Take that, little man in my head!

It’s a fortnight after the Senior Vocal Competitions and I am still basking in the reflected glow of my cups and trophies. Oh dear, that’s bragging isn’t? And we Kiwis aren’t meant to do that are we? Well convention can just go sulk in a corner. I worked damn hard and I deserve to have my wee moment in the sun, right? Right?? So those of you who don’t agree with me can go and read this Wikipedia entry and the rest of you two remaining readers can settle back with your libation of choice and join me in my cup-reflected glow. Because I’m a sharer.

So here are some highlights/moments. Friday night I had 3 classes – Operatic Aria, French Art Song and Oratorio. There had been one or two people pull out and the adjudicator discombobulated everyone by starting about 5 minutes early. I have a thing about being late and when it says in the competition rules ‘Competitors must be ready to start 15 minutes prior to their class’ I take that to mean I must be ready an hour before. Other people like to rock up at a bee’s whisker before the 15 minute deadline. Which is fine if  the classes are running according to the published times. Not quite so if things are ahead of schedule. There was a fair bit of frantic rushing to find people until everyone got the hang of things and started to turn up in time.

Operatic Aria goes well and the money note pings out so I am feeling good. I go to hand in my scores for French Art Song and Oratorio and have A Moment. One of those uh-oh-where-is-the-oratorio-copy-I-am-supposed-to-be-holding-when-I-sing moments. Realise I haven’t made a copy. OK, I’ll just take the original score and hand in my singing folder photocopy. Great, no problem. Oh wait, problem. The score is small. So small that it’s hard to read without my reading glasses. No matter, I know this pretty well I can deal with it. Heart rate returns to near normal. Nip back to the waiting area and ask where we are, someone says you’re on next. The bell dings, and I sail confidently onto the platform, Oratorio score in hand. I announce my piece and while helpfully providing a translation of the Latin, notice that my accompanist has gone back to her front row seat and is scrambling frantically through her folders of music. Poor Jo, I think, she’s picked up the wrong music. And then a voice intones from the back “This is the French Art Song class”.

Excellent. I’ll just fall into this big hole I am praying will open up underneath me. Only it doesn’t. “Right then” I say, “I’ll just go off and come back on again shall I?” Risk a quick glance at the adjudicator, she is smiling sympathetically, phew! Exit stage left not quite with indecent haste, drop the wretched Oratorio score, take a deep breath and sail back on to sympathetic applause. “I will now sing a French Art Song” . Much smiling from the audience. Think – I’ve stuffed this up before I even start so might as well enjoy it. And I did and so fortunately did the adjudicator.

Oratorio was interesting. I used the small score and only had one oopsy, where I looked down to where I thought I was to find that I was looking in the wrong place. It’s funny how your brain gets a memory of where things are on the page and then when that page size changes….

Saturday was British Art Song in splendid solitude in the morning, then a flurry in the afternoon – Lieder, Duet, Comic/Light Operatic and finally the Senior Scholarship. This was the one I really wanted, having fallen short in the past two years. And thanks to the combined efforts of my wonderful teacher, my lovely accompanist, my excellent voice therapist and some damn hard work from me, the little man who lives in my head remained almost entirely silent and I came off the platform happy. Yes, you read that right, I was happy! Here’s my happy face….


My singing teacher is about to have another baby so there will be a period of no lessons, but I have plans to do my LTCL (Recital) in the next year or two so I will carry on working on new rep. Oh and I’m going to be part of a very special performance of Handel’s Messiah in December, featuring my wonderful teacher Rebecca Ryan and Jonathan Lemalu. 



ShowerIt’s local singing competition time again. I’m sure it’s only been 6 months since the last one. I’m pleased to say that I’m a little better prepared than last time, thanks to the constant prodding of my lovely teacher. Oh except for the ‘own selection’ for the Scholarship section, which we dithered over for various reasons and then I chose an aria I’ve never even heard before, let alone sung. And promptly went on holiday, as you do when you have a new aria to learn and not a lot of time left to learn it.

So here’s the rep list:

  • French Art Song: Les Chemins de l’Amour (Poulenc)
  • British Art Song: Song of Shadows (Richard Rodney Bennett)
  • Lieder: Neue Liebe (Mendelssohn)
  • Oratorio: Cujus animam gementem (Pergolesi)
  • Duet: Domine (Mozart)
  • Operatic Aria: Kommt ein schlanker Bursch gegangen
  • Scholarship: Test – Bist du bei mir (Bach), own selection – Fair Robin I Love (Mechem)
  • Comic/Light Operatic: I want to sing in opera (David & Arthurs)

There’s a fair bit of singing in that lot. As I’ve mentioned before I make use of the shower to learn rep in other languages. But here’s what I’d really like in order  to make the shower into a music study:  A shower with a wall which encloses a large touch screen linked to some device on which all my scores are loaded, so I can turn the pages (a giant iPad if you will) and this screen is also linked to a piano accompaniment which I can sing to. Ok I just read that back and really all I’m asking to do is karaoke in the shower. How hard could it be to design something like that? If someone out there knows how to do it, I’ll patent it and then off you go, give me 25% of the profit and the first shower off the production line and we’ll call it quits.

