Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Singing Lessons

After a few hours with two different teachers I am beginning to understand what I don’t know about singing!  It’s like learning anything physical for the first time, like riding a bike or swimming, it doesn’t come naturally. From time to time I hit some resonances somewhere in my body or in my head and the sound comes out effortlessly. At other times it just doesn’t happen and the difficulty that I am having producing the sound has increased my respect for singers with great voices.

Corinne is more formal, with an active performing career. She is very “sympa” and I like her lessons because they are intense. She tries to get you there by using lots of visual images, but I didn’t find that particularly helpful because I needed to hear and feel for myself what she is trying to explain.

The other teacher, is literally very hands on. She likes to poke, prod, push and jiggle you about until you start to relax, or get into the right position. The sessions with her were in the form of a workshop over a weekend in which there were eight students of varying abilities. It was very instructive to watch others struggling to create the sound she wanted, or to interpret a song with feeling. Sometimes that helped me learn a lot, almost as much as I did during my individual sessions with her. At other times listening to the others doing their exercises was tedious or even occasionally intrusive.

She has a wide repertoire of techniques and varies them to suit the individual. At one point she had me marching up and down, stamping my feet and shouting, with a lady either side of me doing the same but better. Quite frankly that didn’t work, and the minute that I stopped moving I immediately produced the sound she wanted. It made me think of the old joke about Gerald Ford, (when he kept falling over it was said that he couldn’t walk and f*rt at the same time). That, of course, caused me to burst out laughing and then I had to try and explain the joke in French!
I was better when I was truly singing, rather than doing voice production, and I surprised myself and the others by singing three of the exercise pieces by Vaccai on the second run through in each case. But I couldn’t do it when she started moving my head about so that I couldn’t see the music anymore.

On the second day she used various members of the group to sing pieces together. Sometimes as a backing for an individual who needed support, at other times in duos or trios. Two of the men in the group sang a Russian song with a superb bass sonority, ideally suited to the pitch and the language of the piece. It really was exceptional and good enough to perform anywhere. Later four of us were spontaneously swaying gently and humming the tune of “Memory” behind one of the ladies who was singing the words.

It was a good group, with a very supportive friendly atmosphere and, although I wasn’t certain at first, I have decided to go to at least one other workshop in March. I will need to prepare something for that. I didn’t know that I should have prepared a couple of solo pieces for this workshop, and she didn’t seem to like me singing the tenor part of the choral pieces that I had brought with me. I have never attempted any solos before but I like the sound of Italian, the vowels are so open and ideal for singing. Although I would like to try some of the Opera classics like “La Donna e Mobile” from Rigoletto or “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée,” from Carmen, when I listened to Roberto Alagna singing those I was very discouraged. I think perhaps my voice is more suited to Mozart and that will have to be transposed down!

I am seeing Corinne again this week; perhaps I should ask her to suggest something less ambitious.


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