Thursday, November 19, 2009
How Shall I Dress? What Key Shall I Sing In? For my Christmas Eve "Gig"
I have a gig! I've been asked to sing "O Holy Night" for midnight mass at my church on Christmas Eve this year.
A couple of years ago, I was doing a lot of solo work at church, but then the organist who had so favored me left for another parish, and I was a little out of commission when they hired the new organist. Before I knew it, I was kind of out in the cold as far as soloing. So last year, disappointingly, I had a solo-less Christmas.
This may not seem like a big deal to most people, but for an avocational singer to have a solo at Christmas just kind of makes the whole thing so complete. From my earliest memories, music and Christmas go together in my mind. My mother was a church organist, and she would practice on the organ we had at home all during Advent. She would often use me as a soloist in our small town church. Christmas is a very spiritual time for me, and spiritual things and music go together because it is the way my spirit expresses it's joy. It seems like all the composers put a little something extra into their music when they were doing it for Christmas Maybe they were being paid more for it or something, or maybe they were expressing their own moments of hope and joy.
But last year, it was like a little cloud over my Christmas that I didn't get to sing anything. I have overheard professionals talking about how the amateurs in these little church groups get so petty and competitive about these little chances to sing solos. But the need to get up and sing solo can be the same need that drove the professional singer to choose it as a profession. It is still a need./desire.
Well, so, this year I am happy because I have been asked to sing "O Holy Night."
But I have to get about the task of preparing this song for the evening. That means I have to think about it ahead of time. I don't want to wing it. I want to prepare it the best I can. I cannot sit back and say, "Oh, I know that song" and expect to just pop up and sing it (something I have done in the past, and then wondered what went wrong, exactly.)
One aspect of preparation is deciding which key to sing it in. It seems to me to be a similar task, almost, to finding the correct size dress to purchase. When I stand in front of the dress I like in the department store, it comes in several sizes. So often I am tempted to guess at the size, and skip the labor of trying it on in the dressing room, but the few times I've done that, I've mostly regretted it. You just never know which size is going to work. You have to try on several sizes to really know which is best. Even then, sometimes you are left choosing between two. A little snugger? Or a little more body-skimming? Snug and alter it to let out just the little part that isn't working? Or larger and take it in a little where it needs it?
I have to think of many aspects of wearing this dress. Will I be sitting for long periods in it? Will I be milling about? Will I be dancing; does it need to have a little swing to it? Will I be in a restricted or free setting? How will I accessorize the dress? Will I wear a shawl with it? Will my hair be down or up? How will the other people be dressed for the occasion?
Like the details that must be considered when choosing a style of dress and its size, there are many details that I must consider about "O Holy Night" when I choose the key. I have to think of the size of the church, which is a small modern one, with cushioned seats, carpeted floors, in the round, and not very good acoustically I have to consider the accompaniment available, which most likely will be the organ or the piano. I have to consider the mindset of the "audience," and the purpose the song serves for the occasion. I have to consider my level of vocal ability and development and what I can pull off and/or not pull off. For example, if I sing the song in a high key, with my dramatic voice, which still lacks the finesse of being able to spin any kind of pianissimo singing up on top, will the climactic high note at the end be inappropriate and too much? Will the people feel assaulted by the piece, or charmed and warmed?
To add to the decision-making process, I took the bold step of asking my daughter's piano teacher if I could sing it at the Christmas song recital we are having in the drawing room of a parent's home. If I can, a chance to get up and sing it in front of people before the actual event would be very helpful. She told me I could, and she will accompany me so, I will sing this song in a completely different space than the church in a couple of weeks. Should I sing it exactly the way I will in church on Christmas Eve, since I"ll be using it as a practice run, or should I tailor it to the smaller occasion? Should I sing it in the same key both times? Or choose different ones?
So, that's what I was doing in my practice room today. I was trying on different "sizes" of "O Holy Night" by trying it out in different keys. Today was a good day to do this work, because I have choir tonight, and if I worked out too hard vocally, such as I did on the piece from Elijah yesterday (see "Voice Building: Time for Pushups! Workig Out with Elijah"), then I wouldn't be in good voice for choir practice. I feel a sense of responsibility to be in good condition when I come to choir practice.
The fact that by now I know that I may use my practice recordings for this blog, as well as exploring for my own needs, really helped me to find some interesting aspects of what it means to sing the same song in different keys. In fact, I found myself wanting to stop and comment to you all as I discovered things. This phenomenon of sharing my practice with you here on the Internet is evolving to kind of feeling like someone is with me there in the practice room.
At any rate, I invite you to come over to Frescamari's Practice Room and read and hear commentary on some of the things I explored and wondered about as I tried out different keys. ("Trying Out O Holy Night in Three Keys")
I also discovered and wondered about managing breath energy levels in the middle while trying out two keys for "Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming," ("Learning How To Manage Breath Energy in 'Middle Keys': Lessons Learned from 'Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming' in Two Keys") which I did as a Christmas Eve solo about three years ago.