Friday, November 6, 2009

My Basque Carol Story

There is a certain role the Basque Carol has played in my development as a singer.

About 8 years ago, I took a bold step, for me, and grasped the bull by the horns and made something happen that I really wanted.  I had been trying to get myself into a choir since the day I got married almost 18 years ago.  For some reason, I was having trouble making this happen in my life.  I felt like kind of a victim because I wanted my husband to say, "Don't worry about me and the kids.  You love to sing!  We'll be fine if you take a night to go to a choir practice!"

Well, this want of mine was not happening ...  And not happening ...  And not happening.  And I was so stuck in wanting this that I felt like I was in a big trap, and that giant forces were set against me and  keeping me from going out and singing in a choir.  I was blind to the fact that it was I myself who was holding me back.

When I look back on it, it seems extremely dumb.  I observed women all around me creating exciting careers and taking care of their families.  Why would it have been so hard for me to merely join a choir once a week?  Well, the psychologists could have a field day with it.  It was my own weirdness brought about by a whole bunch of circumstances.  It is a testimony to how strong a role internal beliefs play in controlling our destinies. I did not believe I could have a night out.  All it would have taken all along was changing a belief that I did not even know I had.

When I heard that a woman, whom I had great admiration for as a music director, was starting an all-women's community choir, I wanted to be in it so badly, but immediately began to despair, because now my husband was deeply involved in a career change, going back to medical school, and I was sure he did not have time to watch the kids for me to have a night out for choir practice.

This is when I switched my internal beliefs and decided to believe that I could make this happen.  I decided to hire a babsitter.  Even though it would add an expense to joining the choir, I was going to do it anyway, by golly!  Because I was sick of feeling so powerless over my life for previous 11 years.  It seemed dumb to me. Husband would be home studying.  When I was a kid, I would have felt uncomfortable babysitting while the family's Dad was there.  Yet, if that was what I needed to do to be in the choir, then that's what I would do..  Later on I couldn't believe the solution had been so simple.  You mean that's all I needed to do all along to have this?

Before the first choir practice, the director, who had never heard me sing for some strange reason, even though an audition is required to be in our choir, asked me if I knew the Basque Carol.  Feeling very shy, and not wanting to admit I didn't know something right off the bat (and I was someone who knew next to nothing), I said, "I think so." It sounded familiar, and I was sure that somewhere along the line I had encountered it, so I didn't think of it as a lie.  Little did I expect what she said next.

"Well," she said, "would you be willing to sing a verse of it at the first choir practice?"

"Okay," I agreed quickly.  Why, I don't know.  I guess it's that thing in all singers that hear "solo?" and our ears perk up like little dogs waiting for their masters to say "play?"

I hastily looked up the Basque Carol online as soon as we got off the phone.  When I played the midi file, I breathed a sigh of relief.  Phew!  I certainly have heard this. It should be easy to get a verse ready in time for the first choir practice.  I searched for the words and learned a verse. Such a simple song, but it was a real struggle for me.  I hadn't been singing regularly.  My voice lessons had been abandoned for financial reasons while my husband was in medical school.  How could this simple song be so hard to sing?

Sure enough, the first night of choir arrived, and the choir director who still didn't know if I could sing or not, asked me to get up and sing the verse.  I felt that I struggled through it, merely surviving.  But the director was smiling, and after practice, one of the mothers I had known and who was also joining the choir commented to me about my singing, "Who knew?"

Forward fast one or two years.  We were singing the Basque Carol in a concert and I was assigned to sing the third verse.  I practiced and practiced.  Why was this song so difficult?  I had no breath control. I wasn't able to complete the phrases, even though they were not very long.  Although I was not studying voice at the time, I still could not believe that after all those years of lessons (about 13 was it in all?) I could not manage to sing this well.

And it was at the concert when the big moment happened.  I was "suffering" through that third verse

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head
"To me be as it pleaseth God," she said,
"My soul shall laud and magnify his holy name."
Most highly favored lady

Glo - o - o - o (breathe) - i - ah!

I shrank in horror!  No one seemed to blink an eye, but I thought it was the most horrible thing.  To breathe in the middle of that word!

There are a lot of people who would say it was not such a big deal.  But to me, personally, it was a big deal. My sense of what is beautiful, what is right, what is elegant, and what should be, was deeply offended.

It wasn't because it was I  breathed in the middle of a word. (I had done that so often in my life because of my lack of good breath management in singing, or poor phonation, or whatever it was.)

It was because it was just wrong to breathe there.  As a piece of art, it just didn't make sense.

I asked myself the big question, "Why after countless singing lessons over the years, can you still not make it through a phrase like that without breathing?"  I simply lacked the technical ability to make phrases do what I wanted them to do, and make them sound the way they ought to sound.  Even after years and years of lessons.

And at that moment of my life made a kind of decision, a very determined decision, that I was going to figure out why and get to the bottom of this once and for all.

That meant, money issues or no money issues, that I was going to have to find a teacher, which I did. 

"I want you to show me how to breathe!"  I demanded, looking straight in the eyes of the young opera singer with whom I'd found to resume my vocal studies.

Well, here I am some 6 or so years later.  I have been on an intense quest since that concert and it all started with breathing in a place I didn't think was right in the middle of the Basque Carol.

And you know what?  I can get through that "Gloria" now, but I still don't think the Basque Carol is easy for me to sing.  But this is a song that I need to get under my belt before I die.  It will represent the completion of something for me.  It is an "unfiinished" task.
Click here to visit Frescamari's Practice Room and hear "Using the Basque Carol to build core strength."
Click here for "Just Glo-o-o-o-ri-ah!"

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