Mezzo - Soprano  Constance  Beavon

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Constance Beavon, mezzo soprano, has performed the lyric mezzo soprano operatic repertory with New York City Opera (Cavallaria Rusticana and others), Grand Théâtre du Genève (Il Turco in Italia), Chicago Opera Theater (Where the Wild Things Are), Harrisburg Symphony (L'Enfant et les Sortileges), Clarion Concerts (Lodoiska) and Mannes Opera (Così Fan Tutte) as well as numerous world premiere operas for After Dinner Opera, Music Downtown, League ISCM, Aviva Players and Musica Viva of New York.

Performances as soloist with the symphony orchestras of Houston, Montreal, Baltimore, Arkansas, New Jersey, University of Chicago, New Orchestra of Westchester, Maine Music Society, Musica Viva of New York, Queens College, Du Page and Fox Valley have included masterpieces of the orchestral song repertoire including Mahler Fourth Symphony, Das Lied von der Erde, Ruckert Lieder and Kindertotenlieder, Ravel Sheherezade, Chausson Poème de l'Amour et de la Mer, Canteloube Songs of the Auvergne, and Barber Knoxville: Summer of 1915. Ms. Beavon has performed the oratorio repertoire from Handel's Messiah to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and throughout the United States, and created more than a dozen new orchestral sacred works with Incontri di Musica Sacra e Contmporanea in performances throughout Italy and with the Harare Symphony in Zimbabwe, Africa.


At the same time she has performed the music of our time since her earliest experiences as a musician. She has recorded and premiered more than 100 works, many written especially for her. Collaborations with composers and writers have lead to unique theatrical/musical projects such as the one woman opera It Had Wings by writer Allan Gurganus and composer Bruce Saylor, recital programs created especially for art exhibitions at the Chicago Art Institute (Odilon Redon and the Symbolist poets), the Frick Museum in Pittsburgh (Ottocento Italian Painting, Poetry and Music), the Gardiner Museum in Boston and the Jewish Museum in New York City.

Additionally, Ms Beavon is a frequent performer of vocal chamber music with such distinguished organizations as Orchestra 2001, Library of Congress Summer Festival, Music Today Ensemble, Chicago Chamber Musicians, League ISCM Chamber Players, Rockport Chamber Music Festival, Jubal Trio, Campion Quartet of Rome, Meridian Strings, and Rosewood Ensemble. Her more that 50 recordings of the vocal chamber music and song repertoire of our time are available on BMG, Da Capo, Opus One, RCA, New World and Musical Heritage Recordings.

Ms. Beavon is an honors graduate of Pomona College, Columbia University and New York University and holds prizes from international competitions in Montreal and Carnegie Hall. She lives in New York City with her husband, composer Bruce Saylor, and four amazing daughters.  When not engaged in music, she conducts interviews and produces films about the international activism, religion, art, and poetry.

I had the pleasure of meeting Constance Beavon for an interview on the last day of June, 1994, and she began by talking of her first experience with new music . . . . .

Constance Beavon:   I began singing as an undergraduate student at Pomona College.  I had a dear friend who is now in New York named David Noon.  He is a composer, and he asked me to do an extraordinarily difficult piece of his, which was the first piece of non-tonal music I ever learned.  I will never ever forget the premiere because I thought nobody could be more frightened than I was.  In the middle of it I wondered what would happen if I turned around and walked off the stage, because it was really difficult.  [Laughs]  I was completely unacquainted with that harmonic language.  David was conducting, and I made it to the end.  As we took our bow, he grabbed my hand to take a bow together, and he was trembling incredibly.  I realized that he was absolutely as nervous as I was.  That was my baptism by fire, and in some ways, nothing was ever so hard again.  It’s difficult because I don’t have perfect pitch, so I have to learn everything slowly and carefully.

noon David Noon was born on 23 July 1946 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He is of Pennsylvania Dutch, Welsh, and American Indian heritage. His formal musical education began at the age of 8 when he learned to play the clarinet. Subsequently, he took bassoon, flute, piccolo, and piano lessons. Throughout his childhood, he frequently performed in choirs, bands, orchestras, and chamber music ensembles. During his collegiate years at Pomona College, he continued to sing and play bassoon and piano. He also began the systematic study of composition. Following his undergraduate education, he attended New York University to study Medieval music with Gustave Reese. After receiving an MA in musicology at NYU, he attended Yale University, where he received an MMA and a DMA in composition. Noon's composition teachers have included Karl Kohn, Darius Milhaud, Charles Jones, Yehudi Wyner, Mario Davidovsky, and Wlodzimierz Kotonski.

