Joseph Bolger

Countertenor

Teaching & Research

In both my one-to-one teaching and choir training I take person-centred approach which seeks to meet individuals and groups on their terms. I have taught plucky eight-year-olds, ambitious millennials, committed professionals and passionate OAPs. I have trained cathedral choristers, conservatoire students and the full spectrum of amateur choral singers. The diversity of my performance experience and vocal skills makes me ideally suited for the teaching of all genres, from opera right through contemporary rock and pop. I have benefitted from learning and professional development with leading pedagogues including Janice Chapman, Paul Farrington, Colin Baldy and Dane Chalfin.

From 2015-2018 I taught as Senior Lecturer in Classical Voice at Leeds College of Music, teaching undergraduate and postgraduate students and directing the College Chamber Choir. I have also taught one-to-one sessions and masterclasses at King’s College London, where I am currently completing my Ph.D. Since September 2018 I have taught the choristers, choral scholars and lay clerks of Peterborough Cathedral Choir, taking individual and group sessions and leading occasional chorister practices.

Ph.D Research

I am currently completing my Ph.D at King’s College London. My thesis considers the relationship between the social contexts of early music singing and the aesthetic agendas of anglophone performance practice researchers. It has a particular focus on the continuing legacy of the Anglican choral tradition and its importance as a training ground for early music singers and conductors. In addition, case study chapters examine the genres of lute song and 18th-Century opera, genres whose rich social and aesthetic interactions have proved particularly engaging for both singers and researchers.

Its main research outcome is a text-driven analysis of twenty-four chapters and articles covering music from the Medieval to the Bel Canto periods written by vocal performance practice researchers. This analysis collates a database of statements endorsing particular ways of singing, attitudes and other competencies that the sampled researchers deem appropriate for early music. These statements were rationalised into a collection of 3069 recording units which were categorised according to the aspect of vocal practice to which they pertained. This enabled the quantitative assessment of the various aesthetic priorities of the sampled researchers. The data from the analysis were used to construct Francesca, an imaginary singer with the ideal skills for early music.

The analysis reveals a commitment to text primacy (logocentrism) to be a fundamental motivator of researchers’ aesthetic voices. This principle extends beyond the implications of sung text and incorporates any kind of text with which researchers come into contact, most notably written historical evidence. I propose that this commitment to text primacy takes the form of a reverence inherited from the scholastic Anglicanism of Oxbridge chapel environments. This reverence is reflected in the kinds of ethereal, disembodied voices researchers like to see, voices emulating choirs of angels and functioning as neutral transmitters of The Word. Crucially, this text reverence is unconcerned with and unable to account for the somatic eminence of sung sound.

A chapter on lute song examines how this logocentrism leads to the misreading of performance practice evidence in a manner which prioritises word over sound and fails to acknowledge the role of the performer in affective communication of the genre. The chapter also considers how some of the more wishful aesthetic and philosophical claims of researchers may reflect a concern with elevating the critical status of the lute song genre and thus also researchers’ own outputs. It proposes that a vocal aesthetic grounded in Primal Voice – a pedagogical concept which links emotive utterance with physiologically healthy singing – would realise the rhetorical aesthetic researchers favour more effectively than simply insisting upon the primacy and literary merit of lute song texts.

The influence of text reverence on the critical reception of today’s early music singers is considered in a case study chapter on eighteenth-century opera. This chapter examines both historical and modern descriptions of singers and reveals how reverence for historical evidence has allowed sexist vocal paradigms to continue in the modern age. These paradigms afford male singers a wider expressive range than female singers and permit male-dominated scribal elites to control the discourses surrounding singing, ensuring their continued validation as taste makers. These observations are examined in conjunction with research documenting women’s continued struggle for vocal autonomy in both the private and professional spheres.

An anonymous interview with an industry-leading soprano considers these conclusions in the context of the early music workplace. She reports encountering early music conductors, notably those running their own groups, who use their status to commit acts of sexual harassment and abuse. She notes that these conductors often exhibit a lack of musical control which they compensate for by seeking to exert social and sexual control over their singers. She reports encountering these kinds of conductors ‘only in the early music business’ and offers examples of enjoyable working relationships with conductors in other contexts. Her testimony is considered against the backdrop of recent high-profile convictions of early music and choral conductors for crimes of a sexual nature. I propose that the phallogocentric agendas which endorse men of letters as early-music tastemakers contribute to this culture by prioritising the logocentric over the somatic (words over bodies) and thus also texts over people.

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