Remember in my last blog post I talked about the little man who lives in my brain? I came across this great video of the gorgeous Joyce di Donato talking about her inner critic. I nearly put my neck out nodding away.

The Morning After

Competitions are done and dusted for another year. I got into the car after prize-giving and realised I could actually put something in the CD player that wasn’t a competition piece!* This will be a long post as I go through the classes, as much for me to reflect on as for you to read. Grab yourselves a cuppa and a bikkie and get comfortable. 

It was as always, a mixture of ups and downs, of learning and stumbling and conquering. Friday night started with Operatic Aria (Batti, batti). The first one’s always the hardest, at least according to my shaky knees. The piano for various reasons was not situated in the best place for the accompanists to be able to hear the singers and unfortunately this proved problematic for me and my lovely accompanist at the tempo change which was a  bit unnerving until we got back in sync a couple of bars later. All in all I gave a safe performance  but not a very characterful one, so only 3rd out of three. The winner was a 4th year Honours performance student from Dunedin so a cut above me technically. That’s not me making excuses by the way – I’m going to write of my performances in relation to my own standard.

Next up was British Art Song, the beautiful King David. It was my first time entering this class. I concentrated on telling the story and having a smooth line and I think my teacher – who unfortunately was out of town this weekend – would have been pleased with the climactic phrase which she had been urging me to make more of. I had some more timing issues but nothing too terrible  and from an audience point of view, not neccesarily obvious. The Dunedin singer sang Danny Boy beautifully. The adjudicator said when reading the results for this class “This singer sang a song I love and sang it so beautifully I nearly cried”. I leaned over to one of my singing friends and whispered “That’s her (meaning Dunedin singer) for first then”. And then the adjudicator said ‘First place to Christine McLeod” and my jaw nearly hit the floor! So that was a very nice moment for me.

Next morning was a very early start – FB friends will have seen my grumbles about being asked to sing Oratorio at 9am in the morning! Fortunately I had French Art (Mandoline – Faure) to warm me into it. I was, sadly, the only entrant in that class. It amazes me that so few people down here sing French Art songs, there are so many to-die for pieces. Anyway, I got first and the adjudicator pointed out that she was not at all obliged to give a first, or second or third for that matter. but that I deserved first. I think I sang it reasonably well although I fluffed a couple of words which annoyed me. Next Oratorio, With Verdure Clad. This one took a LOT of work for me and I still feel I’ve got a long way to go with it. However I actually felt quite good during the performance and finally did as my teacher tried to get me to do, and ‘went operatic’ at the high arching phrases. Isn’t in amazing (<— sarcasm) how it’s so much easier when you do what your teacher tells you? End result, a second, which I was very happy with.

Next up Lieder, Schubert’s ‘Nacht und Traume.’ Only 2 pages but oh what 2 pages they are. I seriously would have liked an extra pair of lungs for the loooooong phrases. Was reasonably happy with the way I sang it and got a 3rd.

Then the big one, the Scholarship class. I thought I might have had a good shot at it this year, but after hearing the Dunedin singer, I knew it was unlikely. So I decided to forget about trying to win and just get out there and have fun. I wore my ‘singing dress‘ as I wanted something that I could make look a bit girly and flirty for my contrasting piece (Les Filles de Cadix). Firstly the test piece, Spring Goeth All in White. It went well although I could have put more contrast into it. Then Les Filles. As I have mentioned before, I tend to be a bit of a statue (apart from the old shaky knees) when I sing, so I decided I was going to really move and act out the part. And I did!! And as I sang I could see the audience smiling as they got the characterisation. There were moments in the singing where things definitely weren’t perfect but I reckon I did a pretty good job of it overall. And when I popped out the top C# at the end, frankly I didn’t care about the competition, I just was just mentally going “Woooo!” So no win, but definately satisfaction that I had made some progress with my singing. 

So a good weekend, meeting old friends, hearing voices developing, hearing new music (Andres Maienlied!), and winning a pretty cup. And best of all? My voice survived without going all husky. 

*For enquiring minds, I started with ‘Ca’ the Yowes’ from Dougie Macleans’ ‘Tribute’ CD

Keep calm and….panic!

