Friday, May 18, 2018

A Personal Best

Well, I would say that taken as a whole, last night's recital was a "personal best".  Certainly "Tanti Affetti!"  I would never have been able to sing that even two years ago.  I guess I now really "own" a B flat.  Back to the dreaded Amneris/Radames some day? Maybe, or maybe not.  I just have lost my palate for that kind of thing.  Too bad, because that probably would have been my fach if I had started singing younger and been out there in the mix.  I just want to sing bel canto, Handel, Bach.  Speaking of Handel, the one piece I was not please with was "Had I Jubal's Lyre".  This was the first time I sang it in public without taking breaths in the long runs and I think it sounded a little sloppy.  I asked the accompanist to play it fast and maybe it was too fast.  Also it was the first thing I sang.

The videographer was there.  I offered to pay her and she refused.  She is such a lovely person and does such a professional job.  I'm sure when I see and hear the videos I will find things to criticize but that's the whole point.  If I like something, I can post it.  If I don't, I can learn something from it.

Now I have a respite and then I have to do the whole thing again.  I have never done a recital twice, so that will be interesting.  And next week I will meet the new accompanist for the first time.  My teacher's wife knows him.  And I talked to a friend about the neighborhood and she said it should be fine to go up there during the day. 

Here's a picture.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Second and Final Rehearsal for My First Recital, and Some Additional Thoughts on What Should be Sung in Church

Today we had a runthrough (start to finish) for the recital.  I am still congested.  So is everyone, so it seems.  My partner had a friendly visitor on Sunday who was congested (not sick, just congested).  A nurse came to see her yesterday and she was coughing and clearing her throat (allergies, not a cold).  Everyone says it's the worst season for allergies on record (I don't know if I have any; I just feel congested, not sneezy).  My teacher said he couldn't hear the congestion.  He was having an allergy attack because the accompanist has two cats.  The high Rossini didn't go as well as last time (I didn't hold the last high B flat) but I got through it and nailed every note cleanly.  And I sang the high and low Rossini arias back to back with no glitches.  I still felt congested singing "Mon Coeur" (the easiest thing on the planet for me to sing) but after my teacher sang his second number and I started the third part of the program with "Amapola", suddenly I felt fine.  Then I felt congested again singing "I Dreamt I Dwelt" but did not have any tension creeping in; mostly because I took the breaks I had planned to. 

My teacher told me not to sing much tomorrow, just to do some exercises, and then to sing my regular routine on Thursday, the day of the recital.  He said I can try a section of the high Rossini cabaletta if I want to, right before the recital.

I'm lucky I work at home, so I can basically just "cocoon" for 48 hours and sit here and edit manuscripts and make some money.  And not have to talk.

After my last post (which got a lot of hits; I also posted it on Facebook and shared it with people from church) I realized that I had some lingering thoughts about music and church.  First and foremost, for good or ill, is self-interest.  I want to sing.  I want to sing music that allows my voice to soar.  A church is a comfortable place to do that, and a church with a smallish choir is a good place to get enough exposure (solos, being the obvious "leader" on a second soprano part) to make me happy.

But secondarily, if I am going even to hear music in a church, I want it to go high. I mean this partly literally but also figuratively.  Of course everyone loves a low bass and choirs need them! But I want to hear something that soars.  (I used that word before; I guess I'm thinking that church should mean the Heavens.)  Classical music soars, African-American spirituals soar, gospel soars.  I could be happy hearing Aretha Franklin in a church (she's a pastor's daughter, by the way).  Bob Dylan never.  (I realized that my gut loathing of him centers around the sound of his voice, not his words.  I recently edited an article that used some of his "poetry" and I tried to look at it divorced from that horrible drug-damaged, raspy voice, and was somewhat able to do so.) 

I don't want to hear gutteral voices, raspy voices, voices that sound like they are in tatters from years of drug abuse, drinking, or smoking and I don't want to sing music in a key so low that it is best sung that way.  (And I'm not talking about a low classical piece like "O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion!  I'm talking about "Someone to Lean On" in a bass - not an alto - range, which was what was on offer at the UU General Assembly I went to in 2005.)  I know that I ruined my chances of ever being the singer I could have been by smoking, drinking, and abuse of diet pills and speed, and there are days when I would give everything that I have to go back to 1964 and do it over.  I don't want those memories triggered in a church, which for me (and many others) is meant to feel like "sanctuary".

