In the classical singer message forum I have mentioned on this blog, The New Forum for Classical Singers, a poster asked the question, of aspiring professional singers:
"Who do you perform for?"
I did not participate in this particular message thread because I am not a professional, but the question spurred many reflections about my own singing.
Sometimes I feel that avocational singers are like these flowers growing on the other side of the mountain out in the wilderness somewhere. They aren't in the mainstream view. They are singing in their living rooms, and in their local choirs. They are getting little solos here and there.
As an avocational singer, I want to say that there are fewer performance moments than there would be for singers who are pursuing this professionally, but this is not necessarily so, depending on one's circumstances and path. I have observed some avocational singers who seem like they are almost semi-professional. There are many varied levels and degrees of being an avocational singer, and many decisions one can make about how aggressively one is going to pursue performance venues. I guess I am thinking about avocational singers at a level such as my own.
For me there is always the fantasy. The living room fantasy. As an avocational singer there are many times that I am singing for "them." No, this isn't some kind of psychotic thing where I am schizophrenic and seeing the "people" in my living room. But there is a sense of that imaginary audience at times.
Now that I have decided to open up my practice room and extend it to the Internet, I have a greater sense of "them." Even if no one is listening.
I have become fascinated by this youtube video I have found of Leonie Rysanek at a 25th anniversary performance at the Met. In the video, they show a scene of a huge crowd engaged in prolonged applause and they are throwing flowers on the stage that are hitting her in the head and there is an outpouring of love and affection.
As an avocational singer, such a moment as a response to one's singing seems almost incomprehensible. The very few times I have sung solo in public, there has been some applause. A couple of compliments afterwards. Sometimes the choir has gone through the formality of purchasing a flower bouquet to hand to the soloist, but certainly the audience members did not stop to buy flowers that they could throw at the end. There is something about singing, and singing at the top levels, that induces people to get all excited about it and actually come prepared with flowers to throw.
I am not seeking that kind of experience as a singer. In fact, I often think that one reason I remain an avocational singer is because I actually enjoy the work that goes into getting a piece of music from ground-zero to performance-ready better than I like the actual performance. Performances are pretty nerve-wracking. Plus performances pass so swiftly and then they are over. And additionally, performances open the singer up to the potential of criticism. But the work behind constructing a piece of art is extended much further into time and space, and the various levels of seeing it come together are so fulfilling and gratifying.
At this point in time, however, I have decided that I am mainly performing for myself. Maybe when I was young teenager I would have day-dreamed of some kind of public appreciation of the sort in the Leonie Rysanek video above, but over the years, learning and reflecting on what life was really about, ongoing soul-searching and making decisions about my personal philosophies of life, I was able to dig inside and find the core of that love of singing that does not necessarily depend on whether anyone hears or appreciates it or not. And one must not forget that the level of expertise one has been able to accomplish plays a big role in determining these decisions as well.
And yet, there does remain some kind of need for a singer to be heard in some way or another. Singing makes a noise. It comes from the communication center of the body, and that communication seems to imply a listener. Sound waves go out, ear drums are designed to receive them and the body of the listener is designed to process them.
So, I think that it is for myself and that hypothetical listener that I sing.
It seems that electronic technology, the Internet, and youtube have given the avocational singer a plethora of tools to seek out that hypothetical listener.
When I go out for listening jaunts on youtube, I have become interested in these "flowers" that grow on the other side of the mountain, these avocational singers. I have been taking a little time to listen and pay attention to what they have put up there on the Internet. I am lending myself to be their audience. They are avocational singer kindred souls.
As I've been browsing around, I have found a "passionate hobbyist" singer who produces youtube videos in his garage. Many of his songs are from the 24 Italian Songs and Arias.
Here he is singing, in countertenor style, the piece I am working on this week, "Alma del core"
I just love this guy. I should write to him. Why is he singing in his garage? Is it because the acoustics are good there?
There are so many other passionate hobbyists out there who demonstrate that intense need to produce a finished song, even when it is just a hobby. Sometimes I admire just the purity of their phonation. They have not developed into full classical singers for one reason or another, but I love just listening to the potential in voices. This girl is an example:
There are many who make fun of amateurs who post their singing in public forums like this, but I think the Internet is a great extension of the amateur's hobby. It fills that little missing gap, the one seeks out that hypothetical listener, and can be a great extension of one's passion, fulfilling that need to perform in some way.