In 1972–73, he was a Fulbright Fellow in composition at the Music Conservatory in Warsaw, Poland. From 1973 to 1976, Noon taught music theory and composition and supervised the advanced ear-training program at the School of Music at Northwestern University. In 1976, he was composer-in-residence at the Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, New Mexico. From 1996 to 1998, Noon was Composer Artist-in-Residence at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

A prolific composer, Noon has written 232 works, including chamber music, orchestral works, and choral compositions. He has written 11 string quartets, 3 piano concertos, the opera R.S.V.P., and many works featuring percussion. He has also written 2 books of poetry: Postcards from Rethymno and Bitter Rain; 3 historical novels: The Tin Box, Googie's, and My Name Was Saul; and 3 Nadia Boulanger mysteries, Murder at the Ballets Russes, The Tsar's Daughter, and The Organ Symphony.

Influenced by Stravinsky, Webern, and Boulez, Noon wrote serial music until 1975. It was in that year, in the finale of his String Quartet #1, that Noon abruptly wrote a volta in the style of a Renaissance viol consort. This was the beginning of Noon's conscious reference to styles, techniques, and formal procedures of the past. While often maintaining a fully chromatic harmonic and melodic language, Noon's music frequently makes allusions to tonal diatonicism. The sharp distinction between chromatically dissonant and diatonically tonal music has become a stylistic trait of Noon's work.

He was on the faculty of Manhattan School of Music in New York City from 1981 to 2011, where he was chairman of the Music History Department (1981-2007), chairman of the Composition Department (1989–98), and dean of academics (1998-2006). In 2007–08, Noon was a visiting professor of musicology and composition at the Central Conservatory in Beijing, China. Noon resides in New York City and on the Greek island of Crete.

==  Names which are links in this box and below refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  

Bruce Duffie:   Is it more difficult to come out on the stage to sing Monteverdi or Chausson than it is to come out and sing brand new pieces?

Beavon:   No, I’d say even say less.  I have discovered that one of the great benefits of doing contemporary music is that it’s our music.  There’s not a layer of interpretation involved, and the audience doesn
t know that.  You just simply stand there and do it as honestly as you can.  Of course you need to sing it well.  That’s important for all of it.

BD:   Does it really belong to everyone, or just to the composers and the aficionados?

Beavon:   There’s another sweet story along those lines that I have to tell on myself.  I entered an international competition after working as an art librarian for some years.  I never really considered that a musical career was a possibility, but at a certain point I thought that if I didn’t do this, or at least make a try at it, I’m going to regret it.  I don’t want to have any regrets, so I decided to give it a year.  I entered an international competition in Montreal, and was one of the winners.  It was three weeks long, and had three different sets of repertoire, including a song recital, and a requirement was to do a contemporary song cycle.  I could have done the Ravel Greek Songs, because it merely had to be a 20th-century song cycle, but I thought I should sing contemporary music.  Everyone will hate it, but it’s the right thing to do.  So I did a very beautiful cycle for voice and piano by a man named Ira Taxon, a very gifted composer.  It was settings of English translations of Chinese poetry.  It had sprechstimme in it, and a lot of avant-garde techniques, as well as very coloristic things in the piano.  It was really all over the map, with big leaps, and jumps, and angles, and whatnot.  So I did this piece, and it brought down the house.  [Laughs]  This was absolutely not a new-music audience.  This was a singer-audience of people that went there to scope out the new talent. 
But they loved it!  They absolutely loved it, and nobody was as surprised as I was.  It was a big lesson to me.  I’ll never forget that experience of realizing that I wasn’t trusting the audience to know their own art, and it is their own art.  Mozart is wonderful.  We revere Mozart, but it’s not ours.  It’s not our language.  It’s not our times, and on a certain level, audiences really know that.  As a performer of contemporary music, I really do feel privileged to have the opportunity to bring something new to people that is, in fact, theirs.  They just haven’t heard it or seen it yet.

