Saturday, 10 November 2012

Something old, something new

Now is the time of the singing year where, with competitions over, I get to choose a whole bunch of new music to learn and expand my (pathetically small) repertoire and Christmas music starts looming in the shape of end of year concerts and solos gigs. So a mixture of new (to me) and old.

Firstly the new music. My teacher hauls out all sorts of new and delicious pieces from her vast collection and tantalises me by singing snippets of this lieder and that aria which she thinks will suit my voice. Frankly I just want to sit and listen to her sing the whole time but she's clever enough just to sing enough to let me get a feel for a piece and decide if it's 'me' or not and then she moves on to the next one. I know there are teachers who just say "Here's what you are to learn" and off you go, but I guess I'm a big enough girl to say no and my teacher is relaxed enough to not mind when I say no. Let's face it, it's not like I'm preparing myself for a singing career where I would have to sing things I might not like in order to advance myself. 

So currently I'm beavering away at: the lower part of the Flower Duet* from Lakme (will learn the upper part later), Mendelssohn's 'Neue Liebe', and 'Kommt ein schlanker Bursch gegangen' from Der Freischutz. 

As we work away at extending my register upwards, it's a pleasant feeling to be able to look at piece of music with a C6 or three and not feel an immediate rise in heart rate. If I can become as comfortable with D6 as with the C6 then it will open up a whole lot of new repertoire for me. It's only 2 semitones difference but feels like 2 vertical miles some days.

Christmas music comes in the form of choir music with A Capella Singers and the usual church music including 2 services on Christmas Eve. The ACS concert is a combined one with a brass band. This is a combination for which the singers will have to find their collective squillo!! Then there is a programme of Christmas music at Womens Club which I am in charge of, which is allowing me to be self-indulgent and allot myself Adam's O Holy Night, which I can then repeat at a dinner gig a week later.

*Do those of you of a similar vintage to me always think of the old British Airways ads when you hear/sing this??

Sunday, 30 September 2012

The Morning After

Competitions are done and dusted for another year. I got into the car after prize-giving and realised I could actually put something in the CD player that wasn't a competition piece!* This will be a long post as I go through the classes, as much for me to reflect on as for you to read. Grab yourselves a cuppa and a bikkie and get comfortable. 

It was as always, a mixture of ups and downs, of learning and stumbling and conquering. Friday night started with Operatic Aria (Batti, batti). The first one's always the hardest, at least according to my shaky knees. The piano for various reasons was not situated in the best place for the accompanists to be able to hear the singers and unfortunately this proved problematic for me and my lovely accompanist at the tempo change which was a  bit unnerving until we got back in sync a couple of bars later. All in all I gave a safe performance  but not a very characterful one, so only 3rd out of three. The winner was a 4th year Honours performance student from Dunedin so a cut above me technically. That's not me making excuses by the way - I'm going to write of my performances in relation to my own standard.

Next up was British Art Song, the beautiful King David. It was my first time entering this class. I concentrated on telling the story and having a smooth line and I think my teacher - who unfortunately was out of town this weekend - would have been pleased with the climactic phrase which she had been urging me to make more of. I had some more timing issues but nothing too terrible  and from an audience point of view, not neccesarily obvious. The Dunedin singer sang Danny Boy beautifully. The adjudicator said when reading the results for this class "This singer sang a song I love and sang it so beautifully I nearly cried". I leaned over to one of my singing friends and whispered "That's her (meaning Dunedin singer) for first then". And then the adjudicator said 'First place to Christine McLeod" and my jaw nearly hit the floor! So that was a very nice moment for me.

