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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
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Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Win some, lose some

SINGING LESSON TWO I was shocked. An hour gone in ten minutes and an intellectual weariness round about my breastbone. But what had we done?

I'd itched to show off, to sing V last week's aria (rehearsed endlessly at home) without accompaniment, admitting being iffy about one four-note phrase.

V said we would warm up first. More mini-scales using different sounds - ee, ah, oh - because, V said, different spoken vowel sounds can affect a singer's memory of musical sounds. The mini-scales became more elaborate, based on "bibbies" and "dibbies" which I never entirely mastered.

But - and here's magic! - I managed higher scales, my range now an octave and a half. Warmed up I stood at the music stand, my score laid out, knowing an ee vowel sound could be making things difficult. Some false starts and I was away, never any real problems with the knotty phrase. My half-cocked guesses replaced by true teaching.

V was impressed, saw I had worked hard. But - and this is the way it must be - other defects must now be addressed. V was gently apologetic but I urged her towards hard words. If you love what you're doing you betray it sheltering behind your own false confidence

I'd been "swooping" - sliding up or down to the next note without really having finished with the preceding note.

Then a new song to take home and work out: Irish country and my heart sank. But V knows what I must resolve and after sneaking time with YouTube I am engaged with a poignant, oh-so-simple reflection (She Moved Thro’ the Fair) that any child could sing. Any child perhaps. Somewhat older and your brain can get in the way. Wanna borrow mine for a while?


  1. Sounds like you are enjoying yourself, RR. Keep it up.

  2. Your first paragraph had me worrying that you were disapointed with the teacher but I'm relieved, on reading the rest, that all is well and Professeur V is continuing to understand and provide effective and stimulating instruction. A really good teacher,in any field, is more valuable and rarer than gold.

    Maybe, at some stage, you could let us hear a recording of your voice singing pre and post-instruction? Or would that be too intrusive?

  3. Avus: Hard work on my own, frequently frustrating when an effect, grasped in the morning, disappears in the afternoon. Working with the voice is analogous to working with the violin - the notes have to be created, they're not inherent to the instrument. I knew this beforehand, knew I'd have to struggle when not under V's direct instruction. Patience and persistence are essential; it's not really a hobby, more a discipline. And the end-product more resembles satisfaction than enjoyment, together with splashes of personal joy.

    Natalie: I'd be prepared to do this but only for someone who undertood the technicalities of what I'm up to. It will take time before my voice becomes recognisably a singing voice; in the interim I'm concerned with strengthening my sense of rhythm (always a weak point when I played the trumpet), grimly appreciating time values and especially the effect they have on pitch, developing a better sense of pitch when there is no help from the melody (eg, when starting out), suppressing my voice's tendency towards simple solutions where the note required is more likely to be found in a chromatic sequence, and so on.

    There would be little pleasure to be had for someone whose experience is limited to hearing only trained voices. A bit like expecting to see a portrait of someone and being presented with a gradually improving sketch that may or may not represent a skull.

    If all this sounds over-technical then I'd regard that response as a compliment. Behind the scenes with music the language is horribly (sometimes, it seems, wilfully) complex but there is no option but to learn it. Having said that the tiny bit of vocabulary and technique I have so far acquired allows me to understand the nature of my faults and why they occur. And to provide a backdrop to the rather rarer occasions when everything goes right and to explain - in clear language - the joy I experience. Unexplained joy for me is an incomplete pleasure. As far as I can see there is no such thing as instinctive music.

    "Intellectual weariness" obviously too compressed, too impressionistic.

  4. I was a trumpet student for years and I can read music for that instrument. I've strummed at guitar for years as well, learning chord shapes and sequences. But when I decided a few years ago to "learn music", starting with chord structure, harmonics etc. I was instantly overwhelmed. I now liken music to a child of "Chemistry" and "The Calculus" and have far greater respect for music school graduates. I've just recently begun learning about the differing strategies that have been developed to tune a piano (there are many strategies and many ever so slightly different tunings), and how stringed instrument players adapt their intonation (or don't adapt) while playing with a pianist.....and even with other strings, as in a quartet. We are so late to the game Robbie, but ain't it fun?

