Spotlight on: Maika'i Nash

Spotlight on: Maika'i Nash

Jenna Simeonov
Maika’i Nash is one of Canada’s busiest pianists and vocal coaches. He is the Resident Music Director of Opera 5, and he has worked with singers in Toronto, Montréal, and New York City, making his debut at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall this past season with soprano Andrey Luna. I think that vocal coaches have one of the best vantage points from which to observe the opera industry and its singers; Maika’i spoke articulately on what it’s like to coach, and that “ethereal place when performing, when everything feels perfectly connected and you feel a bit invincible.”

1. What was the biggest learning curve when you started working with singers?

Being able to coach, period. Nothing can take the place of learning by doing. Everything I learned while training of coaching was necessary and über important, but applying those ideas when your “coaching ears” are in their infancy is so incredibly difficult. Only by spending hours coaching, attending lessons (probably the most informative dictionary for upstart coaches), répétiteur-ing, and through trial and error does one start to develop their own vocabulary to be able to start doing the job.

2. What does it feel like to be really in sync with a singer?

You feel almost psychically connected to the singer and can move musically in the same direction at a millisecond’s notice. It feels like being in the “zone” that most athletes and performing musicians experience. It’s this ethereal place when performing, when everything feels perfectly connected and you feel a bit invincible.

3. What are your sight-reading strategies?

Quickly review the composer in your mind, figure out the style, observe the key signature, scan quickly for future tempo and key changes, and look for tricky finger passages. Also, by sight reading with the most heightened musicality and attention to interpretation helps hide scads of missteps and necessary detours. Then, hold on for dear life!

4. What have you learned about music from working with singers?

I have learned how to pull a truly legato melody line out of my playing by trying desperately to mimic legato singing. I’ve also learned how important breath is in a pianist’s life. To breathe at the beginning of a phrase, or simply to breathe in general. So often I would hold my breath for passages, but allowing breath in calms oneself, centers you and releases tension. And that attention to breath seems to cushion musical phrases both at the beginning and end of phrases.

5. Is there any repertoire you’ve not performed that would be on your “bucket list?”

Ha! Schubert’s Trout Quintet. I’ve wanted to perform that FOREVER. Voice-wise, I have a love for French repertoire and would love to finish learning all of Poulenc’s cycles AND more Massenet opera. And jeez, the amount of Lieder and verismo opera that I’d like to do could fill a chapter in a book!

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