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ASU doctoral student helps students communicate in a foreign language with music

Taylor Hutchinson, a Doctor of Musical Arts student in music performance in Arizona State University's School of Music, spent summer 2017 as a collaborative pianist intern at the Franco-American Vocal Academy (FAVA) in Angers, France, coaching 30 American singers to sing in a language they did not know — from art songs to arias — and perform to a native French speaking audience.

“Attending a music festival in another country is an amazing experience,” Hutchinson said. “To understand how our art form functions in a different culture is amazing. Using music as a tool to reach an audience who we can’t easily communicate with verbally is very different from performing for a familiar audience.”

Hutchinson chose FAVA because of the split focus between opera and art song repertoire. She said that while opera is considered the “money maker” in vocal music, art song is often where artistry really shows and what she enjoys working on the most. Very few summer programs for singers choose to concentrate on art song according to Hutchinson, who said it was wonderful to help the students discover how to bring the songs to life.

She said the language barrier was a challenge, as very few locals spoke English, though they attended almost every one of the seven recitals and seven opera performances and were a very enthusiastic and devoted audience.

The program was unique as the focus was on the music of Isabelle Aboulker, a living French composer with a very distinct voice, she said. One of the featured operas was Aboulker’s version of "Cendrillon" ("Cinderella"), a short children’s opera in which Hutchinson performed.

Taylor Hutchinson

Hutchison’s advice to music students participating in an international festival is to prepare as much as possible beforehand. She said there is so much to see and do abroad that, if a student is prepared for their performances and has some free time, they can hop on the train and explore a new city.

“Whatever the experiences students have at music festivals, whether it’s a huge or small program, in their native country or abroad, the most lasting things from these programs are the relationships built with the other people there,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson is an accomplished pianist, but said her true aspiration is to become a vocal coach to undergraduate level singers in a university setting and share the knowledge she has gained from her graduate studies.