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Friday: F-sharps and ARCs [Oct. 22nd, 2010|01:01 pm]
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Less than two years ago, my choir section buddy C- and I took advantage of our choir director's offer of a free half-hour voice lesson for choir members, and he merged our two lessons into one, so we could benefit from the longer instruction period.   C- and I both considered ourselves low altos, and went into this expecting to come out as low altos.   Except that in the course of the lesson,  when it was my turn to sing little exercises while he played the pitches (and the singer could not see the keyboard)  at one point my voice changed.  Not a break-type change, but a tonal quality change.  I could hear it.  C- could hear it.  And our choir director announced with some satisfaction that i wasn't actually a low alto, but a mezzo-soprano who'd only been using the bottom part of her range.

Scared me.   I was quite comfortable in the cozy rich-dark of low-alto-dom.   Had been there for years, since being told by a choir person many years back "Oh, you're an alto."    Had forgotten, almost, that as an untrained but happy singer I had once sung both high and low.   So after a panicky period (changes of self-identification in over age 60 can be scary...) I talked to my choir director about voice lessons, last fall.   And though they haven't been as regular as I'd like...months-long gaps several times--every lesson has nudged my voice toward better things.

Three or four years ago, I think it was, we did the Durufle Requiem, and all the women were to sing the "Pie Jesu," part of which is (for anyone singing low alto) far too high.   I had actually managed to touch the high F-sharp in the last rehearsal and the performance, but it was touching-by-panicky-leap and I had no love for the E-flat to F-sharp progression.   Coming in on an E-flat was a scary proposition.   When our choir director announced we were doing it again (under his direction, and in a different venue this time) I thought of my progress so far in opening up the top range, and hoped the F-sharps would be attainable, not by panicky leap but by sound singing technique.  He had eased me higher than that, in lessons.  Surely...

Working on the music at home, I could get there only with a wheezy sort of squeak.  But last night, at rehearsal, we came to the "Pie Jesu" at the end, after nearly two hours of singing--so we were well warmed up.  The entrance E-flat was amazingly easy.   And the F-sharps, when I got there, were  actual sung notes, that I knew were going to be on pitch.   No panic.   They weren't as good as the E-flat and E-natural (I've now sung a lot more of those) but they contributed to the choral sound, which is what's needed.    What a thrill that was! 

And then...ARCs of Kings of the North arrived.    ARCs are another sign that book publication is really happening....and they look like books, and they read like books.   (They don't have maps in them, though.  They have pages with [map] at the top instead to show where maps will be.)   I take a childish delight in the arrival of ARCs.  Whether writers get any, and how many, varies with the demand elsewhere--they're not cheap to produce, and publishers naturally want them to go where they'll do some good.  A reviewer who needs a copy in order to write a review trumps an author who wants to coo over one--and rightly so.   Last year I didn't get any, so this year's were especially welcome.   One of them will be the prize of a contest over at the Paksworld blog,  when I get it organized.  (There'll be an announcement in the Twitter feed when that happens.)

High F-sharps and ARCs.   As good as apple pandowdy.   Drove home from rehearsal and the classical station had Juan Diego Flores singing all those incredible high Cs from Daughter of the Regiment.  Definitely the heavy cream poured over the apple pandowdy of the evening.

[User Picture]From: meirwen
2010-10-22 06:08 pm (UTC)
A mezzo with a bright top and rich low range is a rare treasure. How wonderful to find something bright and shiny and new at a stage in life when too many people cling to the familiar and safe. Bravo!
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-10-22 06:26 pm (UTC)
Thanks. It's made me look at other things in my life, and though I haven't made much progress in those directions, at least I'm seeing things differently. D- says I need to imagine myself into being more musical, more dramatic even.

When our autistic son went through a stage where he could not stand the sound of singing (for one horrible period, any music at all--we realized later it was a time when his brain was going through serious changes and his language processing shifted from right-brain-type to left-brain-type) I thought I'd lost the singing forever--when I came back to it, it seemed like the voice would never recover. But it has.

I couldn't have afforded voice lessons back-when even if I'd known how much good they could do...and I try not to think about what I might have been capable of if a) I'd known and b) had, or found a way to make, the resources. I tell myself to just enjoy what's happening now...I'm singing better now, at 65, than 20 years ago. I asked D- how long I could hope to keep singing (this was several years ago, when I thought it might be any year now) and he said some people could sing well into their 80s...that it was more about hearing loss than anything else, if they kept at it and used good technique. Such fun.
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[User Picture]From: pgranzeau
2010-10-22 06:59 pm (UTC)
Is an ARC also one last chance to find errata and get them to Fix It? Or has the book already gone to production?
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[User Picture]From: scarlettina
2010-10-22 07:23 pm (UTC)
I had a similar vocal experience, singing low for years and then suddenly being informed by a choral director that I was a mezzo and that I ought to let my light shine. It was a wonderful experience. I think my favorite part of it was getting to sing part of Bernstein's Chichester Psalms that I never could have done years ago. A thrill indeed.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-10-23 01:38 am (UTC)
Wow! Bet that was a great experience!
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[User Picture]From: tuftears
2010-10-22 08:05 pm (UTC)
I had no idea you're a choir singer - neat! But I cannot help but wonder what a Pie Jesu is and if it tastes "heavenly". ^_^
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-10-23 01:38 am (UTC)