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Why I've Permanently Left the UU Church

As the daughter of two atheists (one a secular Jew) who was nonetheless raised in a "WASPy" enclave where, churchgoing or not, people not strongly aligned with a minority religion lived with a "Christian assumption" (meaning we celebrated Christmas and Easter in some fashion), who found a compromise as a teenager by singing in a Unitarian church , and who now is happily ensconced in a Lutheran church as a musician and quasi-member, I am constantly having to explain myself theologically.

I am not a full member of this Lutheran church because I am not baptized (and the idea of submitting to that makes me uncomfortable) so I don't take communion.  For years I sat in the choir stall singing the communion hymn, often as a solo, and laughingly referred to myself as the "Shabbas goy" (of course in reverse). Lately I have not had to do that because our new pastor always announces (after explaining that there is grape juice as well as wine, and gluten free bread if it is wanted) "if you don't want to partake you can cross your arms and come up to receive a blessing", which I do.

Many people at that church think I'm a religiously observant Jew (there are a handful of such who are at the church, mostly as musicians, but one is the husband of a congregant) and will in a well-meaning way wish me a Happy Passover, or expect me to understand religious names for parts of the Torah.

If I get caught up in a serious conversation with anyone about these things, I explain that I am culturally Jewish but not theologically Jewish.  And then I say that theologically I consider myself a Unitarian.  (I don't like the term "UU").

When I say that what I mean, loosely, is: I believe that God is one thing, whether you're Christian, Jewish, Pagan, Muslim, Buddhist, or something else; I believe that Jesus was an important humanitarian but not divine, and I do not call him Christ; and I believe in the "inherent worth and dignity of every human being".  I don't believe in the Resurrection.  I see it as a metaphor.  (Interestingly, the pastors at my Lutheran church believe that Hell is a metaphor - and that Genesis is a poem - but still stand by the Resurrection.)  I am agnostic about the afterlife.  As I am with someone who will be 84 next month, and may lose her in the not-too-distant future, I like to hope that she will go to some sort of "Heaven", probably out above the Marginal Way where both of us want our ashes scattered.  And when my mother died, despite having been an atheist all her life, she looked happy, as if she was going somewhere she wanted to be going, and I heard her talking to the people who had gone before.

So, readers might ask, why not attend Unitarian services?  As I have written over and over in these pages, my voice was "discovered" at my local UU church when I was 54, by a charismatic (and later toxic) figure whom I often call "Svengali".  There was a sorta kinda classical music program, meaning that the choir sang classical music a few times a year and the handful of classical soloists (now including me) sang solos.  After a year or so, the choir director was fired (for a number of reasons) and all the classical music was scrapped.  And has never returned despite the fact that the church has had several music directors since then (this was 2005) and now has a new minister as well.

So OK.  There's a lot of music that's not "classical" that I am OK with hearing in a church: gospel, contemporary Christian music, Appalachian hymns, African-American spirituals (although I prefer these when they're arranged for classical voices), even liturgical jazz.  And in fact our choir (whch is known for its Bach and Mendelssohn) has sung all of those.  But what has happened at the UU church with regard to nonclassical music is quite different.  They still have their head in the 60s and among their favorite selections are songs by Bob Dylan and John Lennon.

If I haven't said it enough here, probably the years that destroyed me and put me behind the 8 ball forever (and I will be 68 soon) was the period from 1964 to 1972, the heyday of all that "stuff".  I can't bear to listen to it, certainly not in a church, which I see as in some ways a link to old traditions.  (My Lutheran church seems to have it right: it links to the past in [most of] its music, and in its rituals, and it is firmly planted in the present in its engagement with issues of today.)

To be clear, I have been happy lately and have not wanted to dwell on negative things (although any time I get a "trigger" back to "the Sixties" I silently rage and weep for the girl who could have been - an opera singer, an academic, a lawyer?), but this post was prompted by an invitation I got from a member of my old UU church to something called "Sacred Sounds and Settings".  I took a look at it (this church is in a beautiful building and could host some marvelous sacred sounds) and saw that it was going to feature music by Leonard Cohen, Bobby McFerrin, The Indigo Girls, Sly and the Family Stone.  Except for Bobby McFerrin and possibly the "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen, I don't think any of the foregoing belongs in a church.  Sly and the Family Stone??? That's disco (drug) music!  (Oh, and I see the choir is now called a "casual choir".) How trendy and what a great way to pander to aging hippies.  (If the church wants to attract young people, I have news for you.  Young people are interested in many different aesthetics, not just that of the Sixties rebellions.)  I didn't want to offend the woman who sent this to me, but I felt like checking the box "not interested".  But that wouldn't even begin to cover it.  Quite frankly I would rather have a root canal, and to me, anyhow, listening to a "concert" in a church featuring disco music seems blasphemous and I'm not a right-wing Christian!!

