Today it happened: I felt a good solid vibration on that darned high E! This the note I am waiting for, the note that will finally allow me to consider Zerbinetta truly mine, the note that will make me a Blondchen and not only an Ilia/Susanna. I can taste it!
**Warning!** From here I will digress into a technique post, as I do from time to time. Read on at your own risk. Singers, feel free to ask if something doesn’t make sense. Laymen, please pardon the interruption!
I had my second lesson with Kathy Kaun, another visiting voice teacher here this summer. In our first lesson, she helped me reign in the breath with which I was starting each phrase. I’d taken a common bit of technical advice – “Start each phrase with breath.” – a bit too far and my attack was getting sloppy, especially on phrases starting with vowels. It is just like driving a standard transmission. Too much gas/air at once, the car/phrase lurches to a start. Not enough, and it falters. If you ease into the phrase too slowly, like letting out the clutch overly carefully, the phrase doesn’t take off with enough “pep.” Somewhere in the middle is the balance, and I’m starting to find that.
With just a bit more consciousness, I can engage my support muscles a bit more to help guide the beginning (and middle, and end) of the phrase. I could feel and hear the difference immediately, so much so that with in ten minutes I was the one stopping myself and saying, “Nope, let me start that phrase again.” When I did the recording session on Sunday, I kept this idea in the front of my mind, and only asked to retake two or three phrases in order to get the breath out of the beginning.
In today’s lesson, we worked on “Tornami a vagheggiar,” the Italian aria that I think will replace Oscar on my audition list. It shows more, including Baroque style and ornamentation. As Diane Richardson said, “Anyone hearing you sing this will know that you can sing Oscar.” We worked on getting the middle voice as flexible as the upper voice (keep the vowels bright; don’t sing with as much warmth and heft as I do in that part of my voice in other rep), and then started talking about my highest notes. I go up to an E-flat in one of the ornaments, and she encouraged me to lift my palate a bit more. When I did, I was amazed at how much more “present” the note felt. Even though it is in a fast, passing phrase, there was no doubt that I “had” that note.
When KP, at the piano, started noodling around with Durch Zärtlichkeit, the next song in the book, I said, “Ok, can we try this idea on the E’s at the end of DZ?” We skipped all the lyric, middle-voice stuff at the beginning of the aria and went right for the prize, two ascending phrases, one which peaks on a C# and the second on E. It wasn’t there right away, but when Kathy suggested treating the three repeated E’s as one whole note that I gently “bump,” things got better. Then we took out the “bump” entirely, and just sang it as a whole note, and, darn it if it didn’t just float right out! I still have work to do before it’s consistent, I think, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It is “destined to be mine!”
The other major technical addition this summer (my lessons with Mark Oswald notwithstanding) came through a coaching with Craig Rutenberg. (The bio I found isn’t quite up-to-date: This fall, Mr. Rutenberg will be returning to his post as Director of Music Administration at the Met, a position he held several years ago.) We worked on “Qui la voce,” and when I got to the big note at the end (and E-flat), it wasn’t quite as present as I wanted it to be. I couldn’t hold it as long as I knew I should! If I’ve done my job right in the aria, the audience is wanting a big finish; it would be not only disappointing but could almost be viscerally painful if I let them down. (Someone recently compared it to being a good lover, an adult but incredibly apt analogy.)
Craig assured me that I could sing the note, that I could hold it as long as I wanted to, as long as I really got my support going underneath. I won’t use his expression here, but let’s just say he helped me tune in to and turn on the absolutely lowest support. I think of it now as singing from my root chakra, the energy center at the base of the spine that roots us to the ground. From that solid foundation comes the enormous column of air and energy that feeds the highest notes. Talk about using the whole body to sing!
We accessed this support by bending forward over a chair back, feeling the top of the chair pressing into my lower abdominals, inhaling a good deep breath by engaging the muscles of the lower back, and letting ‘er rip! I just about blew the top of my head off.
Craig’s other tip goes hand in hand with Kathy’s advice to keep my middle voice lighter (in certain rep). When singing, put your thumb behind your top front teeth and “sing to it like a microphone.” All this does (all, ha!) is keep your voice focused in the mask, the primary resonance center. It’s also one of Mark’s principals, that the mask should always be involved, so this is another easy technique tip to incorporate into my bag of tricks. Mark is very open with his students about gaining knowledge from other teachers; I imagine I will spend some time with him this fall going over all of this ideas and making sure we’re on the same page. Often, it’s merely a matter of discovering the words and phrases in one teacher’s language that explain the same concept from another teacher.
Ok, all this tech talk has exhausted me! Back to our regularly scheduled program…