Next morning was a very early start - FB friends will have seen my grumbles about being asked to sing Oratorio at 9am in the morning! Fortunately I had French Art (Mandoline - Faure) to warm me into it. I was, sadly, the only entrant in that class. It amazes me that so few people down here sing French Art songs, there are so many to-die for pieces. Anyway, I got first and the adjudicator pointed out that she was not at all obliged to give a first, or second or third for that matter. but that I deserved first. I think I sang it reasonably well although I fluffed a couple of words which annoyed me. Next Oratorio, With Verdure Clad. This one took a LOT of work for me and I still feel I've got a long way to go with it. However I actually felt quite good during the performance and finally did as my teacher tried to get me to do, and 'went operatic' at the high arching phrases. Isn't in amazing (<--- sarcasm) how it's so much easier when you do what your teacher tells you? End result, a second, which I was very happy with.

Next up Lieder, Schubert's 'Nacht und Traume.' Only 2 pages but oh what 2 pages they are. I seriously would have liked an extra pair of lungs for the loooooong phrases. Was reasonably happy with the way I sang it and got a 3rd.

Then the big one, the Scholarship class. I thought I might have had a good shot at it this year, but after hearing the Dunedin singer, I knew it was unlikely. So I decided to forget about trying to win and just get out there and have fun. I wore my 'singing dress' as I wanted something that I could make look a bit girly and flirty for my contrasting piece (Les Filles de Cadix). Firstly the test piece, Spring Goeth All in White. It went well although I could have put more contrast into it. Then Les Filles. As I have mentioned before, I tend to be a bit of a statue (apart from the old shaky knees) when I sing, so I decided I was going to really move and act out the part. And I did!! And as I sang I could see the audience smiling as they got the characterisation. There were moments in the singing where things definitely weren't perfect but I reckon I did a pretty good job of it overall. And when I popped out the top C# at the end, frankly I didn't care about the competition, I just was just mentally going "Woooo!" So no win, but definately satisfaction that I had made some progress with my singing. 

So a good weekend, meeting old friends, hearing voices developing, hearing new music (Andres Maienlied!), and winning a pretty cup. And best of all? My voice survived without going all husky. 

*For enquiring minds, I started with 'Ca' the Yowes' from Dougie Macleans' 'Tribute' CD

Monday, 3 September 2012

Keep calm and....panic!

So, a little update on progress with my competition pieces. This assumes of course, that I have actually made progress. Some days it's a case of 3 steps forward, 2 backwards. And if I'm honest, sometimes it's 3 forwards and 4 backwards. At least that's what it feels like. Updates in red:

  • Own Selection - not yet decided a.k.a. 'what can I dredge up from the past and polish up quickly.' I have a two-page baroque piece (but new!) that might do the trick. Decision to be made this week.
  • French Art Song - Mandoline (Faure) - completely new. Still a lot of work to do, but starting to get a feel for it. 
  • British Art Song - King David (Howells) - at performance level. Refining.
  • Oratorio - With Verdure Clad (Haydn) - well on the way. Almost there. Feeling a lot more comfortable with it. 
  • Lieder - Nacht und Traume (Schubert) - prepared last year, but not sung. Pretty good, but need to get it fully from memory.
  • Operatic Aria - Batti, batti o bel Masetto (Mozart) - completely new. Getting to grips with it but still a lot of work to do.
  • Scholarship - Spring Goeth All in White (Caskie) - test piece, completely new, don't even have the music yet now I have the music and it is straightforward, so lots of emphasis on accuracy of time and dynamic markings and Les Filles de Cadix (Delibes) - contrasting piece, slowly getting there. Need to start letting myself go and let it trip off my tongue, not to mention learn the second verse from memory.
So here we are, less than four weeks to go. Looking at that list I'm am vascillating between 'there is no. way. in. hell. I am going to get all that up to performance standard in the time left' and 'sleep is over-rated anyway'. Procrastination is a terrible thing isn't it? (I'm looking at you, Sarah-in-Yepoon). There's always an excuse to put off practice - the evil Facebook full of kittens doing cute things and killer quotes that have to be shared, food to be eaten (which in turn renders us incapable of singing due to a stomach so full we can't inflate our lungs - oh, is that just me?) and, inexplicably, housework that suddenly becomes a great attraction "Look at that great pile of washing that needs to be folded and put away, I have ignored it for a week but it simply has to be done right now".

