TV’s Susanne Daniels on vision and voice

January 21st, 2015 No comments

UnknownIf you grew up in America with a TV, chances are you have watched, followed, recorded or otherwise fallen in love with a TV series developed by Susanne Daniels ’87. Daniels, who is the current President of Programming at MTV, has worked to bring shows such as Gilmore GirlsBuffy the Vampire SlayerAwkward, and a slew of other popular series for young audiences. On Thursday, January 22, Daniels will be in conversation with Amy Lippman ’85 (showrunner and executive producer of Showtime’s Masters of Sex) on careers as a part of the OFA’s Wintersession JAMS! programming. Daniels and Lippman will run a two-day workshop  on TV production for students on January 22 and 23. While trying my best to suppress awe for the woman behind beloved TV characters (Lorelai and Rory Gilmore will forever have a special place in my heart), I spoke with Susanne Daniels prior her trip to campus about her original interests in theater, how working with On Thin Ice was similar to working for SNLand where she thinks TV may be headed in the coming year.

What about your time at Harvard made you want to pursue a career in TV?
I actually wanted to pursue theater. I went to a lot of theater as a kid with my parents. I grew up in Connecticut, and there was a well-respected theater company called the Westport Country Playhouse. Over the summer they had a lot of great plays and I always went. I was an usher in high school, and my aunt was a Broadway actress, so I was always interested in theater. At Harvard, I worked on the Hasty Pudding Theatrical shows. I produced Bye Bye Verdi, and I worked on Between the Shieks the year before. I also worked on other shows. I was part of On Thin Ice as an undergraduate, which I really enjoyed. I never wanted to be in front of the camera, but I liked the idea of being behind the camera and producing.

The way I got into TV was just kind of lucky: Through a friend of a friend of a friend, my dad knew somebody at NBC News, and I went and met with the president. They knew that Lorne Michaels was looking for an assistant, and I got the interview, and I got that job. Saturday Night Live is an interesting hybrid, where it’s live, but it’s still like you’re putting on this show every week. So it was really a great blend for me. I felt like I was working on a theater show, but one that was televised and everyone in the world could see it. It was really exciting, and I learned so much. I ended up being interested in TV based on those three years working for Lorne Michaels. I wanted to explore more of it after that job. So I did.

Was working for a show such as Saturday Night Live similar to working in improv for On Thin Ice?
Of course. It’s a very collaborative process. Improv is very collaborative. Just like that, everybody’s working towards the same goal of making the funniest sketch we can make every week. The costume designer is working with the director, who’s working with the writers and the actors, and everyone is doing his or her best to contribute. There’s definitely the spirit of collaboration at Saturday Night Live, which is very exciting. Read more…

“Best Foot Forward”: The business of the arts

January 20th, 2015 No comments
***EDITOR’S NOTE: Registration for this event is closed.***
Meredith Max Hodges (’03 HBS ’10), Boston Ballet’s newly appointed executive director, knows that arts administrators at nonprofit organizations wear many hats. She’ll talk about her particular calling and preparation for the field during the Office for the Arts JAMS Wintersession offering “Best Foot Forward,” a luncheon conversation between Hodges and undergraduate students 12:30-2 p.m. Friday, Jan. 23 at the Office of Career Services, 54 Dunster St. Registration, which is required, is limited to 15 undergrads and can be done here. I talked with Hodges at the Boston Ballet headquarters to find out more about her thoughts as an arts administrator, the nuts and bolts of her work and her mission to make a difference in the world.
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Pianist Angela Hewitt on making sense of the notes

January 19th, 2015 No comments
Pianist Angela Hewitt

Pianist Angela Hewitt

Pianist Angela Hewitt will hold a master class 7 p.m. Jan. 22 in Paine Hall as part of the Office for the Arts JAMS offerings during Harvard’s Wintersession. The event, which is free and open to the public, is a joint venture of OFA’s Learning From Performers Program, Celebrity Series of Boston, New England Conservatory of Music and The Harvard College Piano Society. For the class, Hewitt will work with two students from Harvard and two students from the NEC. She will also perform in a recital with mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter on January 23 at Jordan Hall in Boston, presented by Celebrity SeriesHewitt has appeared with the Toronto Symphony, Cleveland Symphony and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. In 2006, she was named “Artist of the Year” at the 2006 Gramophone Awards. In 2014, she played concerts in Italy, Taiwan and Norway. Between her travel and concerts, she answered some questions about her life and work as an artist. An edited version of our email exchange follows.

