Singing! I do it sometimes! As a matter of fact, a couple of days ago I kicked into hardcore productive mode, partially because of the sheer amount of music I have to learn and partially because most my days stretch blankly before and one has to keep oneself occupied, don’t you know.
(That’s Jessie Bond, who originated Pitti-Sing in The Mikado, among other things. I’ve posted her because she has several lines in Topsy-Turvy that go something like, “One has to keep one’s reputation, don’t you know.” I think that construction is splendid.)
Yesterday I went with Nicky, my next door neighbor with whom I am giving a song recital in just over a month (eek!), to have a coaching with a Frenchwoman who teaches at the CNSM (or more specifically, CNSMDP: Conservatoire Nationale Supérieure de Musique et de Danse de Paris!). We left a little over an hour later, pretty secure in the knowledge that we knew nothing at all about what we were trying to accomplish. All we were sure of as we plodded down the stairs, exhausted, was that we both needed chocolate, stat.
Actually, it wasn’t a bad experience–it was really pretty tremendous. We worked on the first two Ariettes Oubliées by Debussy, and got some really valuable insight into how to work together as a voice-and-piano duo. She gave me diction advice (and referenced my freshman diction textbook; I was kicking myself then, because that book is currently languishing in a box in Phoenix) and told me to sing the music as written, because if Debussy wrote a quarter note and then a sixteenth rest, that’s probably what he wanted (oh god, it’s so obvious, why don’t I just do it automatically?). She worked with Nicky on pianistic colors and timbres and how to support a singer without subjugating oneself, because singer-pianist duos should be equal partnerships.
But the question I found myself asking about this woman (who is also fabulously chic and plus-française-que-toi–that’s French for “Frencher than thou”) is a question that Jack Davenport poses to Dermot Mulroney in The Wedding Date: “How do you know so much about so much?”
Of course, I suspect that this coach’s answer is not “Because I’m a hooker,” but I really am intrigued by people who know everything. I had a favorite musicology professor in college who could speak fluently on any topic ranging from the current punk music scene to the castrati in 18th-century Italy to Pride and Prejudice. Obviously a lot of it is age and maturity. Both my voice teacher and yesterday’s coach told me that when I was older and more established, I could sing the end of “Il pleure dans mon coeur” as slowly as I had originally planned to.
The question I want to ask all of the wildly knowledgeable people in my world isn’t just “how do you know?” but “how did you LEARN?” Do we learn by doing? By going to school? By reading? By diving in headfirst and figuring it out as we go along? It’s easy enough to paraphrase Allie Brosh and say LEARN ALL THE THINGS, but since despite appearances, I’m not much of a self-starter (by this I mean, I like teachers and deadlines and opportunities that other people arrange and hire me for; left to my own devices I am more than happy to sit in my room and watch Life on Mars on my computer all day), I wonder if eventually I’m going to need to bite the bullet and go to grad school. And then the issue becomes, what if I’m in grad school and I spend all of my time learning music for the operas I’m in and I come out of grad school and I STILL don’t know any of this stuff? How did the people who seem to have such an incredible command of vocal style and repertoire come to have that command? Are they conscious of having that knowledge, or do they just do it? Like Prince Chula-whatsit in The King and I, what I want to know is this: “How will I know when I know everything?”
The sliver of sky I can see through the gap in my skylight curtain is robin’s-egg blue, which means that instead of thinking about this puzzlement, I am going to take an enormous amount of music outside to Parc Montsouris and stare at it. Maybe if I hold it against my head I will absorb it by osmosis, like the kid in my eighth-grade English teacher’s story who went to bed with his grammar textbook as a pillow instead of studying.