Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Development of N !

I had rather a light week which was nice in some ways, and lightened the weekly load, it takes time pressure off one, and now and again I like that feeling. Not having to work by the clock hands and not having to finish a lesson when something interesting has just happened ! There was a school short 'inset' holiday last week so some of the youngsters were away on mini breaks, so to speak, and a few adults had other engagements, or were too worn out for a lesson ! This is proof enough that by now all my older students know what hard physical graft singing is when done fully and properly ! That rather pleases me in an odd sort of way !

Those who came were their usual cheery and happy selves, and one in particular, my superb mezzo N, had a cracker of a lesson. Her 18 year old voice has been changing dramatically over the last few months and this week the range suddenly evened up, grew fatter and was feeling a great deal more comfortable ! This is a joy indeed. N has always had a chocolatey and mellow dark tone quality - since she was 8 or 9 years old, which led me to believe that it was a foregone conclusion that the young mezzo would become the mature mezzo ! The break between chest and middle register was easier, and much less 'clunky', and the top G and A flat were solid as proverbial rocks ! She was so excited, and when she sang her Strauss lieder when clearly the quality of tone, top to bottom was a delight to behold.

Eighteen is quite possibly the most exciting age for a female voice and its development - the changes, the bumpy or breathy tone evens and clears as if by magic. In fact for N who sang the most beautiful Iolanthe in July, it was astonishing how the size of her aria in the final few moments of the show, had tripled in depth and strength from when she sang it a couple of years ago at Saltburn Music Festival. It was as if we were hearing, only two months ago a glorious technicolor version of the same piece, sung as a 16 year old.

I know some singing teachers do not believe that young singers should tackle repertoire which is grown up, but I disagree - as long as the teaching is safe, handled gently and carefully, there is no reason why a talented, intelligent and feeling young singer cannot make a very good fist of it, but in the size which is safe for that moment. So long as they 'sing within their vocal box'. This means we really see the development when it comes around again  a year or so down the line. It is a win win situation. The musical youngster feels fulfilled with the joy of tackling beautiful music, which in turn helps them grow and develop. 

N has sung somewhat serious and profound English Song since she was about 12 years old, and loved every crotchet and quaver. That can only be a big plus in her singing life and her vocal progression. 

I will always follow my intuition with young students.....if they love it, can sing the range safely, and NEVER push their voice they sing with my blessing !

An Iolanthe of great depth - well done N !


Friday, 16 September 2016

Singing with Strength

I have had a few pupil issues with excessive body movement this week. I am sure I have said before but the 'stand and deliver' way of recital or exam performance is the most difficult way of delivering a song. Our bodies want to do what comes naturally but often we try so hard to rein in all those quirks and twitches which are simply born in us, and so the outcome is rigidity rather than relax ! It is a balance between the discipline and the natural which we want.

The trouble with vocal technique is that it needs core stillness and lots of connection through that central core, and every wave of the arms or swivel of the shoulders disrupts that very connection. So somehow we have to find a happy medium - a relaxed and flexible posture which allows the sound to ring and resonate, as well as be strong, together with a disciplined stillness to allow all of that to actually happen ! It is the trickiest of states to achieve.

Yesterday a very talented young lady of 18 had her lesson and is learning the Habanera from Carmen as part of preparation for her Grade 8 exam. She has quite exaggerated body movement which comes with her great natural musicality, and manifests itself in an almost 'dance' kind of way. In some ways it is quite hypnotic and rather lovely, but it definitely interferes with the sound and makes the tone bump and explode - especially since she has a very large voice for her years ! 

We needed to find a way to keep the body flow, but even out the tone, so I decided upon a 'homeopathic' approach to the problem ! Meeting like with like ! I asked her to make definite movement, and walk with a purpose towards a piece of furniture, in other words to channel movement into a positive and natural move. It WORKED ! As soon as the movement was disciplined the sound was as even as flowing double cream ! The swivels and twists stopped, and the forward movement was balanced and normal. It was one of those moments when a teacher has the widest and most relieved smile upon her face and a glow of satisfied warmth ! 

I asked her to walk when she is practising, until her muscles remember that feeling, and she can reproduce the correct body discipline without having to stride around said room ! It will take awhile but she is intelligent and hungry for knowledge and I feel sure the physical penny will drop soon. All this without losing, in many ways enhancing, her totally natural musical feel and interpretive quality.

