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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Being Prepared: a pseudo-lecture

It's difficult nowadays to prepare for a first coaching. 
I guess I'm being facetious by writing that.
Let's explore the modern day singer's approach:   
You get your xeroxed score/aria/scene given to you instead of setting out to Patelson's to find the piano vocal among the stacks.  You dutifully highlight your text and write - by hand - the Nico Castel IPA underneath (not to mention his word for word), instead of looking up the words in your Italian/French/Czech dictionary - struggling to understand the 18th century language changed by time.
Now you are ready to prepare: you turn on your computer and google "Boheme Act Three" (or some such work) to get the Wikipedia article with the background on the particular masterpiece you're getting ready to tackle.  Then the real preparation begins: it's called YOUTUBE.
After viewing the dozen or so videos of this famous music, YOU ARE READY.  You've sung along, made fun of the artists' vibrato, posted some comment good or bad, and thought lots about how you'd sing it.

Oops, maybe not.  There's more to it than that.  It's ALOT more interesting and fun than that.  I'd recommend pouring over the text to find its meaning first.  Then I'd hie thee to a piano and slowly get to know your vocal part -- no singing needed.  Try speaking the text in rhythm first. Then plunk out the notes - humming along.  Once the intervals and/or tune seems clear, add in your voice - on your favorite vowel.  Once that becomes easy, take a big breath and slowly add the text to the vocal line. REPEAT REPEAT REPEAT.
After much time spent communing with a great composer, you're probably getting ready for your first coaching.  You've just spent time inside the mind of an artist, how incredible is that?!

Alright, I admit it -- I use Wikipedia every now and then.  Also Youtube -- it's such a vast treasure trove of art that just wasn't accessible to my generation on up.  However, none of these new tools can substitute for solitary practice - particularly Nico's ingenious IPA bibles. It's not enough to know what Nico tells you is correct, or to take an alternate high note because So and So did.  You have to understand what the piece is about from the inside.  That takes time and thought.

Unfortunately, I think too many young singers are spending their time reading blogs, posting on FB, following The Met on Twitter, and checking their email incessantly.  I also think that just when it might seem like the time to spend alone in a practice room, it is easier to go see the latest Harry Potter movie or head off to the bars to laugh with newly made friends.  The learning process gets short shrift and that's really too bad.

Enjoy the learning process -- it's not work, it's a rare pleasure that we artists have!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Days Off

Days off in the summer are always the most busy days, particularly when you're at a summer program that goes all day and all night for six days straight.  The Day Off is the day to get the laundry done, pay bills, clean up the cabin, run to the grocery store, get the car washed and cleaned out and - most importantly - practice for the coming week ahead as there is NO time to practice otherwise!
For my wife and I, the Day Off means FAMILY DAY as well.  We've tried to make the Brevard day off a big day with our boys - going hiking, or a movie, or seeing some tourist site like the Biltmore.  
Today we're all up early and deciding what to do - I need to practice, we have no clean clothes or milk in the cabin, and our boys want to do "something fun".
We'll see how the Day Off ends -- tonight Keith Lockhart, Mary Phillips, and Michael Hendrick perform Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde -- something that would be nice to see on a Day Off, but somehow I bet I'm in a car driving back from Bat Cave, North Carolina with two exhausted boys in the back seat and a wife who just wants to get back in time for a good night's sleep before teaching 12 lessons on Monday!
Hope your days this summer are as fun-filled as ours!
I promise to post more regularly!