Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Jury and Beyond...

As you know, my jury was last week and all in all it went great! It's the best I've felt walking out of that hall in all of my years here. I remembered all of my words in French (the song I chose to begin with was Que fais tu blanche tourterelle) and the French sounded great in my voice. All of my teachers said that song showed a great improvement in my vocal and performing techniques. The faculty then asked for my Wolf selection In dem Schatten meiner locken, which went well also. Overall, the faculty said I could improve on some of my German diction, details in my phrasing and my presentation of the character in both songs.

My voice teacher said I earned a well deserved A in voice this semester. Although I struggled, I got it all together in the end and finished strong.

As for the summer, one of my goals is to learn Una voce poco fa, a Rossini aria as well as to learn some French and German diction. I also hope to play more piano, since I haven't actually sat down to play an actual piano piece in over a year.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Last Lesson of the Semester

So today is my final lesson of the semester. I've learned very difficult songs this semester, learned a difficult opera chorus part and perfected an old favorite with my opera workshop performance. I really hope today's lesson is an example of all of my hard work along with my jury taking place next Tuesday.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

My Upcoming Jury

My voice final exam, or jury, is in less than six days. I get to choose my first song out of the music I've been studying this semester. The song I plan to start with is "Que fais tu blanche tourterelle?" from the opera Romeo et Juliette by Charles Gounod. In this song I am singing the aria of Stefano, Romeo's page. It's a song that stays in the passaggio, or transitional section of the female voice usually ranging from E to G. It's a tiring song since it works all of my passaggio and also includes numerous melismas. My voice teacher has told me, to keep the melismas still sounding boyish, I need to keep the sound in my throat more and not so much my head. It's been difficult to bring my sound back down, but it's paying off. There is also a run up to a high C and back down at the very end of the piece that I've also spent a lot of time on. To make it sound the best and go the most smoothly I've found that starting with the mouth shape of a vocal, vertical e then moving my mouth into a smile shape as I go up the scale works great.

Hopefully everything goes alright with this aria as well as the songs to follow. I'll keep you updated!

Memorizing Music

It's getting to the crunch time of the semester when all of my repertoire must be memorized and perfected. Some semesters I struggle with memorization and others I can put a song to memory in no time. I think, to get a good start at memorization, you must start with a plan in mind from the beginning. Here are some helpful steps I hope to continue to follow when it comes to music memorization.

1. Look up the word for word translation (if not in your native language) for every single word. This is so you know the entire meaning of what you're saying, and meaning helps jog memory.

2. Then one should listen to the piece, only a few times, not so many times so that you learn the song from another singer's interpretation.

3. Learn the rhythm.

4. Speak out the words in the correct rhythm.

5. Then begin learning and memorizing the melody. I usually plunk out the notes on a piano and then sing that phrase.

In order to solidify the entire piece, sometimes coming at the words from the last part of the piece and working toward the beginning helps a bit better.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Next Year's Operas

Recently, the director of the University Opera has spoken to me about performing various roles in next year's productions. I was definitely excited about this opportunity and was willing to take on any roles the director was willing to give me. He did in fact give me a couple roles in two of next year's operas. In the fall, University Opera is putting on two of Puccini's one act opera's from 'Il Trittico.' The first being Gianni Schicchi and the second, Suor Angelica. I was fortunate enough to be cast in Suor Angelica, an opera about a nun, her past and her abbey. My role in this opera is The Mistress of the Novices and I do have a few solo lines, which is really great for only being in one previous opera. There will also be one opera in the spring. This opera is 'The Consul' by Gian Carlo Menotti. It's a tragic opera filled with death and struggle. I got the role of Vera Boronel a traveler in the consulate's office. I haven't had much of a chance to research this role, but I'm sure it'll be another great experience for an aspiring singer.

Monday, May 3, 2010

This Semester's Opera!

