New Music Is the New Black

(or perhaps the canary in the mine?)

Hi, tenor Nathan Granner here. I’ve been singing opera and classical music professionally for over 25 years and producing live shows, tours, recording albums for around 15 years. I’ve seen a lot in my day! Here are some of my thoughts.

I’ve been so crazy these past months doing back to back new operas ( Laura Kaminski’s “Today it Rains” & Anthony Davis’ “The Central Park Five”). The tears and fears of bringing operatic art to life are real. 

On the flip side, heading into the lobby to greet friends and family (& also seeing an artistic director you’ve always wanted to sing for, who approaches YOU to congratulate you on a job well done for example) is everything. 

Trend Thought, and Nerd Alert

Heading image from UCLA’s Lost Childhood

But it wasn’t until May of this year, when I saw Opera UCLA’s world premiere production of “Lost Childhood,” by Janice Hamer and librettist Mary Azrael, directed by Peter Kazaras, did I make the trend connection:

I have a real sense that the last decade’s hard work, pushing for premiere pieces to sing in the industry, is truly taking hold.

Beyond the old standards

For more context, I’ll regurgitate this old complaint about the opera industry for singers. The adage goes,

“They never taught us in school how to [among other things] market ourselves. We were simply told in order to have a career in opera all we needed was a bio/resume and a B&W 8×10.”

– The marketing plan for an opera singer 1954-1997

My generation had to spend so much of our time just out of university, having to learn basic music business, traditional PR, and marketing skills. Then, soon thereafter, we had to bounce around learning the then-new social media monster on our own. Anyone remember Myspace? How about Virb? Topspin? ReverbNation? MusicX-Ray? Do you use CDBaby? Soundcloud? Bandcamp? …etcetera etcetera. We learned ‘em all, because it seemed they were the proverbial “Answer”. 

Getting started

In this past decade or so, there has finally been a push for schools to teach music business and ways to learn marketing and social media. While that push is more common in programs for “mainstream” music, and (oddly) not so much for classical artists, my generation’s sudden learning curve is becoming the norm, greatly adding to the amount of knowledge and skill artists are responsible for. If that’s not enough, with new opera being produced everywhere, it is more important than ever to learn and (most important) to perform current contemporary works as early in the career as possible. It is a new day. 

If your school isn’t programming new music and helping you build techniques to understand and learn contemporary music, they are doing a bit of a disservice. Being able to understand polyrhythms, modalities (even a basic familiarity) and other various and sundry commonalities of today’s music is crucial to a singer’s career. That, my dear opera friends, on top of learning your languages (pronunciation/diction and actual parlance), your technique, and your aforementioned knowledge of business and digital media, is the new trend. Cool thing is, the more new scores one learns and actually performs, the more familiar and easier this musical language becomes to learn.

If you don’t even know where to start with acquainting yourself with new music, talk to your teacher, find a friend, maybe ask a composer friend, or a professor to give you a heads up.

A caveat: do NOT (like I would have done) start an argument about this post’s subject with your teachers. Be cool and know this business is not a sprint, it is a marathon. You do not need to know everything right now; just start working on it now.

The funny thing is that all this newness has grown into something: it’s mind-blowing that “new music” (late 20th and early 21st century) has been around long enough for it to be its own musical epoch, or, dare I say… a Period! 

There’s a sound and a language to this era… Soooo fascinating that a number of these works that you and I premiere will be here, as favorite works, into the next century. 

I’ll Libiamo to that!

Nathan Granner

lyric tenor, producing artist & co-founder of Wonderment Artist Media 

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