Still Got It

My new copy of 24 Italian Songs and Arias arrived today, and I spent a few minutes marking through it. I didn’t want to go full voice in the living room. The dogs were barking as is……… I’ve done one arietta from it before, GiĆ  il sole dal Gange, in high school UIL competition. I checked diction with a Cecilia Bartolli Youtube recording, and it was comforting. I feel I’ve got two things going for me now. My Italian diction is not as bad as I thought it was, and I have a much lighter voice than Bartoli, because even though she is one of the greats, there are a few moments in her recordings where her heaviness makes her vibrato under the pitch. Absolutely no disrespect toward her- not throwing shade. She still sounds fantastic.

I count on Bartoli’s videos to watch her obsessively, but not for the reason you might think. Yes, she’s talented, but she started her career as a trumpet player and had to overcome habits that worked great for brass and not so much for voice. I have walked that path for a very long time, and watching her gives me excellent tips on what I need to change physically to make singing easier…. and therefore, a lot more fun. It is so amazing to have a living, breathing, singing example of my own history.

I started with something I’ve sung before because I didn’t have my phone on me, where I have a very advanced metronome app. Even though I can read notes, I am not sure I’ve ever really learned to read rests. I’ll just come in when the Spirit moves me.

I thank God that I was in band as well, because it gave me a great advantage over other choral singers who could only do solfege. Solfege makes me irrationally angry, because even though it’s been around since the 11th century, I have problems with thinking that it’s legitimately reading music. I refuse to learn a piece through a series of weird hand motions that I do not understand because I’ve never really bothered with it.

My choir director in high school was not amused when we’d do solfege exercises in choir and she noticed that I was only either doing the peace or vulcan signs and turning my hand back and forth, evidence of my snooty and teenage attitudes. By the way, I’m still snooty about it.

Don’t even get me started on The Suzuki Method. According to Wikipedia, “the Suzuki method does not include a formal plan or prescribe specific materials for introducing music theory & reading, in part because Suzuki created the method in a culture where music literacy was routinely taught in schools.” So, you have these kids who’ve been playing for years and years by the time they arrive at school, brilliantly until you put sheet music in front of them. It’s a steep learning curve that to me, seems unnecessary.

Don’t @ me, Bro.

This is not to say that I don’t know successful musicians who use solfege and started out with Suzuki. I definitely do. My concertmaster at HSPVA started with Suzuki and is now the concertmaster for the Metropolitan opera. But that is not the case for a lot of students, some of whom get discouraged and drop out of vocal/instrumental music altogether. That’s because Suzuki often begins when the child is a toddler, and transitioning from playing by ear to learning to read music is difficult at best for those who don’t have a natural talent for it. Generally, elementary schools don’t have orchestras, so they’re playing by ear from ages 3-11. I think this makes it even harder to switch gears.

The last thing future generations of classical musicians need is the urge to give up. There will always be a small percentage of children that love it, but love of great instrumentation and soaring lines should be widely accessible. I feel disappointed when I think of all the kids who thought they just didn’t have the talent to be in choir, orchestra, band…. or perhaps a combination. Through HSPVA, I was in Honors Band, Jazz Band, and Symphony Orchestra.

When I switched to Clements High School, I was in Marching Band, Concert Band, and Varsity Choir.

It was such a wide and varied musical education, but it didn’t start there. My parents and my paternal grandfather were “instrumental” in instilling the love of music before I could walk. The first time I sang a solo in church, I was three. Apparently, I got stage fright and wouldn’t sing with the rest of the choir, and surprised the hell out of my mother when they left the stage and I was still there, picking up a microphone and belting out a jazz/gospel song called I am a Promise. The recording to which I’ve linked is an approximation of how the first few measures sounded…. and that was the only part I knew. I am sure it made the congregation howl, but my mother was entirely supportive. I have only heard this story a thousand times, I don’t remember it myself. But she said that she was so proud of me because it was pitch perfect.

The hardest part about singing is doing enough breath exercises and vocal warm-ups so that the longest notes are supported. I will mark without warming up, but going full voice takes me nearly an hour. I can’t be too careful.

But I’ve still got it. Three snaps in a Z formation. #selffive