Friday, April 1, 2011

Singing classically

So many good things are happening like the speed of light around here, it is hard to process it all. An unbelievable development - my classical singing voice is back. This is a LOOOOOONG story and I'm thinking about writing a book about the journey, but here I am, back studying and working on my beloved Schubert Lieder.

I haven't worked as a classical musician in over 6 years, I haven't missed it. I've been busy exploring other avenues of music, for a while I was toying with writing and performing my own cabaret show, but then I got into creating a whole new musical way to communicate which Camp MMW really helped foster. Camp was an empowering place, we created on the spot using our instincts and not putting judgement on what we were doing, we just did. The rhythmic exploration and challenges continue to inspire me. I was "FREE" to create, and that freedom makes me powerful.

Yesterday I had my first vocal coaching in about 6 years. For those who don't know, a vocal coach is a pianist/coach that a singer works with to fine tune diction issues, phrasing, etc. It isn't a voice lesson. The classical singing world is filled with coaches/conductors/voice teachers that we work with, we are always paying for someone's expertise. I started to think about how this is a terrible cycle for a singer. Firstly, we don't have that many chances to perform, so whenever we can make music, we do. In a coaching, we are getting nit-picked, that's what we are paying for, so there we are, trying to make music and getting criticized. That is the cycle. The same happens with voice teachers, conductors, you name it. Singers are put in a lesser position and this stays with us. We are taught that we never know enough, that we're never experts, and thus, we're never fully empowered.

I've known and watched many singers over the years, some are able to brush all of this off and continue on, many remain like deer in the headlights, feeling overwhelmed. Because we are American, many of us don't speak the languages we sing, so first disadvantage. We take diction courses out the wazoo, learning the rules of phonetic language, and boy, does this get anal. French alone has more rules than any other, and the phonetic language is not how the real language is spoken. Then take into account that where the note is on the staff may affect where we need to place the note in our voices, so we modify the vowel/consonant positions. Traps are everywhere! How can you be free when you are worrying about traps?

And what gets lost here - the love of the music. Singers look wooden, empty, tense, often unhappy. Instrumentalists never have to deal with this issue, they just play the music and there they are. With all the mind work/concerns, singers can seem frozen and not in their bodies at all, which is ironic since the act of singing is very physical.

I really hate this aspect of classical singing. Hate. I have to feel passionate and connected to what I'm singing, otherwise, how can I touch the listener? When I am powerful and free, there is no limit to what I can do. When you are in the moment, there is no judgement, you are a conduit. This is not the emphasis of the traditional American classical vocal world.