First lesson at uni

3 03 2011

First singing lesson that is, as classes haven’t gone back yet after the earthquake – which was terrifying and each aftershock leaves me full of adrenaline I can’t use!

However, singing lessons have started out at someone’s house (well mansion, as the lady who is letting us use her house is in fact a Lady with a capital ‘L’). I’m going to be learning from Dame MM who is one of NZ’s leading divas, but also seems to be very gracious and down to earth – which is a good start, as I had quite imagined myself quaking in my boots (strappy sandals) before her. I’m determined to take in everything I can, after all, how often will I get this chance?

I and another new voice student had our first lesson together, and we went back to basics, just trying to control our breath and make the right sound. So my exercises for this week are: (let me bore you, but I need to record them somewhere, and why not here!)

  • Hissing tssssssss out through my teeth slowly and controlled three times, ensuring proper release after each one.
  • All on one note – Ngee-eeh-ah-oh-oo
  • Ee up and Ahh down all on one breath: 1-5,5-1, 1-5, 5-1,1-9,9-1, 1-10 with a turn on the end and back down

Other things to remember: chest up, jaw relaxed and open, sniff in the breath through my nose so that the sound is already focused there. Ngee if I’m having trouble getting my sound right.

If it sounds like gobbledegook, don’t worry, I’m sure even musicians would have trouble understanding my shorthand, but I know what I mean which is most important. 🙂 Thanks to my excellent previous teacher I quickly understood all of what I needed to do, which gave me some confidence.

Next lesson is on Thursday next week. I’m picking up the other girl, as we will be sharing lessons for a while – which is fun, and slightly less stressful 🙂

Now, I should probably go eat something as I was too nervous this morning, plus my dearest one called me from Auckland panicking that he didn’t know where his passport was. And thus ensued the great passport hunt of 2011. Eventually successful 🙂







Tip of the tongue…

24 03 2010

So I don’t forget what I did today – worked on my new song and focused on using the tip of the tongue for consonants. It’s amazing how much over-effort I use to make some sounds when I could just shift my tongue slightly.  Using the tip of your tongue helps you keep the same space at the back of your mouth to produce sound.

I was chatting with a friend from the show about how your body just sometimes seems to make all the wrong kinds of effort to help out when you hit a difficult note. (Quick! She’s coming up to a high A! Choke off her air! Tie her tongue in knots! TENSE THAT JAW!! Slouch dammit slouch!) That’s why you learn techniques, so you can gradually replace your body’s automatic reactions with things that make more sense. Sometimes you have to teach your body to do nothing extra at all, which seems completely contrary to all instinct.

The song went well today, so next week I will start learning a new song – I should point out, when I say ‘I’m starting a new song’ it doesn’t mean the old one is completely good to go. In fact, we are going to revisit one I learned months ago as well as get a new one, because the old one will benefit from the skills I picked up in the song I just did.

New song will (hopefully) be Porgi Amor from (you guessed it) The Marriage of Figaro. It’s all about *spinning* the high notes out beautifully. No doubt I will tell you how that goes soon!

Have a listen to Renee Fleming sing it. She truly has that effortlessly beautiful sound.

(singing starts about a minute in, but the intro is interesting too )

I got troubles…

27 11 2009

Singing has been hard this past week. I’m not sure why. I think it’s probably a combo effect of many things:

1- I’ve been stressed about other things.

2 – I’ve been hopping and jumping between singing styles and registers on a daily basis.

3- I’m quite tired from performing.

I remember that a friend from university had a similar problem with her technique when she started learning from a different teacher. Her technique went out the window and she felt like she didn’t even know how to sing anymore. This friend has a completely gorgeous and full sounding voice, so I didn’t really understand what she meant at the time. I thought, ‘Oh silly Jj, you have a lovely voice!’  Now I kinda see what she meant.

It hit me when I went to singing lesson this week and started doing a couple of quite simple folk songs to sing at a retirement home early next year; ‘O waly waly’ and ‘My love is like a red red rose’. Neither of them go particularly high or low, they sit nicely in the middle of my range. Unfortunately it is the middle of my range giving me the most problems at the moment! I sounded waffly, breathy, and basically like someone who has just started learning to sing. It was SO FRUSTRATING. Thank god my teacher is awesome. She didn’t waste time querying what was up, she just worked on it bit by bit to find a good sound again. Not there yet, but I have tools to work on it.