And then I think back to last year, pre-Competition, and the words 'Groundhog Day' spring to mind. You'd think I'd learn, eh? I've tried to do some headology (that's psychoanalysis for plebs) on this trait of mine and all I can come up with is that I'm afraid that even if I do 6 bajillion-kadillion* hours of practice, I won't actually get any better - evidence to the contrary - and so I avoid failure by not actually doing anything. So this really is more than you wanted to know about the inside of my head. Feel free to tell me about the inside of your head in relation to singing practice. I might just learn something. 

* This is a bona-fide measurement of quantity. My 8 year old says so.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

I have to learn how many new things?!

I've just emailed my competition entry away - there is no turning back. So this is what I've let myself in for:
  • Own Selection - not yet decided a.k.a. 'what can I dredge up from the past and polish up quickly'
  • French Art Song - Mandoline (Faure) - completely new
  • British Art Song - King David (Howells) - at performance level
  • Oratorio - With Verdure Clad (Haydn) - well on the way
  • Lieder - Nacht und Traume (Schubert) - prepared last year, but not sung
  • Operatic Aria - Batti, batti o bel Masetto (Mozart) - completely new
  • Scholarship - Spring Goeth All in White (Caskie) - test piece, completely new, don't even have the music yet and Les Filles de Cadix (Delibes) - contrasting piece, slowly getting there.
So there you have it, 3 completely new pieces in 7 weeks as well as works-in-progress. Which would be a doddle if I was a singer by trade, but I'm not. I work full-time, have a soon-to-be 8 year old to keep alive and preferably not breaking bones, a partner who works shift work, a choir to sing in and conduct with and there's that wee sporting competition currently going on that has sucked away vast amounts of sleep time leaving me feeling like a three day old lettuce leaf. 

I guess everyone has their own unique way of learning new rep. My personal little quirk for learning words of the non-English variety is to print them out with the English translation alongside, laminate, punch two holes at the top and insert string. Then, and this is the good bit (and explains the necessity for lamination), I hang it over the shower head. And there it is, slap bang in my face first thing in the morning, nice steamy environment and relaxed vocal chords. The other half takes it in his stride - I have yet to determine if he has learnt Nacht und Traume by osmosis. I wonder what he will make of the translation of Batti, batti?

Friday, 27 July 2012

Competitions or Why Do I Put Myself Through This?

So the Annual Competitions Society syllabus arrived the other day. You probably think it's a bit odd that someone of my *ahem* advanced years (for singing, in all other respects I am 35 and holding, thank you) should enter. But you must remember that I didn't follow the usual sort of path - singing lessons from age 8/11/13, entering the local Competitions Society vocal section each year, under-grad vocal study at University, post-grad studies at a prestigious school in some exotic location. Yes, I sang all through school, but only in choirs. No training. At uni, sure I did a degree majoring in Music, but again no vocal training and anyway I was busy flaunting...erm...flauting. 

So I am, in fact, barely a teenager in singing terms - without the pimples but with all the emotional angst. And in my defence there are people older than me who compete. It also completely exhausts me with nervousness. So why do I do it? 

1. I learn a lot. From the adjucator's remarks to me and other competitors, from the audience, from my fellow/felless competitors. I hear new music, I hear what other people do or don't do. 

2.  The cameraderie. With the exception of the odd person, everybody wants everybody else to do well. We want to hear and see the improvement from year to year. We are delighted when someone finally gets a long-coveted first placing. 

3.  The sense of achievement. Maybe it's taking a song from the previous year and using this year's advances in technique on it. Or integrating a new technique into all of your songs. 