A most satisfying lesson ! Hmmmmmm..........


Sunday, 11 September 2016

Porgi Amor and Paralympics

So now the Paralympics. I am once more glued to the TV screen until much too late in the evening, watching sportsmen and women who are truly super humans by any measure. I am constantly astonished, thrilled and moved by the supreme achievements made by athletes who dismiss their disabilities and focus on their ability. Sport, like singing is indeed for everyone - at the highest level, simply for fun, and every rung of the ladder in between. 

The 'thrill' endorphins are there and freely available for each human who chooses to do the work, put themselves in the firing line and give their all. I learnt a long time ago that the 'all' which we give comes in many colours and shades of colour. My lovely CP pupil J gives her all when she walks a strong line across the stage, or is able to memorise a complete song from first to last note. A delightful lady M who travelled six hours to come for a lesson last weekend gives her all in her drive, hunger and determination, and my ladies of a certain age give their all to become the very best they can be. All of this imput comes with spades of hard graft, forkfuls of growing confidence and sacks of dedication.

For the previous 20 years of my career, teaching 'hot house' aspirant teens and twenties,  I had no idea that it was possible for students to find the strength to make these miraculous developments without the promise of a glittering career in the business, and the prospect of international success and adulation. I realise I have spoken about this before, but I feel it is more than worth a second mention !

I have been privileged to teach students who could reduce themselves, me, and an audience to tears, with a wonderfully heart rending performance of Porgi Amor from Figaro. One past pupil in particular springs to mind, Flora McIntosh, now a professional and hard working singer and mum. She sang it for the first time in my music room at the age of about 18 and was almost incapable of finishing the aria, so deeply was she affected. It was a true breakthrough moment for her and her ability to 'let go'. The aria had lifted her already brilliant talent to new heights. 

I have now, in my later life of teaching seen the same aria have that magical and moving effect upon singers of all ages and stages. Mozart is so powerful it matters not if the singer has a golden future in their sights, only that they strive to let the music make a difference to them. This is still something of a revelation to moi ! An amazing and life enhancing revelation, but still gives me the magical frisson which I had with Flora 20 years ago.

That is the true power of music combined with that vital ingredient, 'giving ones all'.

Flora nowadays.......

Hannah Cockroft Gold medalist !



Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Dido's Lament and a brand new singing year !

My first week of the new winter term is now done and I am into the second week ! How time flies when one is enjoying oneself ! We have some exciting happenings during this term - a concert given solely by 7 of my ladies, which will be a big undertaking but one they are more than capable of pulling off. We are in the process of selecting solos and ensembles which will constitute a varied and enjoyable concert.

So far the choices made, and these are not all of them, are Lehar, 'Say not Love is a Dream' Gounod 'O Divine Redeemer', Verdi 'O Don Fatale', Rogers and Hammerstein 'Climb Every Mountain', Copland, 'Long time Ago'.........some gorgeous music and each very suited to the individual. We will call upon some past ensembles and some new ones, they shall remain under wraps until nearer the time, but rest assured they will be sad, happy, funny and challenging! 

I saw my young lady E, who travels from Mid Argyll each month, on Sunday morning. She was bubbling and excited and ready to go with some new repertoire. I had given her the wonderful Dido's Lament, and whilst she is extremely talented, it was a big ask for a girl in her teens. She has a remarkable maturity in her thought and she takes this maturity into her performance and within minutes of slowing it down, giving the languid and tragic lines some space to breathe, she was performing with real pathos and understanding. 

Lots of changes in the voices of my teens during the week - I simply love the first lesson after the summer holidays- a young voice changes almost weekly anyway, but after an 8 week break the changes can be truly momentous. My natural little alto L, has developed more middle so it sounded so much more even, what a smile she had ! A young soprano, R had finally added a strong middle register to her vibrant head register, and another smile was added to the list of happy changes. 

The middle register is the last part of a girl's voice to develop, and sometimes a beautiful soprano with ringing top A's and B's has to wait well into her twenties before she gains strength and depth in the range from F - C above Middle C. Thus, when I hear it happening my heart rejoices along with the pupil. The difference it makes to a voice just missing warmth in that important middle area, is incalculable and suddenly a song or aria has a 'finished' feel.

Onwards to an exciting term.........

 A great start to a lovely tone......

and a great year !