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.

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