I am wallowing, as if reclining in a hot bath*, in the forum conversations about music.
. . . the flute DOES take a colossal amount of air. My woodwind methods teacher maintained that it didn’t really take that much air if you knew how to manage it correctly. Us students listened attentively, agreed that you probably did learn how to manage your air after 40+ years of playing at a professional level on Broadway and with symphonies, and then put our heads between our knees to avoid passing out.
Yes. I took approximately two flute lessons in my youth because, as a really bad piano student, I was greatly attracted to the idea of a single line of music to have to read, and I think the flute goes on using the standard treble clef?** Your first two lessons are in treble clef anyway, at least if you’re a known piano drop-out. I was so hilariously incapable of keeping my fingers on the right little holes–hole covers–buttons–something that the question of air supply didn’t present itself but I had a faint premonition that it eventually would. Oisin plays the flute. There was a cotton-wadding-brained scheme at one point that when he bought himself a new flute I’d adopt his old one, and take a few more flute lessons. In our copious spare time.
But I like the noise a flute makes, it doesn’t have reeds, and all those brass things and strings look waaaaaay too hard. In my fantasies I still take a few flute lessons eventually.*** I hurtle many, many hellcritters† on a daily basis. My lungs would probably say nooooooooo, not a flute too, what next, a frelling marathon?
(Uh oh. Does the forum’s Pollyanna Principle apply to composers who’ve been dead over one hundred years?)
Not when it’s Wagner. Stab away. I have come round to Wagner a fair distance but . . . in the first place I’m one of these wet liberal dweebs who believe that who you are matters, not just how talented you are. I guess Wagner was a genius—I guess—but he was a redolently nasty piece of work†† and I will never love him, and I will never not somehow resist his music because at some level I think you can hear that however fabulous it is it was written by someone who was, at heart, an evil creep.
Now, please, we will stand back to back to defend ourselves against the ravening pro-Wagner hordes.
[The beginner flautist] needs to learn to take small, quick breaths, staggered with when the other flutists are taking theirs. (So there’s not a gap in the sound.) She can make breath marks on her sheet music. Even if she doesn’t need a breath in some of those places, she should take it because there will likely be somewhere coming up that she should not inhale.
This is just like singing. Just like. Nadia was making me put fresh breath marks on a piece just this Monday, so I would take a breath I didn’t need so I could sing through the place I needed the breath and shouldn’t take it. I suppose the whole frelling line thing is true across all music? Sometimes just going thud, thud, thud according to the beat or time signature or what-have-you results in . . . well, in thud-thud-thud. Music requires a line. Sometimes taking a breath in what seems like an obvious place—like the end of a phrase—results in the whole thing going flump.
Maybe especially when I’m doing it, of course. Someone with a high flump tendency can be somewhat ameliorated by being buried in a group however. ::Looks around nervously:: Three isn’t really a big enough group. I told Nadia about my thrilling Sunday-evening debut, including that I was audible. Most of the rota of evening-service backing singers have ordinary-congregation-member voices, not three-years-of-Nadia voices. ††† THANK YOU, I said. Just doing my job, said Nadia.
My husband . . . plays the trombone. . . . It . . . helps that he has the longest arms on the planet. I was whining one day about how I had to nearly dislocate my shoulder to get the slide out to 7th position (as far out as you can go without taking the slide off the instrument) and he smirked and said, “You just have to unbend your elbow.” No, that’s what YOU have to do, Mr. Orangutang Arms.
My long-lost twin brother. At last! I have found him! —Maybe I should take trombone lessons. It would be nice to get some practical use out of the length of these arms that stick inches out of every shirt on the planet except Men’s Extra Large with the Knuckle Chamois for protection from rough ground. Although I admit that being able to reach the top shelves of a kitchen built of offcuts rescued from the tip by a 6’2” bloke was a bonus. And Peter’s arms aren’t short.
I never got . . . far in my string workshop classes. I was too busy being appalled that I had to move my fingers AND my arm at the SAME TIME. Nope. Not happening. That’s far too many appendages to coordinate simultaneously.
Yup. Big problem with the piano, that organization of too many appendages thing. You mean your fingers have to act INDEPENDENTLY? Like maybe ALL TEN OF THEM [all right, all eight of them and two thumbs] AT THE SAME TIME? AND YOUR ARMS MAY BE GOING IN OPPOSITE DIRECTIONS? AND YOU MAY BE PLAYING TWO DIFFERENT TIME SIGNATURES SIMULTANEOUSLY??? AND YOU MAY BE DOING THIS AT SPEED?