You’ve gained widespread international recognition as the best Bach pianist of our time. How did you get started playing piano, and what piqued your interest in Bach?
My parents were both wonderful musicians – my father an organist and my mother a pianist – so music was always in the home. I began playing a toy piano at 2, and the real one at 3. I evidently asked my mother for a lesson every day. I also played the violin and recorder and sang a lot as a child. My father played all the great organ works of Bach in the most fantastic way, and I always loved them, even when I was a tiny girl.

Your concerts have taken you all around the world. Do you have a particular performance that stood out to you?
It is very hard to pick only one concert. I do, however, especially remember playing Book I of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier in London’s Royal Festival Hall only hours after learning that my mother had died in Canada. That was not an easy concert to give – also playing the hardest possible repertoire from memory – but it was also one of the most moving moments of my life. Read more…

Linked through the heart: Vance George’s vocal colorings

January 19th, 2015 No comments
Maestro Vance George

Maestro Vance George

Partway through my conversation with Vance George, a Grammy and Emmy Award-winning choral conductor and teacher, the internationally acclaimed maestro sang to me, illustrating the difference in coloration between two versions of the same phrase. Then, in a moment of wry self-awareness, he confessed, “I’m not quite sure how you’re going to write that down.” I could almost hear him grinning into his phone. Renowned for his facility with language and his mastery of musical styles and colors, George brought the San Francisco Symphony Chorus to tremendous acclaim in his celebrated 23-year tenure there. Maestro George is a master sculptor of the voice, and will bring his unique and deep knowledge of choral conducting to Harvard during his residency January 27–30 with the Holden Choruses as well as a public master class, open rehearsals and a performance. We spoke about finding the hidden architecture of a piece of music, speaking in singer’s lingo and being one’s best self. An edited version of our conversation follows.

You have been lauded for your ability to bring out different vocal colors in your singers. Can you talk a little bit about what this means?
Human voice is an amazing instrument that reflects – in expression and specifically in coloring and space and time – what you are talking about or singing about. There’s a specific way of listening; for instance, word accentuation is very important. In most languages, the first syllable is stressed and the second syllable is unstressed, which means that the second has a very different color and also less weight on it. There is also a difference in colors according to the style period in which you’re singing. [During my residency] I’m going to be working with both Brahms, which will be in a Romantic style with a very full, rounded sound, and Bach, which has less vibrato, more articulation of fast notes and straighter tone quality. So that’s just a very simple way of talking about it. It’s singer’s lingo, and it’s quite specific. If you’re singing English, you want it to sound like English, and English is actually quite a difficult language to sing beautifully. If I had to sum it up in one idea, it would be “stressed and unstressed.” 

What is the difference for you between working with students and working with professionals?
Professionals have more experience, certainly, but you’re still teaching, although not quite as obviously with professionals, because they have, probably, both degrees (an undergraduate and a masters degree) and experience professionally in singing. The kind of lingo I’m talking to you about right now I can just simply say to them, whereas to a student I might have to explain in a more teacherly fashion: “This is the sound that I would like, this is what it’s called.” And that opens up a whole area for them to experience both the sonority of a particular vowel and how you write it. I love teaching, and I love teaching students – but not every professional actually has that training.

Which element of your career do you find most rewarding?
I am my best self, I think, when I am making music, when I am actually involved in the action of conducting and listening to what is coming to my ear and then making these slight adjustments. I also enjoy very much taking a group, like the group I’ll be working with in Boston, and watching [at Harvard] and speaking to the actual singers in the choir and saying, “Why don’t you give this a try?” and demonstrating for them vocally. My undergraduate degree was a double major in voice and keyboard, so I can speak to them as a singer, and I can also speak to them architecturally, because there is a particular architecture in any phrase of music. It’s usually about three-quarters of the way through the phrase that you want the emphasis, and so you aim towards that. Otherwise the making of music can be very clunky. Architecture is very, very important in making music, and I love to conduct, I love to work with a choir, work with an orchestra, and come up with a product that is both gratifying to the performers and hopefully life-changing to the listener. I think that art really does call upon us to be our best selves, so it’s a wonderful thing to make music. If you’re dealing with the self, then you are helping to make a difference in the world, and that is what music is about for me. It doesn’t matter what your vocation is. Someone who teaches middle school or first grade is doing something very, very important.

