Behind Words: What We Don’t Say, What We Don’t Hear With Kathleen Kelly

by | Aug 22, 2020 | Podcasts

SWGR 533 | Behind Words


A lot of what drives the world we live in is communication and it is as much about what is behind the words as it is about the words themselves, if not more so. Whether you’re in art or business or both, there is a constant need to be curious about everything that you don’t know, things that represent a bigger world than what we can ever hope to wrap our heads around. These are some of the most important takeaways from this conversation between Elizabeth Bachman and Kathleen Kellya pianist, opera coach, conductor, teacher and writer. Kathleen is the first American named as Director of Musical Studies at the Vienna State Opera. Having worked in such an international setting, her grasp on the topics discussed in this podcast is phenomenal. Join in as they delve into everything from philosophy, history, music and communication, gender perception and the various aspects of communication and how we can use it to move ahead in our lives and our society. 

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Behind Words: What We Don’t Say, What We Don’t Hear With Kathleen Kelly

Part Of “The Relationship between Business And Art” 

My guest is the wonderful Kathleen Kelly. She’s an artistIn her official bio, it says that she enjoys a dynamic musical life as a pianist, opera coach, conductor, teacher and writer. From Mozart to commissioned works by her peers, she’s both deeply experienced in the classical vocal cannon and engaged in new creation. She was the first woman and the first American named as Director of Musical Studies at the Vienna State Opera. Her operatic experience is the backbone of her career, but she’s also a published poet and an essayist. What I particularly love about Kathleen is that in our interview, we talked about philosophy. We talked about gender perception. We talked about history. We talked about all the various aspects of communication and how we can use it to move ahead in our lives, in our society. Here comes Kathleen Kelly. 

Kathleen Kelly, welcome to the show. I’m happy to have you here. 

Thank you so much for the invitation. I’ve been looking forward to this. 

It’s fun. One of the things I’ve been thinking about is in terms of a series on what business can learn from the arts. There are a lot of amazing artists out there who cannot think outside the realm of the arts, whatever their particular art is. There are a couple of people I interviewed that I’m not going to use because they couldn’t get out of their own thing. What I love about you, besides the amazing musician you are and the teacher that you are and all of that, you’re a poet. You think about the world. With that in mind, maybe it’s relevant, maybe it’s not, the question I ask all my guests is if you were to be on stage with somebody from history, your dream interview, who would it be? What would you ask them? Who should be listening? 

I love this question becausI’ve been asked this question before in different contexts. I love it as a creative juice inspiration. The answer I’m going to give is inspired by another interview I did. That interview was specifically about Richard Wagner, Tristan and Isolde, because it‘s the anniversary of the premiere. It’s a very famous, game-changing opera of the 19th century. The person that I would like to interview is Clara Schumann. She was the wife of Robert Schumann, a famous composer, later on the very good friend, also possibly romantic partner of Johannes Brahms, another famous composer of the 19th century. 

Brahms and the Schumanns were in the conservative camp of German composers while Richard Wagner, the composer of Tristan and Franz Liszt, his father-in-law, were in a different camp. You read about this a lot in 19th century history. It’s like the Court of Henry VIII with all the inter-relational stuffthe fame and how many hangers on there. What interests me about Clara and a part of her story that has never told is that she was one of the most prominent pianists of her generation. She supported her family. She went on a concert tour of Russia when she was nursing. She and Schumann had seven children together. He was often not able to work because of different problems that he had with advancing mental illness. Although he was an important creator, he ended up being institutionalized. The story of his death is very sad 

I wonder how much of the rivalry between those two camps was based in aesthetics, and how much of it was based in professional jealousy between Clara and Franz Liszt. One of the only pianists who was touring, who was more famous than she was, she occupied this conservative, fidelity to the score, not too much emotional display. He was flamboyant, improvisatory and everything else. Also, he composed a lot of his own work. She was also a composer, but she tamped down that part of her career because her husband couldn’t handle the compositional rivalry of the family. I wonder how much of her objection to Wagner and Liszt was based in musical aesthetics and how much of it was about a whole realm of expression as a composer, but also as a flamboyant performer that wasn’t available to her as a woman. Her fame was based in her conservatism. It was the only road that was available to her. I would love to talk to her and put all of those guys in the audience. Also, every single teacher I ever had who left her out of the story. 