  5. MikeM: A world of strange truth in your last four words. The lessons are fun. I pass into another personality: extrovert, uninhibited, fiercely concentrating yet in some senses more childish. A paradox too since the world there is both physical and intellectual. Hence the weird sensations "round my breastbone" when a lesson's over.

    Yes we are late to the game but I'm even later than you and I envy you your previous facility with scores: the point where the intellectual (understanding the symbols and their relationships) and the physical (arranging my voice to take advantage of that understanding) intersect.

    At the back of my mind (though I never put this into words for V) I reckoned I didn't have enough time left to take a generalist view of music and learn it up from simple tunes to those that matter. That somehow I would pick up whatever technical ability I needed as I went along. Luckily V was well ahead of me and must have had other students of great age starting from scratch. To give me that great Mozart aria (which was, nevertheless, within my range) was a tactical masterstroke on her part; I was up there where I wanted to be, wrestling with music I loved.

    Then to stand things on their head in the second lesson and give me a completely new tune (again within my range) which I had never even heard. I was simultaneously terrified and flattered. There was no way I could create the tune from the score alone and I had to resort to YouTube where a fey Irish folk singer-girl, who looked about seven, sang my new tune with what looked like artless simplicity as I lumbered through the notation fitting what I heard to what I read. And I too ended up, like you, full of admiraion for someone who made this their living. And full of even more admiration for V who has picked out a tune (Which I have grown to love!) which tests me on three or four new levels.

    But however difficult things get (ie, as music gains bedfellow status with The Chemistry and The Calculus) I bow to those four words of yours. Astonishing that something so demanding can, as you say, be fun. Because at the heart of the matter is the fact that music is something we hunger for both internally and externally. Finally, for me, it just isn't enough to listen to it, I want to be part of it, however humble. We came together through writing; now it seems we both mainline in secret on things other than Thomas Pynchon.

    I must bring this monster re-comment to an end somehow but do you have access to some form of keyboard? I suspect you have, given your interest in tuning. The keyboard seems to be one of the great mediators in learning music; it's all there, all those blacks and whites; all that's necessary is to put their sounds in order. And, in my case, reproduce that order in my mouth and over my soft palate. Simple!

  6. 'An intellectual weariness around the breastbone', I know that. This is doubtless the next stage, discipline over pleasure, satisfaction over pure joy, but it's an arc worth traversing, if ever there was.

    Just signed up to be a reader for Librivox. I don't expect any epiphanies from it but maybe look forward to the discipline and satisfaction, and some new tech stuff to have to learn.

  7. Lucy: Only selfish people get to collect epiphanies; mine couldn't have been any more self-centred, no one else profits. I think what you're doing is admirable and there will be some incidental benefits I imagine. I take it you'll only read books you yourself like and I'm sure this will result in many unexpected discoveries.

    The one thing you may have to look out for (assuming you're doing fiction) is dialogue and the need to differentiate between voices. You could end up cursing authors who think themselves too grand, too "poetic" to stick in "he saids/she saids".

    I had a flick through the Librivox website and noticed one interesting distinction: The Trial Of Oscar Wilde is designated "Dramatic Reading" so I assume the reader(s?) has/have managed to resolve the multi-voice problem.

    Good on yer.

  8. I do like that song ~ She Moved Thro’ the Fair.

  9. RW (zS): I do too, once I'd got over my (probably unjustified) prejudice about folkery. However the second lesson opened up much more difficulty than I'd been aware of: to do with breathing - actually failure to breathe - and notes sustained over inordinate time lapses. But, as I realised from the start, enthusiasm alone would never lead to competence, while beauty has nothing to do with careless rapture and everything to do with repeated discipline.

    Do you reckon you could sing it? I'd love to hear from you if you tried.