Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Singing Tenor

Well, I never thought I'd see this day, but it has arrived.  I am singing tenor.

The choir at my church is a very small group of churchgoers who love to sing together.  Every year, for the past 12 years, I have watched them try to recruit new members, and every year the same little group with the same people sits over in the choir chairs, unchanged.  One of the new members they have succeeded to recruit has been me, but only partly successfully.  For I have been a very haphazard and on-again off-again addition to their group.  This is partly because of the demands of raising a family and the way the church has the CCD program set up so that the choir mass is not the one that is convenient if one is participating in the program, but some of it has also been because I have conflicting feelings about participating when the repertoire is less than challenging and even some of it unattractive to me.

I have a conflict inside about this part of me that requires to be challenged by the musical group I join and whether I should seriously commit to our church group.  On the one hand, the challenge -- the actual musical challenge -- and hard work is what fulfills and gratifies me.   Yet there are many other reasons to sing, and many other joys that can be found in singing in all kinds of situations and all kinds of ways.  So, it has seemed a bit haughty or proud to brush off a group because it doesn't take on challenging repertoire.  And "haughty and proud" doesn't quite fit in with my idea of what church is supposed to be for.  Or even singing, for that matter.

And besides all that, "haughty and proud" is completely uncalled for considering that it may be based on a complete over-estimation of my abilities anyway.

In contrast to this, there is the ideal of "service" and sharing one's gifts with one's spiritual community.  This is a strong recommendation to sing with the little choir in one's place of worship.

And thus it has been -- back and forth -- in again, out again --  on again, off again -- singing when there's something in it for me, i.e., a solo, or a chance to substitute cantor -- or else at other times putting aside self-gratification, committing to the year, regardless, and singing as a gift of self.

Until I have got to the point now where the organist approached me and asked me if I would sing tenor for an Easter cantata.

The Easter cantata went over so well, that now the choir director has asked the four of us who sang it if we will be a regular little quartet.  He is excited because now he can do some pieces he would like to, and he can write some arrangements.

And I said yes to being this little quartet's tenor.

And after last night's rehearsal I can say that there have been some little moments of surprise in it for me.

For one thing, singing tenor is very easy for me because I do not have the stress or fatigue of navigating the stresses and pressures of the higher voice and passage notes.  For another, there is a little challenge because of having sung alto for so many years, my vocal "center" finds it interesting to be placed differently, and even reading the music is a little challenging.  I had not realized that I had developed an "alto alphabet" that made my reading in the alto range somewhat automatic of a response, so switching down to tenor keeps me on my toes, because it is a different set of reading, and it is less "automatic,"  It is almost as if reading the tenor line is like reading another language altogether, a different set of blending and listening skills are required.

Another thing is that, for me, the tenor line is completely at the service of the ensemble.  There is no temptation to want to be heard above any others, and the crucial aspects of ensemble singing such as listening carefully, matching tones and blending are exercised better for me than when I am singing alto.

All-in-all, what I had considered to be somewhat of a "demotion" is turning out to be of great value to me as a musician.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Avocational Singer -- MIA

Dear Friends of my blog,

Anyone paying attention may have noticed that this blog disappeared suddenly and without a word.

I am very sorry if anyone who enjoyed reading my ramblings was puzzled by this.

It's very hard to explain what happened, but I had a little "blog crisis" moment.

This whole thing may best be explained by telling a little story.

When I was in fifth grade, a weird writing incident happened which may have something to do with why I became suddenly hesitant about continuing my blog.

We were given an assignment to write a paragraph or two using a topic sentence.  The teacher had provided five topic sentences to choose from, and as I sat down in the evening to approach the assignment, I found myself completely uninspired by any of the topics. I decided to choose the topic, "Why I Like Stamp Collecting." I thought that this would be quite a creative challenge and lots of fun for me because, being that I did not collect stamps at all, I would have to be extremely creative to make up what I wanted to say about it.  I would have to imagine myself a stamp collector and imagine what that would feel like and write about it.

Up until this point in my life, I had been engaging in creative writing like this in order to make my homework more fun and interesting for a long time.  And for a long time up to this point, I had considered my creative writing a special experience between me and my teacher.  In second and third grades, when we had been given a list of ten words to use in ten sentences, for example, I amused myself by  making a little story out of the ten sentences.  These writing amusements of mine were for the teachers' eyes only. I do not recall any of my teachers every saying anything to me about it.  They usually handed back the assignments with the grade: a 10 out of 10, or a big check-mark that indicated I had completed the assignment.  So, whether the teacher was sitting there smiling as she read my little story and thinking of how clever her student was, or if she didn't even notice there was a story there at all,  I really do not know.  I remember being aware that I was "performing" and that there was someone, the teacher, on the receiving end of that performance, and that in some way I was providing the teacher with a little gift.  A little gift to amuse her, perhaps.  Although no word was ever exchanged about it, it made me feel connected to the teacher in an odd little way.

So, having been writing creatively like this for the teacher in my school assignments, this little essay about "Why I Like Stamp Collecting" in fifth grade was to me, just more of the same.

However, when I got to school the next day, the fifth grade teacher announced that we were going to read our essays aloud to the class.  I began to panic, my palms getting hot and sweaty.  "No!" I thought.  "Had I known about this I surely would have picked another topic and written something entirely different.  I would have written something much more safe."

She called on me to go first.  I clammed up. I was almost crying.  I told her I just could not read my paragraphs aloud.

"All right," the teacher said kindly, "someone else can go first."

After a couple of students finished reading their essays, the teacher, most likely expecting that I would be more relaxed knowing that the other students were in the same boat and had read their paragraphs, returned to me and asked me to read mine.  I absolutely refused.

The entire class began to argue with me.  "Mine is stupid too," they exclaimed.  Pretty soon they started to become angry with me as I refused to give in.  Persuasive arguments turned to jeers and even threats.  One boy, a very popular and smart boy, snatched the paper out of my hands and began to read out loud in a singsong voice:

"Why .. I ... Like ... Stamp ... Collecting."

In a state of confused horror, I jumped from my desk, grabbed the paper from his hands, crumpled it into a ball and threw it out the window from the third floor of the school building.

Well, there's a lot more after that ... about how the whole class got punished and had to pay back the time we had lost arguing over my paragraphs.  About how everyone thought I was so weird and glowered at me when they were doing the chores to pay back the lost class time.  It is a horrible memory for me.

Something like this happened with me and my blog.  It was being more and more widely read, and getting more and more hits.  One day, something happened to make it real for me that someone out there was actually reading what I had to say.  Just like in fifth grade, when this realization took hold, I panicked, crumpled my blog up into a wad and threw it out the window.

This time, however, unlike the lost "Why I Like Stamp Collecting" Essay, I have, after several weeks of reflection, gone down to the schoolyard, found the crumpled blog, carefully unfolded the paper and put it back up.

I have decided to try to work through this "issue" and continue with this blog.

Thank you to anyone who has been reading my scribblings and scrawling up until now.  There may be some ups and downs as I work through having a "voice" in this blog of mine, and I may not be posting frequently for a while, but I've at least put what I've done so far back up for anyone to find and read.