Pres-sing Difficulties

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We are in the final week of preparation for our end of season performance: long rehearsal on Wednesday, extra rehearsal Thursday, and a dress rehearsal on Saturday. We’re singing Bach’s Cantata No. 37. The Saturday rehearsal is with the orchestra. I’m way out of my depth.

My personal music background is primarily a couple decades of playing violin. And one semester of beginning voice. Fifteen years ago. I sang with the church choir for a year or so at that time. After a decade and a half, I rejoined the choir four months ago.

I still have a basic grasp of music theory (from a violinist’s point of view), and a rough of idea of the mechanics of musicality. Unfortunately, that’s about all that transfers. After twenty years of focusing entirely on treble clef, now I need to teach myself bass clef. Also, the layout of the music on the page is very different. As a violinist, the music is mostly laid out as a single part. You read it kind of like you read a page of text, left to right, top to bottom, one line after another. In other words, the only notes on the page are ones I play (with a couple of exceptions such as high-low split within a section). In vocal music, all four parts (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) and the accompaniment are on the page. It’s kind of like trying to read only the fourth line of every paragraph in quick succession.

Then comes the issue of sound production. Having been around various musicians all my life, I’ve heard lots about “breath support”. I even understood, in an academic way, what it meant. Convincing my body to do it is another matter. Doing it without letting the rest me tense up is also an interesting proposition. Why is breath support necessary? First, the obvious example, when was the last time you tried singing full voice for an hour and a half? Without breath support, I (at least) start losing my voice half an hour in. Another reason? Try singing at whisper levels without slipping into actually whispering AND with projection.

Then comes the intonation issues. I’m fairly good at determining in/out of tune at the register of the violin. I’m also decent at fixing it. Tuning not only a few octaves lower, but also adapting to a totally different sound characteristic is difficult at best. Now, after four months of tuning myself to a piano, we’re tuning to an organ and an orchestra.

After all the equipment differences, sound production, and intonation difficulties have been overcome. That should be it, right? AHAHAHAHAHA! Now comes pronunciation and enunciation. (Yes, there is a difference. Look it up.) I’m constantly amazed at how many ways there are to sing the sound ‘ah’. Oh, yes. Did I mention we’re singing this in German? Here’s the list of languages I’ve taken: Japanese, Russian, Kyrgyz, Latin. Here’s the list of languages I can usually sound out: French, Hebrew (with transliteration), Spanish. Oh look. No German.

Despite all these barriers, singing in a group is fun. The barriers make it challenging, make the effort worthwhile. Putting vocal music together is a challenging and multi-level puzzle, at the moment. Getting the mental components to line up with the physical components is a test of almost spiritual agility. When it work, the reward is nearly sublime. Even if I don’t particularly like the music being sung.

Putting this performance together has been frustrating, difficult, embarrassing, and a whole lot of fun. The icing on this rather bizarre cake? It turns out that my elementary school music teacher is one of the sopranos of the choir.

The play’s the thing, wherein we’ll catch the…Queen?

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Today was the penultimate Readers’ Theater session before summer break. One more to go (in June). Tonights plays were all based on telephone conversations. The first one, which required all in attendance to participate and even double up in some instances, was the radio drama that got made into the movie “Sorry, Wrong Number”. Basically the plot boils down to [spoiler alert, if anyone cares]:

Old Lady: I just overheard someone planning a murder!
Telephone Operators 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and Police Sergeant: Yeah. Sure.
Old Lady: *strangled*

The others were all more modern, and short (less than 10 minutes each). They were also amusing. Even the “suspense” ones were funny most of the way through.

In addition to “Sorry, Wrong Number”, I ended up participating in two others, both two person skits. The first was a “discussion” between a guy wanting to buy tickets and another guy trying to sell the tickets. Turns out they knew each other. Honestly, nothing all that interesting. To me it was just another bizarre-place-to-run-across-someone-you-know story.

The second was one of those annoying-operator-in-a-time-of-crisis stories. At least that’s what it started out to be. I’d volunteered to read the part of the operator. We were getting into it, and things were flowing nicely. About two thirds of the way through, however, and I discover the operator was supposed to be played by a woman. Oops.

So I figured, “What the hell.” I changed a couple of things on the fly, added a little improv, dropped a line or two, and voila: My name was George the telephone operator, and I was talking about my cheating husband, who was cheating with That Bastard, Brian. And I was complaining to this poor guy who was trying to get the number of a psychiatrist because his wife is psychotic.

Many compliments were given for changing the script on the fly to match my character. Though I still think I should have given him a Boston accent. Oh well. The trials and tribulations of a cold reading.