I more or less eventually plumped for voice because the piano is such an abominably solo instrument, and if I’m ever going to do stuff with other people—at least without them running away screaming—I need to be in a group. But the great thing about the piano is that the noises you make are FIXED. You have a key, and you whack it, and a little hammer hits a little wire or wires and PLINK you have produced a note, no muss, no fuss, no bother and, barring psychotic piano tuners, no doubt.
The problem with the human voice, similar to the problem with strings and most or all of the brass, is the margin for error in the actual note. There are days I long for the frelling security of the piano, even a piano that needs tuning. In some ways singing is worse than trying to organize all those arms and fingers . . . whiiiiiiiiiiine. . . . .
I was also distracted by the thin strands of razor wire that pass for strings slicing my fingertips to bits. Ow ow ow ow ow.
Yes. I had exactly one guitar lesson, for this reason.‡‡
Muscle and physical memory etc. are required for organ, as well… sometimes both feet (and legs, therefore) doing simultaneous different things, as well as both hands and arms… but at least we have keys and pedals and they stay in the same place!
Yes, as above, about the piano only more so. I can just about do the ten-fingers thing on a good day and a not too demanding piece, some nice little item by Scarlatti or Clementi or one of those late baroque/early classical guys who wrote a lot of stuff for their rather slow students. I can’t get my head around the idea of DOING IT WITH YOUR FEET TOO. I watch Oisin skating back and forth on his organ bench while his feet are skipping the light fantastic and have to remember to shut my mouth, which has a tendency to drop open. . . .
I was too busy being appalled that I had to move my fingers AND my arm at the SAME TIME.
This is not dissimilar my experience in basic piano class. “Right hand on…C major. Left hand on the…C major…no wait that’s bass clef… Whole note in the left hand, half notes in the right…OH NO I HAVE TO CHANGE WHOLE NOTES!”
Yes. Different ones with every finger.
I also did the classic (?) thing where I finally learned to read bass clef, and then BOTH of my hands wanted to play in bass clef. It was funny in a seriously discordant kind of way.
Oh, I can do the two clefs thing (she says airily). It’s doing them together I have a slight problem with.
. . . And now I have to go SING, you know, officially, with the piano keeping score. Blondviolinist—who is violinknitter on Twitter—tweeted that she now has I Want to Be a Prima Donna [donna, donna, donna, I long to shine upon the stage; I have the embonpoint to become a queen of song . . . ] stuck in her head. Yes. It’s a real earworm. I was singing it out hurtling earlier. I do try to be a little circumspect under people’s windows at gleep o’clock in the morning however which would be, you know, now, so I need to get it out of my system.
* * *
* I finally gave up feeling hard done by because I’m pretty well allergic to all known amusing bath supplements, bubbles and oils and so on^, with the realisation that reading in your hot bath is not enhanced by the presence of bubbles.^^ Okay. Fine. I will adjust my resentful envy to focus on people who can play the piano with both hands and sing at the same time and people with really long thick hair.^^^ And if you miss the hot-bath-oil smell you can always burn a suitably fragranced candle. Feh.
^ I Was Betrayed by Crabtree and Evelyn. I got through a lot of it before my skin said, okay, we’ve had enough of that. You don’t believe it? ::RASH:: Ah, the fabulous rashes of my life. I have been the Incredible Lobster Girl on several occasions and have enjoyed none of them.
^^ Although the damp sticky exploded-bubble marks on the pages would not be a problem if you’re reading your iPad in its little plastic jacket.
^^^There’s a poster in a hairdressers’ window that I hurtle past, dragged by an assortment of critters, that says, Instantly hydrate dry hair by 41%. It’s been there for months and it makes me crazy. FORTY-ONE PERCENT? NOT FORTY-TWO? OR THIRTY-NINE? WHAT THE FRELL DOES THIS MEAN? WHAT DO THEY THINK IT MEANS??
** I’ve just tried to look this up and became embroiled in a whole series of these graphic-heavy sites that furthermore won’t let you out again. What’s so difficult about telling me what clef a flute uses?
*** In the fantasies of my fantasies, I take a few violin lessons. Since that day, what, two or three years ago, when one of those unaccompanied Bach violin things came on the car radio—and I’ve heard them before, you know? But somehow the heavens opened and the angels sang that day, and I had to pull over to the side of the road and listen.
† Twelve churning little legs several times every day. That’s a lot.