I guess that’s the key to fixing it. Keep working, keep trying, and go back to basics when you need to.

Concert coming up, I’m going to sing Ganymed, which was one of my audition pieces. I want to sing it really well, hopefully my family can come hear me.

I’ve been playing the piano a bit this week too, it’s relaxing and takes my mind off my singing troubles. Mustn’t let it become a procrastination tool for not practising though.

I’m excited that friends and family are coming to the next couple of shows, better make sure I rock it!

Updates on shows and auditions

22 11 2009

Well I got into both of the shows I auditioned for a couple of weeks back: the Christmas sing along show out at PLT, and Die Fledermaus which the GnS society are putting on next year.

The Christmas show will be fun – it’s a lot of carols and sing along goodness! Also I get to be a soprano again, which is just such a nice relief. It’s been so good for me singing other parts, low and middle, but it is tiring and I have to concentrate with every note, not just to sing it in tune, but to sing it so I don’t sound like a dying buzzard. At least with soprano I can just work on sounding my best without the other distractions.  My goal for next year may be to just get my middle ‘blend’ area working properly.

Die Fledermaus should also be fun, but it will be a lot of work for a chorus appearance in just two acts… I may have to track down a full score and start learning some of the solo bits for my own benefit.  It also doesn’t start rehearsing until May next year!

I’m going to audition for ‘Curtains’ also out at PLT in a few weeks. It will be on in the first part of next year. A murder mystery musical apparently! Sounds like fun.

The show I’m currently in is pretty much sold out except for about 4 or 5 seats, this is pretty amazing! And it is going really well. We opened on Thursday last week, and have had 3 nights. Last night’s audience was amazing. They danced, they sang along, they rapturously applauded everything. I think the whole cast had an audience-crush by the end of the night. We wanted to take them home with us! Seriously, walking on stage was like being a rock star! This is what we do it for. 🙂

Oh, and my current delight is that in the Christmas show I get to sing ‘O holy night’ with two other women, and I get the high harmony, and it’s my favourite carol…basically: SQUEEEE!

Things to work on this week: Keeping my vocal chords relaxed and hydrated. I’ve not been doing this much singing for a while, I need to take care of my instrument!

I’ll link you here to my favourite trio from Die Fledermaus (Johann Strauss II) in English:

4 and a bit minutes but worth a listen, particularly after halfway through. If you can log into the Naxos database at Wellington libraries I heartily recommend looking it up and having a listen to other bits of the music!

Sing low…

12 11 2009

…sweet chariot?  Heh.

I’ve been having trouble with all the low notes for this show, at some point I’m fairly sure I’m having to hit an F below middle C. That’s pretty low. I can hit the note but I was having trouble giving it any oomph, which it needs, even with a mic for anyone to hear it when you’re mixed with other voices. (How did I end up with these notes?? I’m a soprano goddamit!) Anyway, we figured out that I’m not used to using the thicker parts of my vocal chords. I’m fine  with my ‘thin folds’ – that quite controlled sound that you might also think of as ‘head voice’ but I’m not great at ‘chest voice’ and I have difficulty blending them in my middle range.

My teacher and I came up with the following solutions:

  • Glottal stop:Putting a glottal in at the start of my vowels for low notes helps me get the resistance I need.
  • Think like a bass: If I imagine I’m a guy about to sing “Old man river” apparently that’s enough of a mental trick to get my chords in the right place!
  • Relax the back of my tongue. For reasons known only to itself, it’s trying to help me too much. When I relax it I have more space and room to really let the sound bloom.

It was a really fun lesson. I’m not going to have to work on this stuff a whole lot, because there aren’t going to be many occasions when I need to sing this low, but it’s good to know how to do it.

We also looked at keeping some of that chest voice and blending –  trying to bring more ’tilt’ into the larynx as you move up your range. I’m not so awesome at it but I can do it. (You might also think of this as how to learn ‘belt’ – totally different sound for notes I would normally sing in full head voice.)

