Get to know TBSI soprano Emily Yocum Black

Emily Yocum Black

Soprano Emily Yocum Black joins us at TBSI this season from Paducah, Kentucky. TBSI, the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute, is an intense two week course that includes masterclasses, orchestra and choir rehearsals, chamber ensembles, private lessons, dance classes, opera scene study, and an array of lectures and workshops.

Despite the busy schedule, we were able to catch up with Emily. Get to know Emily with our Q&A.

How did you get into singing?

I grew up with singing in the house – my mom and grandmother are really wonderful singers and they both play the guitar and sing in harmony by ear so I was brought up in that environment. My interests widened to musical theatre and choir in high school and when I went to college I really became interested in all genres of vocal repertoire. From the beginning of my formal music training, baroque music seemed to fit very naturally with my voice and throughout my undergrad and graduate degrees, I explored more and more of this repertoire. I still really enjoy singing and performing many different types of music!

Why did you decide to come to TBSI?

I first heard about Tafelmusik when I attended a summer program called SongFest in my undergrad. One of my roommates was from Toronto and she introduced me to the group and their recordings. Some time after that, I “followed” Tafelmusik on Instagram and saw their post about TBSI and I decided to apply! I am one year out of my masters and I am now trying to get a little bit of focus going forward in my career. This program seemed like the perfect fit for really immersing myself in early music with some of the very best instructors in the field!

What is one of your favourite parts about TBSI so far?

I love collaborating with all of my fellow colleagues in the various ensembles. So far, I’ve worked very closely with not only my fellow vocalists but with flutists, violinists, viola d’amore players, harpsichordists, cellists, lute players, etc. I have learned so much just by being involved and in tune with their processes in music-making and how that intertwines with mine.

What is one of your most memorable gigs?

My very first gig with period baroque instruments was Handel’s Messiah with Bourbon Baroque in Louisville, KY where we performed the entire work with 12 singers – each singer also acting as soloists throughout. I’ve performed this gig with them for the past three years and even though it’s something that is done so often, especially during Advent, getting to do the piece with such a small ensemble really brings life and energy to Messiah that I think is sometimes lost.

Who is your favourite composer to perform? (Doesn’t have to be baroque)

Oh gosh, this is like asking what kind of cheese you like best (also a hard question for me to answer). I’d probably have to say Mozart, although Bach is way up there as well.

What is your ‘guilty pleasure’ music to listen to?

90’s country pop … especially The Dixie Chicks’ Wide Open Spaces album. I know every word.

What are the last three songs/pieces you’ve listened to?

Handel – Tornami a vagheggiar (Alcina)
Nickel Creek – The Lighthouse’s Tale
ABBA – Super Trooper
(I feel like this is a very accurate representation of my wide musical tastes)

What is your favourite thing to do in your hometown during your free time?

I love to cycle down to our local brewery and have a beer out on the patio with family right around sunset.

What do you look forward to seeing/doing in Toronto?

Well, we visited the Toronto Islands this weekend and that was beautiful! I loved the view of the city from the islands and all the cottages. I am also looking forward to having some poutine – which I know is really a Quebec food however I’m sure it’s going to be more authentic than the poutine I’ve eaten in my native state of Kentucky. We do fried chicken much better than poutine, I think.

What is your great ambition?

I honestly think my greatest ambition is to make music as long as I can to the best of my ability with authenticity, beauty, love, and passion for the art form. From singing on a big concert stage to a gymnasium full of kids, I hope I can always adhere to that ideal.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

My parents, for certain. They have supported me so much in everything that I’ve done and have always encouraged me to do what makes me happy. They are the most compassionate and caring humans I have ever known and I would do well to live life half as fully as they do.

Where do you see yourself 10 years in the future?

I see myself traveling around the country performing with various ensembles specializing in the early music repertoire, yet certainly being able and open to performing all different kinds of music. But always returning to my home-base in Paducah, KY where I’d like to continue to foster new music-makers and lovers through teaching voice.

What words of wisdom would you pass onto future TBSI participants?

It is a whirlwind two weeks but there is so much information and knowledge to be gained here. From the lectures to the masterclasses and concerts, soak up as much of it as you possibly can! Where will you find such an amazing assemblage of faculty and students all intensely focused on the baroque for 14 days?!

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Australia Tour 2018: Improvising on the Road

by Patrick Jordan, viola

Patrick Jordan, viola. Image: Sian Richards

One of the most civilized things about touring in Australia is that about half the time, we are put up in apartment hotels. Australians travel a great deal both internationally and domestically and so have worked some of these things out very well. The basic idea is this: in each accommodation there are two separate bedrooms which share a small living area and kitchen, most often with laundry facilities. The laundry facilities are most welcome on a three week tour when you only have 23 kg of luggage space!

