When Jared Schwartz and Mary Dibbern bring their “Songs of Travel” to First United Methodist Church’s Fine Art Series Sunday, Oct. 26, they will also bring years of experience and training with them.
The performance will also be a dream come true for First United Methodist Church.
“Quite a number of years ago the idea for a Fine Arts Series became a fairly regular topic of discussion among a small group of people,” said Carol Allen, director of worship arts. “As some of us would travel to Dallas and places beyond to go to performances in other churches’ Fine Arts Series, we would come home with the renewed desire to have something like that happen at our church.”
Busy schedules would intervene, and the project would be shelved. But things changed earlier this year when Allen saw Schwartz and Dibbern.
“I had the opportunity to go to the Fine Arts Series performance at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas,” she explained. “The featured performer was Jared Schwartz, bass singer. It was an afternoon of music I’ll not soon forget. Jared, accompanied by the amazing Mary Dibbern, sang and danced and acted for his audience with gusto and energy and beauty! It was spectacular.”
During this trip Allen, said the idea came again to start a fine arts series at the church.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone of Jared and Mary’s caliber could come?” she wondered. “Well, the long and the short of it is that Jared Schwartz and Mary Dibbern are coming to FUMC/SS for the inaugural performance for our Fine Arts Series.”
Schwartz graduated from Bethel College and the Eastman School of Music.
In 2013, he received the People’s Choice Award in the American Traditions Vocal Competition in Savannah, Ga.
Last season, he partnered with Dibbern for solo recitals in France and the University of Texas at Dallas School of Arts and Humanities and St. Matthew’s Cathedral Arts, also in Dallas.
Schwartz continues to study with renowned vocal coach David Jones in New York. He has also studied at the Franz Schubert Institute with Elly Ameling, Wolfram Rieger and Julius Drake.
Dibbern currently serves as the music director of education and family programs at The Dallas Opera. She also has a private studio where she coaches vocalists for opera roles, auditions, art songs and oratorio repertoire. She is on the faculty at the University of Miami at Salsburg.
She lived in France for more than 30 years, coaching, recording, giving master classes and writing. Dibbern is the editorial consultant for a new series of editions of the works of French composer Jacques Leguerney. She has also published performance guides to “The Tales of Hoffman” and “Romeo and Juliet.” Her book, the English translation of “Massenet: General Catalogue of Works,” is due out in the fall.
The duo answered questions about their careers, their training and their incredible partnership.
News-Telegram: We are thrilled to have the two of you debut the First United Methodist Church Fine Arts Series. What should our audience expect to hear from the two of you?
Jared Schwartz: It is wonderful to be coming back to the First United Methodist Church of Sulphur Springs!
I have sung some solos at the church a couple times for some very dear friends, Cal and Daunn Brim, that have family connections back to Sulphur Springs. I'm so happy to get to bring some of my favorite music to such a lovely town! The music will take the audience on all sorts of journeys – through the wilderness, through forgiveness, through neurotic loneliness and even through the journey of trying to ignore one's pudginess! It is a wide range of music, from the sublime to the somewhat psycho!
Mary Dibbern: We are going to present a huge variety of music set to texts in English – both from Great Britain and from America.
We think we have a great mixture of music that is beautiful and entertaining.
We both have a whacky sense of humor. Luckily, we have found some music where this can be expressed – and since Jared is also a marvelous pianist, maybe we can get him to play something at the end. The fact that he can just adds to the unusual quality of his concerts.
N-T: Why did you pick the colleges you attended?
JS: I attended Bethel College because I wanted to attend a small, Christian liberal arts school and Bethel was unique, in that they have a consortium with Indiana University-South Bend, which is the home of the world-renowned pianist and teacher, Alexander Toradze. Because of this, I was able to study music and grow into the kind of person I desired to be.
I also won a major scholarship from Eli Lilly and Company that paid for any college within the state of Indiana – so that narrowed my options, as well.
