Tuesday, 2 July 2013

One of 'those' days

On Sunday I took part in a concert of popular sacred music. We had 7 soloists, a small choir, a chamber orchestra and small children's choir. It was the kind of concert where you recognised the tune even if you didn't know the name of it. Beautiful sacred music abounded, stretching from Charpentier through to Douglas Mews. 

I had three solo(ish) moments - "If God Be For Us" from Messiah, the duet "O Lovely Peace" and the soprano solo for Mozart's 'Laudate Dominum". It was the first time I'd done the Messiah aria and the Mozart with orchestra.

For various reasons I was a bag of nerves leading up to the concert. Not a dainty little jewel-encrusted evening bag of nerves, but a cavernous hold-everything-including-the-kitchen-sink kind of bag. I'm not sure exactly why. Partly because all the other soloists are such excellent singers and I was feeling a bit intimidated. Partly because my voice has been feeling quite tired and out of sorts lately. Suffice it to say, nerves are not a singer's best friends. Shaky legs, shortened breaths and tight muscles are, funnily enough, not conducive to a good sound. 

We had a rehearsal earlier in the afternoon and my bits went ok. But I could feel my voice was not in the greatest shape. And the more I thought about that, the tenser I got. Is it any wonder that 20 minutes before the start of the concert I got a migraine? Fortunately - if you can call getting migraines fortunate - I pretty much only get the visual aura for about 15 minutes or so, and then just a residual ache around my forehead, not the searing pain that so many do. However for the next hour or two afterwards, my brain also feels like it has put on a fluffy pink dressing gown and slippers with bunny ears and has smoked something slightly illegal. You can see where this is going right?

The little man that lives in my brain and gives a running commentary every time I have to sing to an audience had an absolute field day. He revelled in his role, criticising onsets which started with a slight catch, mocking phrase-endings that went wobbly from lack of breath and whispering with vicious gleefulness about upcoming difficulties which, in his opinion, I was unlikely to surmount. Do you get put in jail for stabbing an imaginary little man who makes it his life's mission to tell you how useless you are? Because I would have considered it totally worth it. Especially if the onset to his dying screams was less than perfect.

But hey, first-world problems right? The majority of what I sang was fine. Some of it was actually beautiful. There, I wrote it out loud. Like my little blogger 'About Me' blurb says: I like to sing. Sometimes when I sing, I sound good. I'm working on the other times. 

Friday, 26 April 2013

Lesson #324 - why singing from memory is a good idea

I got a last minute request to sing at a Registered Music Teacher's concert and my teacher said "Let's do something from your new repertoire, how about 'Kommt ein schlanker'" and I replied "But but but! I haven't learnt the words from memory yet." However she was keen for me to get a performance of this one under my belt so I agreed that I would do it with the music. I did try to stuff all the words into the small walnut that passes for my brain in the intervening couple of days, but you know, that irritating thing called Life got in the way. 

Being of a certain age, I now frequently have to resort to reading glasses which is disconcerting. If I sit them firmly on my nose, the audience looks blurry and I feel as if I have lost connection with them. Sit them further down so I can use normal eyesight for the audience and I look like a caricature of a dragon-lady librarian. Alternatively I could grow my arms another 6 inches and problem solved. So learning things off by heart is definitely the better proposition.

The concert was being held in a large room of our local museum. Carpeted with a lowish ceiling. I figured this would swallow the sound, especially when filled with an audience, but it was actually very nice acoustically. When it was my turn I stepped up to the piano (teacher accompanying) and discovered that a) the lighting was feeble and b) my folder clearly didn't have non-reflective plastic. Nothing to be done but soldier on. 

Fortunately I had the opening couple of pages off pat so things started well. Just as I was mentally patting myself on the back for putting my glottals in the right place and actually making the trill sound like a trill instead of a wobbly vibrato, disaster struck! I glanced down at the page to pick up the next lot of words and couldn't see them properly. Have you ever tried making up something on the spot in a language other than your own? Me either. But I did. It's entirely possible that instead of saying Sollten ja sich Blicke finden (If you should catch his glance) I said something like  Meine Katze sitzt auf einer Keksblume (My cat sits on a biscuit flower).

The rest of the aria passed without incident. So here's what I learnt from that experience:

1. If you're going to make up words, do it in front of an audience that neither knows the language you're singing in nor the aria you are singing.

2. Don't let any flicker of panic cross your features and no one will be any the wiser that your cat sits on a biscuit flower.

3. Avoid having to do 1. by memorising the dang aria!

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Getting stuck in

Yes, I am still alive. And singing. There was a bit of a lull once Christmas arrived and the country went on summer holiday, and I allowed myself to be lazy and not practice properly. But now we are back into it, indeed we are. I'm talking like the Queen. I shall revert to first-person so you don't have to curtsy while you read this.

I already have several performances lined up for the first half of the year. First up is a Concert South concert on 17 March. You may remember the Concert South concert I was preparing for at about the same time last year and my dalliances with metaphorical rose bushes. There's still a thorn or two lurking to catch me this time too, but my bicycle doesn't wobble as much when it spies a top C or in this case a top C#. I have been asked to sing Les Filles de Cadix as well as be part of a trio for two songs - Lift Thine Eyes from Elijah and Handel's Where E'er You Walk. I'm doing the middle part for the Handel and I'm having to concentrate mightily to fight off the tendency to sing the tune. I also get to repeat Les Filles at Womens Club about 10 days later.

Hard on the heels of that is Easter and a full programme of music starting with a service on Holy Thursday evening and finishing with Easter Vespers on the Sunday afternoon. I've got some nice solos amongst all of that including the Mozart Ora Pro Nobis.

On April 28th as part of the Southland Arts Festival, A Capella Singers is doing a programme of Rutter music with the main work being his Magnificat. It's a very approachable work but, dare I say it, could do with a little editing here and there. Is that heresy? If this blog post stops abruptly at some later point, with little whisps of black smoke curling up from the last few words, you can assume I have been smote. Or should that be smitten? Either way it ended badly. 

But despite this potentially terrible fate awaiting me, I shall bravely soldier on. The work calls for a soprano soloist and our director decided that she would divvy up the three solo bits amongst choir members. We were asked to audition, preparing one of the three solos. I worked on the Misericordiae, which is the hardest of the 3 (for me anyway) but, fortunately as it turns out, also had a look over Esurientes. I turned up for my audition and the director said "Right let's do Esurientes!" I got through alright - it's a piece that lies nicely and suits my voice. The director apparently agrees with me as that's what I have been given.

And finally in June there are two concerts with a mixture of choir work and solos. So plenty to work on, and I'm right into singing lessons again picking up new repertoire. I'm doing a gorgeously lush-almost-to-the-point-of-corny French song Les Chemins de l'Amour by Poulenc. Listen to this version by Veronique Gens. This is very different from the Poulenc I know! 

I'm also learning one of Richard Rodney Bennett's 'Dream Songs' - The Song of Shadows, a lovely atmospheric piece.

I had a session with the voice therapist yesterday, which prompted some interesting thoughts as I drove home. But that's for another blog post.