Friday, December 7, 2007

Voice lessons are kicking my ass

I'm on voice lesson #14. Voice lessons are kicking my ass. The Bach family is kicking my ass. Even the 24 Greatest Hits are kicking my ass.

Studying voice is difficult, more difficult than I ever imagined it to be. I'm now of the opinion that those who train to become world-class singers work every bit as hard and require as much brains, talent, and skill as those who train to become world-class baseball players, rocket scientists, businesspeople, etc.

Taking voice lessons is a little like taking violin lessons...from a blind violinist...while wearing earplugs. The teacher can't directly see your instrument or how you are using it. They can only diagnose what you're doing (or not doing) based on how you sound and a handful of other external cues, relying on their experience and intuition. Teacher and student work together to relate what the teacher sees/hears to the physical sensations and actions the student is creating or experiencing as she produces the sound. Teacher then uses abstract or concrete verbal imagery to guide the student in producing an improved sound. Add to this the fun fact that a singer doesn't really hear herself properly; she sounds different to her audience than she does to herself, so the teacher also needs to serve as a pair of "trusted ears" that can give external feedback.

For me, progress is in unpredictable fits and spurts. I'll shed blood, sweat, and tears for weeks and weeks, working on some aspect of technique, not understanding what is going awry, puzzling over what the hell I am doing, not knowing when - or if - I will ever figure it out. Then I'll have a wave of blinding insights that catapult me forward. At least that's how it's been so far. It's a roller coaster and I always pray that salvation will be right around the corner.

But the proof is in the pudding. For all the anguish and cussing and swearing that goes on in the practice room (and believe me, I can get quite profane in there), I think I'm singing better than I ever have. There's plenty of stuff I still need to work out, but I feel like I'm at least aimed in the right direction.

Other recent singing-related stuff:

Updated my repertoire list.

Performed in choir concerts this past weekend. The program was "A Bach Family Christmas". I ended up landing the first soprano part in the "Suscepit Israel" trio in the Bach Magnificat. A solo aria would have been nice, but maybe I'll be ready for it at a later time. I'll be happy if I can just gradually make some progress up the soloist food chain in my choir. Anyway, I think I did a respectable job at the concert - not my personal best, what with performance nerves and the technical things I'm sorting out, but not overly shabby for where I am.

Attended and enjoyed a recital by a student soprano at Stanford. It's so educational to me to watch fellow students perform, observe their strengths and weaknesses, and try to apply that knowledge to my own singing. Also, it's a good place for me to get repertoire ideas that are appropriate to my skill level.

Watching the recital made me think, "if she can do it, I can do it!" Also, the whole audition and solo process for the Bach choir concerts made me realize that I need to get more public performance practice under my belt. I'd like to start small-scale and low-key, though. I've been thinking about where to do this. Maybe the NATS student recitals are a place to start, and I'm curious about the Fortnightly Music Club. I should go check out the scene at both of those. Also, there's the possibility of putting together a salon recital or house concert with friends. I could also bite the bullet and probe my teacher about a studio recital or other performing opportunities...but I'm afraid that if I open that can of worms, I may bite off more than I can chew!

Started recording my lessons, auditions, and performances. I read on NFCS that a lot of voice students do this for self-evaluation purposes and also to take notes after their lessons. It's been very enlightening so far.

Recent reading:

The Inner Voice - autobiography of Renée Fleming, contemporary American soprano. I don't yet have an informed opinion on her voice, but I found the book interesting. Some parts are sugar-coated (probably a prudent move in the singing business), but there is lots of voyeuristic detail on her training and the evolution of her technique, the business side of singing (often glossed over by those who want to promote the "high-minded artist" image), and a blow-by-blow account of what it's like to perform at the Met, the backstage area and crew and etc. And no backbiting celebrity tell-all gossip.

Callas at Juilliard: The Master Classes - Transcripts of superstar soprano Maria Callas' master classes in 1971-72. Still waiting on top of my reading pile...

Recent listening:

Susan Graham - Songs of Ned Rorem - I don't have an extensive knowledge of the American art song repertoire, but I love what I've heard so far, and especially composer Ned Rorem. I wanted to hear more of his stuff and get repertoire ideas for my lessons.

Liebeslieder-Walzer - burning the music into my brain for the Fortnightly rehearsal this weekend.

No comments: