Getting stuck in

Yes, I am still alive. And singing. There was a bit of a lull once Christmas arrived and the country went on summer holiday, and I allowed myself to be lazy and not practice properly. But now we are back into it, indeed we are. I’m talking like the Queen. I shall revert to first-person so you don’t have to curtsy while you read this.

I already have several performances lined up for the first half of the year. First up is a Concert South concert on 17 March. You may remember the Concert South concert I was preparing for at about the same time last year and my dalliances with metaphorical rose bushes. There’s still a thorn or two lurking to catch me this time too, but my bicycle doesn’t wobble as much when it spies a top C or in this case a top C#. I have been asked to sing Les Filles de Cadix as well as be part of a trio for two songs – Lift Thine Eyes from Elijah and Handel’s Where E’er You Walk. I’m doing the middle part for the Handel and I’m having to concentrate mightily to fight off the tendency to sing the tune. I also get to repeat Les Filles at Womens Club about 10 days later.

Hard on the heels of that is Easter and a full programme of music starting with a service on Holy Thursday evening and finishing with Easter Vespers on the Sunday afternoon. I’ve got some nice solos amongst all of that including the Mozart Ora Pro Nobis.

On April 28th as part of the Southland Arts Festival, A Capella Singers is doing a programme of Rutter music with the main work being his Magnificat. It’s a very approachable work but, dare I say it, could do with a little editing here and there. Is that heresy? If this blog post stops abruptly at some later point, with little whisps of black smoke curling up from the last few words, you can assume I have been smote. Or should that be smitten? Either way it ended badly. 

But despite this potentially terrible fate awaiting me, I shall bravely soldier on. The work calls for a soprano soloist and our director decided that she would divvy up the three solo bits amongst choir members. We were asked to audition, preparing one of the three solos. I worked on the Misericordiae, which is the hardest of the 3 (for me anyway) but, fortunately as it turns out, also had a look over Esurientes. I turned up for my audition and the director said “Right let’s do Esurientes!” I got through alright – it’s a piece that lies nicely and suits my voice. The director apparently agrees with me as that’s what I have been given.

And finally in June there are two concerts with a mixture of choir work and solos. So plenty to work on, and I’m right into singing lessons again picking up new repertoire. I’m doing a gorgeously lush-almost-to-the-point-of-corny French song Les Chemins de l’Amour by Poulenc. Listen to this version by Veronique Gens. This is very different from the Poulenc I know! 

I’m also learning one of Richard Rodney Bennett’s ‘Dream Songs’ – The Song of Shadows, a lovely atmospheric piece.

I had a session with the voice therapist yesterday, which prompted some interesting thoughts as I drove home. But that’s for another blog post.

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.

Learning to breathe like a baby

I had my first proper session with the speech therapist (Vanessa Jerome, in Dunedin) yesterday. She identified from  my initial assessment that my speaking voice is not as it should be and feels that if we can work on that, it will flow through to my singing voice. So back to absolute basics – learning to breathe properly.
It’s amazing how an hour of breathing exercises just flew by. Envisaging myself rhythmically inflating and deflating a balloon with no tension. Then we added an sssssss on the exhalation. Another discovery – I tense my neck muscles on ssssss. I found that by putting my hand gently on my throat I could feel what I was doing and adjust accordingly.  Hmmm yes, but it wouldn’t be a good look in a recital! Best I learn to do it without the physical prompt.
Then using zzzzzzzz. When I got it all together it was amazing feeling of power with no effort. So now I need to practice all this and be aware of what I am doing so that eventually it becomes automatic.
Tomorrow I have two lots of singing – firstly normal Basilica choir which will include ‘How Beautiful are the Feet’ from Messiah and then in the afternoon A Capella Singers has been invited to sing at the St John’s Church 150th celebrations. So a couple of opportunities to try and put the above into practice. Wish me luck!