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On Monday night I had my first lesson back after break. (As a friend of mine from high school who is teaching English in Boulogne said, “When do French schoolchildren LEARN?” Honestly, the vacation system here is hilarious. I just got of two weeks of break, and my next vacation starts on April 14th. A month and a week.)

It went well! I realized that if I practice productively every day (or almost every day), my lessons go much better because Madame doesn’t have to re-teach me my technique. I have an audition on Friday for which I get to sing a. my own repertoire and b. Gilbert and Sullivan, yippee, so that’s what we worked on.

Bringing Gilbert and Sullivan into my lesson did lead to some hilarious language-barrier issues. First of all, Madame thinks English is ridiculous-sounding. And if you’re used to hearing English sung and spoken with a French accent, an American accent is particularly jarring. Obviously when I sing in English I use somewhat loftier diction than I do when I speak (at least, when I sing Gilbert and Sullivan!). While we were working on “‘Tis done! I am a bride” from The Yeomen of the Guard, Madame asked me to speak a line of the text. I did so. She stared at me like I had three heads and said, “Well, at least you don’t SING like that.” Ha!

She also told me a brilliant story about talking to somebody about Samuel Ramey–


Yes. That Samuel Ramey, for whom I have sung on numerous occasions and who once, memorably, introduced himself to me as “Sam.” (Ah, church, the great equalizer!) Anyway. The story was (and I’ve just spent a couple of minutes trying to find this in my recording of Monday’s lesson, to no avail) that Madame was talking to somebody about Samuel Ramey, in French, and the other person had no idea who she was talking about. And this is Samuel Ramey, the most-recorded bass in history. So she showed the other person a picture, or his name written down, or something, and the other person was like, OH. Samuel Ramey. Because the way you pronounce Samuel Ramey’s name in French is not at all the way it’s actually pronounced–and in fact, Madame had me say his name in English, and she said she would never have understood it pronounced like that.

The really interesting thing about taking voice lessons in French is that I think it’s actually easier to switch from speaking to singing when I’m not speaking in English. For the last few years, I’ve been very conscious of speaking properly, always supporting my speaking voice, never vocal frying (what, never? hardly ever). In French, my voice naturally pitches itself quite a bit higher (even though my speech therapist told me once that I actually speak higher than most women, which surprised me), which means that I have to be speaking on the breath at all times…which makes singing the natural next step. On the other hand, speaking French in my lessons makes singing in Italian a lot harder, since the vowels are only subtly different, to my ear, anyway. I’m looking forward to starting Italian classes in April and getting those sounds in my ear a little better.

Madame asked me, before I started singing the G&S, what the story of this aria was, which meant that I had to try to explain the plot of Yeomen of the Guard in French. I can barely explain it in English. When I did the show, I tried to explain it to my mom, and finally I gave up and said, “Whatever, you’ll see it!”

Cette femme, elle est…un peu comme chanteuse…elle chante pour les gens, et elle et très pauvre. On dit, si tu épouses cet homme, qui va être tué…par le loi [Madame: Un condamné]…nous allons te donner cent francs [Madame: Oui, oui, beaucoup d’argent!]…

Oh man, it was painful. And then eventually I had to explain to her the line about “oh, weary wives who widowhood would win,” and I said something like Elle dit qu’il y a les femmes qui sont si fatiguées qu’elles veulent être les veuves. Which Madame found quite funny–that there are women who are so tired of being married that they want to be widows.

I’m pretty sure she thinks the show is a comedy now. I don’t think I have the vocabulary to dissuade her.


Bisous,
Anne

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