On a seemingly unrelated topic, our new pastor (speaking out against the racism of many white Evangelicals) said that the problem with many Christian churches is that they care more about the "culture" than about the gospel.  Now I know she was talking about white red state American culture, which does not resonate with me (in fact, as a third generation New Yorker, I've had almost no contact with it).  But might it be possible that I am really attracted to "church" because of the culture? (Not white American culture, obviously, but the culture of Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, and Agatha Christie?) I grew up reading Brit Lit where the Church of England (and its assorted vicars, curates, vergers, deans, sextons, and others) were recurring characters.  I have recently begun working on a memoir (amazingly not about singing!) in which I describe the disconnect between my life growing up as an atheist and my continued exposure to the Church through literature.  (And later through all the Britcoms I watched.)

I began thinking of going to church after reading an article by Gertrude Himmelfarb about the churchgoing habits of Victorians.  She said that after the popularization of Darwin, most intellectual Victorians did not believe in the "supernatural" events described in the Bible (sounds very Unitarian to me!), but they still attended church regularly and considered themselves Christian because to them it was a social and moral identity (and being a member of the Church of England was also a part of British identity) rather than a spiritual belief system.

I know many people dislike Himmelfarb because she leans rightward, which certainly I don't (except perhaps in my attitudes to music, dress, and drug use), but I have to say that reading this article of hers made me feel "OK" about going to church, regardless of what I actually believed.

So what better place to begin than with the UUs.  I had felt (wrongly) that this UU church on Manhattan's Upper West Side would be like the Unitarian church of my childhood: Protestant minus the supernatural.  (Well, it was, kinda, until the choir director was fired.  Then it went rogue Hippie with a vengeance!)

Let's just say it is a far cry from our 1965 Christmas Messiah sing to Sly and the Family Stone!

I'm glad I'm out, and will probably never be back.

I'm happy where I am.  I just always have a lot of 'splaining to do.  But that's OK.  If I can sing, I'm willing to 'splain to anyone who's interested.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

First Rehearsal for the First Recital

Today I had the first rehearsal for my first recital.  There were some pleasant (and one unpleasant) surprises.

The overall takeaway from this is that for whatever reason (my voice is changing, my technique is changing, or I just have lost a lot of chest resonance because I'm now on my fourth week of chest congestion although it is slowly getting better) I get less tired singing high than singing low.

Pleasant surprises: "Tanti Affetti" went really well despite my never having sung it with an accompanist.  Not only the cabaletta, with all the high notes, but also the cavatina, which is difficult rhythmically.  The "Drinking Song" was a piece of cake.  The lighter pieces, including "Amapola", which I had never sung with an accompaniment, went well, except for a wrong note or two in "Waltz Me Around Again Willy".  I figured out where to take two breaks in "I Dreamt I Dwelt" so that I don't get tired at the end.  That was one thing that didn't sound good last year.

Unpleasant surprise: After singing "Tanti Affetti" brilliantly, I could not get through the end of  "Cruda Sorte" which is a fifth lower.  One point of note is that in "Tanti Affetti" I take the standard "bel canto cuts" whereas in "Cruda Sorte" I have not historically taken any cuts because it is in such a low range I figure I don't need breaks.  Well, my accompanist told me to take breaks.  He showed me where I can stay stumm while he plays.  He thinks if I do that I will be fine.

A mixed bag:  I started out with the Handel "Had I Jubal's Lyre" and although I still am able to sing the long runs without taking catch breaths (something I couldn't do last year - thank you to all the work I did on "Rejoice Greatly") I sounded like I could barely make it.  So I asked the accompanist to play faster on the long runs.  He did (and also took the tempo faster in general, which I think helped, and which he liked).

Tomorrow I have my lesson and I will talk to my teacher about the two Rossini pieces.  Then Tuesday we have the final runthrough.

I am still taking Mucinex pills.  It would really be wonderful if I could just be rid of this thing!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A Feast or a Famine

Well!  After totally giving up on the nursing home where my partner had stayed, which I had contacted numerous times over six months, I heard from the recreation director.  He wanted me to sing on May 5.  I told him it was too short notice, but that I could sing on June 2 (another date he offered).  Unfortunately my regular pianist is not available, so I had to find someone else.  I found someone, but he lives in Washington Heights.  I guess a lot of musicians live there now.  I think I should be OK if I go there to rehearse during the day.  The subways are probably full of people during those hours. I have never been up there so I don't know how scary it will look to me.  My voice teacher will have to come to one of the rehearsals (he is singing with me in both recitals, if I forgot to mention) and maybe I can get him to come to both.  I would rather not be wandering around there alone since I'm not familiar with anything up there.