†† And in my end of the playground, so was Dickens. So was Tolstoy.
††† There were some nice ones in the scratch choir for the carol service, but none of them come to evening service apparently.
‡ About halfway through rehearsal I realised I was hearing myself through the microphone, not just because I’m very close to my own ears. And one of my friends—who sits at the back where I usually sit—said afterward, it was really nice to hear you up there. You could hear me? I said. Oh yes, she said.
‡‡ I also had two or three bagpipe lessons. There, your cheeks give out from blowing up the frelling bag all the time. When you stop your entire face rattles and shakes like a train going over a really bad patch of track. Rubbuddyrubbuddyrubbuddyrubbuddy.
Okay, let me get the really embarrassing stuff over with immediately.
I enjoyed it. I had FUN. I am planning on putting myself on the official St Margaret’s rota.*
Whew. That was hard. I enjoyed singing Jesus Is My Boyfriend** music [sic]. In public. How totally humiliating is that.
Sunday, which was sunny and fabulous, passed under my own personal cloud of prospective dread. I did do some singing warm up because I wanted some chance at some voice and I tend to shut down to a tiny rasping squeak like a single lonely cicada when I’m nervous. I didn’t warm up exactly brilliantly.*** And when I crept into St Margaret’s I was not encouraged by the sight of Aloysius ALL BY HIMSELF except for the woman who was going to be running the tech deck helping him lay out the cables. He had said in his email that the names on the rota were a bit thin this week. . . .
Fortunately it wasn’t as bad as that. Samantha appeared deus ex machina, saying that she hadn’t been planning to sing that night but she had realised that I was going to be all alone and she couldn’t do that to a new girl. Eeeeep. Thank you. Eeeeeeeeep. And then Sinead, another rota singer, wandered in and said that she couldn’t do her proper rota day and maybe we could use her tonight? YES. PLEASE. HERE, HAVE A MICROPHONE. Hamish, the church office magician, appeared, spun his spurs and strapped on his six-shooter. Er. Bass. But that was all. No drums. No keyboards. No random woodwinds. No vicar—he’s always there.†
We plunged into practise. I was on the near end with Aloysius just at my right shoulder which is very good because not only does his guitar give me the key I’m scrabbling for but he’s a nice strong tenor and I’d already told him he had to sing the melody. The first couple of songs are a bit of a blur. I was holding the mic as if it was going to morph into something with six heads and forty-seven incisors per as soon as I stopped staring at it like it was going to. The Hammered to Death by Fluffy Bunnies song was substantially less diabolical with the new line-up but we had to go through it several times since I had no clue about what it was supposed to sound like—and of course there was no sheet music. And then Aloysius had to get fancy and bolt a couple of songs together so you slide into the second one without a break and then revert to the previous one for a chorus repeat WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO DO TO US YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE ONE OF THE GOOD GUYS.
I don’t really know what happened except that I think I can hear God laughing. My voice woke up. And the last couple of songs I actually kind of like††—especially the one which is in a reasonable range, so many of the Jesus Is My Boyfriend songs lie on my voice like bricks on custard, it’s like the aural version of trying to wear someone else’s prescription glasses, and neither singing up an octave or down an octave works. But here were two I could sing.
And I did. And furthermore . . . and this is where I know I was taken over by an alien personality . . . I started singing free harmony. I do not sing free harmony. I can learn a harmonic line, given the sheet music and about six months, but I cannot just frelling riff off a melody. Whoever she was, Sunday night, using my voice, I hope she visits often. That was serious fun. At the end Sinead gave me a hug and said, I can tell you like that song!
And then the live performance—I mean the service—was pretty much falling off a log. Problem? There was supposed to be a problem?
There are one or two things to mention here. First, St Margaret’s evening service is small and informal. It’s not like anyone was going to be nasty to me even if I screwed up big time. And I don’t exactly guarantee I was pitch perfect even while the self-confident alien babe was singing. Second, most of the Jesus Is My Boyfriend stuff is dead easy, especially if you’re used to beating your brains and ripping your own throat out singing stuff that is significantly beyond you because you take voice lessons and your voice teacher needs something to do, right?††† It should be easy: people who don’t take voice lessons should be able to sing their church’s worship music.‡ And third . . . I was just telling someone who asked me how I ‘learnt’ to do public speaking . . . I didn’t. After my BEAUTY was published they sent me out on the road and I discovered I could do public speaking. It’s like one of those James Bond things: the car develops waterwings or the knapsack is also a rocketblaster. I CAN DO PUBLIC SPEAKING? WHAT? WHERE DID THAT COME FROM? Aside from little questions like whether I can sing or not, apparently singing in public doesn’t make this agonising doubt any more agonising.
