Career Entry Award, winner of the Concerto/Aria Competition, and Principal Coach for the Undergraduate Opera Program. As an educator, she co-wrote and performed the preparatory program for Opera New England's production of HANSEL AND GRETEL for the Connecticut and Massachusetts elementary school system, and was a coach and accompanist for the Boston University Tanglewood Institute for three seasons. An active proponent of new music, she has premiered new works for some of Boston's most prominent contemporary music organizations, including Composers in Red Sneakers, the Marsh Chapel Contemporary Music Festival and the New Boston Composers Collective. She is a founding board member of the Red House Opera Group, a New England-based chamber ensemble whose first concert series featuring the music of Benjamin Britten received wide acclaim. Her work can be heard on both the Arsis and New Issues labels.
AN INTERVIEW WITH JASON MCSTOOTS:
BSR: So, Jason, where did you grow up?
JM: I grew up in a small town in North Carolina about half an hour's drive from Raleigh, named Angier. It is a typical, rural small town. I lived with my Mother, Sister and Grandparents in a house about 3 miles outside of town. Truly the sticks! But it was beautiful and quite peaceful.
BSR: Where did you study music?
JM: Well, growing up in a "church-going, God-fearing" southern family I had my first musical experiences at a young age in church. In high school I began studying voice with our chorus teacher who told me that I was "Probably a tenor", but she didn't like the way tenors sang so she was going to teach me as a baritone. I chuckle at that looking back. I did my undergraduate work at Duke University where I studied voice with Wayne Lail and Opera Workshop with Susan Dunn. Duke really opened my eyes to the world of professional classical music. While I was at Duke I took part in a special semester long Schubert survey course managed by the entire voice faculty, culminating in coaching sessions with John Wustman and a concert of selected songs. It was here that I was assigned 2 songs from SCHÖNE MÜLLERIN to learn, my first exposure to ANY German Lieder. After graduating from Duke I attended Boston University where I received my Masters in Vocal Performance. In my second year at BU I joined Sharon Daniels' studio and have studied with her ever since.
BSR: And, now, here you are, years later, performing DIE SCHÖNE MÜLLERIN again. On May 25th. Have you performed this cycle in its entirety before?
JM: This will be my first SCHÖNE MÜLLERIN but after getting to know the cycle, I certainly hope not my last. The twenty songs feature such a range of emotions and musical moods that I feel I am always finding something new, some new way to set off the text or some new idea to deliver. Many people find the numerous strophic songs in the cycle daunting for a Non-German speaker (As did I!) but once you live with them and find the touching story lines through all of them, the strophic form really becomes a vehicle for expressing nuance in a way that can't be accomplished in the through-composed songs.
BSR: Have you worked with Linda before?
JM: Digging into these songs with Linda has been a tremendous musical experience. Our rehearsal sessions have been more like playtime and less like work. Unfortunately, I feel I probably don't have enough time to fully praise Linda. I met Linda last year when I performed Albert in Albert Herring with Red House Opera Group (Of which we are both members). Since then I had the great pleasure of working with her on a lovely Rorem song cycle entitled Evidence of Things not Seen with Florestan Recital Project as well as a performance of Vaughn Williams' Four Hymns for Tenor, Viola, and Piano. Linda is an incredibly gifted pianist and interpreter and I am really very honored to be working with her.
BSR: As a regular member of the Boston Lyric Opera chorus and the Old South Church choir, you seem to enjoy a balance of solo and ensemble singing. Do you have a preference for either?
JM: Well, there is something special about really great ensemble singing. The experience of singing with others to make the most beautiful music you can is something that can't really be matched by solo singing, but the experience is limited by those you perform with. When it's good, it's great - when it's bad, it's hell. I have done a lot of both ensemble and chamber singing in the last few years and I'm really enjoying the change of it just being Linda and I. The truth is, though, that all singing is ensemble singing. Anytime you sing with accompaniment you are part of an ensemble, if more soloists remembered that I think there'd be a lot more great "Solo" singing.