I've been singing pretty regularly in a choir since about, um, 1974. I think that was when a choir director saw me in the hall of the church (on the way to talk to someone about something else) and said "You look like an alto. Choir rehearsal Thursday night--we have supper at 5:30. See you there." I had sung with a choir briefly in college (there was an annual choir competition between the residential colleges) but that was all. For years my husband and I sang in the same choir, but now he sings in one church and I sing in another (because our autistic son goes to the other church and we're not about to tear him out of a community in which he's comfortable.)
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[User Picture]From: torainfor
2010-10-22 08:28 pm (UTC)
A few weeks ago, our leader wanted me to lead a (simple) song because he knew I knew it and liked it. I arrived ready to go, but with a horrible sinus infection. I was especially anxious about how the throat-full of phlegm would react to the (for me) high notes. It actually turned out alright, although my tone was quite fuzzy!
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-10-23 01:33 am (UTC)
When I've got stopped up sinuses (frequent) singing high notes means they'll start draining...I think the vibration shakes the yuck loose. Or something like that.
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[User Picture]From: anghara
2010-10-22 08:43 pm (UTC)
Always been soprano, here - but I have an enormous respect for people who can stretch their voices over a respectable range. I lose pitch if I go too low - it just yaws off into the deep and I can't hang onto the note.

As for "Pie Jesu" - this one has always been a favourite one of mine - but then, as I said, I am a soprano...
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[User Picture]From: ebeeman
2010-10-22 09:12 pm (UTC)
I'm a big fan of stretching one's boundaries, trying something new and challenging. ("A man's reach must exceed his grasp, else what's a Heaven for?") Earlier this year it was learning about digital photography and editing. Before that, rollerblading, something i didn't think I had the balance to do. So I applaud your leap into the mezzo world!
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-10-23 01:31 am (UTC)
Agreed! When I visited my favorite prof, about a year out of college, she commented that too many of her former students seemed to stop learning--if she visited them, she'd see few new books except light fiction, for instance. At that point, I thought I'd better make sure it didn't happen to me, and set up a study program for myself for both reading and skills acquisition...flexible enough to work with military service, work, and a return to classes at intervals. Most people probably don't need to formalize the idea, but it sure helped me, and it nudged me to explore all sorts of topics I might not have "had time" for otherwise. My pact with myself was that I had to stick with a new thing for six months (semester, of sorts) before dropping it for something else.

Was SO glad of this program when it came to bringing up an autistic kid, because my brain had been well-exercised and was used to diving into new material even though I'd been out of formal classes for years at that point.

I love the sense of "space" that I get knowing that I cannot possibly run out of new things to learn--both information and skills.
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[User Picture]From: shockwave77598
2010-10-22 09:27 pm (UTC)
Lucky you. I can do funny voices for puppet shows, but my singing voice leaves much to be desired. And trying to record filk songs, they come out sounding far worse than I plan them to.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-10-23 01:22 am (UTC)
I used to think only professional singers "deserved" to take voice lessons. Wrong. Anyone who wants to sing better can probably benefit from them.

OTOH,finding a good coach for adults can be tricky.
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[User Picture]From: whswhs
2010-10-22 10:40 pm (UTC)
I'm sixty, so I'm encouraged to read about somebody marginally older than I am doing something new and challenging: It sets me a good example.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-10-23 01:21 am (UTC)
There's a certain "If not now, when?" thing going on, too. When you're young, and you miss a chance to do something, you think "I can always do it later," and "later" in the young mind means "next year or the year after."

Then it's much later and you realize you didn't...so the new chances that come along are more likely to get a quick "Do it NOW."

Growing up, there were a lot of chances that seemed to carry the label "Not for people like you." (What we see as possible is constrained, at least partly, by the attitudes of those around us.) For some of those, it's taken most of my life to realize those labels, if they actually said that, are fraying and falling off the chances.

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[User Picture]From: judifilksign
2010-10-25 08:26 pm (UTC)
My young autistic daughter has perfect pitch. This can make casual singing about the house very difficult, and practicing nearly impossible.

It is comforting to me that others have had similar experiences.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-10-25 09:36 pm (UTC)
She may be less sensitive to it later. Our son has that incredible pitch sensitivity too, but can tolerate our casual singing. I can't remember how long it was before he could, but I hope it happens with you and your daughter, too.
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