How frelling bizarre. I did think it was at least possible that if I didn’t freeze up, singing for purpose—helping to lead the service—would let me like the floppy, soppy music we sing better, and make it feel more like an offering of worship instead of a mortification, ashes and hair shirts optional. And. Yeah. But I wasn’t expecting the harmony—or the high.
* * *
* Unless someone stops me. Noooooo! She’s too loooooooud! She drowns out the keyboard! —Ugly. Mwahahahahahahaha. —slightlyadaptedhellgoddess^
^ I belong to the Love Wins camp, remember, so if you’re asking me, all reigning in all the various hells—ie the nice somewhat confused ones and the really unpleasant ones—is temporary. Which is fine. I’m sure I’ll be ready for a new challenge when my particular corner of hell disintegrates.+
+ There will be chocolate, champagne and critters in heaven, won’t there?#
# Of course there will. And the roses WILL HAVE NO THORNS.
** ::falls down laughing:: Thank you, dhudson. I love this. I’m also glad that it seems to other people that there’s something CREEEEEEEEPY about a lot of this sticky music: I’ve been describing these songs as frelling power ballads only it’s God instead of your boyfriend/girlfriend/groupoffriendswithprivileges. Dhudson’s phrase cuts to the chase.
Although some of the old gospel hymns, which is what I grew up with and are about the only positive memory I have of church as a kid, aren’t exactly faultless in this area. I’ve always loved In the Garden, and it’s one of those I’ve been singing for fifty-odd years and did not have to relearn the lyrics when I started singing while hurtling as a way to shortening the warm-up when I get back to the piano and the Italian art songs etc^, but it’s always struck me as doctrinally a little dubious:
He walks with me, and he talks with me
And he tells me I am his own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.
^ Also I’m beginning to enjoy the looks on other pedestrians’ faces when I don’t shut up in time and lyrics like ‘On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise’+ register on their unsuspecting ears, which in this modern well-zombied culture may rouse an unfortunate secular response.
+ Which I confess I tend to belt out with all the new Nadia-power within me.
*** I also crack a lot when I’m nervous. How many ways is this going to be a disaster.
† Vicars. They take holidays. Who knew?
†† No, no, not like! Oisin will never speak to me again!
††† HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. And for my latest stupid trick I’m learning Victor Herbert’s I want to be a prima donna—aka Art Is Calling to Me—mainly because it’s silly and I’ve always loved it for being silly. It also has a high Bb. The thing, as I told Nadia, that is really irritating is that I have a high Bb . . . when I’m doing the frelling washing up. As soon as I get near the piano it jumps out the window and runs off to Cornwall. Or Canada. I assume this is common, you can remember a note long enough to check it on the piano? Yes that is a high Bb, but try and do it again suuuuucker. . . . . Nadia says, just rewrite it for now. You can put the Bb back in later.
‡ I don’t have a problem with that; my beloved gospel tunes are pretty much the only music on the planet that I can more or less play on the piano with both hands by sight-reading. Easy. Very, very easy music.
I can’t remember if I told the blog that I’d been blowing off my mouth to Aloysius six weeks or so ago, after the gratuitous extra-fancy swearing-in of my intake of Street Pastors last January, with the forty-seven bishops and a miracle or two*, and which Aloysius and Alfrick had attended. Given the forty-seven bishops and various other bits of high-churchery I was startled by the music, which was the Modern Christian Whatsit we sing at St Margaret’s and which drives me to despair.**
But I sang it, because singing is better than not singing. And what I noticed—and what I imprudently said to Aloysius—is that while it used to be that when I was in a mob and wanted to feel that I was contributing, I dropped down to chest voice and BELLOWED . . . now, after getting on for three years of Nadia’s elegant mercilessness, I make just as much noise in head voice and I suspect it’s more penetrating.*** And Aloysius responded promptly that if I ever felt like singing with the band† I would be more than welcome.
Hmmmmmm . . .
It had occurred to me some time ago that the only way I could, you know, validly try to have some effect on the music at St Margaret’s evening service is to become one of the people who produce it. So I didn’t laugh like a drain or whap Aloysius up longside the head. Or run away. I said, Ah. Er. What an interesting idea.
And he said, If you want to give it a shot, I suggest you try it the next time I’m in charge.
Okay, I said.
