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Attending a master class by Yefim Maizel: Why a master class in operatic expression could help entrepreneurs deliver their business pitch

July 9th, 2010 · 1 Comment · Entrepreneurs, Talents, Innovators

By Marylene Delbourg-Delphis @mddelphis

MaizelI recently went to a master class given in the context of the Bay Area Summer Opera Theater Institute (BASOTI), an intensive summer program for pre-professional singers founded by Sylvia Anderson in 1992 that my daughter Sophie Delphis is currently attending. This master class was given by BASOTI’s Artistic Director, Yefim Maizel, a well-known and remarkable stage director. After graduating with a master’s degree in violin from the Riga Conservatory in 1980, he earned his master’s degree in opera stage direction from the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1987 and moved to the United States in 1989.

Yefim Maizel‘s master classes are different from the ones generally offered to students pursuing singing and opera — that are provided by famous opera singers or esteemed teachers who concentrate on technique and vocal interpretation. Maizel comes to the master class form from a director’s point of view and focuses exclusively on helping singers make an aria comprehensible and believable to people who, more often than not, do not understand Italian, German, French or Russian.  And very quickly, his teaching evolves around a key double-statement: Understand what you say and live it out through meaningful gestures. Yes, it’s that simple, except that it’s awfully hard. For singers – and guess what? — for entrepreneurs, too.

Here is one of the main reasons why people don’t care too much about opera: They don’t understand, and singers rarely help them because many of them do not have a thorough understanding of what they actually sing, of the words – and as a result, they are unable to act out these words accurately. They have an idea of the general meaning of what they sing, but rarely a true comprehension of the words themselves and their connotations: in other terms, of the details that give sentences their structural thrust. As a result, singers often indulge in meaningless, approximate or irrelevant gestures, and even worse, reproduce what other singers or teachers have done before, removing themselves even further from any direct comprehension of the actual pulse of the text they sing. For example, why do so many tenors let their arms dangle along their body or keep them on a table as they invite their beloved Manon to share their vision of future happiness in the country side, when a more natural move would be to extend one arm towards the horizon in order to enable both Manon and the audience to project themselves into the paradise of brooks and foliages they are summoning? Sure, the music is divinely romantic, but as Maizel said for another aria: “Don’t float in the music, actually exist in it, cut through it.” Open up, tap into real emotions and into what the words actually mean, give the whole story, and expose a life to which people can relate through concrete moves, gestures and focus points. All of the six singers I heard improved by an order of magnitude when they started to engage their audience through a deeper awareness of the meaning of what they were saying. They began to turn into real people involving the audience into their thought process – conjuring up the secret magic that drives believability.

Every entrepreneur getting ready to pitch anybody should just watch this type of master class to get a sense of how things either resonate or vanish into thin air. Not only is learning through analogy a powerful way of reflecting on one’s own art and demeanor, but entrepreneurs are actors in many respects. Entrepreneurs do play a role, a role that they have created for themselves (and hopefully is close to them), and they have to connect to stage/company partners and to their audience — customers, partners, VCs, etc.  Just as singers, when entrepreneurs give their pitch, it’s very easy for them to basically only go on script rather than remembering that they must actually believe in what they are saying. They have to keep in mind that they are trying to sell what they have in exactly the same way a singer has to sell to an audience on what his or her character is trying to say.

So forget about all the vague industry buzzwords that don’t rhyme with anything in you. Don’t strike unnatural poses, move your hands, your head or your body with a purpose – and sing your story with the right tone and intensity – the right voice pitch — to make it easier for people to relate to you!

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