Friday, October 23, 2009

Deep Breath

Sometimes it feels like I will never know how to sing.

I’m having an unusually difficult singing day today, and for no apparent reason. But maybe it’s a good day to try to write it out, to see if I can get to the heart of things...

This rep shift... whooboy!! There is nothing worse for a singer’s development than for someone to tell you “Wow, your voice is really getting big!” or “You voice is so much richer than it used to be!” The power of suggestion is very strong, and no matter how present you are in your singing, it is way too easy to start singing bigger and darker and richer the more people tell you that they hear those things. Make sense?

So I’ve added new arias - and new roles - this year, and I’ve been finding myself getting repeatedly tied up in knots. I can sing my new pieces just fine, but then when I pull out a Debussy song for the December recital or an older “lighter” aria, I find that I have zero nuance. No control, no float. Like my voice is a Mac truck. Not. Fun. And more than not fun, very frustrating and discouraging! Things I am not used to feeling when I sing...

Singing has always been easy for me. Maybe not cool to say that, but it’s true. I’ve had good teachers who haven’t gotten in the way of my voice’s natural development, and my reliance on text and acting has always lead me right. But now I’m getting in my way... I’m trying to sing with a voice that is not (yet) my own.

Yes, my voice IS bigger and warmer and all those things people are hearing, but it is still my bright, clear, pliant instrument. That hasn’t gone away. It’s not as if I woke up one morning a year ago and had an entirely new instrument! It’s just growing up, maturing. (Add “fine wine” metaphor here...) If I let go of my easy high notes or flexible tone in sacrifice to this bigger, warmer voice, I will lose. Lose facets of my voice, lose years of longevity, lose confidence. This is not a sacrifice I am willing to make.

So... how do I proceed?

I get back to regular voice lessons.
I haven’t had one in about a year and a half, and self-diagnosing is always a bad idea, whether it’s looking up “abdominal pain” on the internet at 2am or trying to move into a new Fach. I’m going to take some lessons with a soprano; all of my post-undergrad teachers have been men or mezzos, two summers with Phyllis Curtain notwithstanding. I’m excited about this change, and curious to see what it will be like to get back into “the shop.”

In my practicing, I keep it light but keep it connected. Avoid pushing. If I tire easily, something is not lined up correctly, so stop and reassess. Start my sessions with warmups and familiar pieces in order to remind my voice how it works. Then sing the new stuff with that same voice. If I jump into the deep end, I’ll only be fighting my resonance and placement, rather than working with it.

I stay aware of my body. Don’t look down (deep in concentration) when starting a phrase; keep the face lifted. Don’t curve the shoulders (another “thinking, working” posture); let the torso be buoyant. Practice in front of a mirror in order to keep those damn concentration wrinkles OFF of my forehead!!

In my performance, I just do what I do. If I bring this kind of mental activity onto the stage with me, I won’t be able to be in the moment with the music or my colleagues or the audience. I’m not falling apart; I can still sing. In those moments of performance, I need to just trust that and enjoy doing what I do. (Also, I’m not singing Marguerite tomorrow; I can sing 1st Alms Collector very well right now!)

Ok, I feel better. I can do this. I can work through this transition. It’s scary to feel like I don’t know where I’m going, but I need to remember that I’m the one in control here. Slow and steady and all those good things... and deep breaths.


Melissa said...

I had to laugh at "forehead concentration wrinkles." :) Ah, I know them well. (On my own forehead, of course.)

Maury D'annato said...

Something I am curious about, and I wonder if it might make for an interesting post (as this one was): what is the experience of studying with someone who isn't your voice type, the extreme example being a male teacher I suppose, like for you?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for an awesome reminder. I'm a singer dealing with some of the same transition issues heading into audition season, and this was exactly the pep talk I needed to hear!

Unknown said...

Hi! Another singer here, going through almost the exact same issues. I'm about 5 years younger than you, ACB, and consider you to be a role model and an inspiration, as I am just beginning to "market" my voice. It's currently in transition from lyric coloratura to dramatic coloratura--and it can be all too tempting to push. But it's really all about letting things happen naturally, isn't it? Growth is natural; but, I think that because one of the scariest things for a singer is feeling out of control, we try to control, maybe even rush, our growth too much. Anyway, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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