The old saying goes, “History is written by the winners. What we learn is what is passed down to us, but it is also in the point of view of the people who wrote it, usually the men. You talk about professional jealousyAs a woman in a man’s business for many years as an opera director, my mind goes immediately to the men who were jealous of the women who moved up. I also wonder how much Clara Schumann lay awake at 3:00 in the morning thinking, “Why isn’t that me up there? 

Maybe she didn’t but maybe she did, or maybe all of that got channeled into aesthetic conversationsI would be interested to know that. That’s a whole topic of what people say and what they don’t say and can’t sayThat’s so much a part of what you’re talking about in your work now and in this whole series. How do we communicate with each other? What do we believe we’re saying? What do we believe other people are hearing? 

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Also how that is perceivedOne of the things that goes throughout this show all the time is what someone’s perception of you, how that shapes the way they listen. I also imagine Clara Schumann was a good wife. She did what she was supposed to do. She was also a product of the 19th century upbringing. If she lay awake at 3:00 in the morning, she being jealous, she probably also prayed to be spared of that because good girls don’t do that. 

How much of what I imagined she would say is me laying my 21st century self back upon her. When she looked at me and say, “What are you talking about?” I would like to know all of it. Another thing that fascinates me about the Schumanns is that they basically had a Luddite blog. This is something that people did. They had their target book. They kept this mutual diary. Very much like Cosima Wagner’Diary, it’s being written for other people to read someday. They’re famous people who are keeping a log of their famous marriage. It’s a mistake to read that as though it’s like the inner workings of their heart. They were writing that to leave to posterityAlso thinking about that, we sometimes imagine that the internet is the birth of that self-marketing or taking an intimate, personal post that is designed to influence what people think of us. That’s been going on for a long time with different technology. 

When I work with speakers, sometimes they come to me because they need to make a result. They need to make money. Sometimes they come to me because they need allies and they need to do that. Often the people who call me up and say, I hear you do presentation skills training, speaker training,” they’re the people who sit in a conference and look up at the stage and think, I’m twice as smart as that person. Why isn’t that me up there? How do I do that?” They come to me and I help them figure out how to do that. I can imagine Clara Schumann sitting in the audience looking up at Franz Liszt and thinking, “That’s not the way it should be done. I could do that piece so much better. 

She legitimately did have those thoughts. I wonder when it came to his flamboyanceadulation and all of that, was she jealous of it? Was the written record of what she had, the written record that we have of what she thought, which is that she considered it to be a lower art form, a lower way of expressing yourselfwas that all of it? I want to know more about that rivalry. I find that in so much of the writing about the Schumanns and Brahms versus Liszt and WagnerThere’little conversation about the pianistic profile of Clara and FranzWe know a little bit about what they thought of each other, what each thought of the others playing, but what did each think of the other’s career? What was that like? 

Helping women advance their careers is a big part of what I doI like that idea. In terms of she may have looked at that and said, “That’s flamboyant. That’s nothing.” The thing is that the romantic movement in musicwords and writing came as a reaction to the rationalist movement of the 18th centuryThe 18th century writers were being very rationalists. The romantics were the generation who rebelled against their parents. They said, “We are not going to be all about intellect. We’re going to be about feeling, nature and all this wonderful emotional stuff. 

