I had my first singing lesson of the year this morning.
I’ve always loved to sing and was devastated a few years ago when I lost my voice and was found to have thickened vocal chords. I was told I’d never sing again unless I had intensive vocal therapy and learnt to sing properly. Which I did.
Five years on and I’ve passed Grades 6 to 8, all with merit (the most recent one was two marks away from a Distinction and that still rankles.) Still, I’ve discovered that Grade 8 is only the start, and my singing has come on leaps and bounds since then. It seems that every lesson I have unlocks a new door onto a wondrous vista of finely-tuned technique and I seem to find a new part of my voice. It is completely and utterly exhilarating.
I didn’t grow up with classical singing, you see. It’s never been part of my culture and it is a whole new world for me. Yes, I’ve performed quite a few of the better known choral works with choirs over the years but I hardly know where to start with the solo singing repertoire. When I talk to members of my choir, they all seem much more familiar with much more music.
Enlarging your repertoire is really hard work. It’s not easy finding the time to listen and download different versions of the songs and operatic arias and sourcing the sheet music (photocopying music is illegal, folks, are we are always reminded) and trying to find and download a piano backing track. To assimilate the work takes hours and hours of practice over weeks. Really I should practise for at least an hour a day but cooking and ironing and shopping and walking the dogs and all those mum things take priority, of course they do.
Since my Grade 8 exam, I take part in a monthly solo singing group in a local church here in Bromley. We are lucky to have a great piano accompanist and we each perform two songs we’ve prepared. This can be anything from folk songs to operatic arias to jazz to pop songs to, memorably, Nellie the Elephant. I wish I’d done this solo singing stuff years ago, because I’m now nowhere near as nervous as I used to be when I sing in front of people. If I’d done it before my exams, I reckon I could have squeezed a few more marks out of the examiners.
My teacher thought it would be a good idea to sing some opera – there’s a slightly different technique employed for a big operatic tone – and I’ve been struggling with Mozart’s Dove Sono i Bei Momenti, the Countess’s big aria from The Marriage of Figaro for several months now.
I’m finding the first recitative part very difficult to assimilate and there are numerous technical challenges to the piece. I’m always short on practice time – something always gets in the way – and for a week before every lesson I stress about how I’m letting myself and her down. Despite being an internationally-renowned singer, though, my teacher is always kind and positive, but she does not pull her punches when I’m being lazy. She gives the impression of not suffering fools at all.
The discipline is very good for me and I leave every lesson with brain full of tips and advice and heart fit to burst with joy at being able to reproduce this beautiful music. Which last until my next practice time, when I find I can’t do it quite so well after all.
I’m just now starting to get to grips properly with that Mozart aria but today we discussed my next steps in singing. I aim to take a music performance diploma in the autumn and we talked about repertoire for the 40 minute recital that has to take in a range of different styles and moods.
My teacher introduced me to songs by Richard Strauss and Purcell as a start today. I’ve downloaded them from Spotify and I’ll listen to them when I’m in India next week. I’m definitely not going to wait until a week before my next lesson to practise. Definitely not.