taxon Ira Taxin was born in New York City in 1950. His early theory and composition studies were with Ludmila Ulehla, and jazz improvisation lessons were with John Mehegan. Taxin received his bachelor’s from Boston University, studying composition with Gardner Read and Joyce Mekeel. He received his master’s and doctoral degrees from Juilliard, where his main teachers were Roger Sessions, Elliott Carter and Milton Babbitt. Additional studies at Tanglewood were with Jacob Druckman and Donald Martino. Taxin held teaching assistantships at Juilliard beginning in 1973 and he was assistant professor of music at Briarcliff College from 1974-76. He is chair of the History and Composition departments at Juilliard Pre-College, where he has taught since 1982.

He has received commissions from the Berkshire Music Center, Fromm Music Foundation, the Koussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress, National Geographic Society, Empire Brass Quintet, and others. He was the recipient of two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, for his Concerto for Brass Quintet and Orchestra and Trumpet Concerto; and the Charles E. Ives Scholarship from the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Taxin received ASCAP and Leonard Bernstein Fellowships to Tanglewood, where he was awarded the Margaret Grant Memorial Composition Prize for the 1972 season. He received two BMI Student Composer Awards as well as the Joseph H. Bearns Prize from Columbia University for his Concerto for Piano and Chamber Orchestra. His works have been performed by major orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, Cincinnati Symphony, and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and by conductors such as Pierre Boulez and Gunther Schuller. Taxin has received several Teacher Recognition Awards from the U.S. Department of Education, Presidential Scholars Program, and National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. In addition to his concert music, he has composed, arranged, performed, directed, and produced music for television, radio, educational films, feature films, video animation, commercials, music libraries, musical theater, and stage works.

Taxin is an alumnus of the BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop. His music has been published by Theodore Presser Company and his brass quintets have been recorded by the Meridian Arts Ensemble. He is a member of BMI.

BD:   So the real lesson for you was to trust the audience no matter what?

Beavon:   Yes.  Trust the audience.  Don’t sell them short at all.  This is an issue with contemporary opera as well, and I think that’s an error.  It’s just a mis-reading of the audience to think that they’re not ready for contemporary opera.  They are.  Opera is really a historically contemporary idiom, but we have made it into a museum.

BD:   Are you optimistic about the whole future of it?
Beavon:   Oh, I think so, very much.  This is especially of the operatic future, because there you have so many tools working for you, including visual ones.  On balance, our visual intelligence and perception today is way ahead of our aural intelligence and perception, and that’s a great advantage in opera.  You have the possibility of showing, as well as telling, so that you can do a lot more.  You can be a lot more tonally adventurous without losing people.

BD:   When you give a recital, you’re going to put some contemporary pieces on it.  Do you have to then force yourself to do an early group, and a French group, and a romantic group?

Beavon:   [Laughs]  Oh, I never have to force myself to do historical music.  The recital repertoire for a singer is so rich, and so deep, and so rewarding, one only wishes there were more opportunities.  It’s an inexhaustible repertoire that we have as singers.  I love singing French music, for example.

BD:   From this inexhaustible repertoire, how do you decide which pieces you are going to spend time to learn and get into the throat?

Beavon:   It’s tough.  Mostly when I’ve done recitals, they’ve always had some kind of hook to them.  For example, I’ve done a song program that was all settings of folk songs from Cantaloube to Schoenberg to Britten.  It’s a little bit of a gimmick, but it’s a way of having some coherence to what would otherwise be a Chinese menu situation, taking one from column A and one from column B.  It’s nice to have some guiding principle throughout the program.  That’s one way of selecting from this vast, vast menu of music, deciding on a certain thread that you’re going to have.  There are pieces that I’ve just always wanted to do, so I’ll just simply learn them and program them.  La Bonne Chanson of Fauré, for example, was a big cycle that I learned and programmed simply because I was dying to do it.

BD:   Do you work as hard at your diction when it’s in a foreign language as you do when it’s in English, and you know that everybody is going to be hanging on every word?