One of the things that allows me to sleep at night is when I look at what’s happening in current our world. I look back at patterns, I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember, about historical patterns, waves and how they come. Where are we in the 21st century? How that came out of what happened before. It’s happening a little faster because communication tools are faster, but it’s a pattern that human beings have been going through forever and ever. We think of history as a spiral where hopefully you’re going up. Every once in a while, you have to take a step back or there’s a war that changes everything and kills off a lot of people. You have to build up again or there’s an economic crash that brings everyone back, then we have to build up again. Hopefully, it’s two steps forward for every one step back. 

I often think of history as a spiral. If you look at the romantics, by the time they got to fame, they got there because their audience was ready to listen. They were playing to people who wanted something more emotional. Coming out of warsrevolutions and rational thinking is all very much part of their history, how did you get through the French revolution and the mess that the rest of Europe made? For that matter, what we know of as history comes from the European writings. We only know what people chose to write. 

We know whose modes of expression got backed. That’s history, we learn part of the story. That’s a big part of communication too. What we come to believe is the story, the ways in which we forget that what we know is part of the story. It’s very attempting to talk from a place of expertise or knowledge that you’ve fallen in love with or that is meaningful to you. It’s good to always remind yourself that you know part of something. What you don’t know is always going to be so much bigger than what you know. To stay curious in the mind of a beginner about that is hard. That’s aspirational but of mortal importance. 

When you take it to how you communicate nowadays, that anytime you are trying to convince someone of something, this is the same thing that singers do. You’re still working with singers. I did it for 30 years and moved to speakers. The skills you need to sell a song are not that different from the skills you need to sell a product or a service or within a company to sell an idea. Kathleen, I want to talk to you about language. Before we even get into it, how do we shape a phrase? You are a poet and a musician. What connections and differences do you see between spoken language and musical language? 

SWGR 533 | Behind Words

Behind Words: We’re always only saying a part of what’s in our minds.


Musical language largely arises out of spoken language. There’s music, particularly rhythmic music, but also the music of pitch, of phrase that is part and parcel of any spoken language. That makes it into the musical forms that arise out of our souls, out of our creativity. There’s a place to start. I could blather on, but perhaps it’s wise to direct to the stream. 

A friend of mine once said, “Poetry is words that mean more in that form than they do if they’re prose. 

Something that I like to say in a masterclass is to start with the first line of the famous song of Ariel from the Tempest of Shakespeare, “Full fathom five thy father lies.” He could have said, “Your dad drowned in 30 feet of water.” To choose those words that are full of alliteration and assonance, Full fathom five,” all those those Fs, the point of the beginning of that phrase is not the factual information. There’s something bigger. There’s a world that’s being created through those words. It’s the same thing with music. Every cool thing I say, I steal from somebody else. I know I stole that Shakespeare thing from someone and it was such a long time ago that I don’t rememberI credit it to whoever that was 

Also on the old television series that Leonard Bernstein did with the New York Philharmonic. One of those episodes was about opera. He focused on the third act of La Bohème, which is very popular. If your readers don’t know that opera, they certainly know Rent, which is the same story. He took the aria of the character of Mimi from the third act. He had an actress to read the text, which takes about 30 seconds. He had a singer sing the aria, which takes about three minutes. I remember, maybe I’m paraphrasing but he said, “Those extra two and a half minutes are everything she isn’t saying.” I do think that is, “Thank you for pointing out that’s part of the intersection. I don’t think that poetry and music are different than human communication in this way. We’re always only saying a part of what’s in here. That’s fascinating to explore as a musician when you’ve got musical text and text language on the page. When are you saying exactly what those words mean? When are you saying something that is bigger than that? When are you saying words that arthe opposite of what you intend? As humans, we do that every time we open our mouths. 

What it makes me think about is when you’re writing marketing copy. I know it’s probably a sacrilege to compare poetry and marketing copy. It’s all communication. We’ll call them art forms. Both art forms are about having the words evoke a feeling in your listener. The marketing copy that you’ll write for an American is different from the marketing copy you’ll write for a German, a Japanese or somebody who’s reading English as maybe their third language. I go back to Clara Schumann and her crowd. They were writing for a 19th century audience with metaphor that invoked the natural world because that’s what the romantic movement was all about. 

