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e_moon60

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Recovering a voice [Jan. 6th, 2010|12:05 am]
e_moon60
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[Current Mood |awake]
[Current Music |"If Music Be the Food of Love"]

I've embarked on the adventure of discovering/recovering a voice--the voice I had forgotten I had, the one I used to sing with as a child.

This journey began last summer, when our choir director announced (to my utter astonishment) that I was not, in fact, a natural alto, but a mezzo.   (I had to look up what that was...and it meant that the way I sang as a young girl--untrained and unaware of the differences in various voices--was in fact that kind of voice, with a lot more range at the top end than I had used in years.  Decades.  Lots of decades.)    It shook me up for several weeks--it was like being told "But half the hair on your head is actually blonde--didn't you notice?"  or "But you have three legs--didn't you realize?"  After I settled down again, I realized that if I had, in fact, that other half of a voice, then I had best figure out what to do with it.  Not something I could do alone, at my level of ignorance.   So I began lessons. 

This is a curious sort of journey, backwards and forwards at the same time, because by agreeing to accept what my choir director (and now, voice teacher) said about the real nature of my voice, I had to admit--accept that my distant memories of singing were of a real voice...that voice and this voice.  I had it once--I did sing those notes, singing along with records of Broadway shows and operettas and a couple of operas.  The voice I have thought for years I had was not that voice (or this voice) but a different voice--a plain-Jane church-choir-alto voice, a voice that could not be anything but what it was, serviceable in a choir but that's all.  This choir voice has been my understanding of my voice for something over forty years.  I sang second alto because I could hit the low notes others couldn't, and--when younger and with unusually large lung capacity for a woman--I had both loudness and breath when it was called for.  When I thought I was losing that, through having to give up singing for some years in my forties, that's the voice I thought I was losing. 

Not the other voice, the one I'd had (but had come to believe hadn't ever existed) and the one I'm discovering now. 

I have no idea what this voice is capable of.  I haven't asked.   I am, after all, over sixty, not an age at which people usually discover that their voice is (still) capable of more than they've used.   I am resisting the "if only" side of the situation (If only I'd known in my twenties that this was lurking inside me...maybe...what?  And anyway, that was then and this is now, and now is all the time I have.)    Today's lesson made it clear that even though lessons were missed during the holidays (too many rehearsals and performances, no time or energy for more), the voice continues to grow on its own, just from my unskilled warbling at home.   It's almost like when someone gave me permission--official, recognized permission known as an assignment--to write fiction and take it seriously.  WHAM the baby writer-kitten was out of the cage, six feet long, striped and fanged and never going to fit back in the cage.  The voice is feeling that way....it wants out.  Out being defined as allowed to grow.   I have no ambitions, exactly (which I guess is a way of saying "I do, but not any that will get me ridiculed...")   I want to sing better.  I want to try singing some things I've always wanted to sing but thought were out of my reach, because I love that music.

I am resolutely ignoring all the "You're too old, it's silly to spend money on voice lessons at your age..." etc things that keep trying to get into my head (bad enough that I have the writer-imposter voice...) because--it feels right.   Good.  Fun.  It's kind of like a reaction I had during therapy, when I suddenly felt connected again to my four-year-old self.    And if the practical outcome is no more than I become a better choral singer...fine.  

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: fjm
2010-01-06 07:25 am (UTC)
Go for it!

I used to be a lyric soprano, but my breath control went in 1997 after a bout of serious illness and then we moved to London and I am one of the many people (I gather) who's lungs can't cope with the city. I barely have a speaking voice these days. I have no singing voice at all.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-01-06 03:37 pm (UTC)
Ouch. I'm having trouble with breath control, something I attribute--in large part--to a particular fencing session (outdoors) when there was a pall of volcanic dust blown up from Mexico. I haven't had the same endurance since and that's when I started wheezing off and on.