Last week my first opera came to an end. The show was overall, very successful. The floor was sold out two out of the three nights and everyone sounded great. The opera was 'Maria Stuarda' a bel canto opera by Gaetano Donizetti. It originally premiered in Milan in 1835. Maria Stuarda is an opera about Queen Elizabeth of England and her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots. This opera depicts a fictional meeting between the two as well as a fictional love triangle. The first act ends with Mary being arrested and the second and final act ends with Mary's public execution. It's basically a 'diva opera' with both of the leads being soprano-y roles creating lots of opportunity for drama. I wasn't a principal character in this opera however. I was simply in the chorus but the chorus was on stage quite a bit, which was exciting as well. Another great thing about this opera was the costumes. They were full, Elizabethan era style complete with bum rolls, corsets, ruffles and giant dresses.

This show was also uniquely cast in that the role of Elizibetta was played by different singers on different days. For two nights a soprano grad student had the lead and for one matinee a mezzo-soprano doctoral student played Elizibetta. It was really interesting hearing the differences in vocal techniques and overall tone of each of the singers however, both were amazing in the role, each bringing something different to the table. Here are a couple links to articles about the show.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Good Singer Characteristics

I had a chance recently to meet one of the coordinators for a local opera program based in Madison, Opera for the Young. It's an opera company that condenses entire operas to four singers and then takes it on the road to various elementary schools throughout the Midwest. I can only dream of being involved in a program like that in the future. Anyway, the coordinator spoke on topics of what they expect in a singer they are considering hiring them. A few of the things were obvious, but a few other things she mentioned I haven't really thought of before, and I'd like to share them with you.

- Being a good communicator in all aspects.
- Being a timely responder to emails, phone calls, etc.
- Being ready for the gig you are auditioning for. You don't want to go into an audition for a gig your voice can't handle at the time.
- Being able to represent the company well; a singer might have 'the voice' but if they're not a 'good egg' it's very unlikely they'll be hired.
- For this kind of opera for children, a singer must be able to easily interact with children.
- Being able to speak and represent yourself well in front of people.
- Having a simple, honest resume.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Singing in Other Languages Lecture

Once again in my opera workshop class I had the opportunity to listen to another helpful lecture. This time the professors of the class spoke on the difficulties of singing in different languages. They provided helpful tips as well. Here are a few I find really helpful and interesting:

-You must sound stylistically different in each language you sing. German shouldn't have a French feeling and vice versa.

-Be careful of which native singers you listen to. Some of their singing diction isn't always correct.

-In French if you master the schwa and the umlaut perfectly, you can usually coast through the rest of the language.

-German and other Germanic languages are so different than English because they use pure vowels Americans are not used to. Americans need to master pure vowels to sing successfully in German.

I should be back with more information after next week's lectures!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Glee Contest

So I did in fact make the top 10 for the Glee Local Casting Call contest I auditioned for over spring break. I need the most votes to win and here's the link to the contest page:

Happy voting!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Singing Career Lecture

So this week in my opera workshop class, instead of rehearsing I had the chance to listen to a very important lecture that focused on upholding a singing/opera career. Three of the experienced professors in the class reflected on topics from creating a career in music to music memorization techniques. I found a lot of what they said useful and meaningful. They really made me start to think about what I want to do with my life and with music. Below are a few things that stuck with me from the lecture.

-Your career should be a combination of something you like to do, something you do well and something you can get paid for

-Sometimes it's easier to figure out the things that don't work for you before you can know what's right on your career path

-You'll never know EXACTLY what you'll be doing in ten years

-If there are two career paths in life you can take, follow the one that's easier to get back into second if the first path doesn't work out

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Spring Break Singing Adventure

After taking a break from posting to catch up on homework and practice, I'm finally back with a new story and new experience. Over spring break my mom told me about an opportunity to audition for the Fox television show Glee which focuses on a high school show choir. Apparently a local casting call was taking place at a restaurant and participants got a chance to have their auditions recorded and uploaded free of charge. Singers could also upload their own video to the competition website. During the recorded audition contestants were given time to introduce themselves and then sing a song chosen from the public domain. Then local judges are supposed to pick the top ten from the local auditions and the public is free to vote for any of the top ten singers. The one with the most votes at the end wins and in return gets a 'golden ticket' pass to a real Glee audition with the producers of the show.