. . . Which was last night. AAAAAAAAAUGH.
Where do I BEGIN? For example . . . they don’t even much have sheet music. It doesn’t actually seem to exist for a lot of this Modern Christian doodah?? It is no longer assumed that makers of music can, and might possibly want to, read the line they’re supposed to be performing? Or possibly take it home and nervously pick it out on the piano first? What? And at St Margaret’s, for example, the regular keyboardist†† doesn’t read music—he plays by frelling ear.††† Buckminster doesn’t read music either—he has a chord sheet, as does the church office guru who I think usually plays bass. There’s a rota, and Samantha, who is a volunteer,‡ organizes folders of music for all the regulars, in whatever form the recipient of the folder prefers—so Aloysius gets sheet music (when it’s available) and Buckminster gets chord sheets. Ugly, I think, just gets a playlist and maybe lyric sheets, although the lyrics are also computer-projected on the walls. Samantha was a trifle startled by my vehemence on the subject of sheet music. . . .
Apparently you only get your playlist a few days before you go on. GORBLIMEY GUYS. THIS IS HARD ON A NEWBIE. Aloysius emailed ours out on Thursday in the form of a title list and some YouTube links . . . and there went any possibility of my practising Italian art songs or German lieder for the rest of the week, while I got a lot of knitting done listening, relistening, and re-re-relistening to YouTube, whilst simultaneously moaning and chewing on the furniture.‡‡ St Margaret’s spends quite a lot of the evening service singing, so there were a lot of YouTube links. Long YouTube links. Fortunately about three of the songs are half familiar from regular evening-service use but the one that I’d never heard before in my in-hindsight-privileged ‡‡‡ life also had the worst performance, the one that made me want to stick my knitting needles through my monitor.§ The lead singer was having oral sex with her microphone, the massed electronic instrumentation was making drooly Technicolor-sunset noises which made me feel I was being hammered to death with fluffy bunnies and there was some escapee from the Swan Lake chorus line gambolling at the front of the stage WHAT IS THIS. ALSO, WHY. —I failed to learn this one. I failed to go on trying to learn this one because I don’t really want to buy a new laptop just now.
But I put my time in on the others. God help me, God, you got me into this. And I’m supposed to trust in him, right? Old habits die hard. Because I am a hopeless wet dweeb I didn’t sleep very well Saturday night because I was going to have to sing from the wrong side of the microphone the next evening. And . . .
TO BE CONTINUED.§§
* * *
* I could have sworn I had, because I remember remarking on the plentifulness of bishops, but I can’t find it in the archive. It’s probably in a footnote somewhere.
** Alfrick, given the setting, hadn’t been expecting it either, and commented drily that it was out of his comfort zone. I thought of the antiphonal chanting—and the little square tail-free notes of the music—at the abbey and tried not to laugh. Or possibly cry.
*** I do not say this is a good thing. I merely make note of it.
† Sic. It’s not a choir; the instrumentalists usually outnumber the singers, and said instrumentalists include the vicar on guitar or bass, the curate on guitar—he’s got more than one guitar, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play bass, but he has at least once played ukulele—and various admin and ordinary congregation members on electric keyboard, drums and the occasional woodwind.
Sigh . . .
†† Who I’m about to name Ugly, because he doesn’t approve of singers—and we are, furthermore, not singers but mere backing singers—and has declared that there are never to be more than three of us cluttering up the stage. THREE? THREE? That is nowhere near enough bodies to hide among when you’re one of them. I had noticed that there weren’t very many, week to week, but I hadn’t caught on that there were EVER only three. I’m going to start putting peanut butter on the keyboard when I know Ugly is playing. Hmmph.
††† Another reason to LOATHE HIM, just by the way.^
^ No it does not count that he probably doesn’t have a clue how to write a novel. Or that he’s kind to his mother, has adopted six stray dogs and has solar panelling all over his roof.
‡ The kind of volunteer without whom a lot of things like churches and underfunded charities would not be able to function: dedicated, competent, intelligent, and mad.
‡‡ Not the knitting needles. Never the knitting needles. TOOTHMARKS ON MY PRECIOUS ASH AND ROSEWOOD KNITTING NEEDLES? ARE YOU KIDDING?^
^ I might chew on bamboo needles if I were desperate. Fortunately the current project is on ash, because Hey God You’re My Bestest Bud, which I describe below, might have driven me to intemperate behaviour with bamboo.
‡‡‡ Ignorance is bliss.
§ Which would be one way of deciding it was time for a new laptop.
