Samling Academy 2015 Participant Blog: Sophia Smith-Galer

In the latest guest blog post from this year’s Samling Academy participants, soprano Sophia Smith-Galer discusses musical adventures, the benefits of asking questions about the purpose of opera and singing, and the importance of empathy.

(Image: Sophia taking part in the Durham weekend of Samling Academy 2015. Photo by Mark Pinder)

“I was delighted when I found out I’d got into this year’s Samling Academy; I took part in it in 2013 as a second year undergraduate and loved every minute of it. I’m a Modern Languages student at Durham University, studying Spanish and Arabic, and I’ve spent the last year living in Lebanon and Spain.  It was a challenging, life-affirming year, and as much as I was eager for a vocal boot camp to get my voice back into shape, I’ve also been left wondering how living abroad, in the Middle East especially, has changed my outlook and perspectives as a performer and person.

The first Academy weekend was hard but rewarding work.  The drama workshops were an important reminder of contemplating why it is we all sing in the first place.  What is opera? What is singing for? We all had plenty of answers but session Leader Martin Lloyd-Evans pointed out that an art form as taxingly difficult as opera demands so much effort for a reason. It’s about using all that our bodies can produce to share our stories and hearts with an audience.  The human condition is an ultimately lonely experience and opera is a way of trying to make it less bleak; someone out there has felt your heartbreak, your loss, your love, but in a way that will always be unique to them and not to you.  Bridging that definitive difference with performance is an outstretched hand of help and empathy.

Before this gets too deep, I think now is the best time to point out that Samling is also a massive laugh and seeing the progress of your peers in the group sessions is invigorating. The tricks that the Leaders work on you to bring out your best sound and character certainly left my group with several astounded gasps, and the opportunity Samling offers us to work with a variety of teachers and accompanists means that the range of advice you receive is invaluable, and certainly inimitable compared to any other masterclass series I’ve done.

The main lesson I have taken from my time at Samling is how to be adventurous in interpreting music. I’ve been able to explore music not usually in the classical canon, giving me a chance to use my language skills to perform pieces that I find beautiful. In a previous year at Samling Academy I sang a song in Ladino, a hybrid Judaeo-Spanish dialect from the 15th century, and this year I’ve been singing in Arabic. Using the vocal technique I’ve established via arias, Lieder and French song to take on these obscure pieces is an opportunity for which I am indebted to Samling, and I hope to use the knowledge and experience gained at Samling Academy to expose and perform works like these for years to come.”

Samling Academy 2015 continues at Newcastle University from Friday 23 – Sunday 25 October, and culminates in a public concert at Sage Gateshead‘s Northern Rock Foundation Hall on Sunday 25 October at 7.30pm. More information about Samling Academy can be found here.