It goes like this.
I park my car on the street across the driveway. I check my look in the rear view mirror because appearances matter. As I walk around to the passenger side to gather up the heavy satchel, the purse, the stainless steel water bottle, I pause to look down a few blocks to the ocean where I can see the water line of the shelf out some distance from the beach. Often it is grey from high fog.
The wrought iron gate on the house has an old label, “Please push both buttons.” I wait for the buzz which lets me press the bars open, and hear the echo in the turret as the second floor door is opened. Careful to quietly close the gate, I walk down the foyer and climb up the winding stairs where I can hear another singer’s lesson in progress.
I dump my burdens on the floor, close the door, and head into the kitchen to select a mug and a tea bag. I imagine most of us have a favorite. The cups are souvenirs from productions or festivals. Of course, I favor one or two from places I’ve been. Peppermint. Always. A turn of the knob on the stove and I wait for the kettle to rumble.
And I listen to the lesson or coaching in progress as I wait with my tea, seated out of view on the loveseat behind the kitchen wall. Those ten minutes are interesting and often instructive. I pay attention.
This particular ritual plays out weekly, but sometimes more or less frequently, depending on my needs. I am bound to all kinds of ritual. The predictability sets up routine which in turn summons my attention, and inspires me to focus on the task at hand. Ritual may help us create meaning or intention. Rituals strengthen connection between us.
In music, as with most big brain activities, repetition and ritual are daily bread.
Over the summer I have read and skimmed through seventeen books on repertoire, musicology, pedagogy, and read through almost as many opera scores and song cycles. This has left me with more questions than answers, but has brought me to certain conclusions.
I am disturbed by the pedagogues, many of whom are not singers, but theoreticians related in ways similar to musicologists. I am reminded of the adage that “music should be seen and not heard” so often smirked toward the direction of our academic brethren. There is much voodoo and little common sense. Most alarming are those tomes dedicated to surveying “great singers on singing.” In some cases, it is obvious by the way a singer speaks of her technique just why she has vocal issues.
As to answers to my questions, I have begun a sure process and feel I understand my own vocal direction. I am a beginner in my new fach. I am looking at repertoire which other folks, audience and singer alike already know, but I do not. Music I should have known but never familiarized myself with because I had so much to learn within the bandwidth in which I used to sing. Had you told me that at this point in life I would be best suited to Strauss and Puccini I would have thought you absolutely mad. With confidence my teacher and two coaches have finally convinced me otherwise.
I still have books to read and dissect. The San Francisco Main Library has been a regular haunt as I work through the music stacks and the audio section. I’ve learned what I do not know and must now learn. This is a very good thing.
(c)GoshGusMusic (ascap) 2011
Non vi fate sentir, per carita!
Di pasta simile son tutti quanti,
Le fronde mobili, l’aure incostanti
Han piu degli uomini stabilita!
Mentite lagrime, fallaci sguardi
Voci ingannevoli, vezzi bugiardi
Son le primarie lor qualita!
In noi non amano che il lor diletto,
Poi ci dispregiano, neganci affetto,
Ne val da barbari chieder pieta!
Paghiam o femmine, d’ugual moneta
Questa malefica razza indiscreta.
Amiam per comodo, per vanita!
Bravo Lorenzo Da Ponte.
Instrumentalists look at the key signature before beginning to play a new piece. Being a typical singer in this regard, I look at the inclusive range of notes. Two considerations: the extreme- how low, how high, and the tessitura, the Italian word for “texture” – the place where most of the notes call home.
For me, the parallels of these matters to my current situation is telling. What are my limits, my breadth of tolerance? How do I live in my home when it is no longer where I belong? How do I find my way to a comfortable tessitura? And how do I find the strength and stamina to live those long, arching lines and difficult passage work, which fly naturally from my throat, yet not from my environment?
So I begin. Not to fret over the key, because I own the gift of relative pitch. Rather, to find that tessitura which will lead me forward into a new way of living.