A Taiwanese countertenor

April 3, 2007

Sorry for that break in transmission. Once again I’ve been too paralysed by private preoccupations (never mind what, just appreciate the alliteration) to write for a while, but the Taiwanese countertenor has managed to jolt my attention back to my Blog.

As a matter of fact he is more of a Canadian countertenor nowadays, but was born and educated in Taipei, and did perform a haunting Taiwanese song as an encore this afternoon. I was in the audience for D. Kai Ma‘s mid-day recital, the last of Christ Church cathedral‘s Lenten Concert series, so also heard him perform an extraordinary aria by Johann Christoph Bach (not the other one, who was a generation younger). This aria, with organ accompaniment, which began: Ach, dass ich Wassers gnug hätte…, did not sound Baroque at all but was a lyrically modern lament. With its long drawn-out vowels, it required very controlled singing, which Mr Kai Ma accomplished beautifully. Only from the lyrics could you tell that this came from the excessively religious 17th century German tradition

Ach… dass ich Tag und Nacht beweinen könnt meine Sünde… denn der Herr hat mich voll Jammers gemacht…

There were items by other Baroque composers: J.S. Bach, of course, as well as Schütz, Handel and Alessandro Grandi. We heard a Purcell duet performed with one of the boys from the cathedral choir, and then for the sake of contrast some 19th century songs : another duet (by Mendelssohn) and a couple of Schumann Lieder. If you want to find out what Kai Ma makes of Schumann you can click here and find him singing Der Nussbaum on YouTube.

I find it fascinating to hear how countertenors can maintain their falsetto register, when it seems to me it would be so much easier for them to slip into their more natural tenor or baritone voice. The only time D. Kai Ma hinted at his other voice was for the sake of effect, presumably, when he dropped down to a few very low notes in one of the songs.

Interestingly enough, during my husband Chris’ weekly singing lesson this evening, his teacher recommended the opposite—that Chris should try singing falsetto if a high note on the page feels too daunting.

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