Forgive Me Father, For I Have Sinned

I feel like a putz for not showing up at church today, but in my own head, I have a very good excuse…. literally. I have a head cold that started out as allergies and is now complete with cough. Not something that requires more than a little Robitussin, just one of those dry coughs that requires Humibid and a Nalgene full of water every time I finish the bottle. My mask is full, and my throat is dry. I thought that would make a very poor singing experience, and from past church services, I know this to be true. Plus, just in case it is a true common cold and not waking up with the traditional dryness from allergies, I didn’t want to give my choir the gift that keeps on giving. They will thank me for this when I get there on Thursday night.

I promise.

Having a cold is also a slightly different warm-up than when I am well. It requires blowing my nose approximately 58 times, taking Pseudophed to try and clear the mask, and as I mentioned above, Humibid to keep the snot flowing and to keep my nasal passages from completely drying out. You can’t just take Humibid, though, because it doesn’t thin secretions all on its own. It’s the water that helps the Humibid activate, which is wonderful until you have to go to the bathroom every 10-15 minutes…. so much fun during worship.

But back to the warm-up. I start with breathing exercises. I put a hymnal or a Bible or both on my abdomen and try to lift them as I breathe in, then switch to glissandos and portomentos designed to go to the highest and lowest depths of my range. Then, I put my tongue into my hard palate and make these loud, nasal sounds in the middle of my range, and then drop my tongue down toward my soft palate to open up the sound. A few downward scales like this, and my throat relaxes enough to do the rest of my scales and arpeggios. It takes me about a half hour to be truly ready to sing. I cannot go into rehearsal cold, because I find that getting into the zone helps both my tone and my sight-reading equally. In fact, towards the end of my warm-up, I take out a hymnal and turn to a page randomly. If it’s something I already know, I flip to another random page.

You have to be ready for music, and it has to be ready for you. I am new to this choir, so nearly everything that my conductor pulls out is new to me. While everyone else is singing something they know, I’m singing it fresh, and I don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb. Luckily, most of my music is marked up from years past, which helps to a tremendous degree. When I’m really having trouble with a rhythm (even as a trumpet player, I am not the best reader in the world), I cheat. I look up a Youtube video or try to find the piece on Spotify. Between those two resources, I tend to find every piece I’m looking for, especially John Rutter.

My conductor is fond of Rutter just as I am, but DAMN. Some of the things he throws at choirs are gorgeous and rhythmically difficult at the same time. As I said yesterday, I am not that great of a math person, and subdivision eats my lunch most days. Life would be so much easier if I could just change notes when the Spirit moves me. 😛

I spend a lot of time wishing everything was in Common time.

I do have a great ear, though, so most of the time listening to a piece once or twice gets the sheet music to make sense. One of these days, I’ll get a solo with a cadenza, which is code for “do whatever you want as long as it’s in the right key.” I can’t remember which conductor it was, probably Strauss, because he’s one of the funniest….. Anyway, there’s a soloist doing a cadenza that basically goes through every every key ever written during her cadenza and finally finds her way back to the one written. Strauss leans over and whispers, “welcome home.”

My other favorite story regarding Strauss is that he was conducting a piece with a lot of brass. He stops the rehearsal and says, “first trombone! You’re playing too loud!” Second trombone replies that he isn’t here yet. Without missing a beat, Strauss says, “well, when he gets here, tell him he’s playing too loud.”

Which goes back to my own orchestra days at HSPVA. I was in one of Doc Morgan’s jazz ensembles (unfortunately, the one that DIDN’T have Eric Harland and Jason Moran, but I did sit next to Jon Durbin, now in a famous band called “The Suffers.”), and at least once a week, the conductor would stop the entire orchestra and yell, “LESLIE LANAGAN! GET RID OF THAT JAZZ SOUND!” It wasn’t like I was swinging notes in William Tell or anything, but apparently I wasn’t tapering notes or something like that. Whatever it was, he could tell.

