The year that was. Because I forgot to write about it in the year that was.

Hildegard_von_BingenIt’s been a while – yes alright 10 months! – since my last post. I’m not even going to apologise. Really, what could I say – the dog ate my blog posts?

I’ve done lots of singing, mostly of the church/sacred variety, both in groups and solo. I won’t bore you with all the details but will pick out a selection of highlights.

10th Century plainchant

The most interesting item I sang was O Ignis Spiritus by Hildegard von Bingen, a very interesting and gifted 10th century abbess. I was initially asked to sing all 10 stanzas myself, but after having a look at it, I realised it was going to be no easy task to learn (I already had a good load for that concert) and so the concert organiser suggested we rope in another of the soloists to share the burden. Some time on from that, I realised that that if we added in yet another voice we could do 3 stanzas each and then sing the final one together. That way there would be different voice timbres to create a little variety. And y’all thought I was just being lazy didn’t you? Shame on you!

Some Caccini. Or was it?

The solo item I sang in that same concert was the ‘Caccini’ Ave Maria. I wrote Caccini in the written equivalent of those air quotes you make with your fingers – think Dr Evil from the Austin Powers movies and his “sophisticated heat beam which we called a “laser.” “.. ..and where was I?……oh right, so it really wasn’t written by Caccini at all, as anyone with any knowledge of his music could have instantly told you on hearing it, but was erroneously attributed to him. Which is rather ironic given his history. In essence it’s quite trite, but it’s full of those typical Baroque falling fifths which makes the audience feel a bit soppy when they hear them without knowing why (unless they know about these things in which case they will roll their eyes while feeling soppy). It’s an easy sing with a nice soaring bit that makes you sound amazing. Which is rather useful if, like me, you aren’t actually amazing.

Headlights and Eyebrows

Two concerts in December gave me something of a breakthrough in terms of sound production. Many years ago I was singing in a choir where the conductor talked about needing to ‘turn on your headlights’ meaning keep your cheekbones up. And you thought it meant something else entirely didn’t you, you naughty people! Oh…that was just me? Ahem. Moving right along. I had forgotten about headlights until a singing friend – Hi Michelle! – reminded me about it, and also added in keeping the eyebrows up, the two together creating changes in the palate and facial musculature which allow the sound to brighten as well come out more easily in higher registers. In the first concert I had to sing the Benedictus duet in Saint-Saens’ Christmas Oratorio which near the end has a lovely soaring line up to a top C. I nailed it, headlights beaming. The second concert I sang Handel’s ‘Let the Bright Seraphim’ and my fellow singers said they could hear an immediate brightening in the sound when I turned my headlights on.

The year ended with another rendition of the New Zealand National anthem at a rodeo, this time in Te Anau. Unlike a number of the cowboys, I didn’t require the ministrations of the St John’s medics afterwards.

Right you can have a bit of breather now while I start on the next post – stop the snickering, it won’t take a year this time!

Getting back to basics

As I have mentioned previously, I haven’t had any singing lessons this year up until very recently, due to my teacher give birth to the most delightful little girl. As well as that, I haven’t been back to see my voice therapist since late January.  And although I have had quite a bit of singing over the last couple of months, I have to confess that I have not kept up my vocal exercises nearly as well as I should. And my voice is definitely showing it. Huskiness after a full-on choir rehearsal. Not being able to vocalise as high as previously. Old habits creeping back. 

I guess singers are athletes and we have to train to keep in shape, only instead of building up big biceps for throwing a javelin or shoulders the width of a small country for swimming we have to exercise our vocal folds and train the muscles needed to give us breath support. 

At my first proper lesson for the year a couple of weeks ago, I left feeling as if I would never sing properly again. I hasten to add that this has nothing whatsoever to do with the skill of the teacher and everything to do with me not keeping vocally in shape. Where was the E flat 6 I had previously popped up to? Why couldn’t I sing above a B without feeling like I had lockjaw? It felt like the more I tried the worse I sounded. And trying not to cry while singing doesn’t help either. So a salutory lesson for me. 

I have now booked in a session with my voice therapist this weekend and hopefully this will put me back on the straight and narrow. 

The other thing that is frustrating me about singing right now is not being able to control my larynx. I understand the concept of how the larynx moves in relation to the pitch but do you think I can move it (or let it move) accordingly? Honestly sometimes I’d like to go all Aliens v Predators on myself and yank the damn thing into the right position. My teacher says my tongue also misbehaves and becomes a law unto itself. I’m riddled with body parts that blow figurative raspberries at me. Oh the indignity of it!

Enough of the whining. Assuming my larynx comes to the party, I will be singing Mahler’s ‘Wer Hat dies Liedlein Erdacht’ this Friday at a fund-raising concert. Practicing this with my teacher the other day, she had me waltzing around the room to assist me in getting the right feel to it and then accessing that feeling while standing still and singing. By golly it works.