My main instrument is voice. Oh, I play the piano fairly well but jokingly say I gave birth to a good pianist so what more do you want now?
As a undergrad and grad student, I duly studied both. I was petrified by my piano juries but know they were good for me, in the long run, to be able to do what what I need to do now in rehearsals.
In my voice lessons, I studied what was required eventho it didn’t quite fit me. Since I was a choral conducting major, it didn’t matter. I sang a lot as a kid, and in high school got most of the leading roles in the musicals. I just didn’t feel comfortable in college–there didn’t seem to be a place for me. I have excellent technique–probably because it was always drilled into me and because I have good “soprano genes.” Mama was a coloratura and had beautiful high ‘C’s into her sixties. And I live the “singer’s life” anyway–watch what I eat, when I eat it and sleep when I need to for the most part. I told my husband when we were dating to think of me as a “nun with jewelry”–he wasn’t frightened off. He’s now an ENT doctor anyway and I prepared him for all the singers in his practice–he’s gives me jewelry–so it’s all good.
I gave recitals in college–the required number with the prescribed repertoire–and loved singing but I just didn’t feel at home. I am not the leading lady type and that’s the problem. I am not tall or blonde (ironic!) or especially beautiful. I move well–I’m a former ballet dancer–and my face is mobile. And I can act. Boy, can I act. One of my ballet masters told me I reminded him of Zazu Pitts but I had no idea of who that was. My undergrad voice teacher, God rest her soul, loved me and my voice but wanted me to sing serious arias. It felt wrong but I did what she wanted. And I auditioned for things I didn’t feel would fit me because she wanted me to–and didn’t get them. My Mom really was the Queen of the Night but I didn’t feel like Pamina!
I began my work with choirs soon after college and was a serious conductor–or at least, I tried to be. I would ‘crack wise’ and I suppose that would throw people off. I can’t help it–I am a comedienne and it bubbles out, sometimes even when I conduct Byrd! My husband calls me pert and perky and spunky and that about sums it up.
In graduate school, my voice teacher was wiser, I think. Since he knew I was “only” a choral conductor, we could do pretty much what we wanted and none of the other voice faculty could complain. It was then I found a name for my voice type–soubrette. I learned Suzanna and Zerlina and Despina and Blonde as well as Adele. My Mom told me she had thought I might be a soubrette early on but dismissed it since she couldn’t imagine anyone really wanting to play a maid! In my performing for Rep Classes for the Voice Department and the like, the other voice teachers looked forward to whatever I sang because they knew they would be entertained and I could sing, too. My Despina was famous. I had a blast in between conducting Britten and Handel and William Billings. I felt I was home in my own voice.
Of course, when I left grad school, it was to the serious business of conducting. My choirs’ sounds were described as “elegant” and “exquisite” and occasionally crossed my eyes so the choir could see me and get the message to blend or whatever. I often told them I would even tap dance to get them to do what I wanted–and then break into a “Buck and wing” to prove my point. Poulenc and a Buck and Wing…I know!
Now I conduct the Midwest Motet Society and we are very serious. We sing serious repertoire. We sing for serious events. Seriously. And I study voice to keep my technique up and I’m serious!
I study with a retired professor of voice from a respected local music school at a university. I’m not sure what she thought when I first sang for her. I was worried I would lose my high notes if I didn’t kept working on them but my high’ B flat’ is still reliable and my high ‘C’ peeps her head out occasionally, too. We started out with the art songs and lieder I learned as a kid. Nice, but not inspired. I was trying not to rock the boat too much with the professional by doing what she asked. Then she asked me if I had learned any arias and I mentioned Despina’s……and as a sang for her she began to smile. And she and her accompanist laughed as I sang–a good thing if you’re a comedienne.
I’ve been working with Anne for about six years now and since she realized I’m a soubrette, has had so much fun looking for repertoire for me. I’m different and she likes that. I keep her fresh by giving her a challenge with my “type”–I sing serious things and funny things and quirky things for her. I’ve had a ‘desire for hermitage’ with Barber as well as ‘hating music’ with Bernstein. I will sing a little something from a 1930s musical for her recital this Sunday……Betty Boop and Zazu Pitts influenced…because she wants some comedic relief and she knows I’ll deliver. I told her “old soubrettes never die–we just turn in to novelty acts” and she laughed and laughed. It’s freeing for me to just be myself for a change–or the part of me who isn’t afraid to take a prat fall.
My real work is serious and I love it. But my own singing is NOT serious and I love that too.