So my teacher is deciding on which songs for which categories. I can tell you that the list will include Delibes' 'Les Filles de Cadix' - fun!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Getting back to basics

As I have mentioned previously, I haven't had any singing lessons this year up until very recently, due to my teacher give birth to the most delightful little girl. As well as that, I haven't been back to see my voice therapist since late January.  And although I have had quite a bit of singing over the last couple of months, I have to confess that I have not kept up my vocal exercises nearly as well as I should. And my voice is definitely showing it. Huskiness after a full-on choir rehearsal. Not being able to vocalise as high as previously. Old habits creeping back. 

I guess singers are athletes and we have to train to keep in shape, only instead of building up big biceps for throwing a javelin or shoulders the width of a small country for swimming we have to exercise our vocal folds and train the muscles needed to give us breath support. 

At my first proper lesson for the year a couple of weeks ago, I left feeling as if I would never sing properly again. I hasten to add that this has nothing whatsoever to do with the skill of the teacher and everything to do with me not keeping vocally in shape. Where was the E flat 6 I had previously popped up to? Why couldn't I sing above a B without feeling like I had lockjaw? It felt like the more I tried the worse I sounded. And trying not to cry while singing doesn't help either. So a salutory lesson for me. 

I have now booked in a session with my voice therapist this weekend and hopefully this will put me back on the straight and narrow. 

The other thing that is frustrating me about singing right now is not being able to control my larynx. I understand the concept of how the larynx moves in relation to the pitch but do you think I can move it (or let it move) accordingly? Honestly sometimes I'd like to go all Aliens v Predators on myself and yank the damn thing into the right position. My teacher says my tongue also misbehaves and becomes a law unto itself. I'm riddled with body parts that blow figurative raspberries at me. Oh the indignity of it!

Enough of the whining. Assuming my larynx comes to the party, I will be singing Mahler's 'Wer Hat dies Liedlein Erdacht' this Friday at a fund-raising concert. Practicing this with my teacher the other day, she had me waltzing around the room to assist me in getting the right feel to it and then accessing that feeling while standing still and singing. By golly it works.

Sunday, 6 May 2012


Yes, I'm happy!  *does Happy Dance* Sure, there were bits I didn't sing as well I would have liked in a perfect world, but I'm not going to beat myself up over them. (Maybe I'll do that when I hear the recording). But hey, I've ticked something off my bucket list, so that's a bonus, right? 

It was a big day in more ways than one. Because we had musicians coming from Dunedin, the rehearsal was held the same day. Certainly not ideal, but when you're on a strict budget these things sometimes have to be done. The rehearsal went pretty well, and I tried not to sing to full out to help preserve my voice for the performance. 

'Belinda' sang her first aria then we were into the first chorus, the short 'Banish Sorrow'. By two-thirds of the way through my heart was beating so hard and fast I thought it was going to leap out of my chest. I stepped out and tried to look as if I were 'press'd with torment'. It is entirely possible that my expression could have been interpreted as 'deer caught in the headlights'. The first 'Ah' was a bit short due to me not having prepared for it properly but I had myself sorted by the second one and the aria went well - I even got through the longest 'I languish' phrase with breath support intact. 

I enjoyed the latter part of the performance best, as I was able to interact more with other characters, in particular Aeneas in the scene where Dido compares him to 'a deceitful crocodile'! And finally the Lament. About half way through I thought 'Let go! Don't think, just be Dido!'  and so I just let myself get swept up in the emotion and it felt amazing. Someone afterwards told me that I really conveyed Dido's despair, which made me feel pretty good! I stood there and let the choir's 'With Drooping Wings' wash over me and wished I could do it all over again. Although ideally I would want it to be a full opera performance. 

Now my performance calendar has a bit of blank space, so I can sit down and work on some things that I haven't had time to - Tornami a vagegghiar from Handel's Alcina for one. Here's La Stupenda in a 1960 rendition....