The best day in orchestra ever for me was when first chair (Norman) was absent during preparing for Christmas, and I got to be the horse in “Sleigh Ride.” It was a magnificent moment, and I’m so glad I remembered to put it in the pensieve. Apparently, it prepared me to be a splendid jackass. 😛

The other funniest conversation in my recent memory happened at Second Baptist, when I went with my dad and played in the orchestra. All the trumpet players were sitting outside having coffee during the break between rehearsal and worship, just breaking each other’s balls as trumpet players do. It’s kind of our thing.

Mike said, “haven’t you played with us before?”
My dad said, “notice we haven’t asked her back.”
Mike said, “you can replace your father at any time.”

No, I couldn’t, but it was so funny that the entire table laughed, and we continued to flip each other shit like we’d been playing together our whole lives. Trumpet players at heart, even me, are seriously fifteen-year-old boys.

No, seriously.

Believe it or don’t, but I had a hard time choosing between playing at Second Baptist as a ringer and singing at Epiphany. I think I made the right choice, though, because by that time, I was trying to become a more serious singer, and I did. Joseph Painter made me into the singer I am, the one where my opera voice flips on. In fact, he got “my opera voice” where I could control it rather than it just flipping on randomly. When my conductor at CCC did a voice placement with me, I sang higher and easily than I ever have before, including a high D and E flat that amazed even me. I didn’t know I had those notes inside me, much less in tune.

He asked me what kind of rep I wanted to work on in terms of solos, and I told him that it didn’t matter. I could do classical to Sandi Patty. And then we had a good laugh about that, because not only is Sandi Patty’s music a source of humor with church musicians, so is the fact that she has become a Botticelli painting all her own.

I also played him a bit of Cynthia Clawson’s Immortal, Invisible– one of my favorites not because of the solo, but because of the accompaniment.

For now, though, we’re going to stick with classical, most notably the Mozart Alleluia. I also want another shot at Rutter’s The Lord is My Shepherd, because when I listened to the recording, I noticed some things that were not as clean as I wanted them to be, because when I woke up that morning, I was so sick that I had to sit in the shower for almost an hour to get my voice to some semblance of normal. I didn’t have as much control over my voice as I wanted. I sang the entire solo at the 9:00 service, and I collapsed afterward because all the pressure was off and I couldn’t wait to get home because I was hurting all over. It was then that I remembered that I was still introducing the choir at the 11:00 service and I almost cried. What do you do in that situation? You take ibuprofen and move the fuck on. It wasn’t terrible by any means, but if you’re a singer, you’d be able to pick out the vocal fatigue in a hot second…. and don’t think the other choir members didn’t notice in both services.

However, I couldn’t have asked for a better recording under the circumstances. I am so proud of it that sometimes I cry when I listen to it, not because I am so impressed with myself, but because I know how much work it took to make it happen under disastrous circumstances. The flaws that I hear would only be obvious to another singer, and it was one of the joys of my life when Dana’s mom grabbed me after the 9:00 service and said, “THAT VOICE! Where did it come from!” Luckily, it came from inside me, despite all the obstacles in my way.

Which reminds me that I probably could have muscled through this morning, but it was not a morning in which I thought that would go well. My throat hurts despite all the water, Humibid, ibuprofen, and Pseudophed. There’s nothing harder than leaving the house when you feel like complete and total crap. I will probably go to the grocery store at some point, though, because I don’t actually have any Robitussin, and I might spring for some of those lozenges that deaden your throat since I’m not singing until Thursday. Those lozenges are never to be taken before singing, because as my childhood church conductor said many times, “it’s like singing with white gloves on, and you can really hurt yourself.” Because your throat is deadened, you can’t feel the pain you’re inflicting. However, they are SO nice when you just want a break from, again, feeling like complete and total crap.

No one is home, so I am putting myself on nearly complete vocal rest so that I am all better by the time Prianka and I have dinner on Tuesday. I don’t want to possibly give her the gift that keeps on giving, either. However, since her wife is a teacher, I am sure that she has a better immunity system than most. If she does get my cold, “forgive me Father, for I have sinned.”

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