Saturday, March 10, 2012

Song Studies of the Moment

One of the main reasons I started this blog was to keep a record of my thoughts and actions and feelings, since I frankly have a terrible memory. I want a clear snapshot of these moments in time, so I can look back with perspective and understand who I was at this time… maybe also use this blog to look at myself right now and get to understand who I am today.

But I realized that it’s not just the touchy-feely stuff I need to remember, it’s also what I’m working on, what I’m having trouble with, and what I’m learning. So this is an overview of the things I’m currently working on in my voice lessons.

La Villanelle by Eva Dell'Acqua – This is a classical piece published in 1893, and I love that it was written by a female composer during a time when men probably held that title 99% of the time. It’s all in French, and when you look at the translation, you realize that this beautiful, delicate, romantic song is all about…a sparrow. Like, swooping around and stuff. I’m not big into birds, but I try to pretend I am when I sing this.

The song is crazy hard! First, it’s in French, which isn’t always the easiest language to speak. Second, it turns out that sung French is different than spoken French – for example, an “e” at the end of a word that would normally be silent when spoken may actually be pronounced when singing. Plus, there are some very tricky cadenzas (not CRE-denzas, which are furniture).

Side note: A cadenza is an improvised, ornamental series of notes – basically a show-off passage where the background music becomes very minimal or stops altogether, and the singer just shows 'em what she’s got. Except that the “improvised” part is kind of bogus, as they are often written into the music.

Anyway, there are some crazy runs and trills and overall the range on this piece is pretty high, so I literally laughed when my voice teacher told me she wanted me to start learning it. The first time I sat down with the sheet music, I had NO clue how to start. I began by speaking the words and getting the pronunciation down first, then listened to some recordings of the song over and over to get the tune in my head, and then finally started trying to sing it.

I’ve been working on it off and on for about 6-8 months, and at this point, I can do a pretty darn passable job on it, which is sort of amazing to me. As it turns out, it’s a little surprising to my teacher too. She told me a month ago that she hadn’t actually thought I would be able to sing it, she had just given it to me to challenge me and as a learning exercise. But I ended up managing to sing it, so go me!

Of course, I’m still a far cry from the professionals’ take on this song – check out Natalie Dessay’s recording or Sumi Jo’s performance at Theatre Musical de Paris – they are phenomenal.

The Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber –This one is a little embarrassing to admit. As a former theatre professional, I feel like there are certain shows that are inherently uncool due to their overwhelming commercial success and popularity with high school drama clubs, and this is one of them. And I will say that this was my teacher’s choice, not mine!

But those snobby disclaimers aside, I have to admit that the music is lovely and fun to sing. And now for another embarrassing admission – I actually don’t even know the show! I’ve never seen it or read the novel, and only recognize about a third of the songs. (insert embarrassed smiley here)  So while I’m enjoying learning the songs – Think of Me is a favorite so far, along with the title piece – I know I really need to see the damn show to really understand the meanings of all the songs. The movie version will have to do – Netflix, here I come!

Kaleidoscope Heart by Sara Bareilles – This album is currently a favorite of mine, and my sister gave me the full songbook of it for Christmas a few months ago. The book is artist-approved, so it’s incredibly true to how she actually sings her songs, which I love. What I’m discovering is that, as easy as it is to sing along with a song playing in your car, when you’re on your own, it is so much harder!!

Maybe it’s my own lack of self-confidence, but the difference is striking to me. When I sing along with the CD, I can really let go and go for it and belt things out, but when I’m on my own, it’s like my safety net is gone, and I’m suddenly uncertain of every word and note. Frustrating, but a good experience to work through.

This is also a good series of songs for me to work on because my voice, for whatever reason, seems to be much more suited to classical singing. While I can recognize that it’s beautiful, most classical music just doesn’t really get me too excited – I love indie-pop and singer-songwriter type music. This is an ongoing issue that I’ve been struggling with and will need to blog about at some point – can I coerce my voice to sing pop music or am I going to have to learn to love classical? This all falls under the big “finding my voice” topic, which I will blog about soon.

In the meantime, I have a sparrow to go sing about.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Me of the Future

Obligatory apology and disclaimer: I realize it’s been over a month since my last post. In my defense, I was working 60 hours a week leading up to a crazy-huge two-week event for work, so the past month has been insane. I really hope I can stick to posting…well, more often and more regularly than I have been. (Let’s keep specific schedules out of the equation in the interest of not setting ourselves up for failure, shall we?)

Something I love thinking about is the time in my life several years back when my husband and I were both working in the non-profit theatre world. These were, financially, The Tough Years. Together, in our best year, we brought home a combined $55,000 – before taxes. This was in Philadelphia, where you get taxed both for working there and for living there, and where rent for a small place in a non-scary area just at the edge of the getting-scary neighborhood was an easy grand a month.

I remember the time when our truck broke down on the highway as we drove to my sister’s place in upstate NY for Christmas. We had our dog with us, because we couldn’t afford to kennel her. We had to get towed all the way back home, the two of us crammed in the cab of the tow truck with the dog between our feet on the floor. Then we had to call a friend of ours to help us rent a car, because neither of us had a credit card due to our poor credit. When I found out a few days later that the repairs would cost $1,200, I cried like a baby.

I remember of the time we scraped enough together for a monthly SEPTA pass for my husband, since it was cheaper than using weekly passes – and then he accidentally left it on the train after just a few days. I cried at that one too – we literally didn’t have the couple hundred bucks to replace the pass.

Our big treat back in those days, when we could afford it, was to get a Chinese take-out dinner (which we would walk to pick up, rather than pay a delivery charge) which amounted to $8. It was such a good feeling to treat ourselves in this small way when we could – and we couldn’t always.

I remember the times my sister came to visit us and brought us Pampers because all we could afford were crappy, cardboard-like generic diapers…the time our electricity got shut off and I had to change my daughter’s diaper by candlelight…the countless times we had “trouble with our phone company,” which is what we told our family when they couldn’t get a hold of us because our service had been shut off due to non-payment.

In short, we had unsteady jobs, no more than a couple hundred dollars in the bank, terrible credit, and an uncertain future – basically the exact opposite of our lives today.

Things just seemed so hopeless during those years that I often imagine what would have happened if the me-of-2012 went back in time and visited the me-of-2005. If I could have told myself how different our lives would be in just a few short years, what would have been my response? How would I have reacted to being told that, instead of renting a small row home, we would own a five-bedroom, three-floor house filled with furniture that we actually bought new? That we would both be working for large, successful companies and be making, well, significantly more than we were back then? That we would be blessed with a son in addition to our daughter and not have to rely on gifts and hand-me-downs to care for him, that we’d be able to give to multiple charities and our church and own two reliable vehicles, and that we’d have excellent credit scores, a solid savings account and retirement plans?

I know I never would have believed all of this was possible back then – such a complete financial turnaround and the achievement of so many of our goals would have seemed like a pie-in-the-sky dream and nothing more. I’m sure I would have laughed to be told such a ludicrous story.

But the flip side of this kind of reflection on the past – why I really like thinking about all this – actually has to do with the future. I can only wonder: if the me-of-2019 showed up today to tell me all about my life seven years in the future, what would she say? Given all the fantastic changes that have taken place in our lives over the past seven years, what more might life hold in store? What ludicrous story might I hear from the me of the future?

I truly could never have imagined back then what our lives would be like today, so I just love contemplating what unimaginable blessings and surprises await us over the next several years. If our lives today reflect what would have been crazy, pie-in-the-sky dreams back in 2005, maybe I should start conjuring up some crazy, pie-in-the-sky dreams today. Who knows? They might just come true down the road…