Beavon:   I certainly try to.  I speak in French and Italian, and I pronounce German, but once you’re in a language other than your native language, which for us of course is American English, it’s never going to be as acute.  There are wonderfully super gifted linguist-singers who are very, very, very close to getting it just exactly right.  That’s certainly what we strive for all the time, and communicating the sense of the piece is absolutely paramount, and is quite apart from the diction per se.  What you’re doing as a performer is speaking to your audience, and connecting with them.

BD:   When you’re standing on the platform, do you want the audience to have their heads buried in the program reading the text and following along?

Beavon:   No, no, no.  It’s tough.  Singing is hard.  To make your diction clear, it’s an ongoing struggle.  Certainly, vocal technique is a big piece of that.  Being able to sing well will produce good diction by and large, but you just have to try as hard as you can.  However, I still think it’s important for the audience to have the text.  You hope they’ll put them down, but in fact what we’re dealing with all the time is excellent poetry.  It’s not like reading the newspaper.  It is something that you will get more out of if you can take it home, and read it, and remember the music.  During the performance, though, I do hope they’ll be able to put the programs down and just look at us, because for any musician, and singers in particular, one of our primary tools for communicating is the face.  So you do want people to be able to see it.

BD:   It seems that you’re actually expecting from them more of a total immersion in the music and in your artistry. 

Beavon:   I hope to bring them along certainly.  I’m a parent.  I have three wonderful little girls, and I do think it’s like storytelling.  If you read a book, that’s great.  They’ll love it.  If you tell them a story where the book’s been put down, and you maybe are even making it up, that is utterly fabulous.  You can see it.  Kids are the best audience in the world for judging how effective you are.  They’re like little barometers.  The minute you start to be less focused, you lose them right away, and the minute you’re really focused and really bringing them along, you can see it in their eyes immediately.  That’s more my mode.  I wouldn’t necessarily expect the audience to know anything, or be immersed in it in any way, but what I want to do is tell them a wonderful story, and hope that as I’m telling it, they’ll get pulled into this world.  In a song recital you’re switching worlds and languages all the time, as well as switching musical styles and centuries.  So you do have to pull people into whatever this next world is on a song recital.

BD:   Do you add things such as changing your outfit for the second half?

Beavon:   No, I don’t.  That seems a little diva-ish.  But I’ve had a few opportunities to actually make some staged evenings.  Along these lines of telling a story, my husband, Bruce Saylor, had written a spectacularly beautiful song cycle to poems of James Merrill [Songs from Water Street].  Mr.  Merrill is maybe our greatest living American poet.  He is an absolute consummate artist, and these five poems that Bruce set for viola and piano are all diamonds, and emeralds, and rubies.  They’re perfectly refined gems.  The poetry’s very sophisticated, and the music’s very sophisticated.  It’s definitely something that you’re not going to get on a first listening, neither the poetry nor the music.  There are just too many layers and references.  They’re high art.  [The recording of this cycle, along with two other Beavon recordings, are shown with my interview of Bruce Saylor.]  After I had premiered this piece, Bruce had another piece to write, and I thought it would be so great to have something where literally the audience could put down their texts.  They wouldn’t know anything about what’s going to happen, and I would tell them a story.  So we looked high and low.  We looked at dramatic monologues, and some short stories, and lots of different things without too much success.  One of our advisors was a wonderful writer friend of ours named Allan Gurganus.  This was at the time when he was involved in writing his wonderful prize winning novel, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.  Because he worked so hard and so intensely for so long, he could hardly accept a dinner invitation.  He was really disciplined, and we didn’t want to bother him.  We told him we’d followed up all his leads, and were still not finding anything.  So we asked if he could suggest maybe a fragment from the novel because it had a female protagonist.  He said he didn’t think so, but he’d think about it.  Three days later, he turned up with a three-page short story that he had written.  It’s a fantastic thing called It Had Wings.  It’s been since published in his prize winning collection of short fiction called White People, but it was written specifically for a musical setting.  He knew it had to be really, really short, because in music, everything gets lengthened three to five times over the spoken word.  This is a piece which is a story.  It’s about an old lady washing her dishes.  She looks outside, hears a noise, and goes out to see what it is.  It’s an angel that has crash landed in her backyard.  The story is about the interaction between this old lady and the angel, and has quite a surprising twist.  I did it as a concert piece for many years, and finally had an opportunity to do what I had always wanted to do, which was to have it staged.  It was brilliantly done by a choreographer named Lila York, danced with Paul Taylor, and had a commissioned orchestration.  I thought this can work.  It is something which is essentially abstract, and written as a concert piece, but with very, very sensitive handling it could be a theatrical piece.  I have a short list of things that I’m dying to do this with, and I’m working on it.  That’s another layer of the storytelling.  There’s an in-between genre, like L
Histoire du soldat of Stravinsky.  It’s not opera, it’s not concert, it’s somewhere in the middle, and because it’s in the middle, the possibilities are really open-ended about what kind of collaboration it would be, with a choreographer, a director, a painter, or any number of layers of participation.