This past Thursday I participated in this audition and I believe it went over well. The one thing I struggled with, however, was my spoken introduction. Normally I have what I want to say planned out and occasionally I forget something I want to say and I freeze up. This indeed happened during my audition on Thursday and I struggled with remembering what I wanted to say. Otherwise my singing went really well and I felt I gave a strong audition. However, from this experience, I think the next time I have to include a spoken introduction, I need to simply speak slower and not feel so lost when I forget to say something. I think if I can do those simple things, my next introduction won't be so choppy.

Hopefully the video for my audition will be up soon! I'll definitely be posting the link when it does!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Opera Workshop Performance and Italian Recitative

I just finished my second big performance of the semester. This performance was an opera scenes program which consisted of different scenes from various operas. This semester there were only five scenes from four great operas: Don Pasquale, Le Nozze di Figaro, Dialogues of the Carmelites and Idomeneo. I got a chance to play Cherubino in a scene from Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. The scene came from Act II and included the arias, "Voi Che Sapete" which I performed, and "Venite, inginocchiatevi!" sung by the soprano playing Susanna. The music between the two arias, on the other hand, consisted of recitative, or talk-singing.

The recitative in this scene was, by far, the most difficult to learn and perform. The first thing that we needed to master was the Italian. Italian recitative is especially difficult because words and phrases that end on a vowel need to be cut off right away, to avoid the 'American diphthong' and sound more Italian. I found that once I was aware of my holding out of phrase-ending notes I did the Italian cutoffs fine. The other difficult thing about learning the recitative was making it sound 'conversational'. This involved singing fast enough as natural spoken dialogue, which was bit difficult to get used to but simple once practiced. It also required the singer to be very aware of what is being said in Italian so interruptions and entrances implied by the dialogue are correct. Once my scene partners and I became aware of the correct way to sing Italian recitative we had the scene down in no time and were extremely prepared for the day of performance.

To wrap things up, it was an overall great performance by not only myself and my scene partners, but all the other performers as well. Bravi!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Illness and Protecting Your Voice

So these past few weeks beginning around my first performance of the semester, I have been fighting illness. At first it seemed like it could be strep throat, but some tests proved otherwise. Eventually I had a blood test that told me I have mononucleosis. Thankfully, it seems to be a mild strain and I'm slowly recovering. During my first performance I was on prescription steroids that the nurse said would take down the swelling in my tonsils so I could perform more easily. Various singers in school with me advised that steroids are very bad for a singer in that they take away the swelling, but not the problem itself. This is bad because that means you're in danger of damaging your voice even more when on them. However, I made it through the performance unscathed.

When a singer does feel like their voice is tired I know of a few vocal exercises one can do to help strengthen the voice. The most common vocal exercise of this type are tongue/lip trills. These involve singing a note of high pitch while vibrating the tongue or lips. According to the local voice clinic, these must be done as quietly as possible with the least amount of effort while singing the note as long as you can. This warms up and strengthens the voice without damaging it since it calls for little effort. Another exercise a singer can do to strengthen the voice is gliding. To do this one you must think 'choir boy oo' but then close your mouth around it and glide your voice from your lowest note to your highest, while making little effort. This exercise works the contraction in the voice.

There are many more vocal exercises one can do to keep the voice healthy and strong but those are the ones I find the most helpful. Now, to bed to rest my voice. Another busy week of singing!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

First Performance of the Semester!

Last weekend, on February 13th I had to opportunity to perform in my voice teacher's recital. It was my first big performance of the semester and I think my individual performance was only somewhat successful for numerous reasons. However, the overall recital was really great. The theme of his recital was 'Teaching Favorites' and my voice teacher, a lyric tenor, finally got a chance to perform a lot of the songs he uses to teach his students. It was a different kind of recital in that, instead of discussing a song or composer's background for each song, he discussed what each song did to help a young singer develop. For instance, when he performed Vaughan Williams' "Silent Noon," in the program notes he discussed the wonderful phrasing and how by working on this song helps the beginning singer learn how to create and apply this kind of phrasing to future songs. The song I performed was of the same sort in the program. He asked that I perform it since it was from a woman's point of view. It was a Spanish song by Grandados called "El Majo discreto" or, the discreet man. Its poetry was from the point of view of a woman whose man was ugly, but was worth it all the same because he remains loyal and keeps a secret. My teacher enjoys using this as a teaching song because it involves a leap of a 5th from a B flat to a high F (the low voice version in my case). Leaps like these help a young singer begin to learn how to position their mouth and where to feel the high note in their head in order to get a great tone out of the leap. The best way I could make the leap was by thinking about coming at the F from above. Just thinking about singing a higher pitch right before the F helped my voice to be in the correct position when I did sing the F.