My other bad news is that I was really sick.  The flu?   I was coughing my head off and for two days I had a fever of 100.  I also felt very tired and had no appetite.  I just thought I had a bad cold, so although I canceled my Sunday sing (it was at 9 and I had not been able to sleep because I was coughing so much) I went to stay with my partner.  She wanted me there.  I stayed Sunday and Monday and then went home, and Tuesday morning the aide called me to say that she had called 911 because my partner was having trouble breathing.  She was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with the flu.  They gave her Tamiflu and iv fluids (they sent her home after 48 hours because by that point she no longer had a fever). I called my doctor, who said that because I had waited four days, Tamiflu would not do any good, and that whatever it was would pass out of my system. It has now been two weeks and I am able to sing and my cough has finally tapered off.  I have not tried to sing "Tanti Affettti" again.  I sang it fabulously at my lesson two weeks ago and at home the next day, and it was the following day that I got sick.  I had a lesson Tuesday and sang a few light pieces, "Had I Jubal's Lyre" (without having to take extra breaths!!) and the "Drinking Song".  My main concern is having enough stamina but the first runthrough rehearsal isn't until May 8, so I am hoping to have my strength back.  I had lost five pounds but am now eating normally, so I will probably put it back, which is OK.  I need that few extra inches around the waist to sing.  And the good news is that if I did have the flu I can't get it again (my partner and I both had gotten flu shots but apparently that hadn't helped) so I am hoping to be healthy for both recitals.

Monday, April 2, 2018

A Dream Achieved (2018)

This past Good Friday I sang a two page solo "Recordare" in the middle of the "Rex Tremendae" section of Schumann's Requiem.  It was perfect for my voice and the choir director was happy with it.  All I have ever sung on Good Friday in the past (Good Friday is the church's most high profile service, with an orchestra) is the alto line in a solo quartet.  And (totally by accident) this was the only solo of the evening.

The night before I had sung "Qui Sedes al Dexteram Patris" from Vivaldi's Gloria 588.

I got compliments on both from people who would rarely even give me the time of day before.

I need to keep up that momentum and build on that, such as it is.

Next challenge: Rossini's "Tanti Affetti".  If it is in decent shape by next week I will include it in my May recital program, otherwise not.

Friday, March 16, 2018

An Honor That I Pray to be Worthy Of

On Wednesday I went to see Farinelli and the King (I have very little discretionary income, and what I have goes to voice lessons and pet care so I rarely go to the theater) which was wonderful (the countertenor sings 6 Handel mezzo arias during the play).  At the intermission I checked my email and I was stunned to hear from the choir director that he wants me to sing the only (soprano) solo in the Good Friday service.  It is a "Recordare" from one of the Schumann Requiems.  It is actually in a perfect range for me, mostly in the middle, with one G in it.  The whole piece is two pages.  To date, I have only sung the alto line in a few solo quartets in the various Good Friday services.  (I am still singing with the chorus altos this time.) 

I consider this a huge honor particularly as there is a real dramatic soprano singing with the choir.  When went to rehearse the solo, the choir director told me that he thought it would suit me because he wanted a big expressive dramatic sound!

The only real challenge I will have (the piece is not difficult) is singing it after singing the very low alto part in the "Agnus Dei".  I will ask my teacher what to do.

And of course I now have another challenge.  Yesterday (the day of the rehearsal) I woke up with a whopping sinus "thing" that causes mucus to sit on my vocal cords and makes me cough.  When I woke up yesterday I couldn't  phonate at all.  Fortunately, I remember that my teacher has always told me that if you don't have laryngitis, and whatever is affecting your cords is caused by mucus, if you drink hot beverages, use an expectorant, and do a little light singing, your voice will come back.  In fact he said singing often clear the mucus off.  So that is what happened yesterday.  Same thing this morning although I don't plan to sing at all today.  I will see if I can sing a little tomorrow night (I spend Friday night and Saturday taking care of my partner at her house).  The choir is singing something simple Sunday morning at 9.  Worst case scenario I will stay home.  The good news is that these things usually clear out after a week so I should be fine for our next rehearsal on Thursday night. 

I absolutely don't think I have anything serious because I don't feel sick.  It's very localized.  It may be contagious, though, because it seems to be a bit more heavy duty than my regular sinus problems.  So Neti pot, Vicks, and liquid Mucinex.  And not too much talking.

I have worked over ten years for something like this (I will be singing this with an orchestra) so I will pray to be worthy.