Aline Kutan & Marie-Ève Scarfone: Making the most of downtime

Advertisement / Publicité

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

Musicians don’t perform only because it is their passion: it’s also how they earn a living. The coronavirus crisis has had a devastating effect on the music industry and many institutions are under threat of closure. Performers have seen their work schedules scratched out from mid-March forward. Some are out of work until 2021. Soprano Aline Kutan and pianist Marie-Ève Scarfone discuss how their lives have been affected and how they carry on from home.

Aline Kutan

Initially, the confinement came as a welcome break, an opportunity to take a step back from a hectic schedule for both musicians. After driving back and forth between Montreal and Toronto in early March, Kutan was about to audition dozens of singers at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal before performing a spring lineup of concerts and recitals.

Advertisement / Publicité

Scarfone was in the final stages of rehearsing La voix humaine at the Opéra de Montréal and getting ready to jet to Saskatoon to attend the Juno Awards for her nomination of Elles, her recent recording with violist Marina Thibeault, as well as perform with mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy.

“Before everything stopped, I had five or six different concert programs in my head and everything was going by very quickly,’’ Scarfone says. “In some ways, it was a bit of a relief to be able to slow down, despite the fact that we couldn’t present our work to the public. Luckily, it’s been postponed and not canceled completely.”

For her, the confinement period meant that she could finally spend some time at home with her partner and reflect on different aspects of her life. “Suddenly, I had the time and the headspace to ask myself important questions about my life, my work and what makes me happy. I’ve understood that I’m not defined by my work, but for young musicians who are trying to break into this very competitive business, it’s not that easy to accept.”

Unlike some musicians who work exclusively as freelancers, both women hold teaching positions at McGill. Kutan also teaches at the Conservatoire and Scarfone is head coach at the Atelier lyrique of the Opéra de Montréal. They have mentored young singers and pianists throughout the confinement period, thanks to the wonders of video conferencing.

“At the Atelier, we wanted to support our young artists as much as possible to help them get through this period,” Scarfone said. “So we quickly made a plan to continue their training by intensifying a series of online coaching given by Guillaume Dulude.’’ This psychologist has worked regularly with the Atelier. He helps singers plan ahead and develop strategies to cope with anxiety, addressing challenges concerning motivation, time management and leadership.

“Understandably, a lot of them have been overwhelmed by the uncertainty of performing opportunities in an already challenging profession,” Scarfone adds. “Although my job as a vocal coach is to prepare singers musically, addressing the hardships they may face in their personal and professional lives is also important to consider, especially at a time when staying mentally fit is just as important as staying vocally healthy.’’

Quarantine has also allowed both artists to reconnect with music they love, which can sometimes be put aside when engagements have to be fulfilled. Scarfone has been revisiting Mozart sonatas she has loved since her teenage years and playing operas like Tosca or La Traviata just for the fun of it. For Kutan, there has been free time to work on roles that she would like to move into, such as Elisabetta in Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux. It has also allowed Kutan to explore her creativity in different ways. She and pianist Olivier Godin have collaborated on a new song called “Music” that they will perform in a virtual recital for Concerts Lachine. She wrote the poem, he wrote the music. “It’s really neat to see the birth of our musical child,” she said.

In order to motivate her students, Kutan has been working on developing an online course for the next semester. These student group sessions will supplement individual weekly lessons. They will analyze singers and styles, explore repertoire, and study various vocal pedagogies in a group setting. “I see this time as an opportunity to get out of the box and explore new ways of learning,’’ Kutan says. She also loves writing. “Some days, I can sit down for hours and be lost in writing short stories, memoirs and poetry in strict measures like sonnets, which feel a lot like doing Sudoku. I am grateful that I have this chance to explore another facet of my creative personality.’’

Musically speaking, the break has allowed Kutan to reconnect with pieces she loves. “Performers don’t always pick and choose what they perform while fulfilling contracts and putting food on the table. But with all my concert engagements gone and teaching reduced, I’ve been able to look at music I’ve wanted to study but never found time for. I started organizing my photo albums with 30 years’ worth of productions and even have been compiling family recipes to make a cookbook for my daughter. Simpler things have become the focus of what time otherwise wouldn’t allow me.’’

Kutan also reflected upon how the business has changed since the beginning of her career.

“Over these past 10 years, I have been working twice as hard being offered half the fee of what I was making 20 years ago. It has become a very difficult profession, especially for young singers who find themselves either without employment or obligated to accept engagements that might not be suitable for their voices just so they can make ends meet.

“Some of my colleagues, on top of their work as soloists, have to work two or three jobs. I was fortunate to debut big roles in small houses because there were ample performance opportunities for young singers in Europe and North America back then.”

Also, the neglect of music education in public schools is very troublesome. Without this support, the new generations can’t develop the ears to become the audiences of tomorrow. “Study after study shows how music improves the learning capacity of children. I am hopeful that with foresight and reform, things will improve. But it will take governments to see music as an integral part of learning.”

Both these Montreal-based artists are optimistic and hope that musicians and the music community will learn important lessons from these difficult times. Only then will we navigate a better course for the music industry.

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)


About Author

Leave A Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.