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Academia strikes again!


There were many things about my 12 years as an academic that I absolutely loved, and had I gone to it straight from school (like most university lecturers) I’d probably have learned to cope with intransigent colleagues, arcane procedures and all the other banalities that form the undertow of university life (and eventually dragged me out to sea).  The great thing about being a freelance performer and researcher is that people invite you to conferences and so on, and you get parachuted in to a community of people who already know and appreciate your work. I’m really enjoying my occasional excursions into some curious academic corners, the latest of which is on the Ruhr, not far from Dortmund. I’m sitting in my room in the Katholische Akademie, Schwerte; it’s Sunday evening and I’m the only person in the building (bizarrely, Catholics in the Ruhr don’t seem to work on Sundays); conference delegates have departed and I have an early flight to Sweden in the morning.

Corinna Herr asked me here last year to give a paper at their conference on the countertenor, which I declined (it would have been a very short paper) but I couldn’t resist her invitation to this year’s conference entitled Der Tenor: Mythos, Geschichte, Gegenwart. I gave a rather rambling account of the evolution of the tenor since 1900, my brain still spinning from trying to digest about twenty excellent papers in German and a fascinating one in Italian, and I had long discussions in the bar with several experts who knew far more about my topic than I did. It was a great atmosphere, very friendly and incredibly efficiently organised – and a beautiful, very well-equipped campus.  Corinna Herr, Arnold Jacobshagen and Thomas Seedorf are a formidable team.

The highlight was a masterclass by the great tenor Francisco Araiza. He began with a sideswipe at me – having not been amused by my suggestion that any student with a singing teacher should change to a new one. I’d been answering a question after my own presentation and would certainly have been a little more circumspect if I’d known the maestro was in the audience…but his class was a stunning tour de force, and his demonstrations were absolute magic. I went to congratulate him afterwards and he kindly said how much he’d enjoyed my paper apart from the bit about teachers, but I told him that he’d proved my point – the students had in effect come to him for one lesson and it had a radical and instant effect. It also proved one of my other points (which I managed not to tell him), which was that his teaching was so effective that in almost no time at all he could turn very talented singers into versions of himself. You have to be quite strong to resist the temptation to become the next Araiza rather than the first you. But hearing him at first hand was a great experience, and made me realise that I’ll have to try harder if I ever do a revised edition of the tenor book.

Still on the academic trail, I’m off to the University of Gothenburg tomorrow to be the opponent in a PhD Defence. In English, fortunately. Sounds a bit frightening. We’ll see…


2 Responses to “Academia strikes again!”

  1. Corinna Herr says:

    Dear John,
    just having ‘found’ this blog, let me say that it has been a real pleasure and important for our conference to have you with us!
    We are still debating whether to publish the proceedings, and I hope, we will as there were many excellent papers, as yours e.g.!
    All the best
    Corinna (Herr)

  2. John Potter says:

    It would be great to have published proceedings – there’s a real need for serious tenor literature!

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