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The Villainous Silvano: An Interview with Jackson Hodges

When Will Suit considered who might work best for the role of Silvano on the recording of IL GUFO IL TOPO, he wrestled with the type of voice.  It had to be animated, yet believable.  It had to betray treacherous emotion and ill-intent.  This was, after all, the villain of the story. Who could capture this and maintain the integrity of the role? Early on when Will was developing the story, students offered input regularly on the owl, Silvano.  Without exception, they felt he should be a scary, nightmarish creature.  All were curious as to the demise or escape of the mouse, Zita at the hands….well, talons…of such a cunning villain.

After Will opened his own music school, he met some young musicians looking for work as instructors.  Among them was a young man who, at first sight, was quiet and timid.  His polite, soft-spoken manner was in great contrast to the boisterous personalities of music teachers with which Will was familiar.  Nonetheless, he took a chance and welcomed Jackson Hodges to his list of instructors.  His major in college had been Voice. 

A few months later, Will asked Jackson if he’d like to sing a song at a student recital the following week.  Jackson gladly accepted the invitation and met Will for a rehearsal.  He and Will looked over material, deciding on a song from Les Miserables.  Will thought his voice  sounded pretty good as he heard the first full song.  Then came the day of the recital with a room full of parents and kids.  Jackson stood to sing as the room fell silent.  That was his canvas and he filled it with the most wonderful sound from the depth of his emotions. 

The audience applauded vigorously and Jackson probably gained a couple of students from that very room, but Will had found Silvano.  Over the next few months life threw many obstacles into the path of the recording, but when Will finally confirmed with Jackson, he stepped to the mic and delivered!  Silvano was in place! 

Here are Jackson’s thoughts on being a part of this project

1.  How did you feel about being a part of this project?

Personally, I very much enjoyed being a part of this project. It’s not as often as I’d like that I get to stretch my classical singing legs for performing, as it were. So it was entirely too much fun to get to use that side of my performance technique.

2.  Who is Silvano?

Silvano is the villain of Il GufoIl Topo, and fits nicely into the stereotypical operatic villain role. Singing as Silvano was such a great experience. There’s this weird part of me that has always wanted to fill the role of a villain in a production, so this was truly a privilege.

3.  How did you get into character for this recording?  

To get into character for this recording, I pictured some of the classic Disney villains I grew up with – Scar, Ursula, Hades, and the like. They’re all evil in their own rites, but they still have that sense of cartoonish whimsy about them in most cases, which I felt was quite fitting for Silvano. I included just a touch of Oogie Boogie from Nightmare Before Christmas to add a sinister touch just to make it clear that he is, in fact, a villain.

5.  Which song was your favorite?  Why?

Out of all of the songs that I got to record, “No Escape,” was probably my favorite. I love the chromaticism at the end. There’s something about the closeness of the notes in the vocal melody that create an ominous, foreboding atmosphere that I feel really brings out the events surrounding this part of the opera – Zita fleeing through the woods late at night in an attempt to escape from her would-be captor.

6.  What can people learn from the story of IL GUFO IL TOPO?

They can definitely learn to be mindful of those around them – not everyone who shows interest in you or what you’re capable of always has your best interests in mind.

7.  What aspirations do you have as an artist for the future?  What have you done and what are you doing now toward that future?

For the future? Honestly, I’d love to do some more work like this. I’ve done recordings with rock ensembles and choral groups, but solo operatic work was a new experience which I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m still working with many rock groups in a studio setting, so I’m refining my performance technique within the bounds of a studio. I’m getting better at taking creative direction, as well. Sometimes I have a difficult time finding the exact character that a producer is looking for, so I’m pushing myself to get better at doing that in the moment.

You can hear Jackson Hodges along with other forest creatures on your favorite streaming service or click here!

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Busy, Buzzy, Fuzzy Bumblebee

Busy, Buzzy, Fuzzy Bumblebee

One of the most difficult scales to teach is the chromatic scale.  In theory, it is rather straight-forward, but practically speaking it’s not the easiest scale for a vocalist.  The chromatic scale ascends or descends by half steps.  The singer usually has a starting note and a target note.  The scale must be sung with precision, sounding every note (all black and white keys on the piano) between the starting tone and the targeted tone.  The result is a climbing or falling melody.

I was always faced with a frustrating look from my young students when I started this scale.  There was no sound.  No effort.  Just a blank stare.  So, one day I was tinkering with the scale in my studio and decided to put some words to it.  Immediately a bee came to mind, but how would I get a child interested in singing about a bee?

Time passed as I sat and pondered words and quite frankly, the words to “Busy, Buzzy, Fuzzy Bumblebee” just spilled out almost immediately once I focused on a bumblebee.  I’ve actually gotten most of my students to sing it at one point or another as a warmup.  I even have a three year old sibling who runs into my studio and sings it on occasion while I’m helping his brother through a warm up of scales.

There has been some pushback over the phrase that references the bee’s lips.  “Bees don’t have lips!” a student protested one day.  “Have you ever looked at a bee’s face?” I retorted.  “How would you know?”  I laughed quietly to myself as the student stood there and tried to figure it out.

I must admit that among the younger students, ease of the chromatic scale has been enhanced by engaging imaginative lyrics with a less than cooperative scale.   You’ll find it on your favorite streaming service!

The lyrics and accompaniment are included in the companion songbook to the album,  “In My Backyard”!  I’ve even included the solfege for those teachers and choir directors who want to use it as a warmup or teaching tool.  Enjoy!

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