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

I can't back out now, my name's on the programme

It's Wednesday and Dido & Aeneas is this Saturday at 4pm. Of course I don't really want to back out but I have, over the last week, been subject to bouts of  'who the hell do I think I am to be singing Dido?' I always wonder at what point someone like Jessye Norman or Pavarotti or any other world-famous singer goes on stage and thinks 'I have every right to be singing this'. Is there a light-bulb moment when they realise that their technique, quality of voice and ability to convey whatever emotion is needed is all there, and they are completely confident in their own ability? When they think 'Yeah, my voice IS so awesome that people will gladly pay a large portion of their weekly income to hear me?'

Obviously I'm a journeyman (journeywoman?) singer in a small city near the bottom of the world so the expectations on me are just a tad lower, but I still angst over the fact that people are using some of their precious time and money to listen to me. They have a right to expect something at the very least competent. And I realise that I'm being overly dramatic (no, really? Me?) because I'm not the only person they're coming to hear. It's just that there's this little song at the end of the opera that Dido sings. The one everyone knows. And because they know it, they know when you don't get the timing quite right, or a note exactly where it should be.

And so this morning, as I practised Dido's Lament in the shower - don't you love shower acoustics? - I thought, to hell with it, I know the notes, I can sing them competently, I'm just going to let go and invest it with all the emotion that I feel when I sing those sorrow-laden words. Maybe I'll come in half a beat late on a  'Remember me'. Maybe I'll forget a bit of ornamentation. But by golly the audience is going to feel my despair! 

Because that's what it's really all about isn't it? Not just pretty notes - it's about making people feel something.

I'll be back after the performance to let you know if I succeeded.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Once a Day and Twice on Sundays.

I sing with the small choir at St Mary's Basilica in Invercargill, usually every second Sunday. So far, I don't think they have figured out that they have a cuckoo in the nest, me being a Baptist-raised agnostic, although my ingrained version of the Lord's Prayer complete with thou's and trespasses might have tipped them off. Anyway, it is a musical education for me, as I learn all the setting of the Glorias, Amens etc. Every so often I get thrown into the Cantor role, where I have to concentrate very hard. It's a whole different style of singing and at the moment I still tend to sing it as a song rather than as musical speech. But I'm slowly getting there.

The other great thing about singing with this choir (I use the term choir relatively loosely given that on a good day we have one bass, two tenors, two altos and two sopranos) is that there is often solo work to do - an aria from Messiah, the Vicar of Dibley version of The Lord is My Shepherd and so on. We sit up in the choir stalls so are hidden from the view of all but the Priest and any parishioners who dare to risk putting a neck vertebra out of alignment to have a look. That means the focus is on the music and not the person singing which is much more relaxing. The acoustics are great too.

Easter in the Catholic Church is A Big Deal. From Holy Thursday we sang every day and twice on Sunday. I love that we get to sing plainchant and music that has endured for centuries in the same form. It's amazing to think that the notes we sing are the very same as would have been sung by someone in the 12th century. I had quite a bit to do, including Cantor work and two Mozart arias - the Laudate Dominum and the Ora Pro Nobis from Regina Coeli K128. It was the first time I'd sung the Ora Pro Nobis and it appears that it was the first time anyone there had heard it which is a shame because it is the most gorgeous piece of music. The choir also discovered a new talent we hope to retain, Joy Kerr, who sang a marvellous rendition of 'Were you there when they crucified my Lord?' 

By Sunday evening I was well and truly sung out and the medicinal application of chocolate and wine was a necessity. And now it is full steam ahead with Dido, reminding myself that I don't have to rush the phrases, that Purcell was very fond of word-painting and I can use that to colour the notes. 

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Yes. Yes I Can.

This photo was taken after I got home from the concert. Because if my dearly beloved had tried to take this photo beforehand, I would have a) most definitely not been smiling and b) snapped at him for...oh I don't know, taking too long, not taking long enough, not finding a better place to pose...heck I would have found something. I was wound up tighter than a badly-tuned lute.

So to the concert. I was second last on the schedule. There were some lovely items before mine. At least I'm sure they were lovely because they were all by people I know and love who would have sung/played beautifully. I have no idea really, because all the time they were performing the little voice in my head was going "You have to sing the Alleluia! You have to do all the runs without ending up in the rose bushes! You have to sing a top C at the end. Fleeeee!!!"  Except I couldn't flee because I was sandwiched in the middle of the row between all the other performers.