BD:   We’ve talked about songs, and about this middle ground.  Do you also do opera?

Beavon:   I have done opera, but not a great deal.  Careers tend to have their own lives, and because I started late, and from the new music end, that’s the way it went.  I have sung at Geneva Opera.  I did Turco in Italia with an absolutely spectacular international cast including Catherine Malfitano, Paolo Montarsolo, and Giorgio Tadeo.  I have also sung at the New York City Opera.  I did Lola in Cavalleria Rusticana, and also Dominick Argento’s Casanova.

BD:   [With a wink]  You were one of Casanova’s conquests?

Beavon:   [Smiles]  No, I was a little boy.  I had a pants role in that.

BD:   Being a mezzo-soprano, you get to do pants roles.

Beavon:   Right.  That’s exactly my Fach [category], the pants parts.

BD:   Tell me about being a boy.  Do you like being a boy?

Beavon:   Oh, sure.  They’re always like Cherubino of sorts.  They’re always flirtatious, kind of out of control, spontaneous, and outrageous.  It’s always fun to do those pants parts.

BD:   Do you ever wish you could be like that in real life?

Beavon:   Maybe I am.  I don’t know...  Every once in a while I surprise myself and try to be spontaneous.
BD:   Maybe that’s why God gave you three daughters instead of a couple of sons.

Beavon:   Right!

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   We’ve been talking about the various kinds of concert music, opera, and songs.  Is the music that you sing for everyone?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interviews with James Dashow, and George Shirley.]

Beavon:   Oh, I absolutely think so.  I only sing music I love, so I’m going to think that.  But the new music that I do is all in English.  That’s a big thing, because singing Debussy, and Ravel, and Brahms, is absolutely wonderful, but there’s a huge barrier there.  These people were writing their own language for a very direct communication with their audience.

BD:   If a living European composer asked you to do their song cycle, would you turn it down because it’s not in English?

Beavon:   No, I’d be delighted to do it.  I do speak these other languages, but just because it’s contemporary music doesn’t mean it’s not written for people to hear.  With American contemporary art music, it’s written in the language of the audience, and this is a huge leg up.  Then you add on the fact that it’s in a musical language which is around in people’s ears.  We forget how much TV and movie music is not tonal.  There is a bigger exposure to non-diatonic music going for you.  Then there’s the business that, by and large, contemporary composers are going to set more or less contemporary texts.  So there’s a common sensibility with your audience that’s built into that.  It’s an expression of a person who is writing in a medium that’s for the public, and we performers are the intermediary between the creator and the public.  But all we’re doing is expressing something that was meant for people to hear.  It’s not removed from where we are now.  Mozart is removed from where we are now, but these new pieces aren’t.  They’re inhabiting exactly the same world that the audience is inhabiting.  However, the performer must believe in it, and believe that it’s honest, and believe that it’s a communication and not some kind of artifact or untouchable abstract thing.

BD:   Talking about contemporary music, you are spending your life with a man who creates music, who creates these sounds, and organizes them and puts them together.  What advice do you have for someone who wants to write for the human voice?

