SingingSongsTeaching

February 19, 2013

Who’s Behind the Screen:Terrified Adult or Spotlight Whore?

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At last Sunday’s Terrified Adults and Spotlight Whores Sunday Afternoon Musicale I asked how many of the seven participants considered themselves Terrified Adults.  Six hands went up. And so we began.

Stephanie and I sang “The Flower Duet” from Lakme with me playing the bare bones of the accompaniment.  We had been working on this piece for months and our voices rang together in a balance we hadn’t yet found in rehearsal.  Some students, I’ve noticed, need an audience to sing their best. They rise to the enhanced chemistry of other people listening to them.

Then Stephanie sang Schubert.   I asked her to explain to the audience why a nice Jewish girl was singing “Ave Maria.” As a hospice OT Stephanie wanted to be able to sing it for her Catholic patients.  She now knows it by heart in the Latin.   I can think of no richer sauce than Stephanie’s voice stirring the surroundings of a person lying in hospice, fingering her rosary, and living her last moments on earth.

I asked Nina (rhymes with Dinah) to sing next because I knew she would help promote use of The Privacy Screen in Performance.  All week long my students had been experimenting with a screen in various ways just to see what it felt like.  Nina boxed herself in and sang “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.”  Then we screened her in such a way that she and I could see each other but the audience couldn’t see her.  She sang “I Have Twelve Oxen.” Don’t laugh.  It’s a classical song by John Ireland.  Nina reported that she liked being inside the box.  It didn’t have anything to do with not being seen or not seeing the audience.

“It was,” she said, “a different way to have an audience.  The acoustics are different. You and your voice are in this safe, small space—like the shower.  The screen shuts out other stimuli and reflects your voice to you.”

Exactly. It gives an experience of being with yourself , and your voice reflecting yourself.  Of being alone with yourself and yet also knowing that you aren’t alone.  The most compelling performances take place in the balance of these two states.

Eileen found that balance when she sang “Send in the Clowns.” She teared up every time she rehearsed it with me; and she was determined she would get through it without crying.  Her feelings built up as she sang and the suppressed tears behind her singing contributed to an affecting performance, at the end of which, she did cry and so did some of the audience.  From my point of view as the accompanist, I felt swept into that magical space where I felt privileged to play in the glow of those few minutes of that particular song, gone now, never to be recovered.

Then Eileen cut loose with a rendition of “Somewhere” from West Side Story.  First she sang it straight, and then she sang it using every corner of her voice that she could find: she whined, roared, hooted, sighed; and with a sweep of her hand, invited the audience to join her.

There’s nothing quite like the relaxation of a bunch of tense adults after they’ve been allowed to behave like children for a few minutes.  I calculated that it was the best time for Eva to sing “Regnava nel silenzio” from Lucia de Lammermoor, because as someone said afterwards, “that has got to be about the hardest piece there is in the world.”

Eva and I have only been working for about a year together.  It took one lesson for me to recognize a natural coloratura.  When she gets past her passagio and achieves her high G, her face and body relax noticeably and she flies up almost another octave like—well, there’s a reason the coloratura literature is sometimes referred to as “bird songs.”   In Regnava, we discovered a natural trill that thrums like a bird’s heartbeat.  Trilling is hard to teach, and can be hard to do, but Eva only needed it demonstrated once.  Her trills and her high notes were impressive on Sunday.

Anna sang next.  She, too, loved using the screen.  (It was actually originally her screen.  She donated it to the cause of The Terrified Adults).  We set it up so she and I could see each other but she wasn’t visible to the audience.  This gave her cover to hiss “Not so fast!” two pages into “Carol from an Irish Cabin.”

Anna used the screen in the way I would have: to do anything I wanted to with my body, anything that I thought would help me sing better: stretch my arms, screw up my face, peel off my clothes and throw them over the screen –that’s my fantasy, Anna didn’t do that.  She sang two songs behind the screen and then repeated “The Call” by Ralph Vaughan Williams in full view.  I believe that the screen helped her incorporate in her public performance new advances she’s made in her singing technique.  She did a lovely job.

Susan not only sang two Valentine’s Day songs but she brought a heart-shaped cherry- chocolate cake for Afters.  She sang “Be My Love” in French and English and “My Funny Valentine.”  It was the best performance I have ever heard her give.  She was relaxed.  She didn’t seem to tense up before her self-identified scary notes. Susan is usually critical of her performances but even she was satisfied with the way she sang on Sunday.  She told me later that it was all about getting enough breath.

Yep.  That is what singing is: It’s breathing.  It’s Spirit and Life.

Everyone’s sweetheart, Deborah, sang last.  This is her fourth musicale.  She had sat through all the other singers, waiting for her nerves to subside, which they didn’t, until there was no one left to sing but her.

“I’m not going to wait til the end anymore,” she announced. Then she sang “Dancing Queen” with great heart and cheerfulness.  She ended her rendition of “You Don’t Own Me” with a snide “you little shit.”

And so we wrapped up an enjoyable afternoon.  Can you guess who the Spotlight Whore was?

Who's behind the screen?

Who’s behind the screen?

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