The Passing of the Répétiteur
Last summer, the Eastman School of Music and its Voice and Opera Department lost one of their devoted colleagues. Gerald ‘Jerry’ Lee served as part of the music staff within the opera area for more than thirty years, playing countless hours at the piano. Jerry’s role within our department was, at the least, a very important one. During his 33 years of service at Eastman, he prepared students for every opera that was produced within the opera program. By conservative estimates, he participated in over 120 lyric theater productions. For each of these productions, he worked individually and in groups with the cast to prepare all aspects of the music score (learning notes and rhythm, lyric diction, style practices, and assembling ensembles). Jerry would also play for weekly staging rehearsals. For any given production, he would easily give more than 100 hours of his time and talent in musical preparation.
In addition, Jerry prepared the music for all the opera performance classes within the department (Introduction to Lyric Theatre, Opera Workshop, Advanced Opera Seminar & Seminar in Opera Directing). He accompanied students for voice lessons, played for auditions, gave extra musical coachings for enrolled students, and even worked closely and regularly with some students who had recently graduated.
Jerry’s dedication and service to the Eastman School of Music, the opera program and its students was not only unique, but unmatched. He represents one of the last of those known in the opera world as a true répétiteur. A répétiteur is a skilled musician, an excellent pianist who can create orchestral colors through his or her own piano skills, has a vast knowledge of all forms of lyric theater, and has an ability to execute and teach the many performance practices and styles contained in each score. He must also have the ability to adapt and work in conjunction with the conductor’s artistry.
As the title implies, a répétiteur repeats and repeats (be it through countless hours at the piano in rehearsal, playing and teaching excerpts of music over and over again at a high level, or accompanying a singer in an aria). Given the present trend of opera companies narrowing their mission and focusing on a specific type of repertoire, finding a répétiteur with such vast knowledge and experience as Jerry Lee is practically impossible. His experience came from more than 40 years of work within this art form.
Former students who have heard of Jerry’s passing all acknowledge his important service in their musical journeys. I worked closely with Jerry for almost 20 years, dating back to 1995. I will miss his unique laugh, his discussions about literature, his highly opinionated and informative discussion of singers, directors, and productions, his love for playing old recordings of fantastic singers, and his ability to have worked the past 30 years without EVER having an answering machine, cell phone or e-mail! Although mildly and humorously frustrating at times, I secretly envied him for (as he put it) ‘not having Big Brother invading his privacy!’ In all my work with Jerry, he missed only two rehearsals due to his lack of this technology! I still walk outside the doors of the music annex building on Swan Street, or in front of Java’s, and expect to see him.
Jerry, your presence and dedication are truly missed.
The Voice and Opera Department has dedicated the production of Dialogues of the Carmelites to the memory of Gerald Lee (1947-2013). We, as a department, are indebted to the incredible service he gave to the Eastman School of Music’s students, faculty, and opera program, and his enrichment of the Rochester community.
Steven A. Daigle
Head of Opera
Professor of Opera
Eastman School of Music
Remembering My Brother, Jerry Lee
It was always obvious that Jerry was destined for a career in music. As a toddler, he spent hours “dancing” in a circle, sucking his thumb, while listening over and over again to Tschaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite”. He started piano lessons at age six, and soon surpassed students who had been studying for years longer than he had. He also had a lovely boy soprano voice, and was often asked to sing at school and church.
Jerry discovered opera when he was about 12, and it immediately became his passion. By the time he reached college, he had already learned so much on his own that he knew more about the musical literature than some of his teachers did. Although he was an excellent pianist, he was never interested in being a solo performer. It took him awhile to find the right job, but he finally found his niche when he was hired at Eastman in 1981. The combination of vocal coaching and accompanying was the perfect match for his specific talents, interests, knowledge, and enthusiasm. Even after 32 years, he had no intention of retiring, because he so loved what he was doing.
Music was Jerry’s passion and his life, but he also had a broad range of other interests. He loved the outdoors and enjoyed camping and hiking. He had a remarkable knowledge of geography and geology, especially of the western United States. He liked to watch nature documentaries and knew a lot about animals. He read history and political analysis, paid attention to the political scene, and enjoyed conversing with nearly anyone on just about any subject.
Jerry held strong opinions, but those opinions were usually well informed. One of his colleagues aptly described him as an “odd duck”, which was true; he lived his life very much on his own terms, unconventional, intensely private, yet often gregarious. He had a good sense of humor, an incredible eye and ear for detail, and an amazing memory.
Jerry was a brilliant, eccentric, interesting, sensitive, warm-hearted, gifted man, and I will miss him.
The Voice & Opera program offers an environment of excellence in which the healthiest development of the vocal artist can be achieved. Vocal technique, repertoire and a understanding of musical style underlie the growth of expressive, communicative singers. While an operatic career may be the primary focus of many students pursuing majors in vocal performance at Eastman, our curriculum acknowledges that singers must be versatile, artistically creative, and technically secure in order to compete in today’s marketplace.
Standard opera, operetta, and musical theater repertory provide the ideal laboratory for learning theatrical techniques and stage repertory. Performances include full productions with orchestra, as well as opera scenes. Choral ensembles acquaint students with a diversity of great music and styles both as choristers and as oratorio soloists.
Private lessons and solo and chamber music coaching give students grounding in the world’s great vocal literature. Courses in pedagogy provide relevant information for the singer and pedagogical techniques for the aspiring teacher. Courses in diction, foreign languages, music history, music theory and the humanities help our students develop as complete musicians. Eastman Opera Theatre presents three productions each year in Kibourn Recital Hall, our Black Box theater and Kodak Hall in the Eastman Theater. We utilize a “class and degree blind” approach to casting, meaning that starting in their junior year, roles are assigned to a singer with the best audition and the approval of their studio voice teacher. All productions are double-cast. Many Eastman singers enter the operatic profession as a natural extension of this experience.
Some of our recent productions have been Mozart’s Così fan tutte and Le nozze di Figaro; Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites; Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore; Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Albert Herring and Turn of the Screw; Mecham’s Tartuffe; Conrad Susa’s Transformations; Handel’s Xerxes, Orlando; Cimarosa’s The Secret Marriage; Massenet’s Manon; Gluck’s Orfeo and Euridice; Smetana’s The Bartered Bride; Puccini’s La Bohème; Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia; Sondheim’s Passion, Assassins and A Little Night Music and Bock’s She Loves Me.
Two Opera Scenes programs are presented to the public at the end of each semester in which all students from the opera performance classes participate. Studio productions are presented at the end of the spring semester. Productions have included: Signor Deluso, Goblin Market, The Telephone, A Hand of Bridge, The Stoned Guest, The Cradle Will Rock, La Voix Humaine, Le Portrait de Manon, and Phi-Phi! Outreach productions are also presented to area public schools.
Frequent visits and master classes by such guest artists as Renée Fleming (MA ‘83), Marilyn Horne, Hermann Prey, William Sharp (MA ‘76), Håkan Hagegård, Martina Arroyo, Benita Valente and Dawn Upshaw help to enhance the vocal experience at Eastman. Vocal coaches such as Armen Guzelimian, Martin Katz, Thomas Muraco, Craig Rutenberg, Graham Johnson and Roger Vignoles have also presented master classes at Eastman.