§§ Sorry. I have to go to bed. Raphael is coming tomorrow to discuss why Outlook occasionally decides to send a crucial email to perdition instead of to me^ and various other variations on a theme of technological havoc and I may be looking at a new laptop after all. I need to be well rested for the conflict.
^ Maybe the hellgoddess shtick confuses its tiny solid state unmind?
|But back-yard mutts can surprise you. The woman who first taught me dressage . . . did wonders with a series of back-yard mutts.|
I’m glad to hear that on a couple different levels. One is that some day I will need to look for another horse for myself, and it’s good to have those stories tucked in my memory to encourage me to look at “any” horse. . . .
Yes—with those quotation marks firmly in place. I was trying to think of what I would say you must absolutely look for in a horse—four sound legs is always a good place to start, and while Grace’s mare always was sound, no, you know, sane person would have risked her, with that crooked leg. In Grace’s defense she was very experienced as well as knew the mare from a foal, had done most of her Heinz 57 mum’s training and was a friend of the original owner who as I recall insisted she’d always have her back as a pasture ornament if she broke down.
I’d say the bottom line non-negotiable in a horse for ordinary—um, rider mutts—like you and me is a kind eye, very visible, I might add, in the photos of Amore. Having established the eye you want something who likes its work—which is a little harder to ascertain in the usual for-sale try-out, but that’s where your secret weapon, Rachel, is deploying herself on your behalf. Rachel will know!
The second reason I’m glad to hear that is because of a big change that’s coming to our barn…it’s time to get my girls their own horse. . . .They are OVER THE MOON about this, naturally!
Snork. Naturally. When are you going to get your husband on a horse?
. . . we can get whatever horse is the best fit for us and worry about getting a next step horse for the girls later. Another thing I love about my trainer is that she is happy to work with ANY kind of horse, which is a great attitude to be working with.
It’s really the only attitude to be working with. Yaaaaay for Rachel.
And if there’s a good story attached to it, I’ll see if Robin wants another horse guest post.
YOU’RE KIDDING, RIGHT? ROBIN ALWAYS WANTS ANOTHER GUEST POST. IF IT’S ABOUT FABULOUS HORSES, SO MUCH THE BETTER.
I’m still assuming—by not thinking about it too clearly—that I’ll ride again some day, but I admit I don’t know how or under what circumstances. The problem is that I went over the casual-hack line decades ago. I don’t want to have the occasional amble on horseback over the countryside, even this countryside*, I want to have a relationship with a specific horse, and contribute to its quality of life, well-being and training as it contributes to mine. And that kind of relationship takes an investment of physical energy I simply haven’t got.
But I still think in horsy terms. My MGB, who is still in the garage at the cottage while I dork around endlessly about selling her, was my little cream-coloured mare from the moment I set eyes on her—the old-car garage who found her for me had actually brought her in from Dorset or Lithuania or something. I’m pretty sure describing her as such still exists on the web site somewhere—and shortly after I’d put that bit up I received a Very Huffy email from a preteen girl who had a horse telling me, more or less, that she had Lost All Respect for me for preferring a car. It wasn’t a question of preference, it was a question of bank balance.
And, about a year later, it began to be a question of ME. Feh. But there are other things. I totally identify bell ringing as a partnership with a live creature with a mind of its own at the other end of a rope/rein. One of the tangential pleasures of Nadia as a voice teacher is that she rides.** I’m not one of her, cough-cough, better students, but I’m easy to get stuff across to, first because I have more imagination than is good for me, and if Nadia tells me to close my eyes and become a tree, I close my eyes and become a tree. . . . And second because I’m another horse crazy and she can tell me to get my weight off my forehand and my hocks under me.
