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Chronicle of being in a choir

I recall being in a choir with a young lady called Paloma Bruce – now Paloma Horlor (who can be listened to here). She was talking about how she could not sing in one of her main choirs any more. Her voice was too big, and could not blend with the voices of other choristers, and she was required to make the choice between quitting the choir, and changing her technique in order to sing in the choir. The second choir confused her. She gave up the choir. I guessed that she was so good that she was almost too good for the choir. I figured that I could never be that. I guessed that it would never be a problem for me.

I felt rather sorry for her. In my teens, I LOVED choirs. My part was always soprano 1, and it felt kinda awesome being able to pull out the high notes above the clef when no one else could. I adored the thrill of a big forte, hearing all the music thick and loud around me. Singing my first mass with a massive orchestra in the Wellington Town Hall gave me thrills.

My now ex-choir had lots of very awesome repertoire, a great culture, and many lovely people, so it should be fun to sing in. But it is not.

So now, I have made exactly the same decision as Paloma, for almost exactly the same reasons. My voice is bigger than the other sopranos in my now ex-choir. Like, quite a lot bigger. I have to work very hard to keep my voice blended in with the other voices. My voice is dark. The second biggest voice is bright. We clash quite a bit, and the better my technique is, the more we clash. I am singing quietly by my standards, even when the music is technically forte (loud). SInging quietly is not bad in itself, but its impacts are interesting.

The issue is that my main focus while singing with the choir is controlling and restraining. It is not singing well. It is not even using good technique. In fact, I have been told to swallow my sound more in order to blend, a habit which I have been training myself out of.

I have been lucky to have an understanding conductor who says that I should sing for myself. But it is mutually exclusive to do this as well as blending in with everyone else. And it should be a choir, not a choir with an overtone of me.

It does carry through into my own singing on my own time. I restrain, I attempt to control. I am scared of singing anything.  I am terrified of the notes above the clef that I love so much, even through they are easily within my range. I think part of that is the fact that they come out big. My B is massive and I am not sure that I can make a small one, so I force it out with a strangle, which could injure me at worst, and which sounds like a horrible cat dying at best. So singing in the choir is not easy for me.

The main issue is that I am in a journey of vocal discovery right now. My voice is dark. It can go high – but I am not sure how high. It can go lower – again, I am not sure by how much. It can be taught to do perfect pitch – maybe with some limits. There is some repertoire that works for it better than others. I know that Mozart if one of the best composers for it, but I am not sure what else it can do.

While it is being held back, and changed for others, I cannot find out what it is, and work on polishing it.

I am sad about quitting this choir. I am happy about my new journey of vocal discovery.

So time for some vocal adventuring. I wonder where I will end up.

Audition

You decide to audition knowing that it is a very long shot. However, auditioning for more things is the best way of becoming less scared of auditions. After three years back at the singing game, it is time to stretch yourself again.

Your main goal : to get through an audition breathing properly. Breathing properly is important for singing, and it seems to be a skill that you forget as soon as you cross the threshold of an audition room.

You have it all planned. It is set for 16:40. You will go home, warm up, and walk back into town humming to keep those cords warm. You will drink water throughout the day to keep your throat lubricated. 4L is ideal. 

Then you get an email asking you to come at 15:20. You have a bit of a *moment*. Ok, you will bring your music with you, skip out of work for an hour and make it happen. Then you cannot find the music for your set piece. You go through your music three times without success and then hit on the idea of copying it from the library. Not a problem.

Come 13:00, you have not finished your lunch, and your hunger has been replaced by a gnawing in the stomach that means you are not hungry. Yeah, you are nervous, which is potentially a good thing, you decide. Eating is not. Drinking lots of water is.

At 14:30, you leave work and run into an… ex-lover is the best word. A man who brought the worst out of you. You exchange stilted, reluctant recognition faces, and you rush past. You get to the library and find all of the vocal scores, and then scramble around for the one you need. You have the exact change to do the copies. You have been drinking water all day, but your throat still feels patched. It is funny that whenever anyone says audition, your throat takes up the constitution of dehydrated vegetables. 

You rush to the flat you are practicing in, and a bird poos on you. There is no piano. Time for warm up some scales and exercises. Your voice knows your piece’s tuning by the way it sits on your vocal cords, so the lack of piano is not a problem. Makeup is applied as you sing. Not a good idea, you remember for next time.

