I’m pretty sure that some of the things I took away from today’s voice lesson could be applied to everyday life–which leads me to believe that the act of taking voice lessons from Madame will be life-changing. Here are the ones I remember off the top of my head (there may be more, but I’m letting it sink in a little before I listen to the recording I made of it tomorrow).
1. It’s okay to make mistakes. Oh man, this is huge for me. In singing and in life, I’m a perfectionist. I don’t like to do anything unless I can do it really well. Or as they say on Upstairs Downstairs, “I do think it’s so second-rate not to do things well. I believe in showing that you can do them, then deciding whether or not you want to.” So we were doing vocalises (scales, arpeggios, and the like, intended for building up various capabilities in the voice), and I was sliding off pitch a little bit on some of the notes. Not okay. But Madame said, go ahead and make mistakes. So that’s what I’m doing. Every time I mess up–every time I can’t figure out what the cashier at the grocery store is saying, every time I get a dud train ticket, every time I get lost wandering around Paris, I say, well, that’s something I can remember for the next time.
2. You can’t sing high notes unless you build up to them. So, this is the first time in my life that anybody has written down exercises and told me to do them a certain number of times, on a certain vowel. This is exactly what I need. I need homework if I’m going to improve. Madame also gave me the ranges for each of the vocalises, and I’m not to vocalise higher than a high B-flat. Which is unbelievably refreshing, given how long I’ve been stressing about not being comfortable higher than a C. I told Madame that comfortably, happily, easily, I can vocalise to a C, but higher than that, I start to get anxious (for anybody just tuning into my life right now, I’ve had high note phobia my whole life. It used to be for F’s and G’s in high school, but now we’re in a whole new territory. I don’t think we’re on the staff anymore, Toto…). Anyway, Madame said something like unless you build up the stuff below the high notes, and you’re happy and relaxed when you sing them, you won’t be able to sing the high notes.
And the way I’m translating that into life terms is through speaking French. The more I speak, the better I get. On Sunday at the Protestant church in the 16ème where I was singing, the little old church ladies told me I spoke excellent French, almost accentless! But some days I feel like a total tourist. The thing is, though, you have to start at the beginning. You can’t read Madame Bovary or recite French poetry if you can’t conjugate verbs. Anyway, it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. Hit it, Ms. Cook!
P.S. Madame has a new student named Heather. She had written it down but didn’t know how to pronounce it, so she asked me. When I said for her, she and the accompanist were both a little baffled–it’s a very anglophone set of sounds. Madame said that when she had heard the name over the phone from the secretary, it had sounded like “Isotta” because a lot of French people pronounce “th” like “s.” Hilarious.
We all need a little more Mirella Freni in our lives.