Important if muted news
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So I had this list when I went in for my voice lesson today. I wanted to ask about singing Fauré*, and various questions about singing with the Muddles**, and about surviving singing for Oisin and the whole insanely frustrating business of regressing under pressure***, and the way, if I miss a day, singing, I notice it more than I used to†.
And then I said, there’s another weirdness. Used to be, if the sort of upper mid range—around C-above-middle-C, D, E—are stiff and closed down, there’s no point in even trying to go higher. Lately—and I can’t even remember why I bothered trying—I’ve several times found that when those upper-middle notes are all sullen and dull the F, G and even the A†† still ring out like . . . uh . . . tiny, elderly gongs.
You’ve been overusing your speaking voice, then, said Nadia, because that’s exactly where the damage shows: just above your speaking range. On the phone, perhaps. Do you spend a lot of time on the phone? The phone is the worst for your voice, because you speak differently than you do face to face and your posture is probably appalling.
My posture is appalling, I admitted, and furthermore I’m usually knitting. But there are only two or three people I regularly have marathon phone sessions with, and . . . oh my gods.
??? said Nadia.
My computer, I said. I shout at my computer. I scream at my computer. I, er, scream at my computer . . . a lot. And vigorously.
I HAVE TO STOP YELLING AT MY COMPUTER BECAUSE I’M HURTING MY SINGING.
I haven’t told Peter yet. I can’t face how delighted he’ll be. He finds graphic violence upsetting for some reason. He’ll read the good (muted) news here first. Maybe I just won’t come down to the mews for a few days, till the hornpipe-dancing phase is over. Of course this is relying on the idea that I can stop howling at my computer, which is even odds at best. Maybe I’ll give up caffeine and find a solution to world hunger while I’m at it. And I think my voice is just going to have to deal with the occasional hellgoddess bellow at the hellhounds. The funny thing is that I’ve been thinking that the Hellgoddess Bellow has become more impressive in recent months and that it probably has something to do with the singing lessons. . . .
I also wanted to talk to Nadia again about one of the things that keeps coming up and coming up, which is this razzlefragdagging business of expression, of emotional interpretation, dynamics, all that sodblasted stuff. And the way I haven’t got any. This came back to miserate††† me again because of singing with Oisin: when you’re also wasting an accompanist’s time the one-note-after-the-other approach is even more unsatisfactory, even if a majority of them are the right notes. Nadia again said that this is something that will come, that I’m still in the comparatively early stages of grappling with technique, and as soon as more of that comes instinctively the interpretation will come. Inevitably—according to Nadia.
So we went back to Dove Sei, which I am now pretty much, you know, singing. I’m going to try to sing it for Oisin on Friday‡ which will be interesting since I have quite the gift for fluffing my first entry which then wrecks what follows, but that’s the kind of thing I’m supposed to be learning by singing with an accompanist.‡‡
And having run me through it for the notes a few times, Nadia basically dared me to express some of what’s happening . . .
. . . and you know, I almost did. Almost. But I could hear it—hear the reality of what the song’s about—sort of leaking out through the gaps in the barricade. I’m going to do this. I am.‡‡‡
The whole business of “To You-Tube or Not To You-Tube” is interesting to me. Of course I don’t sing in any real capacity—
NEITHER DO I, honeybun. This is strictly for my own depraved and decrepit amusement. The comments these singing blogs rouse from people who know what they’re about exhilarate and terrify me. Not me boss! I’m a small local choir singer!§
but the singing I do for my own pleasure has always begun by being imitative. How do you learn how a song sounds if you don’t listen to others singing it?
Erm. By struggling through the sheet music yourself? I admit I don’t know what ordinary, non-sight-singing people who can’t pick out a melody line on the piano do, but that was the technology for a lot of years.
Back in my high school orchestra days I remember being encouraged to listen to recordings of the pieces we were doing. Obviously different orchestras put different spins on pieces… but I don’t get how it would necessarily be a bad thing to get other orchestras/choirs/soloists’ sounds in your head when you’re thinking about approaching a new piece. It’s still going to be YOU when you do it, you know?
