Before my first lesson with Mark last week, I had two thoughts. One I’ve shared already: that I want to study with him regularly (once a month or so) when I move to NYC this fall. (I guess that’s an announcement…) I’ve been singing largely on instinct for the past three years, as I’ve been without a major teacher, and I feel that it’s time for some more knowledgeable singing. The other was that I should ask Jennifer Black, whose singing I admire, who she studies with. She has been in the Met Lindemann training program this past year, so I figured she had a teacher through them. Well, I asked, and guess who? That’s right. Mark Oswald.
Within the first few minutes of my first lesson, Mark mentioned that he had found and read my blog post about lessons last year. (Maybe he’s still reading? Hi, Mark!) He was quick to point out that “it’s more than just vowel modification,” which made me blush a little! Obviously, I knew that, but I was operating on very few data points, if you’ll pardon the geekery. When a teacher comes in as a visitor, working with singers who most likely have established relationships with other teachers, he or she really can’t jump right in with major technique ideas. It must be hard to find a way to get your ideas across in a way that will supplement rather than supplant. This time around, I knew that I wanted to work on a deeper understanding of his “technique” and to start building a more long-term teacher/student relationship. Last summer we worked mainly from repertoire, meaning I would bring an aria to our lesson and we would tweak it. I told Mark before my second lesson that I was interested in some more focused technique work, so we spent one whole lesson going over his vocalizes. I have them all on tape, but my tape recorder has bit the dust. RadioShack to the rescue, I hope.
It’s all about being aware (there’s that word again…) of where each note, each vowel, needs to be sent. There is a ratio of forward and back, up and down, in every note, and sometimes that ratio is drastically different for two notes that are very close together, i.e. c# and d. Tweaking the vowels can help work out this ratio. [Out loud, say the five vowels and feel how the space in your mouth changes. That’s the basic structure we’re playing with here.] It’s all very complex and, as I suspected in last year’s recap, will take some time to get into muscle memory. But I am already more aware of my passaggios (the places in my voice where I “shift gears” from mixed voice to head voice to upper head voice) and how I need to operate as I move through them. Where I need to imagine the sound going as it leaves my throat.
I know all this tech talk is weird, and I hope you’ve stayed with me. Because what happened at the end of my lesson today was evidence that these ideas will work for me. Just before time to quit, KP at the piano was flipping through my book and came to the Silver Aria from The Ballad of Baby Doe. Mark and I worked on it at my first lesson (I’ve had three now), and as we sang through it I could feel my brain processing all the technique ideas. “Ok, here’s a D; think low space on this passaggio note.” There were a few spots, too, where I could feel the gears turning, but things weren’t quit there yet. “The vowel on this C# isn’t quite right.” But instead of just getting frustrated by that note that’s always given me trouble, I understood that I was gaining the tools to fix it.
And then we came to the final phrase, with a high C that has never felt free. C isn’t usually a hard note for me, but this phrase is tricky. Something about the approach or the vowel or the sustain. But today, I knew what to do with that note, where to send it, how to support it, and I nailed it. My eyes even filled with tears, but I thought, “Don’t ruin this note by crying about it!”
I walked out of the lesson feeling like Pippa, with “God in his heaven and all right with the world.” I am a singer, and I have found my teacher.