You reach the venue and fill out a form. Many people hate filling out forms but you enjoy it on these occasions. Writing neatly and precisely is a nice distraction to the jangled nerves in your head. Some other ladies are auditioning and they sound amazing. You would enjoy listening if you did not know you would be competing with them.

You go into the room and sing your set piece. You are not able to do any ‘drama’ with your hands, but try to use your eyes to communicate. The main thing is that you breathe properly.Thanks, you tell your abs, but you resist the urge to pat them. The sight-singing is not hard, but you still manage to compose instead. It is well within your range. A bit of work and you could ace it. The aural stuff which you aced ten years ago is partially beyond you now. Well, you know what you need to work on, and that is ok.

You walk out happy. No, you did not ace it, but you did your best. And you know that what you need to work on is manageable. You call your teacher to tell her about it. Then you are hungry for the rest of your lunch.

I am grateful that I got a chance to do that audition and I am proud of myself for doing it. Getting in. It would be a dream come true, but I am not holding my breath. I am a singer. I need to keep working, singing, and putting myself in awkward singing situations. Only then can I improve.

Motives to Exercise

A couple of days ago, a lady at work complimented me on my figure told me that my exercise schedule was working. I thanked her, but one thing that I did not say is that my exercise is not about me looking good, or fitting into any particular clothes. I exercise because it makes me feel good.

One thing that annoys me about many gyms is that they assume that weight loss and looking good is what all women want. There is also an assumption that it should be the aim of any exercise programme. Weight loss is seen as the aim for everyone. Maybe this works for some, but not me.

For me, exercising is about getting healthier. Exercising helps my chronic pain improve, and it makes me strong. The pain is decreasing each day, and I am feeling better that I have in ages. I can wake up without a gnawing pain in my shoulder, or my intercostals feeling like they are filled with battery acid. My ankle and leg are giving me less and less problems, because many muscles are getting stronger,  the imbalances that cause the pain are decreasing.

To say that this is unusual in the middle of winter is an understatement. My symptoms often improve in summer and stage a comeback in winter.  I eat better when I exercise, and I stand better, sing better, dance better. Exercise improves my whole life. Maybe I do look better, but for me, this is a superficial side-effect.

I have to admit that I am now being driven my another motivation. As I reach each exercise goal, I cannot help but smile, and this is getting addictive in itself. Being able to do full press-ups feels amazing. Doing drops at dancing with my core automatically bracing feels most excellent. When an exercise routine that felt hard without weights feels manageable with weights, I feel an incredible feeling of achievement.

So for me,  exercise is about feeling better – because it reduces my pain and gives me an incredible feeling of achievement. Any exercise provider attempting to get me to part with my cash is going to fail when trying to target me about superficial things. For me, it goes deeper than that.

Colds and Singing

It is winter (well not quite yet – but my heater, dehumidifier, and winter duvet have become fixtures in my daily life, so let’s pretend it is). Colds have started becoming an issue.

I had an amazing day last Thursday. I scored an understudy for a lead role. Then I had a big rehearsal. As I finished off the rehearsal, I started to shake. I asked the others if the room was cold but it was not. As the rehearsal finished, I shivered. The lady who took me home put this down to the shock of scoring the big understudy role. When I got home, I got into bed with four layers of clothes and I was still not able to get warm. The next morning, I had a full blown cold, and I am still getting rid of the cough and snotty nose components.

For non-singers, a cold is a pain in the nose, some days off work, some annoyance, many used tissues and a lot of coughing.

For singers, colds are a greatly annoying, singing limiting thing. If you force your voice to do things when you have a cold, you can ruin it. Getting pneumonia, which is a side effect from a cold, can have lasting effects on your voice. I am glad I was not singing when I got a bout of it.

Back in high school, I got so many colds just before vocal performances. It seemed like the viruses could smell performance day, and rallied around me a few days before to ensure that I would be infected for the occasion. It was a massive source of stress and when I did not sing, I was so happy that a cold was just a cold, rather than being a barrier to practicing my singing, doing the thing I loved.

Not so much now. I have this massive part to learn, and I have not sung a note. I have missed two rehearsals and I feel like I am letting people down. Yet I know I am doing the best thing for my voice, and hopefully, in the next few days, I will be back into it.

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