Does writing about music have a special importance to you?
I’m a very slow writer. Language is so beautiful, and I love languages. I love the English language. I love German. I speak English and German, and I can pronounce French and Italian. So languages are very important to me, but of course I dealt with them mostly on a level of teaching other people to make beautiful sounds and sounds that reflect the natural accentuation of the language. But writing actually came to me rather late, since I was asked to write an article for a book on choral music called The Cambridge Companion to Conducting. I contributed a chapter on conducting. That was the first I really sat down an wrote as a professional. I was allowed 5,000 words, and I probably wrote 100,000. I guess I have a very practical bent, but there’s always a philosophical twist.

What will you be aiming to teach the students you work with beyond vocal technique?
Heart, soul, humanity. In the process of learning an art, you can become so technical that it becomes rather soulless. For instance, an obvious example, is that when you are making Japanese pottery you inflict a little error, because nothing is perfect. You want to get as close to perfection as possible, but always with that strong element of one human expressing to another human. Beethoven said that most beautifully: “From my heart to your heart.” So this music is, of course, structured in classical style – the style of Mozart, Hayden, Beethoven – but overriding all of that is his desire to express through this music what is in his heart, and that it will touch your heart.

What advice do you have for students looking to pursue careers in the arts?
Follow your bliss. If you really have it, if you really want to be in music or in art or in writing, then you simply do it. It can be on the most simple level of working in an inner-city school and having to deal with all the machinations and politics of that kind of job, but knowing that you’re reaching out to them in an area that maybe has never touched them before. I took every job I could get. People ask me, “How did you get where you are?” Well, I finished my undergraduate degree, and I got a job and I taught. That was when I was teaching all 12 grades of music, and it was just a beginning. Looking at it from a career standpoint: From that experience the only direction is up! Yeah – do it. Just go do it. And if you’re not happy, be flexible enough to change. If you’re doing work in your art or your field and it’s not gratifying, do something else. When you’re doing something you love, it’s not work. It may be frustrating, but it’s not work. It’s that gift that you were given. We’re all given gifts. Mine is ears and language and so forth, but always linked through the heart.

Chesney Snow and Harvard’s beatboxing moment

January 8th, 2015 No comments
Chesney Snow led a beatboxing workshop at Harvard in Oct. 14. PHOTO: Jacob Belcher/OFA

Chesney Snow led a beatboxing workshop at Harvard. PHOTO: Jacob Belcher/OFA

When Chesney Snow showed up at Harvard last fall, he arrived with director Manauvaskar Kublall and producer Rich McKeown, the creative team behind the documentary film American Beatboxer.  Snow spoke with blogger Anita Lo ’16. As a team, the artists presented the film and offered a post-screening discussion at Askwith Lecture Hall, and they stopped by the Office for the Arts to talk with me about the history and art of beatboxing. The next day, Snow offered a beatboxing workshop, in conjunction with the OFA Learning From Performers program, at Harvard’s Hiphop Archive & Research Institute. We recorded the session in a two-part video series. Part One features Snow and the participants discussing beatboxing, the tricks and trades (as Snow says). Part Two features the day’s culminating performances – and a little battle. “There’s nothing better than the human voice,” says Snow. This is it: Harvard’s collected beatboxing moment. Listen up. Then start making some sounds.


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Bowing to Mozart in Salzburg

Jeeyoung Anes Sung ’16, a resident of Dunster House concentrating in Molecular and Cellular Biology, was awarded an Office for the Arts/Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Artist Development Fellowship to attend the Mozarteum International Summer Academy last summer. Sung is a violinist for the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra and performs with the Brattle Street Chamber Players as well as the Dunster House Opera Society, and studies with Elita Kang, assistant concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In 2013, Sung participated in the New York String Orchestra Seminar with Jaime Laredo and performed in Carnegie Hall. Future plans include continuing music performance while pursuing academic interests in science and art history.

Jeeyoung Anes Sung ’16 (photo by Mark Olson)

Jeeyoung Anes Sung ’16 (Photo: Mark Olson)

Salzburg is a truly remarkable city. I spent two weeks there participating in the International Summer Academy at Mozarteum University, a master class program filled to the brim with world-renowned artists and teachers. During an orientation meeting, the director of the program emphasized the importance of music in Salzburg. “It is the only place I know,” he said. “Where [music] is a priority even for politicians.” What a surprise it was to hear such a claim, having lived in a place where music and music education are so often neglected or even taken away. At that moment, I felt so fortunate to have this incredible opportunity to learn and play music in the birthplace of Mozart and Karajan, in a place where music is happening everywhere all the time.