We’re living in cities and the industrial revolution is killing us. We all need to go into the woods and figure it out. 

Which takes me back to my Shakespeare teacher in college when I took a class and he said, “Yes, Shakespeare, you’ve got the classic, go out into the green world and magic happens. You look at Midsummer Night’s Dream. You have the normal Athens in Midsummer Night’s Dream. Theseus and Hippolyta are getting married. They all go out into the woods and suddenly magic happens. The bottom gets turned into an ass head and Titania falls in love. The lovers who were mismatched are mismatched again and find each other again. They come back to the city out of the green world and take up their lives but the green world has transformed them. Sorry, Clara, Franand Johannes, and all of that, you didn’t invent that. Shakespeare was talking about that and who knows where Shakespeare learned it. Probably from the Druids, the Picts, and the Druidic legends. 

Holding up Greece as a symbol of rationalism and philosophy, that philosophy comes out of Greek culture. That’s what we say in the Western world. I love what you say about Midsummer being this parable of here we are with our rational brains deciding what we should do, but then we have to go outside of rationalityThe natural world, there are mosquitoes, bears and magical plants. We learn something and we can go back into society. That’s the classic conflictThe world around you and its structures as opposed to what’s in here. 

It’s a fundamental reason why going to a concert takes you out of your everyday life. The whole point of going to a concert is to be taken awaylet your mind drift and let the music tell you something. In opera, especially if the emotional catharsis of weeping as Madama Butterfly, she says goodbye to her baby and kills herself, gives us permission to feel those things that we don’t necessarily get to feel. 

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That is part of what can happen at opera. There are other things that were maybe taking a harder look at. I have experienced the butterfly emotional catharsisam at a point personally and based on what I’m seeing in our industry, I might not be alone. To be in a place where I also can’t get away from the facts that the great stories of the 19th century that made it onto the operatic stage are stories that come from a very particular viewpoint and out of a very particular set of circumstances. 

That was the point I was going to make until you already have itMadama Butterfly was written as a potboiler by a 19th century man with a certain idea of what women’s selfsacrifice was about. 

At the end of that story, she doesn’t die. She takes her baby in Suzuki and they piss off the Pinkertons to never get their hands on that child. It was changed when David Belasco developed the play for Sarah Bernhardt, the great actress. She wanted a death scene and that’s why they changed it. That’s what Puccini saw when he came to New York. 

He saw the Belasco version, not the original John Luther Long version. 

There are big issues in all of it, in the story, in the adaptation and in the opera. There’s an interesting and thorny place. On the one handtheater opera but also theater was a place where women could be famous, could make money and have influenceSarah Bernhardt being the actress who could say, “This is what I want in my play. Create that for me.” That was an avenue not available to very many women, but there were not very many avenues available to women professionally. Still at that point, in general, once they married, they had to leave the stage. 

On the one hand, the women’s stories that you see in opera and the singers who became famous, or the actresses who became famous, that was a rare and interesting avenue for creative women. On the other hand, the effect of the music on those stories, I’m not sure has been an important part of the conversation at all in moving women’s lives forward. When I see people crying at Butterfly or crying when Tosca throws herself up, has that been a meaningful part of the conversation in dealing with human trafficking in the world, in dealing with the sexual assault of women in professional situations? Of our top ten operas, I would have to go back and look at what the list of them are. Three of them involve as a major plot point, men forcing women to have sex with them in order to save someone else’s life or to get what they want. Two of them, Traviata and Butterfly involve women selling themselves to men for money. 