BSR: Good point we need to remember, thanks. What were your first professional singing experiences?
JM: My first paid singing experiences were small solo bits with the Durham Civic Choral Society and chorus in Carmen with Triangle Opera Theater. It was not until coming to Boston that I had any singing work that paid well enough to call it "Professional". While at BU I got a church job at Old South Church that I have kept ever since. It's a wonderful church as well as wonderful church job and I have since become a member. I got my first few solo breaks with the Newburyport Choral Society while at BU. Since graduating I have performed a variety of roles with Regional Opera companies and Local Choral Societies in New England. I also have been singing in the Boston Lyric Opera chorus for four seasons.
BSR: How does one start a successful regional singing career such as yours? Any advice?
JM: In terms of advice to others, it seems that the hardest thing is to get people to know who you are. I try to make the most of the performance opportunities I have and keep good relationships with the people with whom and for whom I sing. I have also found that being active in organizations like BSR or in AGMA or Actor's Equity is very important, both as a source of information and as an opportunity to network. Singers should also not be afraid to get involved in new ventures - groups and companies that are just getting off the ground. I have found it very interesting that even in this tough economic climate I have seen over 7 new performing organizations get started in the last year and a half. Also, if you are having trouble finding performance opportunities, make your own. Find a place to do a recital, get together with friends and stage a show - in short, do what you do best and, in my experience, the gigs will follow. As an aside, I am one of the three AGMA Board of Governors representatives for the New England Area and would be more than happy to answer questions for anyone with interest in the organization.
BSR: Yes, please do tell us more about AGMA. Is AGMA just for professional singers? How does one join?
JM: AGMA (American Guild of Musical Artists for the acronym challenged) is a trade guild or union representing solo vocalists, choristers, dancers, stage directors, and stage management in the worlds of Opera, classical concert work and ballet. Like any union they negotiate with the performing organization's leadership to secure pay scale increases, benefits and good working conditions for their members. To join AGMA all you need to do is contact the main office for details, any performing professional is allowed membership. You must pay an initiation fee as well as a bi-annual membership fee. In addition, 2% working dues are deducted from any fee you receive from working with an AGMA signatory company. Some benefits include: health plan funds; collective bargaining; union subsidized health insurance, mortgages, credit cards, etc.; and grievance procedures. Additionally, AGMA signatories cannot refuse an audition to an AGMA member who applies in a timely manner. As an elected member of the Board of Governors, I with two other individuals represent the New England Area to the national leadership of the union. The Board of Governors is responsible for the governance of the union. We vote on contracts, waivers, general policies about recording and video taping and a myriad other things. Feel free to call me or the New York City central office for more information (212) 265-3687 http://www.musicalartists.org/
BSR: Besides BLO what other organizations in town use primarily AGMA chorus singers?
JM: To my knowledge there are only two performing organizations in Boston whose performers are required to be AGMA - Boston Ballet and Boston Lyric Opera. This is referred to as a "Union House." However, many other respected performing organizations in town (Handel and Haydn, Opera Boston - formerly Boston Academy of Music, Boston Baroque) pay approximately the same scale as the AGMA organizations but do not negotiate the scale with AGMA.
BSR: You seem to enjoy the ideal - an active singing career as well as a home base. Any plans to do more national or international in the future?
JM: Well, everything in life is a trade off. The "Home base" is very important to me, so I don't see myself flying of to Europe to sing Lieder anytime soon, but I certainly am looking for opportunities to expand my singing career in New England. While having a full-time day-job can be limiting, it does afford me the, perhaps, enviable position of not taking every gig that comes along to pay the bills (though I try to take as many as I can). It also lets me dabble in work that pays less but is more artistically rewarding like Art song Recitals and New music.
BSR: Yes, please tell us more about your day job - the Development Guild. What is it, exactly, and what do they do?
