“What a contrast with yesterday!” as the weather announcers would no doubt say.
Goodness what a misery of a day it’s been here, with heavy rain for most of the day and temperatures halved compared with yesterday’s. I had an early start and have struggled to catch up all day, intermittently either taking power naps or wishing I could.
I had a singing lesson this afternoon, which is always a stressful prospect because I don’t want to let myself or my teacher, international artiste Sarah Leonard, down. My physical and mental wellbeing have improved so dramatically since I started taking the lessons after losing my voice in 2008 that it’s truly changed my life.
The songs I was trying to prepare for this session were contrasting ones by Duparc, both tricky in their contrasting ways. L’Invitation Au Voyage is a study in calmness and long, long phrases. I have a issue with breath – Sarah wonders if this is a consequence of my asthma – but the melody over a shimmering piano accompaniment requires strict muscle control and a lot of effort put into breath conservation in order for it to look effortless and languid. It’s a tall order but having a lesson gave me some really valuable pointers and, with regular practice and training the right muscles, I hope I’ll have it ready in good time for my recital and diploma. If I can master the breathing and phrasing on that song, I’ll be able to sing anything with ease.
The other song, Le Manoir de Rosemonde, contains complex rhythms, and it’s quite difficult to get my head around the timing. Generally, I introduce myself to a song by listening to various recordings of it on Spotify. The Premium service has come in very useful for this purpose. I then listen and listen, trying to sing along.
I can’t rely uniquely on this method, though, which is merely an introduction. It’s really easy to come unstuck and it’s happened to me. The thing is, singers don’t always sing what’s on the page. For example, Sarah was telling me about an opera superstar – you’d never believe who but my lips are sealed – who can’t read music and has to have the music note-bashed at her. This would explain why my recording of her singing Le Manoir… doesn’t actually tally with the score. Oh yes.
Of course, sometime it’s just artistic licence and interpretation, but apparently many singers are musically illiterate and have to learn things by rote so if they get something wrong, they have to spend time unlearning their bad habits. Apparently, as well, people auditioning for roles with opera companies go in and have voice coaches, who make sure they’re singing the right notes (sometimes using note-bashing sessions) and helping them tidy up their vocal technique. This made me proud of my own small efforts.
When I learn a song, I listen to different recordings while reading the music and counting, observing dynamics; adding breath marks; sorting out dipthongs and vowel sounds and I also bash out the piece on the piano. This is where I most bitterly regret giving up the piano at 16 and not really ever playing since. It’s my perfection or paralysis thing leaping into action you see: I fear being ropey at something that once provided such enjoyment. I’m also really aware of my limitations and find them frustrating. I’d love to have piano lessons again but it’s a question of time and money and I don’t think I’d ever find time to practise as things stand with my life at the moment.
Once I more or less know a song, it’s good to have a lesson and iron out any places where my singing technique needs tweaking: the odd emphasis here and there; an improvement in the production of consonants or a slight realignment of facial muscles makes all the difference.
Hm. Before I started singing lessons I thought I could sing. How wrong I was. And people think it’s just a question of opening one’s mouth and letting the sound come out….