Sunday, January 17, 2010

The "Dark" Side

Over in the right hand column of this blog, I tell you that I've been trying to learn to sing well for over 25 years and I'm not giving up.

That is true.

But over the years there have been many painful moments.  There have been times of giving up.  There have been times when I didn't sing for months.

But I always come back to it.

Because I just can't stop wanting to know how to do "it."  Make that beautiful sound.  When I hear "it," coming from, you know, the legendary voices, it inspires me and I simply must figure out how to do that.

I may never achieve this.  I've had so much trouble.  But I cannot lay aside the quest.

Does it really matter?  Who cares if a stay-at-home mom living in her obscure little life ever makes a beautiful sound like that?

The only thing I can say is that it matters to me.  It is very very important to me and I have to keep trying.

Is it the most important thing?  No, my family is way more important.  My faith, and my values, loving others, and caring about what happens to us all living on this planet earth  is way more important than whether I figure out this singing stuff, and if there was ever a moment that this "quest" of mine threatened that, it would be over in a heartbeat.

However, next to what is REALLY most important, this is the most important thing to me in my life.  I will not stop trying.

But that does not mean that I don't almost throw in the towel many times over.

Tonight I had a moment like that.  Usually a place I rush to each day, I avoided my practice room today.  I didn't get there until 9:00 pm.  I had a plan, to warm up, and to work on certain things, specifically to use that run/walk method with "Tu lo sai" as I posted in Frescamari's Practice Room yesterday. ("Using Run/Walk for Stamina")

However, when I got to my practice spot,  I "avoided" singing by sitting down to play the piano instead.  I worked on the piano accompaniment to that Faure piece, "Cantique de Jean Racine," which I've written about here ("On Being Ready"), and practiced here (Faure piano post in Frescamari's Practice Room).

After playing along for awhile, I decided to use this "Cantique de Jean Racine" to warmup vocally.  Furthermore, since I've recently been enjoying toying around with the soprano lines from our choir music -- as I wrote about here (Frescamari singing both parts of Nigra Sum with herself) and here ("How Could Anyone?") -- it popped into my mind that I might like to learn the soprano part of this beautiful piece and perhaps eventually record myself singing both parts.  Maybe, I thought, I could record the accompaniment as well. That would be a fun project.

But soon after singing through a couple phrases of the soprano line,  I came to a difficult part, and I felt discouragement set in immediately.  The familiar discomfort and tightness of that tessitura set in, that lifelong difficulty I've always had of sustaining lines in the upper middle voice.  I have been all along so certain that I will be able to develop ease singing in that part of the voice. But now that certainty was faltering.  Maybe I will just never get it.

To feel that old familiar tightness on these pitches -- to encounter the same "struggle" once again -- disheartened me.  Maybe I should forget about developing that part of my voice!  Maybe I should go back to singing mezzo, and just stay in a certain range and just pop up and say "hi" to those pitches once in a while, here and there, in this song and that.

But more than that, I began to think as my spirits drooped lower, maybe I should just give up singing altogether.  I'm old to be doing this.  I don't want a career.  It takes a lot of time and commitment.  What's it all for?

But then what happens every time happened again.  A gritty determination rose within me.  Where this determination comes from I have no idea, but I think it has something to do with love and passion.  I simply cannot abandon the task.

So, I lifted myself up and began to work on that soprano line in the Faure piece again.  I put my focus on the lower ab muscles and the strength that I needed to recruit from that core place.  As I renewed my attempt to sing the difficult line -- the one that had moments before oppressed me -- with no pressure on my voice, I felt those core muscles kick in -- the same deep interior muscles that felt that pain while I was in labor giving birth to my children.

I occurred to me in this moment what I would need to do.

Earlier in the day I had returned to Kung Fu class after about a 5 week absense.  A bit unhappy about it, I knew that I would have lost some ground I had gained physically, but was ready to work from where I was at.  When we got to the crunches, there were indeed two physical "losses."  One "loss" was in strength for the individual crunch -- that I wasn't able to contract the ab muscles as strongly and do as full a crunch as I had been doing when I left off.  The other "loss" was in stamina --  the number of crunches I could complete before my form fell apart, that is, the point at which I start feeling the muscles in my neck and chin pulling me up in place of the failing abs.  I was very patient with this process, and stopped to rest when I felt the neck muscles kick in and then began a new "set" of crunches as soon as I got the form back (this is like the run/walk method for crunches.) I accepted my own pace and didn't try to "prove" anything.

I realized that I needed to do this same kind of work with the line from the Faure piece, that I had to use this difficult line as a workout like the sets of crunches, and sing a "set" of that line, activating the deep interior support muscles.  I had to approach it like the crunches from Kung Fu.  I must commit myself to work on lines that work these muscles.  I'll take it in little bursts, and go back to it several times a day.  For starters, I did a set of 5 times through a difficult line.  I've posted it in Frescamari's Practice Room (or at least I will tomorrow -- check back if I don't get to it tonight)

People might say that I'm not supposed to be able to sing in this tessitura.  They might say that I have the "equipment" to be a mezzo, and that I should be what I am and that I may get nowhere doing this work.  That may be true and I have no problem with that.  But I have this kind of stubborn belief that I can't shake that I'm going to be able to get this.  I think those deep interior support muscles that I feel working are the key and that they can get stronger and that I must not give up the quest.

None of this matters to anyone but me, but that's enough.


  1. Fresca,

    I just have to say, I admire beyond measure your patience, courage and fortitude. And of COURSE it matters. Every time someone makes a discovery, however small; every time someone pushes themselves beyond their boundaries, or starts asking new questions, or evinces determination in the face of adversity, it matters to us all. Without such impulses human knowledge would cease to evolve (if we were all going to be negative, we could say that in 100 years we'll all be dead and forgotten, so why bother to do *anything*?). Whatever the outcome, both the process and your searingly honest depiction of it are immensely inspiring. Thank you!

    K x x x

  2. K,
    How wonderful to wake up in the morning and read the encouraging words you wrote here!

    "Every time someone makes a discover ... every time someone pushes themselves beyond their boundaries, or starts asking new questions, or evinces determination in the face of adversity ... it matter ..."

    These words ring so true, and confirm the gut feeling that somehow everything does matter.

  3. Of COURSE it matters...because singing is more than just a physical activity! It reflects how you live your life - and you live yours with integrity, pushing boundaries, asking questions, finding your intensity, claiming your passion - THAT is living and your singing is a guide and leads you on a journey that is uniquely YOURS!