As the singers among you will know (Hi Sarah! Hi Amanda!) singing without a warm-up is far from ideal. As a soloist in a choral work, you can usually do some humming exercises under-cover of a loud chorus but no such opportunity here. The first word I was due to sing was 'Es' so not even the assistance of a  consonant to get me started.

So finally the moment arrived. I stood up, moved gracefully up to the stage in my new posh frock (if it was going to be a disaster at least people could say "Never mind dear, you looked lovely" as I sobbed into the folds of my chiffon skirt). First up 'Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen'. At least the tessitura was nice and low to middling. I probably mangled the German but all in all it went well. Next up was what the organisers had described in a newspaper article earlier in the week as a 'highlight of the concert' - the hymn written by the late Russell Cowley 'Sweeter Sounds Than Music Knows'. Apart from a bit of a tight-sounding 'sweeter' at the start, I think Russell would have been happy with my rendition.

And then, old Short-and-Deadly, the Alleluia. I'm going to go a bit stream of consciousness on y'all here and channel the voice in my head. Accompanist starts at a nice comfortable pace. First few phrases nice and firm and clear. Here comes the first run, big breath, muscles supporting and......away we go! Nice and even, no mistakes - bit tight on the A at end of the run but not bad, not bad. First half down, no dramas. But uh-oh, second section, the big runny bit and....... hey no worries, all in one breath, no mistakes, niiiice smooth singing on the offbeat accented bit. Woo I can do this!! Settle petal we've still got that top C. Open throat, here it comes, take foot off pedal to prevent yodel.....oh bit over-excited there, small yodel, don't care IdiditIdiditIdidit!!!

And there you have it, a mountain has been scaled and I can't tell you what a weight off my chest that is. Next up a whole bunch of lovely Mozart for Easter church services and then into Dido & Aeneas. Thanks for putting up with my drama queen-ness darlings :)

Friday, 16 March 2012

I can do it. No, I can't!! Well, maybe I can?

So the Concert South 100th concert is this Sunday. You know, the one where I have to sing the Mozart Alleluia. With all the runny bits and the high C at the end. The piece I have renamed not-so-affectionately as 'Short and Deadly'.

Rewind to Tuesday this week. I went and had a first practice with my accompanist. We ran through Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen. Fine - once we'd worked out the weird repeat markings in this particular version. We did 'Sweeter Sounds than Music Knows'. Nothing too terrible there. And then....the Alleluia. If singing this piece was the equivalent of cycling down a straight path between two beds of rose bushes, then by the end of the first runny bit you would have found me upside down, impaled on rose thorns, bleeding copiously with bits of bicycle strewn over the pathway. Not pretty. The high C was a yodel on C/C#. I bet even the Topp Twins couldn't manage that and I did it without even trying. Ha! 

Cue hyperventilation. And me explaining to the accompanist that it might really not be a great idea to repeat this scenario at an actual concert. Because really it would be a like a car crash you have to drive past where you don't want to look but you just can't help it. I said I would make a decision the following day after my singing lesson. 

Wednesday, lesson. (And an opportunity to coo at my teacher's brand new gorgeous little girl). Me: I just can't do the coloratura bits with that pearls-on-a-string technique-thingy!! Teacher: Well that's not a problem, these are essentially scales, they can be done legato. Me: Oh? really? .......

Half an hour later...♫♪ Aaaaaaa, a-a-le-e-lu-u-ia aaaaaaaaaaaa ♪♫ So maybe I really can do this! Me: OK but what about the hIgh yodel - I mean high C? I can do it if  I make a really narrow pathetic sound like this *makes narrow pathetic sound* but if I try and do it full voice I do this *yodels*. Teacher:  What's wrong with the first one? It will just ping out - don't forget you're in a Church which will help fill the sound out. Just don't put any welly on it and it will be fine. 

