I was reading Confessions of a Pioneer Woman yesterday, and she has a post about what she’s learned about blogging since she started. One of her tips for a successful blog is to write often, so I feel a little better about being a compulsive sharer. (Though I’m not an OVER-sharer–usually the comments I get from people who read my Facebook page are things like, “What are all those quotations from?” or “You post quotations from all my favorite movies!” I told one of my hallmates a couple of days ago that I was obsessed with Lark Rise to Candleford, and he said, “Yeah, I saw those quotations you posted and I figured, okay, they’re sort of quirky, I’ll bet they’re from a British TV show.”) I’ll be honest–I post things to get reactions. I post videos because I can think of people I know who would like them. I post quotations in my statuses on Facebook for the sheer joy of seeing people “like” them, or getting comments from friends I haven’t really communicated with in years. It’s a warm and fuzzy feeling.
Anyway. I’ve been having some incredible success singing-wise over the last week, since I got back from Brussels (where I barely spoke five words a day, forget singing!). Actually, I have my dear friend Cristina to thank for this one (I’ve added a link to her adorable food blog. I take credit for the heart-shaped wooden spoon she featured a few entries back…). We were chatting a couple of weeks ago, and I was over the moon about all of my new technical stuff. I was still astonished by what a week or two of faithful vocalizing could do, and how much little adjustments in mouth shape could change the ease with which I sang. And Cristina said something like, “Your technique was awfully good before you left for France. Just don’t forget all the stuff that you learned with Terry [my undergraduate–and slightly beyond–teacher].”
I didn’t really give it another thought until this past Saturday. The truth is, right before I left for Brussels, I was thinking that something just wasn’t right. Like Miss Clavel.
(Also, I just this second remembered that Madeline lived “in an old house in Paris / all covered with vines.” I wonder where that house is…)
What had been happening was that I would vocalize for twenty minutes or so, and it would make me tired. And then if I tried to sing repertoire after that, I’d get even more tired, to the point where my speaking voice felt rusty and uncomfortable. Vocalizing is supposed to energize your voice, warm it up (chauffer!), get it ready for more singing. So my trip to Brussels was definitely a necessary break.
When I got back, I decided to practice. And I realized what my problem was. Madame had told me to open my ribs first when breathing, so I was doing that…and nothing else. I was breathing by just opening my ribs up, which was leading to higher and higher breaths that almost looked clavicular (chest-heaving, you might say). But what Terry had encouraged, and what had worked wonders for me back in Chicago, was low breathing, breathing down into the pelvic floor. When I breathed that way, I felt like my sound was supported and controlled.
So on Saturday I experimented. I breathed low and opened my ribs at the same time (with the low part slightly preceding the opening of the ribs), et voilà! Vocalizing became productive again. A couple of days later, I sang a high E in what had to have been whistle tone because it felt so different from everything else (whistle tone is what coloraturas use for the very, very high Queen of the Night type shenanigans). I’m consistently singing up to an E-flat, in full voice (though sustaining it is a different matter!), and it feels easy and comfortable. And the best part is, at 9:30 at night when the urge takes me to try my hand at “Prendi, per me sei libero” from L’elisir d’amore, it still feels great. A half hour of healthy vocalizing sets me up for the whole day. Just like sea bathing.
It’s all a big puzzle. New stuff plus old stuff plus language plus acting plus learning music plus presenting a complete package plus am I ready for young artist auditions? It’s a lot like moving to a new country, as a matter of fact. When I first arrived in Paris, I was gung-ho about living the way Parisians do. A whole baguette for lunch? Bring it on. Pastries in the afternoon? Absolutely. Goat cheese and ice cream and croissants? Heaven. But the truth is, just because I live in Paris doesn’t make me any less likely to gain weight if I eat junk food. So the other day when I was having a sweet craving, I went to the grocery store and bought a sort of diet chocolate pudding called Sveltesse. It’s not nearly as good as Jell-O sugar-free chocolate mousse, but it’s cheaper and less caloric than everything else I could be indulging in. And I remembered something that I had written in a previous blog post (yes, I’m going to go ahead and quote myself)–that it would never occur to me to eat a Nutella crepe at 3 in the afternoon anywhere but Paris. So why do I do it in Paris? I think there comes a time in the integration process into a new life in a new country where you realize that you can’t abandon the way you lived before, and you have to figure out a way to reconcile what you love about life in the new country with what your body and soul were used to.
Which is not to say that I won’t eat any more pastries. Or Petits Écoliers. Mmmm, Petits Écoliers. As Dorcas Lane might put it, Petits Écoliers are my one weakness.
P.S. Tom Keith, the sound effects guy from A Prairie Home Companion, passed away yesterday. I went Youtube-hunting for videos of his work, and found this, which had me in helpless peals of laughter. I like to think that Mr. Keith is looking down on us from above and making hilarious animal sounds. Rest in peace.