Hm. Well that wasn’t supposed to happen.
I had my singing lesson today. I normally turn up at my teacher’s house fully conscious that I have not done enough practice. Something always gets in the way, you see, and it’s hard to prioritise my hobby, no matter how serious I am about it. The stress begins about a week before each lesson when it is probably too late to do enough practice to make up for the work time I’ve missed. My teacher has always been understanding and sympathetic about this and I skip joyfully out of the lesson, having worked hard and learnt a lot. At times I literally skip.
This time, however, I was really proud of myself. Having decided a shortlist of songs to prepare and learn for my diploma, I ordered all the relevant sheet music and downloaded recordings of Purcell, Strauss, Dring, Haydn and Duparc from Spotify. I made sure I listened to them several times each day, first just following the music and then singing along. I can read music reasonably well, but my intervals are dodgy and I can’t usually sing the trickier bits of a song straight from the music.
I even made sure I practised assiduously during the week in India. I was determined not to be caught out and felt quite proud of myself and not stressed at all in the run-up to today’s lesson. In hindsight I was possibly a little complacent.
My teacher asked what I’d been doing and I proudly related all of this to her. We started off by going over the Richard Strauss song, Allerseelen:
I sang through it and found that it didn’t go quite as well as I’d hoped. It’s a difficult song, in turn restrained and operatically passionate, with long phrases, and I realised, not for the first time, that learning to perform a song involves a little more than listening and reading the music. In addition, I’d ordered the wrong music, in the wrong key. It’s only a tone down from what I’m supposed to be singing, but it’s still not right. On top of that, I presented my own interpretation of the meaning of the German lyrics, which appeared in conflict with that of my teacher. In hindsight, that was probably tactless. Oh dear. Well, fine, I thought. I always said it was a work in progress.
The next song I sang through was Purcell’s Mad Bess of Bedlam:
Hm. It was fine for a first try, I thought but my teacher clearly had envisaged a higher bar.
My mistake was obviously in listening to recordings and emulating them. Mistakes in notes and rhythms had crept in, and it became clear that I have been learning to do an impersonation of the particular performers I’d heard. It’s not about that, of course. It’s about learning to make one’s own interpretation of the song in question.
So my visibly-irritated teacher gave me a lecture about practising every day for an hour (I know) and told me that, when she was studying, singing recordings were banned. So from now on I’ll forfeit my cosy position by the sitting room radiator and take up residence by the piano in the colder front room. I’d sort of reached this conclusion anyway, realising for myself that singers have their own performance quirks in often very loose interpretations of a piece. The stars are allowed to do this. I am not. But I considered myself duly chastised and left the lesson very much with my tail between my legs.
Dear oh dear.