Monday, 21 March 2011

A Blackbird Singing, along with an Alto and Baritone

...on a moss upholstered stone.....

It is a dismal, wet and windy day today, well the latter half of it anyway, and I did not finish teaching until quite late! Actually I over ran by about half an hour, so it was my own fault! Sometimes, time just goes out of the window in a puff of smoke. All those years in an institution being ruled entirely by the clock for around 10 hours everyday, means that I now feel a tad rebellious and want to work my own time, and not be a slave to a timetable.

Some of my pupils clearly did not realise that I was back, so I only taught a half day - but the 'half' who came were the singers who will be embarking upon their first public masterclasses when they come to the Song School in 2 or 3 weeks. So there was a certain degree of stress in the music room!

They have all done remarkably well, amateurs rarely have to learn the copious amounts of repertoire that a professional must learn, and the fact that they have to get anywhere around 9 - 13 pieces ready at one time, including for some, 2 or 3 ensembles, is an enormous undertaking, and not one to be taken lightly, or without the help of paracetamol and gin (not together you understand!).

Approaching that amount of learning takes discipline and good organisation. The 'Levels Method' is great - ie you learn a certain amount of music in each of 2 or 3 pieces, and that becomes the first level. The trick is not to try to move to the next 'level', or the next 16 bars in each piece, until the first 'level' is perfect. That way confusion never sets in (theoretically!!). In the same way as one would never attempt to learn a whole operatic role at once, but build up the levels, and the new sections are then no challenge to the already perfected bits. In academic revision we call it 'bite size chunks', and it is very close to that system, except that for singing we HAVE to memorise, so not moving on until the memorising is 100% allows brain space for the next bit.

I heard some very pleasing performances today, including the Agnus Dei from Mozart's Mass in C, Woe unto Them from Elijah by Mendelssohn, and a bouncy and playful 'Non piu andrai' from The Marriage of Figaro. As the singers have to learn so much music, there were some pieces which I had not yet heard, and I was very pleasantly surprised to hear a great Che Faro senza Euridice by Gluck from my gold dust alto who has gained a wonderfully secure top E since she last sang the aria to me, and a lovely 'A Blackbird Singing' by Micheal Head from the lady who just passed her Grade 8 (all the time assuming she would fail with the lowest mark in the Western world!!!!), and again what a surprise. The passages which used to be so difficult have now become a breeze - infact I feel sure she is not even aware of the passages she found really hard a couple of years ago, which are now a doddle!

Perhaps the secret of good teaching is NOT to hear something and let them do it themselves?!

Hang on, am I talking myself out of a job here?


  1. Hi! Thanks for stopping by my blog. You and my brother would get along well as he has masters in music and currently is the minister of music at a Luthern Church in Massachusetts. You both like the same genre of music (If I said that correctly).
    Thanks again and I will be stopping by your blog again!!!

  2. It's so nice to meet you ! Even if it is in cyberspace. I was in Boston MA only last fall as I have friends in Connecticut - small world.
    Kind regards