And so here we are, two days out from the concert and there is no.turning.back.  Stay tuned for the next instalment which will either be happily triumphant or strangely echo-y having been written from the depths of the hole I dug myself. 

Sunday, 26 February 2012

When I am laid, am laid in earth.....

...squeeeeeeeee!!! ♪♫♫♪♫♪♫♪ !!!!!

Ahem.....sorry about that, normal transmission is now resuming.....

Yes my friends, I have secured the part of Dido and to say I am excited would be the understatement of the year!

Right enough excitement.... Ah, ah, ah Belinda, I am press'd with torment.........

Wednesday, 22 February 2012


I had my audition for Dido and Aeneas today. My favourite opera and one which I know very well having studied it at high school. It turned around my perception of opera and allowed me to open my ears to singing that was greatly different to the angelic but small voices of the girls in the choirs I belonged to at the time. 

My choir is doing a concert performance of D&A in late April and all solo parts are being done by choir members. Obviously the plum role is Dido, and in other circumstances I wouldn't even get a look-in, but there are no dramatic sopranos in our ranks and for once my voice has sufficient weight, compared with others, to be considered. I also threw my hat in the ring for Belinda as in general terms it is more suited to my voice. If I were to get either I would be thrilled but I'm secretly harbouring a yearning for Dido, as it likely the only time I'll ever get the opportunity to sing the full role. I want to imperiously dismiss Aeneas with a dramatic gesture and an 'Away! Away!' that bounces off the walls. 

I think the audition went ok. I probably rushed a little in some places where I could have allowed more space but overall I was happy. I should know by the weekend. Please cross fingers, toes, eyes etc for me :)

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Can you wear a nice dress and breathe too?

One thing that always causes me some angst in relation to performing is clothing. Singing nude is not an option although I'm willing to bet there are some opera directors out there that would love to figure out a way to get some of their stars to do it  - probably with Katherine Jenkins in mind. (Please don't write furious messages telling me off for calling her an opera singer, I know she is not but the people out there who try to think up new ways of making money don't care about the distinctions much less the quality of her singing).  So when the choice is mine, how do I make that choice? 

Firstly, and rather importantly, I have to be able to breathe. Not just ordinary every-day breathing but deep, lung-filling, get-me-through-the-long phrase breathing. Now that I am learning to relax and breathe fully and without restraint, this means that anything too tight round my midsection is out. 

Next, there is the problem of legs. If the dress is too short the audience is distracted, too long and you risk doing a face-plant as you regally ascend the few steps to the stage/platform.  I also have another leg problem - they shake. Invariably about half-way through the aria/art song/lied I'll feel them start to tremble. Doesn't matter if I'm feeling completely relaxed and calm, away they go like there's a seismic tremor occurring directly beneath me. So a reasonable length of dress is a useful disguise.

So how about 'the girls'? Anything too low cut and the audience will be fixated on your cleavage, waiting in a combination of anxiety and interest to see if you will have a 'wardrobe malfunction' as you take in the enormous lungful of air required to see you through the third coloratura bit of the Mozart 'Alleluia'.

What about shoes then? Too high and you risk falling off them, too low and you can look a bit mumsy. Earrings? Too dangly and/or sparkly and they distract the audience. Bracelets? They might jingle in the the wrong key. At least with my short hair I can't go too wrong. (As an aside, I yearn for long hair that I could curl, put up, put down - I think it gives you more options).

So the other day I bought a dress. It doesn't look like this:

But it does look like this:

I may not look even a quarter as glamorous as KJ but I bet my audience will concentrate on my singing and not my appearance. What do you reckon?

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Three steps to the right and sing.

I promised in an earlier post that I would write about my experience of my first solo role in an opera. That makes it sound as if I have sung in lots of other operas as a chorus member but I haven't, in fact only one which was Canterbury Opera's production of La Boheme where I had the pleasure of seeing barihunk Teddy Tahu Rhodes as Marcello. And incidentally where I first met mezzo Sarah Court who I then ended up working with many years later in Hansel & Gretel.