Possibly on account of Bratsche’s horse story I’ve been thinking about singing in horsy terms even more than usual. But I’ve mentioned here that for some time now my voice has begun to feel a lot like another critter, some live thing that is my responsibility, that needs kindness and exercise and attention. Gleep. It no longer feels like my voice—where is all that NOISE coming from??—and ‘I’ feel overhorsed. I don’t know what I was expecting when I got into this voice-lesson shtick but I was not expecting this disconcerting mixture of strength and lack of control. Horsy metaphor: when my voice is warm and full and open I can’t frelling do anything with it, and it reminds me rather a lot of the four-year-old warmblood I exercised for a while many years ago. Four years old can be pretty young in a big horse. This one had barely been backed and had everything to learn, including how to make his legs function in an orderly sequence. Some of you will know about teaching a young horse to canter under saddle and how all over the landscape they can be as they try to figure out how to perform this complex task. This boy was a sweetie—speaking of the kind eye—and totally willing to try, but oh my. Mostly we trotted, which is, of course, what you do with a horse that can’t canter yet. The more stable and rhythmic the trot, the more possible the canter. But he had one of those gigantic warmblood trots as well as being a loose cannon. Actually he was a lot of fun and I hope he grew up to make some nice human rider very happy. But at the time trying to enable him to move in a straight line or a gentle curve even at the trot . . . is a lot like me trying to carry a tune now when my voice is up and running. If I shut down and go all control-freak on myself I can hold that tune, no problem, as I’ve been able to carry a tune fairly reliably all my life . . . but it’s not a sound quality you want to encourage. As soon as you—or more often, Nadia—wakes up my inner young warmblood . . . I’m all over the planet, tune-wise. Arrrrgh. One of the ironies is that at the moment I sing worse for Nadia than I do at home—because she can get the voice out of me whereupon I go to pieces. ARRRRRGH.
Another horsy metaphor: I was singing some poor innocent song this Monday at my lesson, soared up to my Big Note and . . . lost my bottle and went flat. I said to Nadia afterward in frustration, this is exactly like coming up to a biggish fence on a horse you know can do it backwards and if you put it up another foot, and at the last minute you bottle out and sit back on her—and she raps it with her feet and brings a rail down. ARRRRRRRGH.
I’m still hoping I’m going to grow up to make some nice human rider very happy.
* * *
* Which at the moment is eyebrow-deep in mud anyway.
** She was a bit of a hot shot in her youth. It wouldn’t surprise me if she dusted off her hot-shot status once her own kids are a little older.
I lay in bed last night listening* to Aethelstan playing chimney-pot rugby with his buds. And today pretty much the entire Soggy Bottom road is under water, not just the bridge over the ford—and the lake at the Gormless Pettifogger** crossroads is back. You can just turn around and go the other way, as some people do, and in another couple of inches I will too, but at the moment the small sea still passable by anyone who isn’t glamorously low-slung. Wolfgang is neither glamorous nor low-slung. So having ascertained there’s no one in the immediate vicinity who is going to plunge in before you, you take a deep breath, aim for the centre of the ominously shimmering water***, put your foot down and hold your nerve because your bow wave will briefly wipe out the view through your windscreen and if you stop you’ll stall.
Diane in MN
. . . Years ago, I took someone who didn’t have any experience of opera to see Butterfly, and it just about knocked her over. . . .
The first Butterfly I ever saw live, which was well into my opera-going career—largely because it wasn’t a favourite and so I wasn’t in any hurry to spend opera-ticket prices on it—included a Butterfly tittuping briskly onto the stage just before she sings Un bel di, wearing some kind of faux-Japanese footgear and . . . taking a spectacular header full length on the floor. WHAM. Ow. Suzuki, who didn’t have a stage direction for this, just stood there with her mouth open†. Butterfly, poor thing, pulled herself together, staggered to her feet . . . and sang. In her defense, this was a touring company—I think it may have been the Met, back in the days when the Met still toured—so this was an unfamiliar stage with unknown hazards. This sort of thing must happen to touring companies kind of a lot. But I remember almost nothing else of the production—haven’t a clue who was singing, for example.
But opera doesn’t lend itself to realism (say I), it’s not what it’s for.
I think this is quite right. . . . I’ve always felt that the plots are secondary to the music anyway: the texts chosen by a composer might not hold up for a century or more, but the music is about emotional truth and that stays relevant and keeps us coming back.
Boldface mine. TAKE THAT, RICHARD STRAUSS. Yes. Absolutely. You can’t worship at—say—the Verdian shrine, which I do, faithfully, and maintain any dignity arguing in favour of equal textual validity.†† But the music is about emotional truth. Yes.
. . . About ugly Americans and Kate showing up completely inappropriately off a US Navy warship… it’s an exotic opera, right? 19th (and early 20th) century Europe was obsessed with the Exotic Other… anyone outside the pale of “civilized” Europe. There are so many exotic tropes: childlike, naive (Butterfly) cruel, barbarian (Turandot), controlled by feelings more than reason (Butterfly and Turandot both), and over-sexualized (Pinkerton). The thing that’s hard to remember (at least if you’re American alive during US-as-world-superpower era) is that Pinkerton is every bit as exotic as Butterfly in that opera. It’s an Italian opera… Americans were exotic to Italians. So I don’t find it at all surprising that the librettist wouldn’t've checked his facts about who would’ve been allowed on a Navy warship: facts don’t matter when you’re writing about exotic peoples. They are the Other—we get to project on them whatever we want. . . .