My performance of "El Majo Discreto" was alright. Definitely not noteworthy. I was sick during the performance, unfortunately, so I wasn't in the best shape to sing. However, I made it through and am now preparing for my next performance coming up on March 10th-- Opera Workshop!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What Goes on in Those Practice Rooms?

Alright, so now is the time in the semester that I'm in the practice room the most. I have an opera scene to memorize, opera chorus parts to learn and of course I must work on all of the general repertoire I have picked out. So I guess I'd like to talk about what a young voice major does in a practice room and how we come out at the end of the semester with our music learned and our voices in good shape.

When I first get into a practice room I immediately get into warming up my voice, however, a teacher or two has told me to begin practice time with breathing exercises. These would involve simply breathing in deeply, and breathing out while trying to control the speed of the air. These exercises are excellent for basic work on breath control. I've found they're also a great way to calm down and start breathing more steadily before practicing or a lesson. I will definitely try to incorporate this type of breathing into my practice time more often.

When it comes to warming up, I've found starting simple is the best. The voice needs to be treated just as an athlete would treat their muscles before an athletic event, so it needs to be warmed up slowly. I start with high sighs on an 'e' or 'o' and after about a minute of that my voice usually feels warmed up enough to go into a bit more intense vocalization. For me, these mostly involve ascending and descending scales and arpeggios that help make the voice more agile. Increasing the pitch each time with these scales and arpeggios also helps increase the range of the voice-- which I've definitely experienced since I began studying voice.

After about 15 minutes of warming up, I then begin to look at my music. I usually go over songs I've worked on the most first, sing through them and then go back over trouble spots. Then I move on to the songs I've worked on the least and add to what I've already done with them. After singing and learning music for about 30-40 minutes I call it quits; I've found that if I practice more than an hour a day my voice gets a little overtired. After asking around I've found that my peers usually aim for an hour a day as well.

A lot of voice teachers recommend that after practicing one must cool down the voice. This is something I'm lacking in. I do know that these exercises are basically slow, soothing vocalizations that help calm the vocal cords. However, I usually forget this element when I'm finished practicing. Hopefully I can start to incorporate them!

As a final thought, I think one of the most important things to keep in mind when practicing any instrument is to have a goal. If you go into your practice time not knowing what you want to accomplish, you probably won't accomplish as much as you would have liked and then end up frustrated. Even if the goal is sustaining a C while vocalizing or to get through a troublesome rhythm in an aria, goals while practicing are key.

Monday, February 8, 2010

New Music for a New Semester

I'm really not sure where to go with my first post, so I figure mentioning what's on my plate for the semester is a start. To begin, I've realized I have a lot going on this semester when it comes to the music I'm learning and working on. The general repertoire I've decided to work on with my voice teacher is very diverse this time around. I've chosen selections from Chopin, Hahn, Purcell, Rossini, Gounod and my voice teacher insists I work on music by Debussy and Wolf. In my voice program Junior year is the time to work on French music, so Gounod, Debussy and Hahn have that covered. I'm also attempting to study music in German, English, Italian and Polish along with the French. In addition to all of the repertoire I'm working on this semester, I'm also in an opera scenes program that will take place in the middle of March. My scene ended up coming from Le Nozze di Figaro by Mozart, which I am really excited about performing. I also plan to take part in the chorus of the upcoming university opera production of Maria Stuarda-- my first opera! Currently, I'm working on a solo that I'll be performing on this upcoming Saturday for my voice teacher's recital. Overall, I definitely have a big semester of music ahead of me, so at this point I'm in a practice room whenever possible. However, I'm slowly learning how to use my practice time more efficiently and I'm hoping to write my next post about this very topic.