Yesterday I found a music library that isn’t insanely far away! I don’t have a ton to say about the Médiatheque Musicale de Paris, except that it’s IN THE MALL. The whole experience of getting there made me think a little bit of going to Macy’s in downtown Chicago, where you get off the train at Lake and there’s an entrance to the store in the train station. I’m not sure how I wasn’t aware that there was an enormous mall (and if you’re wondering what a French mall looks like, just think of an American mall) at Châtelet-Les Halles, but there is, and there’s also a music library in the mall. This feels like an “only in Paris” kind of experience. Only in Paris–or maybe even only in Europe–does music hold such an exalted place that the public music library (where you can CHECK OUT scores and books, what a concept!) is located in the biggest mall in the city. Granted, I’m still going to need to figure out the Bibliothèque Nationale de France for most of the music I want to be looking at, but for anything fairly mainstream, I can just go to the mall. Step it up, Short Hills.
I didn’t sing at all yesterday–well, okay, not quite true. I couldn’t sleep last night because my petit frigo is making somewhat more noise than usual. So I lay in bed and sang to myself.
(The latter technique totally works, by the way, even when you do it to yourself! And now I’m a little weirded out to see Karen Dotrice in anything because all I can think about is that one episode of Upstairs Downstairs where Hudson dropped his basket and fell in love with her…)
But anyway, I didn’t practice yesterday. Okay…also not quite true. I did a lot of practicing. I just didn’t sing. I translated a Schubert song and one of the songs that I’m singing in our theatre class spectacle, and I just read the texts over and over again. Out loud, under my breath, silently, on the train (definitely noticed a couple of strange looks when I was trying to memorize “Pirate Jenny” on the train…). And then I made myself translate one of my new arias (also in German) in between episodes of Lark Rise to Candleford. The truth is, though I’m loath to admit it, I can be really lazy about this stuff. It’s really important to translate what you’re singing word-for-word, otherwise you have only a vague idea of the sense of the song. The most effective performances of repertoire in a foreign language, to my mind, are the ones where the performers have the translation on the tip of their tongue while they’re singing, to the point that you don’t even notice that they’re not singing in English. And it takes a lot of work to get to that point. Up until now that’s been work that I haven’t really bothered to put in most of the time.
Although as I pointed out to a friend the other day, I can’t remember the last time I learned a song from the ground up. I’m learning Schubert’s “An den Mond” for a possible audition in December, and I’d never heard it before. Usually when I start working on a song or an aria, I feel like I know it already because I’ve heard it so many times (witness all five of the Fauré songs I did on my senior recital, “Sure on This Shining Night,” the almost note-perfect Juliette’s Waltz I sang in my lesson a few weeks ago without having touched it before, and all the rest and so forth). You might say that I have the equivalent of a photographic memory, but for music. If I listen to something enough times, I will have it memorized, and not just the words and the music, but the inflection and tone of the person singing. This can be a problem sometimes when I go to learn a piece of music and realize, as I did with Bizet’s “Chanson d’avril” the other day, that I’m trying to sing it like Susan Graham.
(It’s the second song in this video. But “Chanson macabre” is pretty cool too! I actually saw her do this recital in Chicago, at Mandel Hall at UChicago, where little did I know I would be performing myself a few years later. Anyway, she’s amazing, and gracious and funny, but I don’t sound much like her, obviously. Apparently the French like to listen to her sing in French–from what I understand, there’s something exotic about American singers’ pronunciation of sung French.)
Anyway. The only recording I have of “An den Mond” is Dawn Upshaw, whose mannerisms are so overwhelming that I’m trying not to learn the song by listening to it (not that she’s not fabulous in her way, but if one is going to learn something by rote, she’s not the best example). So I’m starting from the very beginning, which I’ve heard is a very good place to start. Text first. (Okay, again, not quite true, because I did throw the whole thing together to bring to a coaching on Thursday, but now I’m going back to the beginning!) I wrote down the text by phrase, so every two lines, and then the translation underneath–and it was a pretty laborious process, because my German is dreadful, if not as bad as my Italian. I’ve been reading the poem aloud to myself over and over again, as I mentioned, and trying to memorize at least parts of it. What I’m finding is that certain phrases of text really stick in my mind, which I think will help learning the song as a whole because I’ll have landmarks in the text to hold on to. And as soon as my piano arrives on Tuesday, I’m going to start putting it together.
Today is a choir rehearsal day, but I won’t be singing, or at least, as little as possible. Must stay fresh for tomorrow!