I don’t think that opera-goers connect with that or the continuation of those problems in the world. I don’t think people see Traviata and think, I want to do something about sex trafficking. I want to pay attention to that.” What do we do with all that stuff? That’s probably way too loaded. To circle back to the topic of how we communicate, it’s tricky. There’s music there to fall in love with. There are performers to admire. There’s a lot that hits you in the heart. The things that you understand and the things that you love can help keep you away from the things that you don’t understand and the things that are harder to love. That’s true in every conversation. We connect with what we know. It’s important to keep on remembering. As intense as that is, there’s more than that you don’t know and that you have to stay open and curious about. That may not hit you in a way that feels so good. 

These are the conversations that we should have when we get together to produce something like that or to tell a story like that. On the other hand, you need to use communicationwords and the melody of the message is one of the things I say all the time to move forward and get on with your life. Yes, you need to pick your battles and there are things to be discussed to make us aware of I am a product of my culture as much as anyone else. I know there are things that I noticed that others don’t. There are things that others notice that I don’t. The key is to stay curious. The title of this show is Speakers Who Get Results. Let’s talk a little bit about some of the practicalities of it in terms of shaping a phrase. You always make the singers say the text of what they’re going to sing. How do you work with singers who have to deliver dialogue? They come at it from the point of view of a musician where it’s about making those beautiful sounds. How do you treat text when it is text alone? 

It’s not something that I do a lot of work with except in the realm of recitatives. It’s useful to take any text including texts that’s going to be beautifully sung and deal with it on its own merits. For example, if you’re working on an opera with a lot of recitatives that should go by at the pacing of speech. For example, The Marriage of Figaro, all of the notes in that show are sung, but the pacing of the parts that are done with the harpsichord should mirror the pacing of speech. One of the things that I like to work on with singers is to come in touch with how varied the tempo of our speech is. 

SWGR 533 | Behind Words

Behind Words: You have to stay open and curious about the things you don’t know, even if that may not hit you in a good way.


As communicating humans, we vary the tempo of our speech all the time. For example, if I want to make a point to you, I’ll give you some more information that tends to go at rapid and fairly consistent tempo. When I want to make my conclusion, I slow down. Sometimes I tend to drop pitch. Some people tend to raise pitch when they make the conclusion. They’re like Fact A, Fact B, Fact C and then get a melody. Different people have different melodies that they like. Sometimes people amp up the volume when they want to land a point. Sometimes they bring the volume back when they want to land a point. 

It’s interesting to explore with an individual person, if you’re angry, do you tend to turn it up to eleven or do you tend to turn it down to two? What’s the pace of that? Applying that to more lyrical music, an aria that’s got longer notes in it, more beautiful high notes, you’re not in charge of the timing thereThat composed your timing for you. Even in that, you can explore the language to see where you can lengthen a consonant, where you can slowly do a diphthong or where maybe in the language where you’re singing, you don’t slowly do a diphthong. You do it cleanly at the end to take apart different values like this. 

I always think of this extraordinary performance by Frank Sinatra. You can see it on YouTube. It’s a live concert in London. He’s singing One For The Road. In one of the very first lines, his character says to the bartender, “Set them up, Joe, I got a little story you ought to know.” Sinatra does this little thing that he elongates all of the S. He says, “Set him up, Joe.” Those long S is completely technical. He was such a micromanager of a singer. You can go through and write down everything he did. These long S, they convey maybe somebody who’s had a couple of whiskeys too many at closing time. They also convey reluctance to talkWhat you find out in the course of that song is that the man who wants to talk about his breakup is not going to say anything about his breakup. He doesn’t want to be by himself. That’s it. He puts you in a place to hear that by saying, “Set them up, Joe.” It’s the difference between, “Full fathom five,” and 30 feet of water. 