So, a little update on progress with my competition pieces. This assumes of course, that I have actually made progress. Some days it’s a case of 3 steps forward, 2 backwards. And if I’m honest, sometimes it’s 3 forwards and 4 backwards. At least that’s what it feels like. Updates in red:

  • Own Selection – not yet decided a.k.a. ‘what can I dredge up from the past and polish up quickly.’ I have a two-page baroque piece (but new!) that might do the trick. Decision to be made this week.
  • French Art Song – Mandoline (Faure) – completely new. Still a lot of work to do, but starting to get a feel for it. 
  • British Art Song – King David (Howells) – at performance level. Refining.
  • Oratorio – With Verdure Clad (Haydn) – well on the way. Almost there. Feeling a lot more comfortable with it. 
  • Lieder – Nacht und Traume (Schubert) – prepared last year, but not sung. Pretty good, but need to get it fully from memory.
  • Operatic Aria – Batti, batti o bel Masetto (Mozart) – completely new. Getting to grips with it but still a lot of work to do.
  • Scholarship – Spring Goeth All in White (Caskie) – test piece, completely new, don’t even have the music yet now I have the music and it is straightforward, so lots of emphasis on accuracy of time and dynamic markings and Les Filles de Cadix (Delibes) – contrasting piece, slowly getting there. Need to start letting myself go and let it trip off my tongue, not to mention learn the second verse from memory.
So here we are, less than four weeks to go. Looking at that list I’m am vascillating between ‘there is no. way. in. hell. I am going to get all that up to performance standard in the time left’ and ‘sleep is over-rated anyway’. Procrastination is a terrible thing isn’t it? (I’m looking at you, Sarah-in-Yepoon). There’s always an excuse to put off practice – the evil Facebook full of kittens doing cute things and killer quotes that have to be shared, food to be eaten (which in turn renders us incapable of singing due to a stomach so full we can’t inflate our lungs – oh, is that just me?) and, inexplicably, housework that suddenly becomes a great attraction “Look at that great pile of washing that needs to be folded and put away, I have ignored it for a week but it simply has to be done right now”.

And then I think back to last year, pre-Competition, and the words ‘Groundhog Day’ spring to mind. You’d think I’d learn, eh? I’ve tried to do some headology (that’s psychoanalysis for plebs) on this trait of mine and all I can come up with is that I’m afraid that even if I do 6 bajillion-kadillion* hours of practice, I won’t actually get any better – evidence to the contrary – and so I avoid failure by not actually doing anything. So this really is more than you wanted to know about the inside of my head. Feel free to tell me about the inside of your head in relation to singing practice. I might just learn something. 

* This is a bona-fide measurement of quantity. My 8 year old says so.

I have to learn how many new things?!

I’ve just emailed my competition entry away – there is no turning back. So this is what I’ve let myself in for:

  • Own Selection – not yet decided a.k.a. ‘what can I dredge up from the past and polish up quickly’
  • French Art Song – Mandoline (Faure) – completely new
  • British Art Song – King David (Howells) – at performance level
  • Oratorio – With Verdure Clad (Haydn) – well on the way
  • Lieder – Nacht und Traume (Schubert) – prepared last year, but not sung
  • Operatic Aria – Batti, batti o bel Masetto (Mozart) – completely new
  • Scholarship – Spring Goeth All in White (Caskie) – test piece, completely new, don’t even have the music yet and Les Filles de Cadix (Delibes) – contrasting piece, slowly getting there.
So there you have it, 3 completely new pieces in 7 weeks as well as works-in-progress. Which would be a doddle if I was a singer by trade, but I’m not. I work full-time, have a soon-to-be 8 year old to keep alive and preferably not breaking bones, a partner who works shift work, a choir to sing in and conduct with and there’s that wee sporting competition currently going on that has sucked away vast amounts of sleep time leaving me feeling like a three day old lettuce leaf. 

I guess everyone has their own unique way of learning new rep. My personal little quirk for learning words of the non-English variety is to print them out with the English translation alongside, laminate, punch two holes at the top and insert string. Then, and this is the good bit (and explains the necessity for lamination), I hang it over the shower head. And there it is, slap bang in my face first thing in the morning, nice steamy environment and relaxed vocal chords. The other half takes it in his stride – I have yet to determine if he has learnt Nacht und Traume by osmosis. I wonder what he will make of the translation of Batti, batti?

Competitions or Why Do I Put Myself Through This?

So the Annual Competitions Society syllabus arrived the other day. You probably think it’s a bit odd that someone of my *ahem* advanced years (for singing, in all other respects I am 35 and holding, thank you) should enter. But you must remember that I didn’t follow the usual sort of path – singing lessons from age 8/11/13, entering the local Competitions Society vocal section each year, under-grad vocal study at University, post-grad studies at a prestigious school in some exotic location. Yes, I sang all through school, but only in choirs. No training. At uni, sure I did a degree majoring in Music, but again no vocal training and anyway I was busy flaunting…erm…flauting. 

So I am, in fact, barely a teenager in singing terms – without the pimples but with all the emotional angst. And in my defence there are people older than me who compete. It also completely exhausts me with nervousness. So why do I do it? 

1. I learn a lot. From the adjucator’s remarks to me and other competitors, from the audience, from my fellow/felless competitors. I hear new music, I hear what other people do or don’t do. 

2.  The cameraderie. With the exception of the odd person, everybody wants everybody else to do well. We want to hear and see the improvement from year to year. We are delighted when someone finally gets a long-coveted first placing. 

3.  The sense of achievement. Maybe it’s taking a song from the previous year and using this year’s advances in technique on it. Or integrating a new technique into all of your songs. 

So my teacher is deciding on which songs for which categories. I can tell you that the list will include Delibes’ ‘Les Filles de Cadix’ – fun!