In answering a comment made by "Blue Yonder," in a blog post I wrote about the week long course I took at Westminster Choir College this summer Ornamenting Handel and Bach, Rameau, Mozart and Monteverdi, I realized I was "blogging" so I've moved what I was writing as a comment over there to an official blog post over here. I am really happy that Blue Yonder expressed herself there, because it inspired me to think about what I had learned in that course and how it had affected me in the weeks that have followed. I thought I would let everyone know that I am now finding that having taken the class, even though I had said this would not be my genre of music, has very much enriched my singing and my technique, in more ways than I could have foreseen. As the weeks have unfolded, here are some of the ways what I learned there has grown and enhanced me as a singer:
In the class Dr. Julianne Baird talked about the structure of each phrase, and why and where and how certain ornaments would be appropriate because of the importance of a particular note. This made me much more aware of phrasing and has helped amazingly. To even just imagine, or play around with how I might ornament a phrase in other kinds of music has helped give life to my non-ornamented phrasing. As an exercise, I'll fancy up a phrase and sing it that way, and then go back to singing it as written and will find that new life is breathed into it with just the experience of having explored that phrase musically like that. If you think of how you would decorate something, you begin to see and hear it in so many new ways.
Also, the musicians who sang this music acted as kind of sub-composers of the music itself, when they were composing their ornaments for performance. In fact, some of them published books of their ornaments. So, to imagine the different ways I would have handled (ha ha, play on the word "Handel") that phrase had I been the composer, gives me much more mastery over what I am trying to achieve, and a greater understanding of the intention of the composer when he made that choice.
Another thing Dr. Baird brought to my attention was to pay attention to dissonant notes and give them more importance for a really beautiful effect. I have become much more aware of dissonance in songs that I''m learning.
I especially benefited from being exposed to the idea of "ornaments of dynamics." I had never really thought of dynamics as "ornaments," before and seeing them in this way has made everything new. This better understanding has helped the concept of my messa di voce. If I begin to see this "technical" feat in a more artistic way, and hearing and finding the beauty of this technique to produce accents in the phrase, it becomes more manageable and artistic and the desire for the beauty of the effect aids and leads the development of the technique.
I also fell in love with a little ornament called the schleifer. I had heard some ornamental terms from having studied piano and mostly from having played Bach, but I never had them all in one place at one time in a way that I could understand the theory of why they are used.
I found that the schleifer is a handy little ornament that can be used even in singing some of the musical theater stuff that I've been re-claiming recently. I've even decided to throw one in to a song from Hello Dolly, "Ribbons Down My Back" ("shining in my schleifer hair" because it's so pretty in this one certain spot.
Another thing that happened is that I came away with a new sense of freedom in approaching a song. I don't have to view a song as a straitjacket that I must force myself into, but I can view it as a ready-wear garment that is open to alteration in order to fit me better. The sleeves and pant legs can be hemmed to fit my length, and a few darts put in here and there and if there's a little something I don't like about the garment, I can take away or add a little to make it fit me better and make me feel happier about wearing/singing it.
Last but not least, I became aware of a really wonderful singer and person, Dr. Julianne Baird. I bought a couple of her CDs and play her in the car a I drive around. Also, I became friends with her on Facebook and she posts interesting stuff on her FB page, like this link about Air de cour which explains what this type of French music is and gives a listening sample. This is great continuing education for me, and I can now say that the class was way more than an indulgence, and something that has enriched me and helped my singing immensely.
(Listen here for "Ribbons Down My Back")