All of that is part of a musical discussion. It would be part of a purely textual discussion as well. The trick in that is that when you start connecting to your own expressive hard wiring, it doesn’t work in every language. That goes back to a couple of things that you have both said and alluded to that the express of hard-wiring of my language, which happens to be English, which involves quite hard accents, real deemphasis and deep pronunciation of unaccented syllables, and the ability to lengthen any consonant I want for any reason, without disturbing the comprehensibility of my language. I can say, “Full fathom five. I can say, “Full fathom five. You get different ideas from that, but you don’t start saying, “What are those words? You can always understand me. I can’t transfer that to Italian. I can’t transfer that to French. Those languages work in a different way. Those parameters are set differently. That as a metaphor for how we talk to each other is interesting. What’s naturally inside of you that you don’t even know about will come to the fore, and the less successful that can be in transfer to somebody else’s native language. 

There’s another point that I wanted to ask you about. You’ve handed me transitional line there. We are living in an increasingly international business world. Especially if you’re in a city, you’ll have people around you. Luckily for me, English is my native language and English is the international language of business. I am working all the time with people who have wonderful things to say for whom English is their second or third language, or the readers may have English as their second or third language. 

I use a lot of the diction training that I was taught when working with singers in terms of how you pronounce things wellOpera singers, most of the timeunless they’re Italian, they’re not singing their native language. They have to be able to sing in 4 or languages. Most also have to be able to work in 4 or 5 languages. I never got around to learning Russian, except for a couple of key phrases, but most of our colleagues work very comfortably. In the working environment in an opera company, you’re either working in English, Italian or German, unless most of the cast is Russian. You get together on day one and you say, “What’s our common language going to be?” You muddle through. Getting back to basic communicating, you were the first American to run the study program at the Vienna State Opera. 

Specifically, to be the studenliederen. 

Explain what studenliederen means. 

At a German opera house where there’s an ensemble of singers, a group of singers who are cast consistently throughout the season. 

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They’re there all season. 

That’s a good basic way to understand it. They’ve got many assignments in a season. In Vienna where there are 52 operas that are produced every year, people have 17 or 20 things, commonly 13 to 17. After they’ve got roles in their repertoire, they can be potentially responsible for up to two dozen things in a season. You have a group of singers who have to stay up on all that repertoire and a group of pianists. The studenliederen is the person who organizes the daily working of that schedule. That is what I did for a short period of time. 

Talk about the differences between working in a very international group, but working in the Austrian system, as opposed to working in the US system. It’s the Austrian thought process and framework versus the American thought process framework bearing in mind thathe whole time that you’re still working with people from all over the world. 

I‘m grateful for that opportunity in the middle of my life because it just fell out of the sky. What it gave me the opportunity to experience that I would not have experienced in another way was to go over as a midcareer person, somebody at a high level of experience to another system and to realize how much of communication and understanding is predicated on the entire community that you’re part of. Especially when one is in the fishbowl that one is born in. You’re in your own culture, you get trained in your own culture. You meet the colleagues of your own culture. You work in the places in your own culture. 

I’ve been as a guest in a lot of different locations. All of that travel can also help you believe that you’re good at adapting. It was hard for me to adapt. In the scope of the three years where I was there, I didn’t do it completely or successfully. To try to become part of a different system where everyone had trained in that culture, had their relationships in that culture and worked in the systems in that culture, we all knew the job that we were supposed to do. We were all able to communicate with each other on a daily basis. 

In terms of being able to make myself heard, in terms of all of that second level communication, words are easy to understand. Communication and this, that’s constant act of will and agreement between people. It can be between two people. It can be between an entire system. What I walk away with from that is how easy it is as we get older, our expertise increases. The flexibility of our processing system tends to slow down a little bit, which also exacerbates this problem. We get very used to where we are and how we work. It’s exactly at this moment that we should find different ways to listen and different ways to work harder. We can become part of a large system that believes that it hears and sees, but is not hearing and seeing in some very important ways. 