 

One of the least civilized things about touring in general is that I am away from my kitchen, where I spend an inordinate amount of time cooking. I’m sure you see where this is headed. Apartment hotel with a modestly appointed kitchen, check! An evening off in Melbourne, check! The fantastic Queen Victoria Market a 20-minute walk away, check!

Queen Victoria Market. Photo: slowenglish.wordpress.com

What might not be so obvious is what I decided to cook. My treasured friend and colleague, oboist Marco Cera, has introduced me to several specialties of the Italian region of Veneto, where he grew up. Under his watchful gaze and with access to his mother’s recipes, I have learned several dishes, including baccala alla vicentina (salt cod braised in milk) and bigoli col anatra (a sort of fat spaghetti with duck ragu). Many years ago, as we were walking down the street in Seoul, Marco asked me, with his very dry sense of humour, “Patrizio, do you think we’re gonna find bigoli col anatra here?” To which I blandly replied, “Absolutely …” This has become something of a running joke, asked when we’re in some very unlikely place, “Patrizio, do you think we’re gonna find bigoli col anatra here?”

Nifra Poultry

Knowing we had time and opportunity, I decided that yes, in Melbourne, if possible, we were going to find bigoli col anatra. Or more accurately, I was going to find the ingredients and prepare it. I just love the challenge of trying to do something very specific in a very different locale, in part because it forces one to overcome some limitations, but also offers the opportunity to engage with local people in a way that one might not otherwise.

Patrick in his hotel kitchen with kangaroo sausages (kangah-bangahs)

Job one was to figure out what was practical in our very small kitchen (on this tour, Brandon Chui and I have shared accommodation). Of course, if you’re going to cook, why just make pasta? How about a second course as well? And you’ll need a little antipasto, too, to be properly welcoming. It is late autumn here, so we needed a menu that reflected the season as well. With the limited battery of pots and pans (and an eye to NOT setting off the smoke alarms), I could see doing the pasta and sauce, poached-then-browned kangaroo sausages (kangah-bangahs) with garlicky mashed potatoes along with some appropriate vegetable, and an antipasto to be named when at the market. Market, here I come!

The lynchpin of the meal was the duck, and if I couldn’t swing that, the whole meal would require a rethink. I had two sharp, but small knives, and I had decided that if I couldn’t find ground duck, I was not going to spend 45 minutes (and risk tendinitis) cutting it up myself; every challenge does have it’s limits. From previous tours, I remembered a nice butcher shop that deals in game, and when I got there, there was lovely duck breast to be had. I asked the young man serving me if he was set up to grind it, and he looked at me quizzically and said “I’m gonna have to work out what you mean by grind…” when a tiny, septuagenarian fellow-shopper in the queue next to me chirped, “MINCED!!” Yes he could mince it, problem solved. I also picked up the kangah-bangahs as I remembered them from our last trip to Melbourne — slightly garlicky with a hint of sun-dried tomato and basil. As he handed over my purchases, he asked, “Mind if I ask what you’re making with the duck?” I described both the dish and the friend who had asked for it, and he asked if I was a chef. I said no, just a devoted amateur. “A VERY devoted amateur with a very lucky friend I’d say,” he replied. Flattery will get you everywhere, mate; I’m sure I’ll be back to that shop if I’m lucky enough to revisit Melbourne!

 

The vegetable vendors were heavy with potatoes (all the ones I’ve seen in Australia have been squeaky clean, interestingly enough), and I got the rundown on which one would be best to mash: largish beautiful pink ones. It is autumn, again, and one of the veg dealers had the cutest, most tender looking broccolini, not cheap, but hey, you get what you pay for or a little less. Another part of this challenge is to minimize waste, and buy precisely what one needs. Butter came in bulk at one of the cheese shops so I could buy the 200g I needed. I picked up a half a head of garlic nobody else would likely buy, dropped 20 cents on a carrot and found a slightly mangled half a stalk of celery (it was headed for the sauce, so I was only going to mangle it further). One misstep was the pancetta required for the duck sauce; I asked twice to be sure it wasn’t smoked, but when I got back to the apartment I discovered it was (Marco said in the end that he didn’t mind). Olives looked good: one variety from Australia, a second from Sicily. I normally travel with both salt and pepper mills — the gods of improvisation smile on the man who is prepared.

Patrick and Dominic working in the kitchen

Everyone offered to help, but the kitchen was so small only one other bum would fit in it. With the able assistance of Dominic Teresi, dinner was served, savoured, and devoured. Among the limitations I couldn’t easily overcome in this case were serving space and capacity. To actually have a place to sit at the small table and have cutlery to use in our apartment, I had to limit the guest list to five, and I don’t think the pots and pans could have handled much more. All of which is to acknowledge that if my colleagues read this I may be in some hot water! On the other hand, after two weeks on the road I should be careful about presupposing that anyone would be looking for my company!

 


For the full Australia tour schedule, visit tafelmusik.org/Tours