I know you’re the professional musician with the PhD in music history and I’m not but . . . I don’t agree. Or don’t accept this argument as adequate. Chiefly for two reasons: first. Butterfly was written after the turn of the last century, and Puccini lived till the ‘20s. I know they didn’t have the internet yet (!) but sheer bloody parochialism is always with us and is no excuse—just by the way, Americans are still exotic in, let’s say, rural Hampshire, England, in 2014, which blows my mind. But a hundred years ago is not the Palaeolithic. By 1900 you had precious little excuse for officially having no clue about the reality of other nations—or for not bothering to check big fat crude factoids like whether or not wives are permitted on US Navy warships. Second. These verismo bozos don’t get to have it both ways: either there’s a veneer of genuine realism on their work or there isn’t. I still call it a melodrama, not verismo†††, but part of what makes Butterfly both so effective and so infuriatingly manipulative is the gloss of ‘reality’. The reason Butterfly works for me is because her role is so devastatingly magnificent: her last aria, as she’s about to kill herself, is shattering. And it carries me over seeing Kate trailing up the hill behind Pinkerton calling Butterfly! Butterfly! A lesser piece of work and Kate would throw me out of the story—and the agony—altogether.‡
I love Un Ballo in Maschera—which premiered the year after Puccini was born, in the mid-1800s—and that it’s supposedly laid in Puritan Boston doesn’t bother me in the slightest. But, as I said about La Trav the other night, Verdi never wrote anything close to verismo as it’s usually defined: he gets into people’s hearts amazingly‡‡ but most of his librettos are trash. I’m also aware that Un Ballo got moved to a Boston locale for tricky European political reasons—speaking of exotic: oh, the barbaric North Americans won’t care—but my point is it doesn’t matter. It’s backdrop. That’s all it is. Fifty years later operas are beginning to be integrated into their storylines. I know the march of progress isn’t a united front, but for example Jenufa was pretty much contemporary with Butterfly!!
And I’d better shut up before you get your PhD off the mantelpiece and wallop me with it. . . .
. . . my most common stabby thought while playing opera was always along the lines of “Can we PLEEEEASE stab the soprano now (maybe even by the end of the first act!) so we don’t have to play for her dying for the next 15 pages (exaggeration but not by all that much!)??” My biggest frustration with playing opera in general is that, yes, there are some absolutely ravishing parts of operas, but there is so much else that is just plain endurance on the part of the orchestra! At least the audience has the floor show (so to speak) to watch while the tenor or soprano repeats things over and over. . . .
NOOOOOOOO. YOU ARE A PHILISTINE. YOU ARE AN EVIL PHILISTINE RATBAG. PUTTING MY FINGERS IN MY EARS SO I AM NOT HEARING YOU. LALALALALALALALALA.
Hey, that’s a thought. It’s still (comparatively) early. I could sing.
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* ‘Sleeping’? What would that be?
** Not my favourite pub.
*** Maybe it already is that extra couple of inches deep and I’m about to be very embarrassed and have to ring the RAC to send someone with chains and very high tailpipe clearance to rescue me.
† Not very living the role of her.
†† Ernani? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Il Trovatore? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. La Forza del Destino? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. . . . Stop, stop, you’re killing me. . . .
††† Il Tabarro? Verismo? Oh, right, wrapping your wife’s lover, whom you’ve just murdered, up in your cloak, so you can have the big reveal and spook her the frell out^, YES. VERY REALISTIC. VERY, VERY REALISTIC. Melodrama. One of the things that bites me about this story is that you have that sad and touching (in that manipulative way Puccini is so good at) scene earlier where the jerk of a husband turns all wistful and says they used to be happy together before the baby died and you think, oh, poor them, no wonder they’re having problems . . . and I’d even go with the murder. Unhappy husband presented with worst fear: his wife’s much-younger lover. I DO NOT GO WITH THE WRAPPING THE CORPSE IN HIS CLOAK. Husband is still wearing the cloak, you understand. GROSS ME THE FRELL OUT. Melodrama.
^ How to ruin someone’s day big time
‡ I may also be a trifle preoccupied with what a thankless role Kate’s is as it’s usually presented.
‡‡ I will take one Verdi to seventeen Puccinis any day. Just by the way.