The phrase assumptions keep coming up, cultural assumptions, the things we take for grantedOne of the joys of working internationally is realizing the things that we take for granted, which aren’t necessarily what our readers are taking it for granted. That goes within American cultural assumptions and gender cultural assumptions. What do women assume is true, which is not the same as what men assume is true. It’s not necessarily one is better than the other. It’s keeping that in mind when you’re trying to communicate. What can you say looking ahead as our word gets more international and we’re questioning a lot of cultural assumption now? Do you have any thoughts about what to bear in mind as we move forward from here? We are recording this in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are in the middle of a giant shift in assumptionsexpectations and a global recession. We’re at the beginning of it. We truly don’t know what’s coming next. 

Hopefully, at the beginning of major social upheaval in the United States. It is something that will continue for a while. The availability of the chances to shake up the way that we speak and the way that we listen, it feels like a major moment that could be seized. All of these things weirdly work together in this way. To take the COVID part, it’s been interesting to work as a musician, as a teacher, but also as a collaborator on performance over the last couple of months in situations where I can’t be in the same room with any of my students or any of my recital partners. Yet there are good things about it. 

We don’t necessarily like them, we’re not necessarily comfortable with them, yet here’s the interesting thing. When two people come together in a room, there’s that explosion of vibe between the two of them. If you’re talking about music instruction, you’re often talking about a very energetic teacher and a very energetic student. There’s a lot of personality in the room. There’s a lot of nonverbal communication that is very important. It’s important on every level. It’s not just important in terms of inspiration. Although that’s part of it, if somebody does something beautiful, you can be like, “Wow. You know this from working in theater at a very high level. Some of the physical cues that we give one another are two cement memory. We‘re helping each other technically all the time with nonverbal cues. To have the nonverbal communication flattened out over the screen like this and to have to rely more on what we’re analyzing and saying about what we hear. If somebody sends me a recording, I have time to listen to it. A lot of our analysis is taking place asynchronously. 

SWGR 533 | Behind Words

Behind Words: As we get older, we get used to where we are and how we work. It’s exactly at this moment that we should find different ways to listen and different ways to work harder.


In teaching online, there’s some of it that happens in real-time in a connection like this interview, but there’s some of it that happens through the exchange of sound files. Some quality is better. That’s all there is to it. I get a lot of information from my students by having them record for me and send it to me. More of our communication, more of our feedback now is generated asynchronously. I’ve started to see that the way in which I say things when I’m not saying it to someone in the moment, and the way in which they hear them when the heat of wanting to please each other, wanting to get it right, wanting to say the thing that will be transformative, wanting to perform the action that will show that the transformation has taken place, take all of that out. 

In some ways, our communication with each other is clearer. In some ways, the personal responsibility that I have seen my students take on is greater because it has to be. That gets to who writes the history. In teaching an art form in passing on generations behind usmy lineage goes back to Franz Liszt. I studied with someone who studied with someone who studied with Franz LisztOne of the many great, great-grandchildren, too many. It’s not physical. Our tradition is to pass that on. It‘s like an oral tradition. We get oneonone and the person who’s received all of that through education and through experience continues to pass it on. 

It’s very interesting to see that exmentor and student, or like an expert and acolyte relationship upended a little bit, at least flattened or to have that part of it. It’s like, “You’re an expert and I want to know. I loved being a student. I want to pass it on. To have some of that out of the equation is clarifying in some ways that is exciting for the day that we go back to facetoface communication and bring some of these clarified and amped-up skills into the room with us. That could be important and transformative in a way that is needed and bleeds out into other topics. Other ways in which the preservation of something we care about has come with a hierarchy that is problematic and also has like real elements of injustice. That goes out into inequities in the world that continue to persist. Not because people don’t see them, but because there’s an advantage to them. If all of those advantages are called into question at the same time, we have a real opportunity. I hope we seize it. It seems to be that there is an actual shift in emphasis in terms of who gets to talk and who feel like they should listen. If we can stick with that, hope we do. 