JM: Development Guild/DDI is a management consulting firm working exclusively with local and national non-profit organizations. We are soon celebrating our 25th year of service and over that time have served more than 500 clients in the areas of health, education, the environment, arts, culture, advocacy, and human services, as well as foundations. As a firm we are committed to the performing arts sector and have worked with Boston Ballet, Celebrity Series, First Night, and Massachusetts Cultural Alliance. For a more in depth description of who Development Guild is and what we do - visit our website at www.developmentguild.com
BSR: How did you get involved with them?
JM: I started my work at Development Guild just after graduating BU in 1999. I was temping and got a call to temp at Development Guild. I was very attracted to the mission of the firm and enjoyed working with the staff. I left to spend a summer as a fellow at Tanglewood and after returning started temping again and soon ended up back at Development Guild. When a permanent position opened up, I expressed my interest and they hired me to do support work and help out with Technology Help Desk with the understanding that I would continue pursuing my performing career. My Technology-related responsibilities have since grown and I am now the Database Administrator and manage all aspects of the computer network and software installed in the office in addition to some duties on contracts with our clients. The truly wonderful thing has been the understanding that I have with Development Guild with regard to my singing. They understand that my performing is very important to me and have always worked with me to make it possible for me to pursue as many opportunities as I can.
BSR: I also know that having a "homebase" is also particularly important to you now that Victor is living with you. What an admirable thing you are doing giving this young man a home in Boston where he can find more opportunities! How do you manage life as "parent" and "performer?"
JM: Yes, in February of last year, my partner Frankie's now-15 year old nephew, Victor, moved in with us. We wanted to help him pursue the various educational avenues available to him here in Boston, that wouldn't be available to him elsewhere, specifically rural PA where his mom lives. So, it's been a little like "open packet, add water, instant teenager." Nonetheless, he is a wonderful young man and I'm very honored to be a part of making these opportunities available to him. Truly I have to say that little has changed. Being 15 he can take pretty good care of himself, though the occasional phone call during a performance intermission can serve to keep him on track with his homework and we are still working on his cooking skills. I do need to plan more carefully now with my schedule and I try hard to be home whenever possible but, between Frankie and I, we keep the bases covered fairly well. If anything, Victor has been a great help - Keeping things picked up around the house, handing out programs at my recital, reminding me that, yes I did take biology sometime in the distant past! All in all, it's been a wonderful experience.
BSR: Has your musical career influenced his interest in the performing arts?
JM: I've been trying to encourage his singing, he has a very nice bass-baritone voice, but I think he's still shy about it. He has started guitar lessons and is really starting to get the hang of it. He has enjoyed some of the classical performances that I have been in (Especially CARMEN ON THE COMMON), but he would tell you that he is much more interested in rock music. What can I say, at 15 I was too!
BSR: It is a wonderful thing you are doing for Victor and so important. Thank you and Frankie for your kind generosity.
BSR: What is next for you after DIE SCHÖNE MÜLLERIN?
JM: I'll be performing with Intermezzo Chamber Opera in September where I will sing The Sage in Hindemith's quirky HIN UND ZURUCK and also as a member of the Radio Trio in Bernstein's TROUBLE IN TAHITI. I will also be singing the solos in Dubois's SEVEN LAST WORDS OF CHRIST in the spring at Old South as well as performing a variety of renaissance music with a newly formed group, Exsultemus, and plans are in the works to reprise Red House Opera's 2002 production of ALBERT HERRING sometime next summer.
BSR: Well, thank you for your time, Jason. It has been great talking with you.
For more information or to contact Jason McStoots:
Home: 617-779-9120; Cell: 617-968-4457; Work: 617-277-3679*222
OLD SOUTH CHURCH presents ARTISTS OF THE RED HOUSE OPERA GROUP
Jason McStoots, Tenor; Linda Osborn-Blaschke, Piano
In a performance of Franz Schubert's DIE SCHÖNE MÜLLERIN
May 25th, 2pm
Old South Church
Copley Square, Boston
Contact Jason McStoots for more information:
Home: 617-779-9120; Cell: 617-968-4457; Work: 617-277-3679*222