It’s awesome how many ways you can sing the same notes! And the way I sing them is different from the way someone else will! Humans make cool noises. 🙂

I also had two auditions this weekend just been. One for Die Fledermaus, and one for PLT’s Christmas show. I sang Voi che sapete for Fledermaus and it was fine. I really needed to be warmed up more though. I stayed in bed longer than I should have that morning. The Christmas show I ended up doing ‘Ding dong merrily on high’. That’s the one with the really long Glooooooria in it. The one that keeps going even when you think it has stopped! Got into the Christmas show, waiting to hear about Fledermaus. Aiming for chorus but with understudy hopes for a smaller role.

Rehearsal for our show tonight – we open next week yikes! Here’s a link to what it is in case you don’t already know:

In other news I can’t stop singing harmony lines. I’ve always liked singing along to things on the radio a third above as it’s the easy one. But now I want to sing all of the harmonies! All the time! Especially sevenths! I’ve gone harmonically crazy!


The audition wrap-up

22 10 2009

I’m back! I went, I sang, I was theory tested!

So now we wait…

I was happy with how it went. I really feel like I couldn’t have done anything more, as myself, where I am right now, to get in. So of course I could probably have been wildly vivacious and overwhelmed them with personality…but I am not that person. I was cheerful, I made a little joke, we all laughed, I was passionate about what I want and I think I put ideas forward coherently.

The singing went great! Well from my POV. No idea what the panel thought as they spent most of their time writing things! EEk! Lovely things surely! Luckily I’d already decided I was going to sing to the room at large, and the imaginary appreciative audience behind the panel.

After the singing came the aural tests. ARGH. I have not done aural tests since I was 16 or 17 for piano, and I was never that great at them. I did fine. I didn’t get everything – at one point I hilariously (in retrospect) said “the major 7th – NO not the major one! That other one!” Um this is the problem with having learned chord and interval theory by doing as much as I barely needed to and learning while playing the guitar. The word I was looking for was MINOR. MINOR 7th. So yes, I know that there is major and minor, but for some reason I only had that in my head for thirds and sixths. That other 7th? That’s just a 7th! Y’know – a normal 7th! So I pretty much sounded like a complete nutter at that point. The lady on the piano smiled sweetly and a trifle sadly at me. Also, damn you major sixth. Why are you so hard to identify! My rhythm clapping was fine, and picking the notes out of a chord was easy (THANK-YOU CURRENT SHOW I’M REHEARSING FOR!).

Yeah. So, now…wait. And they do two ‘acceptance’ letter rounds. The first one for their initial selection, then the second round for any gaps they have once the initial people accept or decline (most of the young folk apply for at least one other music school in NZ). Young folk. Heh.

I have rehearsal tonight, and I am very unenthused! I just need a wind down time! But, show must go on.

Toi toi toi! <— this is like ‘break a leg’ but used for opera singers. I got my first ‘toi toi toi’ today from my singing teacher! 🙂

Preparing for auditions

21 10 2009

So my audition for music school is tomorrow. I know someone else who auditioned today, and she doesn’t seem too traumatised… 😉

To be honest, I know I will probably freak out a bit before the audition, but I’m prepared, I’m looking forward to singing, my voice feels good…so argh, just happen already dammit!

I was worried at the start of the week, as I went out on Saturday night and sang karaoke. This is the first time I’ve sung it in a bar, and you tend to …YELL REALLY LOUDLY INSTEAD OF ACTUALLY SINGING. So I finished my last song and then went to talk to someone and thought…uhoh. Sunday I didn’t sing at all, as I worried about my voice. However, it was just fatigue. I rested it. Did a little singing Monday, stayed very hydrated. Warmed up slowly and carefully today, and it was just fine! In fact I felt very happy with the way I sounded. I’ll do the same warm up routine tomorrow before heading to the audition.

Things to remember for tomorrow: Water bottle. Copies of my songs. Cash for pianist. Copy of theory certificate if I can find it.

Oh and my current main worry ?

WHAT AM I GOING TO WEAR AND WHY CAN’T I DECIDE!?! Heels, skirt and a nice top. But which ones?! Must be something I’m comfortable in, that’s not too OTT, but looks a bit ‘performey’. OMG I MADE THAT LAST CRITERIA UP! ARGH!

I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