Nothing in society has changed without people marching in the streets. That’s part of the spiral as we go. Let’s hope that this is indeed two steps forward. We as artists can illuminate, discuss that and talk about that through our form of expression, which are the arts. Kathleen Kelly, I could talk to you for hours. may have to come back to you in about six months and revisit this conversation. I had a whole list over here of things I was going to ask you that we didn’t get toThank you so much for being part of this. 

Thank you for the invitation. It was wonderful. I enjoyed talking to you so much. 

This is my wonderful friend whom I honoradmire and love to pieces, Kathleen Kelly. If you like this, please like us on YouTubeFacebook and LinkedIn. Leave us a review on iTunes, please and tell your friends. If you enjoyed it, share this. There will be more of it. 


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About Kathleen Kelly

SWGR 533 | Behind Words

KATHLEEN KELLY enjoys a dynamic musical life as a pianist, opera coach, conductor, teacher, and writer. Her projects and repertoire are wide-ranging and diverse. From Mozart to commissioned works by her peers, she is both deeply experienced in the classical vocal canon and engaged in new creation. Her 2019-20 season includes recital dates with mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton in Atlanta, San Francisco and London, conducting Opera Columbus’ opening night, the Ohio premiere of Juliana Hall’s BEYOND THE GUARDED GATE with soprano Jennifer Cresswell, and many new collaborations in Cincinnati, where she joined the opera faculty of the College-Conservatory of Music in 2018.

The first woman and first American named as Director of Musical Studies at the Vienna State Opera, Kathleen’s operatic experience is the backbone of her career. Trained at the San Francisco Opera, she joined the company’s music staff and moved from there to a long association with the Metropolitan Opera. She was head of music at Houston Grand Opera, and music director of the Berkshire Opera before moving to Vienna. Since returning to the USA in 2015, Kathleen has conducted at the Glimmerglass Festival, Wolf Trap Opera, Arizona Opera, El Paso Opera, Opera Columbus, the Merola Program, and the Alexandria Symphony, and has been a regular visiting coach for the prestigious young artist programs of Chicago Lyric Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Washington National Opera, and the Canadian Opera Company. Recently she joined the Cincinnati Opera to assist on the workshop of Matthew Aucoin’s Eurydice, slated for a 2019 premiere with the Los Angeles Opera.

Kathleen’s recital career includes appearances at Weill Hall, Zankel Hall, the Kennedy Center, Vienna’s Musikverein, the Mahlersaal of the Vienna State Opera, the Neue Galerie, the Schwabacher Series in San Francisco, and the Tucson Desert Song Festival. Her recent collaboration with Jamie Barton has won wide acclaim, and her partners have included Christine Goerke, Michael Kelly, Troy Cook, Amber Wagner, Susan Graham, Albina Shagimuratova, Valentina Nafornita, Sorin Coliban, Joyce DiDonato, Ariana Strahl, Martha Guth, Karen Slack, and Jennifer Holloway. She has curated art song series for the Houston Grand Opera and the Vienna State Opera, and is currently involved in the creation of new song through Sparks and Wiry Cries’ songSLAM events.

In demand as a mentor of rising artists, Kathleen has given masterclasses and workshops across North America, among others at the University of Toronto, the Schulich School at McGill University, University of Cincinnati, Baylor University, Vanderbilt University, University of Texas at Austin, University of Michigan, the Peabody Conservatory, University of Washington, Westminster Choir College, and Interlochen. She has served on the juries of the Wirth Prize at McGill University, the Dallas Opera Guild competition, the Kristin Lewis Foundation Scholarship auditions, the Cooper-Bing competition, and the regional Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions.

A published poet and essayist, Kathleen has created several new opera translations and libretti. Her English adaptation of Hansel and Gretel, commissioned by Tri-Cities Opera, is now in use alongside her chamber orchestra arrangement of the work. For Arizona Opera, she created a multilingual version of Emmerich Kalman’s Arizona Lady, and she wrote the libretto for David Hanlon’s Wolf Trap premiere Listen, Wilhelmina!