Beavon:   Be very, very practical.  Don’t write extreme ranges.  There are going to be singers who can do that, but it’s going to eliminate the possibility of the piece being done by a large number of singers if you write extremely low or extremely high, or both in the same work.  The opera world is the best situation because there really are Fachs.  You know what the notes are, you know what the ranges are, you know where the good places of the voice are.  So, go ahead and write for the Fach.  If it’s a coloratura, fine, do it, but don’t then write a lot of middle Cs.  The actual established voice ranges are not there by accident.  They’re the result of biology, and physiology, and history, and they’re a good idea!  The other thing I would say is that I love to work with a text that has some storytelling element to it, where you’re not too abstracted, and where you can really reach your audience.  There’s something that can be personalized in the text.  It doesn’t mean it has to be a first-person thing, or a story per se.  It’s just that as a performer I love to have something that’s concrete and emotional.  It doesn’t mean it has to be melodramatic, but it can be personalized in some way.  The best thing you can do for both your performer and your audience is to be very careful about setting text so it’s natural, and comprehensible, and possible to sing.  That’s all totally practical advice, and none of this has to do with musical style.  The musical style doesn’t even enter into it at all.

BD:   Is this because there are so many musical styles being utilized today?

Beavon:   Oh yes, absolutely.  First of all, it’s tons of fun as a performer because you get to enter all those different worlds.  I really don’t think style is the issue for an audience.  There are a lot of forces that would like to paint it that way because the 12-tone system got a big old black eye and it’s not fair.  I don’t think it’s true, either.  There is a communication issue, and that has to do with some of these practical things that I just mentioned.  You want to be able to write vocal music in a range where the audience can understand the words.

BD:   You’re a mezzo-soprano.  Is this perhaps the best range to write for, because it’s a little more weighty in the bottom, a little more broad in the middle, and yet you still have the top?

Beavon:   [Laughs]  I’m always happy if people write music for mezzo-sopranos.  It has an advantage, especially in that I’m a lyric mezzo.  I’m a high mezzo.  I inhabit this region on the lowish end of the soprano range.  It does mean that some of the music I sing is described as soprano, some of it is mezzo, and some even is alto.  I do the Brahms viola songs, for example, every chance I get.  In fact, if you write in that mezzo range, that means many sopranos are also going to be able to sing it, and that’s not a bad idea at all.  Similarly, the baritone range is a wonderful range for a contemporary composer to write, because they have the best possibility of getting the words over.  They’re singing in their speaking range.

BD:   Is it fun living with someone who’s always creating?

Beavon:   It’s a lot of fun, and it’s very mysterious to me.  Bruce and I have been married a long, long time, and I still haven’t any idea how he does it, or where his ideas come from.  They just come.  They’re just created out of nowhere.  It’s been a lot of fun to collaborate on some things.  I couldn’t write a note of music, but it’s been wonderful to have the opportunity to suggest projects like It Had Wings.  Especially when they turn out so well, it’s very gratifying.  I enjoy very much everything that I do in music that inhabits this intellectual end.  My academic background’s actually in art history, and I’ve had the opportunity to put programs together that really combined my expertise in these two areas.  It’s just really, really stimulating because the correspondences are many times direct.  Usually, both the painters and the musicians were inspired by the poets, so they really share a common intellectual territory.  Sometimes they were actually acquaintances of one another.  I love that part of being married to a composer, and of my own work as a singer, wherever this intellectual piece of it can come into play.

BD:   We’ve talked a little bit about intellectualism.  Where is the balance in your performing or in your program selecting between the intellectualism and an entertainment value?

Beavon:   Entertainment value has everything.  Sometimes the entertainment value can be enhanced through planning a recital program.  If you put the intellectual piece into play so that you have some coherence through the evening, it’s like a little piece of theater.  It has to start somewhere, and go somewhere, and end somewhere.  If you’re using your mind to do that, as well as strictly decisions about variety of tempo and everything else, it’s going to help the audience and add to the entertainment value.  Everything you give them helps them
your acting ability, your diction, your program notes, everything.  It’s all about having a great show.  That’s the only thing it’s really about.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You’ve made a number of recordings.  Do you sing the same for the microphone as you do for a live audience?
Beavon:   It’s interesting.  I’m sure everybody tells you that recordings are very nerve wracking, mainly because the clock is ticking, and you want everything to be perfect.  A lot of the music I have recorded is chamber music, so that means at any given moment there are several people for whom something can go wrong, and the ticking clock is a real tyrant.  Interestingly enough, I find that what I have to concentrate on in a recording is not so much that you’re singing for the microphone.  That’s a technical thing about how loudly you pronounce your Ps and Ts, and also the level at which you’re projecting your voice.  It’s not for the room at that point, it’s really for the microphone, although you have to sing or it won’t sound right.  But the main thing is that I’m very aware the audience is not able to see my face, and that is a big tool for a performer.  So I always am most acutely aware of trying to characterize vocally, even more highly on a recording than I would in a recital program where I have other tools.  When you listen to a recording, first of all the diction has to be perfect, or the audience goes crazy.  They’ve got to get the words on a recording, or it’s too frustrating.  The other item is what you as a performer know about this piece.  You have to tell them without them being able to see you.  That means you have to really characterize vocally very strongly.  I’d say those are the main differences between recording and performing live.

