Voice lesson

The picture is my father in 2009. We went sailing on his friend Paul’s boat. My father loved to sail and loved to sing. He taught me to sing from when I was tiny….

I had five voice lessons in the spring. The teacher is a woman who comes into town to see her mother, from New York. When she comes, she teaches many of the best soloists in town, including people I’ve taken lessons from. One of our soprano soloists gave her my name.

She started by asking my singing history. I explained that my family had sung folk songs since I was tiny and that I’d been in a chorus for the last 14 years. That my father had been in the chorus and that he had recently died. We are working on the Faure Requiem and the Rutter Requiem. Our director asked me to work on the Pie Jesu in the latter and I was having trouble with the high notes. She asked about my father’s voice. I said that he was a very fine bass, who had died from cigarretes. In the last few years he couldn’t sustain, but his entrances kept the bass section on track.

She took me through the lesson. There were five things that she had me work on. It was hard to keep them all in my head at once, since they were all a change.

1. To breathe in so that the back of my throat felt cold, like the feeling you get in icy air. This opens it.

2. To think of the breath as circling along my jaw when I sustained a note or phrase. This made the notes feel alive and stay alive. Richer.

3. As I went into the passagio, to think of the sound going out the top of my head and then directly out through the back of my skull.

4. On the very high notes, to press down more with my lower ribs in my back. This increases support.

5. To open my mouth dropping my jaw, but keeping it narrow. This changes the quality of the vowels tremendously.

The lesson was so helpful that I scheduled a second one two days later and had the sense to tape it. I can practice it with my tape. She will come back within a year and I hope that I’ve improved in all five.

first published on everything2 April 2014