For Hansel & Gretel I was asked to sing the dual roles of the Sandman and the Dew Fairy. The director  and conductor was Ravil Atlas, Mother/Witch - Amanda Winfield, Hansel - Sarah Court, Gretel - Rebecca Ryan and Father - Ian Reeves. Ian has had many years of experience as a musical theatre performer and all the rest have sung professionally. And then there was me. No acting experience. Limited solo performance experience. Can you say nervous??!!

Firstly, I was afraid that I would embarrass myself by sounding like the wind in the willows when I sang compared with all those voices around me capable of filling a large concert hall, but worse still that I would embarrass my teacher who was singing the role of Gretel. What if all the others pulled her aside after the first rehearsal and demanded to know why she had asked me to sing?

As it turns out, that was the more minor of my worries. As musical friends who have known me for a few years will know, when I sing a solo I have a tendancy to stand there like a stuffed duck, afraid to move or make the slightest gesture. So first rehearsal and Ravil paints for me a whole back-story for the Sandman character. And then proceeds to give me instructions on where to move at which beat in the music. And until then I also had no idea how many different ways you can say "I am!" (my opening spoken line). Oh and did I mention that all this moving and emoting had to be done while wearing a voluminous floor length cloak? I was so busy muttering "raise up on toes, four steps to right, stop and pretend to throw sleep-dust" that any thought of a) proper singing technique and b) coming in at the right time went right out the window.

But here's the lovely thing about this first-time experience: no-one rolled their eyes and muttered "Bloody amateur!", instead I received nothing but help and warm encouragement from people who had far more things to think about than some nervous, neurotic amateur with two small arias to sing.

And so by the second performance I was able to surprise (and judging by his expression, delight) Ravil by adding a little ad hoc bit of acting to my role. So to Ravil, Amanda, Sarah and Rebecca - a huge thank you for making my first solo experience one to remember for all the right reasons.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Alleluia, it's 2012!

It’s always interesting, contemplating what singing challenges might be around the corner. One of the things I’ve always had a secret desire to sing in public is the Mozart ‘Alleluia’.  Two terrors lie within in its relatively short span of time – coloratura and a top C. No terrors for a professional singer, but for a more ...ahem… mature, Johnny-come-lately singer, some buttock-clenching moments. I amuse myself on a relatively regular basis singing along with various versions I have on CD, turning them up loud enough so that the soloists drown out my more flagrant failures of technique.

Then a phone call the other day – ‘We’d like you to sing in a concert in March, can you pop over and chat about it with us?’ The organisers are good friends (and Mrs Organiser is an excellent baker), so I arrive with lightness of step and smiling happily at the aroma of freshly-baked muffins. I am handed a copy of the proposed programme. The concert is a special one – Number 100 in the series and therefore all participants have been asked to sing or play items which have been performed in previous concerts. I look down at the page, and leaping out at me is my name and Mozart: Alleluia. I suspect I  missed at least a couple of sentences of whatever was next said as I tried to coax my heart-rate down from 220 bpm to something approaching normality.

Part of me was touched by the fact that the organisers just assumed that I am capable of singing it, and singing it well enough to not let the side down. The other part was rapidly calculating the number of days left till concert date. I noted that I was also put down to sing a solo version of Praetorius’ ‘Est ist ein Ros’ entsprungen’ which cheered me up somewhat as I know it is something I can do well – although I will have to learn the German, having only sung it in English.

It’s the coloratura bits  of the Alleluia that worry me – I understand the concept, it’s the execution that is somewhat lacking. Nothing like a deadline though to hasten one’s learning!

And on a happy note, I have my next speech therapy session on Tuesday and have arranged to catch up with ‘Hansel’, the lovely Sarah Court afterwards. I wonder if she will have any coloratura tips for me?