I studied with Austrian violinist and professor Regina Brandstätter, who was immensely helpful in just the two weeks I had with her. One of the biggest struggles as a violinist is figuring out how to convey musicality physically. Playing an instrument is a physical activity, so understanding how to bridge the gap between the emotional and physical is an important, but challenging, step. Though English is her second language, Brandstätter has a penchant for verbalizing her ideas and suggestions. Our lessons made more concrete the delicate, precise movements of my right arm as I moved the bow from the frog to the tip and back depending on the sound or effect I wanted to make. I was playing Mozart’s fourth violin concerto, a happy coincidence that I could only hope did not send Mozart rolling over in his grave! Read more…

Laying track for the creative train

January 2nd, 2015 No comments
Modi Wiczyk (AB '93, MBA '99)

Modi Wiczyk (AB ’93, MBA ’99)

I am not ashamed to say that I’ve spent a sizeable chunk of my winter break watching the Netflix original series House of Cards. The award-winning TV program features Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as a powerful Washington, D.C. couple that uses well-crafted political manipulation and deception to maintain influence in the U.S. government. Modi Wiczyk (AB ’93, MBA ‘99) is co-founder and co-CEO of the film studio Media Rights Capital, which created House of Cards (licensed and distributed by Netflix). As part of the Office for the Arts January Arts and Media Seminars – JAMS – during Harvard’s 2015 Wintersession, Wiczyk will speak about the risks and rewards of careers in entertainment at 7 p.m.  Jan. 22 at Fong Auditorium in Boylston Hall. I spoke with Wiczyk about taking professional risks, supporting dynamic and provocative artists, and making a career in the arts after Harvard. An edited version of our conversation follows.

How did being at Harvard influence you as an artist?
At Harvard, I had a lot of exposure to contemporary American fiction and some of the more classic French literature. I developed an appreciation for how impactful great art can be on the individual and on society. I was never going to be an artist, but I knew that if I could be someone who would facilitate that kind of art making, that would be a career I could be proud of.

Media Rights Capital is known for its commitment to taking on out-of-the-box projects. What are your thoughts on artistic and non-artistic risk taking? What would you consider to be the greatest risk you’ve taken artistically?
That’s a really good question. On a business level, perceived risk and true risk are often different. What you know at the time and in hindsight can change dramatically. Sometimes we make decisions that people perceive as incredibly risky that really aren’t. The riskiest thing we did was Ted. What was not risky was that the script was hilarious; what was risky was the execution of a main character as CGI – that is, in getting people to think of Ted as a character and not as an effect. Personally, when I was in business school I got a bunch of consulting summer internships, and instead I chose to work for free at Miramax, which people thought was crazy. They would ask, “Why would you be an intern for free when you’re at Harvard business school?” But I knew that it was the best path for doing what I love. Read more…

The power within: Israel, Gaga and the artist

Rossi Lamont Walter ’14, an affiliate of Quincy House who concentrated in History of Science and Jewish Studies, was awarded an Office for the Arts/Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Artist Development Fellowship to travel to Israel to explore Israeli culture and study Gaga Movement Language. At Harvard, Rossi has performed in a number of dances and concerts including Harvard Dance Project’s SEE-SAW, choreographed by OFA Dance Program Director Jill Johnson in collaboration with student dancers. In Fall 2013, Rossi was selected to participate in the Dance Program’s Emerging Choreographers Residency. He has also performed featured roles with the Urbanity Dance Company and was an active member of the Signet Society. He plans a career as a professional dancer, choreographer and social justice advocate.

Rossi Walter '14 (photo by Mark Olson)

Rossi Lamont Walter ’14 Photo: Mark Olson

“What already exists within us is our perfection. Training is the work of discovering that perfection and removing anything that inhibits or blocks it. Dance training can’t be separate from life training. Ralph Waldo Emerson lucidly states that ‘the aim of art is higher than art.’ Everything that comes into our lives is training. The qualities we admire in great dancing are the same qualities that we admire in human beings, such as honesty, courage, fearlessness, generosity, wisdom, depth, compassion and humanity. “ —Alonzo King, choreographer and artistic director, Alonzo King LINES ballet

My project as an Artist Development Fellow was to travel to Israel and study the Gaga Movement Language in the place of its origin. I moved to Tel Aviv in August 2014 and faced some serious internal struggles with my identity in this new Israeli context. Through these struggles, my commitment to dance remained steady, notably in my practice of classical ballet and Gaga.

