Reflections on a Cyber-Recital

In this age of constant connection and social media, it was only a matter of time before it permeated every corner of society. While the media is full of stories about people using the social networking sites for reasons other than socializing or networking, it does not detract from the fact that these sites can be powerful tools for an individual, especially when an individual is a musician.

Musicians are constantly looking for performances and exposure to further their careers. While many of the standards in the repertoire are being done, the trend towards more contemporary music is stronger than ever. In academia, for instance, there is a large push for newly commissioned works. Unfortunately, if a singer does not have an established relationship with a composer, commissioning a work or even simply finding new music to perform can be a daunting task on the best of days.

This is where technology has begun to play a major role. Performances, both good and bad, are uploaded immediately after a concert or streamed online as it is happening. Composers are realizing a new degree of exposure that, until now, has only been imagined. There is, however, still a degree of uncertainty in making a connection with a composer, even if it is accomplished over the World Wide Web.

I recently established such a connection and have reaped numerous benefits from taking such a chance and it is all due to the Internet and, specifically, social networking.

Beginning in 2006, I had the opportunity to meet and work with a wonderful, little-known (outside the UK) English composer, named F L Dunkin Wedd, who goes by the name Laurie. One day, while visiting the site MySpace, I came across his musician page and began listening to the musical performances that he had posted—performances of his own music by various soloists and ensembles. I became intrigued by his musical language and began to wonder if he had written anything for low voice.

After a few days of listening and debating with myself about possibly making contact with this composer, I decided to send him a message. I told him how I enjoyed his music, invited him to listen to the performances that I had posted on MySpace, and asked him if he had any songs that he had written for low voice. He informed me that he had a set of songs he had written for tenor entitled, A Hardy Triptych, but he would be more than happy to transpose them to a key that would fit my voice. With that gracious offer, I began exploring Dunkin Wedd’s music with an almost childlike sense of wonder and discovery.

Not only did Dunkin Wedd sent me the .pdf files for his songs, he sent me some midi files that allowed me to get an idea of how he intended the music to sound (at least from a computer standpoint). From there, some quality time in front of a piano allowed me to hone in on the transposed keys that I would need for each song. The rest of our time was spent via e-mail, back and forth, discussing the pieces. I would send him recordings of our rehearsals and he would send me notes regarding tempi, articulations, interpretation, and general thoughts/ideas about the performance.

After I had finally given the recitals and introduced my slice of America to the music of Dunkin Wedd, I began to ponder how I could continue this working relationship with the composer. A few months had passed and I had an idea. Why not try and find a performing venue in England where I could work closely with Dunkin Wedd and feature his music? Upon running the idea past my new colleague, we set out to look for a performing space.

There were a few set backs due to timing and my wife and I having our fourth child, but in the fall of 2010, Dunkin Wedd informed me of a concert series that was part of London’s illustrious St. Martin-in-the-Fields. He told me where to find the application and I set out to send my proposal to them. After what seemed like forever, I was invited to be a part of the concert series, with my concert scheduled for September 9, 2011.

Then came challenge number two.

When you have never sung abroad, finding a good accompanist can be challenging on the best of days. You are at the mercy of recommendations of people you have never met—friends of friends of acquaintances. Fortunately, the composer had worked with a couple of good pianists in London and provided me with a few contacts as a starting point. His contacts were unfortunately unavailable, but one gentleman offered the name of another pianist. Upon making that contact, I had found my accompanist, John Flinders. All that remained was to make the travel reservations and schedule rehearsals and meetings with the composer.

Fast forward to the trip. I made it safely to London and, of course, spent plenty of time sight-seeing. Then, on Tuesday, September 6, I had the opportunity to finally meet Dunkin Wedd. His e-mails and phone calls did not fully do this man justice. He and his family were warm, welcoming, and as eager to share their time and their bit of England with me as he was willing to share his music. We spent the better part of a day together and I never once felt like I was “working” with someone on a professional level. I felt like I was having a long overdue reunion with a friend who happened to compose music. It gave me an even deeper appreciation for his music.

The next day was my first rehearsal with Mr. Flinders. As I made my way by train to his flat, I found myself hoping for the best and planning for the worst. He came highly regarded, but I had never even talked to him. We had only e-mailed. I had never heard him play. On the other hand, he had never heard me sing, so I decided to call it even and let the chips fall where they may.

Upon arrival, I was greeted by another warm, gracious man who invited me in and immediately asked if I wanted something to drink. After we talked for a little bit and became acquainted with each other, we began to rehearse and all of my insecurities instantly went away. To say that Flinders was a sensitive, artistic collaborative pianist would be like saying that Michelangelo knew his way around large rocks.

With all of the uncertainties behind me, all that was left was to give the concert. On September 9, 2011, Flinders and I met early to go through the concert at St. Martin-in-the Fields. Everything was in order and everyone was on the same page. That was when the staff began filling me in on the various logistical things about the concert including the large variable that is the audience. They informed me that there could be a couple of people in attendance or many people—that was the uncertainty of a noontime concert.

Fortunately, the concert went off without a hitch to a sanctuary of 200+ people.

After the concert, Flinders, Dunkin Wedd and his wife, myself and my wife went to lunch to celebrate. Here was a concert, a collaboration, and a friendship that all began in the most unassuming of places . . . a social networking site on the Internet.

Dunkin Wedd and I “met” on MySpace and 99 percent of our correspondence was done either through that site or via e-mail. Our collaboration has gone on to consist of two recitals in the U.S. and one in England (described here). The recitals in the U.S. turned out to be the U.S. premiere of his settings of poetry by Thomas Hardy, A Hardy Triptych.

Not only did this initial chance encounter on a social networking site lead to a wonderful working relationship and multiple performances, it kindled a sweet new friendship and allowed for the discovery of some charming and lovely music that deserves to be known by more musicians.

Roberto Mancusi

Roberto Mancusi is an associate professor of music at the University of Tennessee at Martin. He maintains a busy performing schedule and teaches applied lessons, beginning conducting, voice science & pedagogy, and co-directs the university’s Lyric Opera Theater. His textbook, Voice for Non-Majors was published by Prentice Hall in 2008. An International Travel Grant from the University of Tennessee at Martin- Department of Research, Grants, and Contracts assisted with part of this project.