BD:   Are you pleased with the recordings that have been made of your voice?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at left, see my interviews with Steven R. Gerber, John Lessard, and Ursula Mamlok.]

Beavon:   Never, but only because I’m a perfectionist.  I’ve worked with wonderful people.  The engineers have always been fabulous, and the circumstances have been very good.  It’s just it’s hard to listen to recordings of yourself.  I usually wait a couple of years.  I’m certainly very pleased to record, and am always extremely honored to be asked.  It’s a great honor to know that somebody wants you to present their piece.  There are many, many wonderful composers, and it’s been a real joy and privilege to sing their works.

BD:   A speculative question...  Do they find you a little easier to work with knowing that you’re with another composer all the time, and maybe know the joys and sorrows of being a composer?

Beavon:   I don’t know about that.  I’ll have to ask somebody sometime.

BD:   I just wonder if that gives you an easy rapport with other composers.

Beavon:   It could be.  I never thought about it.  It’s possible that it would.  Certainly, I am very flexible.  I always feel it’s important for both the performer and the composer to know what the possibilities are.  I also like to know what they want.  That’s the main thing I want to know.  Then, if there’s something in there that’s really just not going to sound good, or that I’m going to have too much trouble with, or I don’t understand, I really want to get cleared up by talking to the composer.  Of course, we can’t talk with Mozart, but I do get to talk with many, many composers.

BD:   I assume you strive for musical perfection all the time.  Is that actually attainable?

Beavon:   I haven’t found it so, but we work in a performance medium, and we just have to chalk it up as one of the joys that it’s always different.  There are always variations.  Certainly, for a singer, your voice is a little bit different every single day.  It has nothing to do with anything except the weather, and the fact that your body is the instrument.  You just have to approach it as a strength.  It’s part of the performing medium that nothing is ever going to be like a fly in amber.  Plus, some pieces you’re going to like better than others.

BD:   Do you ever wish you could just take the voice out and have it re-strung, or put in a new valve, or adjust the keys?

Beavon:   [Laughs]  Only when I’ve been sick.  That is really frustrating because there’s nothing to do but wait and get well.  Luckily I don’t get sick anymore.  I got inoculated to everything with my three kids.  Nothing can make me sick now!

BD:   Having three kids, would that mean that you would never sing Kindertotenlieder?

Beavon:   I sang Kindertotenlieder.  It was one of the very first pieces I studied when I began voice lessons.  I’ve sung it with orchestra, and I really worked on it, but I haven’t sung it since I’ve been a parent.

BD:   One last question.  Is singing fun?

Beavon:   Oh, singing’s a huge amount of fun.  It’s like laughing.  It feels good.  One of the main things I love is that it’s always collaborative.  We don’t have many solos.  There are the occasional voice-alone pieces, but I love the collaboration.  I do a lot of songs with piano, of course, but also lots of chamber music.  It’s really, really fun to have all these minds and all these hearts working together on something.  It’s a ton of fun.

BD:   I wish you lots of continued success wherever your career and his career takes the two of you.

Beavon:   Thank you.  It’s taken us some pretty wild places, and I’m sure there’ll be some more.


See my interviews with Francis Thorne, and Ralph Shapey


See my interviews with Miriam Gideon, William Sharp, Joseph Schwantner, and Ben Johnston


© 1994 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on June 30, 1994.   Portions were broadcast on WNIB three years later.   This transcription was made in 2023, and posted on this website at that time.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.    To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.   His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.  

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.   He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.   You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.