The journey was a challenge. Transitioning from the Harvard Dance Project, a highly integrative performance- and research-based academic course, to being essentially a “freelancer student” was strange. What was I working towards? Without a series of performances to present the findings of months of rehearsal, I often felt unhinged, floating in the ether and abstract nature of my practices. In response, however, a curious thing happened.

Normally, the studio is for me a place not to “leave it all outside at the door,” as is often instructed to encourage dancers to focus, but rather to bring it all in – all the news, the pressure, the disappointment, the joy and hope for something great –and to draw from it, to find places for these feelings and experiences in the choreography, and to more fully live it through the dancing. But the opposite happened; my experiences in Israel, literal and philosophical, drove me inward, so deeply inward that the exercises at the ballet barre slowly became my refuge, my highest, most certain, most authentic expression of myself. Class began, I came alive. Disciplined, formal, steady. Class ended, and I was thrust back into a society that in many ways seems not to mirror my own such values in ways that I recognize. Read more…

Kara Walker on sweet talk

December 19th, 2014 No comments
Kara Walker  Photo by: Sari Goodfriend

Kara Walker
Photo by: Sari Goodfriend

On Dec. 8 at the Radcliffe Institute, Dean Lizabeth Cohen introduced Kara Walker as a maker of “deeply intelligent art,” a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant recipient who riffs on romance novels, sentimental fiction and the myths of slavery to deconstruct race today. The words echoed around the auditorium, and applause erupted.

“My work is also very funny,” Walker said as she fanned through a small stack of index cards. “I feel like it’s important to follow important introductions with that reminder.” Walker came to the Radcliffe Institute to speak with more than 60 undergraduates at a student lunch and also to give a lecture, “Sweet Talk,” about her public installation A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, on Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.

Walker recited this ornate title to the audience with a smile, allowing its rhythm to carry its length. She’s unexpectedly quiet for someone whose work is so bold: Walker “confected” a sculpture of a sphinx-like woman, covered in 80 tons of sugar for Brooklyn’s abandoned Domino Sugar Refinery in Williamsburg. Walker admitted that this idea was difficult for her to conceive, saying that she didn’t know if she wanted it to be a performance piece, a video, multimedia or perhaps something in the style of one of her famed cut-out pieces.

Walker originally gained recognition for her work in this medium after attending the Atlanta (now Savannah) College of Art and Design – “where it became apparent that I was doing everything wrong, as young students are always doing,” she said – and the Rhode Island School of Design. In 1994 she created the cut-paper mural Gone, An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred b’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart. She talked about her murals as ways for her to subvert cultural stereotypes and challenge the dominant memory of slavery’s past, stacking and restacking her index card notes the entire time. Read more…

The life syllabus of David Amram

December 3rd, 2014 No comments
David Amram

David Amram

With more than half a century of work under composer David Amram‘s belt, it’s no surprise that his list of collaborators reads like the syllabus to a class about the most important artists of the 20th century. Amram has composed film scores (such as The Manchurian Candidate) and operas (The Final Ingredient), written multiple books, is considered a pioneer of the French horn and was the first composer-in-residence at the New York Philharmonic. His collaborators and mentors include storied names such as Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Langston Hughes, Joan Mitchell and Jack Kerouac. At 84, Amram continues to work and travel, committed as ever to put forth the music he has loved his entire life. He will visit Harvard for a Learning From Performers conversation on Dec. 4 and a concert with the Harvard Wind Ensemble (Mark Olson, Director, and Interim Director of Harvard Bands) on Dec. 5. I spoke with Amram over the phone in anticipation of his visit to Harvard about his views on the music industry, the relationship between his heritage and his work, and his top role models for budding musicians.

The music industry
“I never thought of myself as having any kind of career. I hoped, and I still hope, that someday my music will have a career. Big difference. After 50 years of the Titanic sinking, the entertainment industry sunk itself, because like the Titanic it was too big, too fast, too poorly administrated, and didn’t serve the needs of the customers. Those of us who wanted to choose different paths are like the people in the life boats, who didn’t go down with the ship. We’re not going to go away. People who love art and information and life and other people also have distinguished that.”

Read more…