But Nadia’s point—and I might guess that it’s different for an orchestra made up of a lot of different instruments than for a solo singer where every tiny individual interpretive choice is manifest§§—is that you will pick up performance with the music. No singer worth listening to is merely singing the notes: and think of any fabulous solo artist: if it’s someone you know and love and follow and listen to a lot, you’ll recognise them within the first note or two. That’s about them, not about the music, even if it’s their immediately recognisable genius that makes them such fabulous performers. Nadia put this better than I can remember it, but she also said that she wanted to correct her students’ own mistakes, not some weird kind of filtered extra layer of mistaking somebody else’s performance. I actually do get this. You can’t help mimicking—if you’re learning something by mimicking, then it becomes part of the learning process.
And it varies, I guess, with what stage you’re at. All the hot divas talk about listening to other singers and who their favourites are and why—well, of course. But they’ve also got huge reserves of their own talent and practise and their own carefully developed individuality. I guess it might be a bit like reading to write: you must read, you must read, you MUST MUST MUST read, read read read read read . . . but there are also times during my own writing that I must not read, particular authors or particular stories, because they’ll start to run like wet dye into my own work.
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* The answer to which is that Nadia has already thought about Fauré for me and he’s on her list but, she says, not yet, not because of the music but because of the language. At the moment when I’m still only barely not letting simple Italian get the better of me, she says, is not the time to be adding French. Also, she says, Oisin is fluent in French, and . . . DEFINITELY NOT FRENCH THEN, I said. He corrects my Italian.^
^ I’m not saying it doesn’t need correcting.
** For example about singing twiddles: you know, tiny decorative two- or three-note, well, twiddles, on the singing line. I’m aware that mine are mushy rather than crisp, and I was much struck last Thursday, listening to Cindy on my left and Griselda on my right, how flawlessly sharp-edged Griselda’s are and Cindy . . . sounds like me. We’re not wrong or off pitch or anything, we’re just soggy. Nadia says twiddles are harder than they look and . . . yes, learning to do them properly is in my future too. Emphasis on future.
*** Normal normal normal, says Nadia, adding that singing for Oisin is for me the equivalent of singing in public and OF COURSE I’m going to revert. Oh but, I said, I do this, and I do that, and I do this other thing, it’s so frustrating. Not at all, said Nadia, that’s excellent. You’re NOTICING. You can’t fix anything until you NOTICE it. You just keep singing for Oisin, and keep noticing, and it’ll improve.
I love Nadia.^
^ She also said and DON’T go in there thinking you are supposed to fix EVERYTHING. Choose a thing and decide to fix it . . . oh, by fifty percent, one out of four times that you do it.
Feh. Foiled again.
† And if you went hill walking six days in a row, she said, and took the seventh off, you’d be stiff on the eighth. And if you’d got quite a bit fitter in the last year and went hill walking harder six days in a row, and took the seventh off, you might be stiffer on the eighth.
She also said, although not quite in these terms, ALSO, YOU’RE OLD. Your voice has lost flexibility just like the rest of you has. That doesn’t mean you can’t go hill walking, it just means you have to be a little more careful about warming up and warming down.
†† Which seems to have suddenly stopped playing silly buggers—pretty much in the last fortnight, since I started going to choir practise again and it found out it was needed—and settled down.
††† Well, it ought to be a word.
‡ Supposing I can get another copy of the music out of my printer/copier without yelling at it.
‡‡‡ Supposing I can learn to stop shouting at my computer.
§ And . . . as I’ve said several times . . . your relationship to music changes when you’re performing it yourself, however badly. You don’t have to do it well to derive an immense—and, you know, exciting—amount of horizon-broadening from the experience, and I will therefore learn as much as I can. Or that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
§§ And I could be wrong. I know some orchestras also have a highly individual sound, and conductors have individual styles, which fans also recognise immediately.
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