Elaine Mitchener and the Music of Screams

“Eight Songs for a Mad King” is on the older side of Michener’s usual repertoire.Last Sunday she performed in London Alongside American poet Moore Mather in a series of impromptu duets. In March Michener conducted the following program. By Jason Yard, Matana Roberts, Tansy Davis All other pieces were written during the last three years at the MaerzMusik contemporary music festival in Berlin.

“I think of myself as a performer who writes songs. That’s exactly the order,” she said. “But for me, the responsibility of the performer is to really get the score out of sight,” she added.

Michener was born in 1970 in London to Jamaican parents. He was exposed to ska, dub, gospel and Rastafarian music in his home from an early age, later nurtured by a local Adventist church. “It’s really inspiring from a young age, especially when you go to a black church and people see your talent for music and your message,” Michener said.

Her path to contemporary music was complicated. As a student at Trinity College of Music in London, most of her studies were in classical singing, but she wrote several contemporary works, including 8 Songs for the Mad King. I met In her final year there, her singing teacher died, and a new tutor reclassified her voice from low-pitched contralto to high-pitched mezzo-soprano. “She had to start over,” Michener said.

After graduating, Michener took an eight-year hiatus from performing, but continued to take vocal lessons while working in theater advertising and music publishing. In 2008, she met her “contemporary music unfazed” teacher, opera singer Jacqueline Straubinger-Bremer, with whom she has continued her lessons for the past 15 years. “Some people never find the right teacher for their voice, their musical position, their position in life,” Michener says. “I was lucky to find her.”

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