In the end, it was the perfect combination, although many of my teachers questioned why I wasn't attending a well known conservatory. That wasn't the route for me and I am thankful I was able to stay as diverse in my studies – originally piano, French horn and chemistry with pre-med – as long as possible.
Ironically, I came into voice lessons last of all my musical pursuits. Although I always sang, I had never studied it until about halfway through my sophomore year of college.
A couple years later with the help of my ever-encouraging Bethel voice teacher, Vicky Garrett, I auditioned for multiple graduate programs in voice. I had visited the Eastman School of Music before and really loved the kind, encouraging atmosphere of the community and was elated when I was accepted.
It was a wonderful two years with some amazing peers and teachers. Since then, I have been traveling to NYC regularly to study voice with David Jones. He is a pedagogical genius and one of the kindest people I have ever known.
MD: My father was chair of physiology at the U of North Dakota – so he wanted me to go there because he could get instate tuition and a faculty discount for me. If I told you how little I paid for an excellent education there, you would probably faint –?so I won't. I then continued on to SMU because of its fine reputation.
N-T: Talk about your post-graduate work.
JS: After my graduate degree in voice, I considered more academia, but chose instead to pursue my own degree of sorts, observing lessons from David Jones and continuing to study languages and such on my own time. I think a person can learn a lot on their own if they have a library card and some drive.
MD: I am working on the doctorate for fun. People think that is very eccentric – I can see Jared laughing. I just take one class a semester and tie in all of my semester projects with other things I am doing in my work. For instance, UTD has a marvelous Translation Center, so I am doing advanced translation studies with Rainer Schulte, who founded the center. Working with him on my translation of a Massenet biography has been irreplaceable. If the book succeeds, it will be thanks to him in great part.
N-T: Along with your performance dates, both of you are deeply involved in music education. Why did you choose to become involved in teaching?
JS: It wasn't something I had ever planned. My undergraduate voice teacher saw this "teaching spark" in me and soon had me teaching voice lessons. When I moved to Texas, I worked as a waiter for six weeks and decided I would rather teach than wait tables! Within about three months of starting a studio, I had more than 60 and I haven't looked back since. I love it and it teaches me a lot, too!
MD: I always loved my teachers.
For instance, I worked at SMU with the great Maestro Paul Vellucci. When you realize every minute of every day that you could not have functioned without your teachers' guidance, and he was a lighthouse for my learning, then at a certain point it is a responsibility to continue their tradition of teaching.
N-T: After reading your resumes, inquiring minds want to know how do you manage your busy lives?
JS: I can't say I've really figured it out yet! It can be a lot at times.
I have to remind myself daily that who I am first and foremost rests in the steadfast love of the Lord. After that, everything else is much smaller in comparison and you just take it one thing at a time.
MD: I don't know. I think from the outside, we both look like workaholics – and I guess that is as close to the truth as one can get.
N-T: Mary, How many languages do you speak? Is language something that comes easily to you? When you visit Europe, do you slip back into French easily?
MD: I lived in France for 31 years, so I would say by now that I am pretty near bilingual. I also work with and work in Italian and German. When I was working for the Shanghai Opera, I spoke very basic and quite flawed Mandarin – enough to do my coaching without a translator, which was my goal. I am sure the Chinese singers there were very indulgent – and we pointed to words in the dictionary a lot, and we laughed a lot. Why not? It's an adventure.
I am a good parrot and I love the way my own language works and the literature, so falling in love with French and then other languages seemed natural.
N-T: Jared, explain the qualifications to be classified as a bass singer.
JS: My voice has confused a lot of people because most people associate a bass sound with a woofy, old Russian man kind of rumble.
Although timbre is part of it, the deciding factor in determining a voice part is where some pitch specific changes happen in the voice. Without turning this into a vocal science lesson, it is kind of like different gear shifts in a car. Some people switch out of first gear at a lower pitch than others. Basses start shifting around the F below middle C. A baritone won't start that shift until the A-flat below middle C and the tenor might not shift until middle C.
Those few notes make a big difference in how the voice operates.
N-T: Mary, When did you know that music would be your life's work?
