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.