I'm very sorry your singing voice has left you.
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[User Picture]From: freyaw
2010-01-06 08:27 am (UTC)
Booyah!
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-01-06 03:37 pm (UTC)
Thanks!
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[User Picture]From: danae
2010-01-06 08:28 am (UTC)
better late than never
don't give up and don't listen to your doubts
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-01-06 03:37 pm (UTC)
Thanks--that's my attitude right now.
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[User Picture]From: keristor
2010-01-06 08:51 am (UTC)
I have several friends who have found, on taking voice lessons, that they have a lot more range than they thought, or in some cases a different range from what they had always thought they had. A far as age goes, you are certainly not alone, I've known several people in choirs who haven't started singing seriously until they retired and then let themselves find that 'new' (or 'old') voice.

"I want to try singing some things I've always wanted to sing but thought were out of my reach, because I love that music."

That's a big motivator, coupled with believing that you can do it.

Go for it!
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-01-06 03:42 pm (UTC)
I had heard that about voice lessons--that people extended their range and/or found a new one--including from other people in this choir. But I thought 'Oh, they're younger than me' or 'Well, they have good enough voices to be worth working with.' I considered my voice to be static, and near the bottom of the group David works with in that choir.

Now...well, I'm not headed for the Met any time soon (as in, ever) but there's a lot more to play with in this sandbox.
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[User Picture]From: ann_mcn
2010-01-06 11:45 am (UTC)
That is amazing. I'm near your age and have been a second alto since I was 13 or 14, but it seems as if most choir directing types just want to push it higher, and the higher notes are painful to sing for more than a bar or two. What is the difference that persuaded you?
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-01-06 03:53 pm (UTC)
What happened was finding that I could sing higher without pain if I didn't know I was singing higher. (David dislikes the concept of "higher" on the grounds that it scares people, they tighten up, and then it does hurt.) In that joint lesson last summer, C- and I were singing scales as he played them, but we could not see the keyboard. We knew he was leading us up bit by bit, but it wasn't scary...first, we didn't know where he'd started, and second, even if it went higher we weren't in a performance, so to speak. He was also correcting our breathing, our vowels, the usual things, which also fooled me (at least) into thinking I wasn't "that high." He began asking me to be "more dramatic--pretend you're an opera singer" and "use more air." And then suddenly...there it was. The other voice. And it didn't hurt.

In the meantime, I'd been noticing over the past six years that as I gradually sang higher without as much stress, I was now feeling tension (and even discomfort) with a lot of low notes (middle C and below) in a row when I tried to sing them with more quality...to "get more head voice into it."

Apparently quite a few altos, including second altos, are actually "higher" voices--mezzos in particular--because they *can* sing low and often fairly strongly low (though not as resonantly as real contraltos) and so their early choir directors say "You're an alto" because every choir needs altos. If I understand it, the real contralto is singing in head voice--very clear, very resonant--in the low range, where many of us who aren't really that get "chesty" or "buzzy" or "hooty" down there. It's not a matter of being on pitch--it's a matter of being purely on pitch. We have a woman in our choir who was singing alto and is now singing first soprano--to her surprise. She doesn't have a big voice, but it's more voice in her real range than it was in alto.

My current guess/thought/belief is that without a few lessons with a really good voice coach used to working with older adults, no one really knows what his/her range is. I sure didn't.
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[User Picture]From: torrilin
2010-01-06 12:01 pm (UTC)
You have no idea how happy this makes me.

(not *quite* as happy as a Christmas gift from my voice of a note-perfect run on a song that uses the whole thing... but almost. More than octave jumps are *deeply* satisfying when done right.)
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-01-06 03:58 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm happy about it too. ("More than octave jumps are *deeply* satisfying..." Hmmm....that's like the person who told me riding over jumps wasn't any fun until they got around five feet or so...something I never tested!)
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[User Picture]From: green_knight
2010-01-06 02:02 pm (UTC)
Firstly, if you earn the money, you have a right to spend it, and making yourself happy is the best use I can possibly think of.