MD: I actually enrolled as a theater major for my undergrad. But I had already continued piano lessons at the university and they told me if I declared a music major I could have a scholarship. I think my parents were behind the scenes on that. My father wanted me to enroll in pre-med – maybe music didn't seem quite as objectionable as theater!
N-T: Can anyone take lessons from you, or do they have to pass an audition process?
JS: I will teach anyone that has a desire to learn (and that I can fit into my packed schedule!) I have had some very talented people that didn't want to grow and it was awful.
I have had some people that I was not sure would ever even match pitch, but they worked hard and we helped them find their voice and sing in tune!
MD: I work with fairly advanced classical singers to help them learn their music ?– style, language, phrasing, and so on. Anyone who is in university or a graduate can come to work with me if I have time. There usually is a rotating group of people coming in and out of Dallas who call upon me.
N-T: Is there a special moment in performances when you know you've found the right formula and everything's working?
JS: I don't really think about that in a performance. I only perform music that I really love, so it is less about "nailing it" and more so about sharing this beautiful music and communicating the story of some really fascinating characters. If you tell the story, the rest takes care of itself.
MD: Yes ?–?it is usually the feeling that you have gotten out of the way of what the composer wanted to express.
N-T: Mary, You have spent much of your professional life working within the world of opera, living in France for 30 years, coaching singers – and, most recently, with The Dallas Opera. How do you see the future of opera? Why?
MD: Opera has been here for hundreds of years and it keeps getting reborn in various forms, languages, venues, etc. This morning, I performed twice at The Dallas Zoo for groups of wonderful children and their parents. I'd say if there is so much excitement from 4-year-olds, then opera has a future!
N-T: Jared, you bring such joy to your performances. Is it your nature to be happy – or do you have to work at it?
JS: The joy people see on stage is easy because I love the music I'm sharing with them.
N-T: Having seen you work together on more than one occasion, it seems you are finely tuned into each other. How important is that connection between an artist and an accompanist?
JS: We rehearse together a lot and have a ball! When you both love the music, it is such fun!
MD: It's the only way! If you really work a lot with somebody on a one-to-one basis, it is important that there is a great deal of respect, tolerance for differences, willingness to speak up if there is a misunderstanding, and then some kind of unexplained chemistry that is there – as in any relationship. I'd say in many ways that playing for a singer is one of the most intimate relationships one can have. When a singer really trusts you with his voice and is willing to reveal his deep emotions, hopes and fears, then you can feel the rest of what is happening in the moment. So I think a good accompanist is a bit like a priest – we see a lot, we hear a lot, and we should only reveal what we know through the musical performance. The audience intuitively understands our unspoken secrets. Often, I only discover these secrets when we are actually performing. That may sound mysterious and a bit vague, but then, it is! I think Jared and I are both extraverted introverts. We both need to spend a lot of time alone, I think. The rhythm of life and work that we both have meshes quite well.
N-T: Do you guys know – somewhere deep down – how truly talented you are?
JS: I'm thankful to God for these gifts and I just keep practicing so that I can be an available instrument to communicate a message.
MD: I think we know that we are lucky to be able to do this. Talent is given by God, so we don't take credit for it. I think Jared feels that way as well as I. We furnish the work to make the music happen, so we are more focused on the talent of the poet and musician who created the pieces that we are entrusted with.
N-T: Looking five years down the road, where do you want to be in your careers?
JS: I'd love to be doing loads of concerts all over the world. Maybe opera, too? I'd also like to be composing more music and teaching voice all the while.
MD: I would actually like to be lucky enough to be doing the same things I'm doing now. I did a lot previously in terms of travel, international career development, publishing, etc. Right now, I just feel that Dallas is a great place to be, and I hope to continue this phase until I retire – whatever that means because I cannot really think of any reason to retire as long as I am healthy!
“Songs of Travel” begins at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26, in the sanctuary at FUMC.
Tickets are $10. Call the church office at 903-885-2185 to make reservations, which are recommended. A reception for the artists will follow.
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