Archive for May, 2013

fachme

The other day, my friend Katia H. told me about a website I wish I’d built, called FachMe.com.  The premise is simple: you enter roles you’ve sung and found well-suited to your voice, and the website suggests other roles for you, based on its database.  As the websites states: “FachMe uses a database of over 16,000 real opera singers’ careers to recommend characters which are statistically likely to suit your voice.”

Over at Stack Exchange, the creator of the site, Jordan Eldredge, explains a bit more about what he was trying to accomplish with it:

Unfortunately, much like musical genres often do a poor job of defining the subtitles of music, the human body and composer’s imaginations don’t conform very tightly to our categorical constructs [of fach]. That being said, we need a vocabulary to discuss and even internally process the qualities that make a voice suit a role and, like musical genres, this is the best method we have.

When I was doing my undergraduate degree in voice, I became very frustrated with singers over-identifying with a fach and either limiting themselves, over-extending themselves, or trying to learn repertoire that would probably be in their future but was not yet healthy for their voice. To help combat that trend, I started a website that skips the system of fach pigeon-holes and helps singers find appropriate roles directly.

The website asks a singer for roles which they feel suit their voice right now, and then searches through its database of over 16,000 singers careers for singers who sang those roles. The site then lists other roles most commonly performed by those singers.

It’s not a silver bullet but it’s a useful tool for brainstorming and it has the advantage that it’s based on actual data.

Eldredge also posts a link to an episode of KALW’s VoiceBox podcast called “The Fachs of Life” which mentions FachMe.com and also features Nathan Gunn, Nicola Luisotti, and Sheri Greenwald discussing the topic of fach.  (Play the episode online or download it as an MP3 file.)

I played with FachMe.com a little bit – I wasn’t familiar with all of the roles it suggested, but the ones I knew seemed reasonable.  I’ve heard that the website tries to take various factors into account in order to make sane recommendations – for example, if you enter a role that a singer in the database did very early in her career as a young singer, it will not necessarily recommend roles performed late in that singer’s life.  I am interested to hear others’ opinions on the quality of the recommendations they get.  This is the sort of tool that I would approach with the standard disclaimers (your mileage may vary, take it with a grain of salt, each singer is individual, etc. etc.) but it might be fun to play with and at least glean a few interesting role suggestions.

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Credit: apartmenttherapy.com

A little public service announcement…  Last night I was in the audience of a concert performed by the choir that I’m usually singing in.  Being the denizens of Silicon Valley that we are, there is a significant adoption rate of iPads/tablets for reading music in our choir, over 20%.  We generally perform on-book, and from the house, I could see that several singers had iPad face-glow that was bright enough to be seen from the audience.  It was especially noticeable with singers who wear glasses (because of the bright iPad screen reflecting off of their glasses toward the audience) and those who were standing in poorly-lit areas of the stage.  Personally, it did not bother me so much as an audience member because I’m primarily concerned with how a chorus sounds more than how they look, and–let’s face it–as someone who calls Silicon Valley home, I am quite used to seeing the ghostly glow of a electronic display on everyone’s face, all the time 😉  However, if this aspect of your ensemble’s visual presentation concerns you, do make sure that the tablet users in your group 1) turn down the brightness as much as is comfortable for them, 2) not hold the tablet too close to their face (cause you’re not buried in your music during the performance…right?  Right?) and 3) stick to well-lit areas of the stage if possible.

[UPDATE 5/20/13: Hugh S. and Ellen R. wrote in and reminded me of a fourth tip, which is to reverse the colors of your iPad so you have white print on a black background.  Some music reader apps like OnSong and MobileSheets have this as an app setting (as do many eBook reader apps, incidentally) but for apps like forScore that don’t, you can use the global iPad setting at Settings > General > Accessibility > Vision > White on Black (On) to reverse the display for all apps.

Also, as another musician mentioned to me, there are other performance scenarios where we need to be conscious of the light from our electronic devices and its potential for distraction/disruption – for example, using a tablet while playing in the orchestra for a stage production where there is a blackout at the end of the act.]

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