Also, Placido Domingo - also not of an age where professional singers develop their voices in new directions - has recently begun singing baritone roles. So go for it!
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-01-06 03:56 pm (UTC)
One of my opera buff friends told me he started as a baritone, moved up to tenor (no doubt why his tenor voice had such richness) and is now "relaxing" back into baritone rather than trying to maintain the tippy-top of his range and risk too much strain.

I've always loved his voice.
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[User Picture]From: j_cheney
2010-01-06 02:32 pm (UTC)
My aunt (also a mezzo) started professional lessons back in her fifties, and has loved the experience, even if it will not ever lead to anything professional. SHe's simply developing the talent because she wants to.

In eight grade choir, I sang soprano on one piece and tenor on the other, so I'm pretty sure I'm a mezzo as well. But for some reason, people think that means I can hit the high note in "Oh Lord, Our Lord"....

Only with extensive lessons and practice can I hit that note...so perhpas you should give it a stab!

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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-01-06 04:00 pm (UTC)
So far, lessons and practice have made an astonishing amount of difference--so we'll just see.
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-01-06 03:55 pm (UTC)
Two words: Susan Boyle

Go re-read what you wrote on courage in "Oath."
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-01-06 04:01 pm (UTC)
But...but...but...she has a *gorgeous* voice. A *big* gorgeous voice.

(And the internal Voice just replied "And what do you think *I* am, chopped liver on moldy bread???")



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[User Picture]From: moonsinger
2010-01-06 06:51 pm (UTC)
I think it's wonderful that you're gaining such joy from music again.

I've pondered off and on getting back into doing something musical. I played Christmas tunes on the piano (and sang although the voice is pretty rough with mountain cedar causing me to have post nasal drip problems). I started off playing as a classical pianist, but I switched to pop primarily because I'd learned to improvise the chords in the bass line. My teacher was a local TV performer in Indiana, and she taught me how to fake it.

I moved away from piano to clarinet for middle and high school, and I always regretted not majoring in music education. I got too nervous doing audition tapes.

I picked up piano again as an adult, but when I had kids I moved away from it because they wouldn't really let me play (they wanted to play too). Plus, my perfectionism was taking away my joy of playing.

Now though it's been a few years and my youngest will generally let me play without trying to play, too. He's also learning to sing even though he has severe speech problems (well they are improving).

Maybe I should just try to discover that inner child who used to love performing (singing and playing) and not worrying if everything was perfect. Thanks for the inspiration!
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-01-07 02:32 am (UTC)

Voice

Brilliant! Don't ever let those inner voices rule you. If it feels good, fun, interesting, or even if you just use the voice lessons to sound louder when you're in the shower or out on the 80 acres alone with the wind and the grasses, so be it. Sing for the joy of it, and build your voice talent for the personal satisfaction it gives.

The same way you write. :)

Be well! GS (longtime reader)
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-01-07 03:13 am (UTC)
Now though it's been a few years and my youngest will generally let me play without trying to play, too. He's also learning to sing even though he has severe speech problems. transfer smart (http://www.transfersmart.blogspot.com/)
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-01-07 08:37 pm (UTC)

Follow your heart!

As a retired professional singer, trained bel canto, I applaud your decision. I wish you nothing but goodness.

Now a teacher and freelance writer, I run across many people who either lose their singing voices or like you are rediscovering themselves. Enjoy! What a freedom you will find. Whatever comes out, it will be good! Congratulations and more power to you!

Carolyn Thomas Temple
http://sonflowerlives.wordpress.com/
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[User Picture]From: kabochan
2010-01-08 06:03 am (UTC)
I'm so excited for you! Thanks for opening up in more detail about your vocal adventures - I enjoy the posts about your choir and love to hear about your progress in this area as well as your other pursuits. :) I'm glad it's opened new channels of joy in your musical gifts, especially when you weren't expecting it!

I remember when my 9th grade choir teacher placed me as an alto, I was so affronted that I all but ignored her for a week. Since then, fortunately, I've come to appreciate the rich substance and generally 'supportive' role of an alto as an intrinsic part of my nature.
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