The week before the Faure performance, I was given a new piece to learn, that I fell in love with: "Qui Sedes..." from Vivaldi's Gloria. I even sight-read it much better than I've sight-read other things. It's not easy--but I think it's enormous fun to sing. So I took it home, and worked on it, and didn't have a lesson the day after the Faure or the next week either--so kept working. Count-singing it, working on it section by section, etc. Came into the lesson feeling confident.
You can see where this is going. Warm-up and vocal exercises started well--I've been working on those, too--and Svengali said my tone had improved, and had me working on expanding the upper end again. I wasn't scared, and I was having a great time until--all at once--while trying to keep my tongue "dead" (relaxed, back to front) and sing scales, my voice did something it's never done. I headed up the scale and before I reached a note I'd reached fairly comfortably before....it made an ugly sound and went down. Down, even though I was thinking "up!" It was as if the "dead" tongue or some other muscle group woke up and messed with my throat.
Did some other things, and everything relaxed, and finally it was time to sing the Vivaldi. And I started making ridiculously stupid mistakes that I don't normally make. Coming in early, coming in late, coming in on the wrong note, not being able to "find" (hear) the note on which to come in. Blowing the page turn I had drilled on over and over and over at home, and thought I had licked. Svengali--very wisely in my opinion--doesn't let the student continue wrong...if you blow something, you have to stop and fix it right then. This is particularly good for me, because I learned a lot of music by ear, and quickly at that. So singing it wrong without correction means I "know" it wrong. Frustrating to be stopped, but necessary. On the rare occasions that I did launch into a section correctly, Svengali praised the improved tone, the mostly improved vowels, and the expressiveness. (Svengali is effective because he praises lavishly as well as demanding more and more.)
What I think happened (after thoughts)--besides some errors in how I worked on the piece, concentrating on each section separately and not singing through it counting the measures not sung--was that the improved tone, etc. represented several technical things finally coming together, plus the addition of expressiveness--what Svengali calls musicality or "really singing, not just notes." And trying to bring all these things into mindful, conscious attention at once--when I'm not really there yet--meant that some plate or other was always slipping from the stack I carried. What Karen Pryor, in her training books, would call a "pre-learning dip"--a sign that things are *almost* solidly learned, but not quite. Not a signal that I'll never "get it together" but a signal that I am getting it together, but not yet. I'm sure it was as frustrating for Svengali as it was for me, but he's a very good teacher and if he goes home rolling his eyes and wondering if this student will EVER make progress, he doesn't express that to the student. He knows I'm working on it.
My new assignment includes positive statements to self about singing like a diva. Pretend, he said, that you're on the stage, a famous singer of art songs. Tell yourself that. THEN practice. The thought is...impossible. On the other hand, there was a time I couldn't tell myself I was a writer. And it does make a difference what you tell yourself. Up to a point. The point at which the voice goes GACK and dives downward instead of upward.