Win over your listeners’ hearts

Musical rhetoric is a performance practice that grounds musical storytelling in speech, drawing on our natural expression of language and on techniques of oratory to conjure and convey the emotion of musical moments. If you’ve ever felt "espressivo" wasn’t nearly specific enough, or you hope someone will come away from your concert with an emotion other than that was pretty, musical rhetoric is the toolkit you want! With hands-on, highly detailed interpretation, students of the Musical Rhetoric Workshop identify the gestures, or specific sound-bytes, that make up their musical line, discern the emotive potential of each, and perform them in ways that carry each gesture’s dramatic character, or affect, to the audience. Musical rhetoric transforms our performance, imbuing it with dramatic power and unleashing all of its specific emotional potential. It can be used by instrumentalists and vocalists alike, is useful in nearly any repertoire (classical and non-!), and demands a keen ear for musical structure, an interest in story and plot, and a willingness to take artistic risks.

Photograph of a rehearsal at the Musical Rhetoric Workshop.

Our director, Bram Wayman, leads a session of the Musical Rhetoric Workshop.

The Musical Rhetoric Workshop holds one session per academic year. Members are generally collegiate or graduate students or young professionals, but supremely skilled high school students and performers with decades of experience have also been among our participants. Vocalists and instrumentalists are welcome depending on the season’s repertoire, but generally all voice parts are represented equally, with solo opportunities for singers and players alike. The repertoire is mostly drawn from the high Baroque, the period in Western history when musical-rhetorical techniques were in full flower. The lines witten by composer-perfomers such as Purcell, Handel, and Charpentier are, by design, a practical playground for mastering rhetorical technique.

Want to find out more? Learn what goes on at the workshop, read some common questions, or dive in with a primer on how musical rhetoric works. If you want to participate in the 2022–2023 Workshop, sign up!

Get in touch

Bram Wayman, director

Website and all contents copyright © 2020–2022 Abraham Wayman. Last updated Aug. 31st, 2022.

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Artwork credit: Boulogne, Valentin de, Concert à huit personnages dit aussi Concert dans un intérieur, courtesy of the Louvre; Regnier, Nicolas, Divine Inspiration of Music, courtesy of LACMA.