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.