I’m a Born Creepy Stalker

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I have a new favorite play: The Professional Eye-Opener. It hasn’t been published yet, but the playwright has had others published and won awards. We were honored to be able to do a beta-reading tonight at Readers’Theater. All I can say is: “Holy crap, that was fun to read!”

It’s a two person, one-act play. Person 1 is a woman and a high level corporate manager. Person 2 is more difficult to describe. He is essentially a trickster archetype, though plays the part of a salesman. It revolves around two main points. The first is how much personal information is actually out there to be found. The second is about social awareness of what’s going on around you and between the people in your life.

I got to read “Eric”, and wow was he creepy. All smiles and innocence except that he knows everything about Beth’s life and her place and roll in her company. There are hints that he may be supernatural in some way, but it’s never explored…just left out there to be a thunderstorm on the horizon.

Lots of compliments on my reading, (including a comment from a friend “You make a really good creepy stalker.”) and I’m not surprised. Eric is kind of like the inverse of Kevin, one of my supernatural “angel” characters that spends his time posing as an out of work actor and healing the mental and emotional trauma of rape victims. Eric is all about ripping away the protective ignorance people tend to construct around themselves. In talking about the play after the reading, I mentioned that it was something I would probably show to participants in one of my self-defense workshops.

I would dearly love to actually perform this on stage, though I suspect opportunities to be very limited. It is a very good play, has only one male and one female part, and competition for the parts is likely to be fierce.

I’m going to go, now, and bask in the memory of the awesomeness that is The Professional Eye-Opener.

Transition is Difficult

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I didn’t actually get a chance to light a candle today. The choir provided the candle meditation music (“Cantique” by Faurre). But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t going through the motions in my mind during the reading. Without the candle and flame directly in front of me, I had to work at the words which usually come easily. This week’s meditation is at the end of the post.

On this day of transition, I’m spending time thinking about the effort it takes to move from one state to another. Today is Easter, the day of the ultimate transition in Christianity. And yet transition is with us every day. The forming or breaking of a relationship. A drastic change of mood. A switch of careers. Transitions bring pain, and yet there is promise of a new life with each. Keep in mind, I am not talking about the simple changes that life forces upon us. I’m talking about alterations in the very foundations of character and personality.

The day my last relationship ended, I died. The period of transition was hard to work through, and yet looking back at it, I do not regret it. Change hurts, but the penalty for not changing is the death of spirit. With every transition, two forces fight within me: the transformative force wars with the impulse of stubbornness. Thus far, with every major transition, I have been able to change and accept it…though rarely without a struggle. It is that struggle that causes a transition to be so painful.

And yet after the transition, there is a sense of completeness. Not happiness or contentedness, but a feeling that something has definitively ended for good or ill. Whether that ending is positive or not, it provides a solid foundation on which to continue life. When the ending is negative, it is often extremely difficult to begin building again. It is tempting to keep that chapter open and keep writing, hoping for a happier ending. But in doing so, the foundation for continuing life remains in flux, and the impossibility of building a future is overwhelming.

Transition can be broken into three broad periods: the initiating event, the interregnum, and the resolution. Sometimes the initiating event can be predicted, sometimes it can’t. I could predict that my last relationship would end (though the timing of the actual event was a bit awkward), but the request for a divorce several years ago came as a complete surprise. I’m not sure which is worse. I don’t think I really care. In both cases, it launched a period of wailing and gnashing of teeth, which eventually led to a period of self evaluation and exploration as I sought to reestablish my foundation. In the case of my divorce, the resolution occurred after years of the interregnum; but when it came, it came suddenly, like the breaking of a fever. After the more recent relationship, the interregnum was much shorter, but the resolution came slowly, like the healing of a broken body.

I look around and see people in all three periods of transition. Given my personal history and propensities, it is no surprise that it is very easy for me to see which people are still reeling from the initiating event, or are still on the downswing of the interregnum. It takes a little more effort for me to see when people begin the upswing, but there are fewer pleasures more poignant than being with someone (or even helping them) as they reach their resolution.

I saw one person in church today who appeared to have just gone through an initiating event. I won’t use exact words, but when I asked if this person was okay, s/he thanked me for my concern but couldn’t yet say that s/he couldn’t talk about it, much less actually talk. Given what I know about this person, I have a couple of guesses I think are pretty close. In any case, my thoughts, my love, and my prayers go out to this person in transition.

Today’s Meditation:

Let this beacon burn bright.
Light it be a guiding light
To those who seek.
Let it be a shelter
For those without peace.

Let this beacon burn bright.
Let it give warmth
To those in the cold.
Let it give strength
For climbing from the valley.

Let this beacon burn bright.
Let it promise hope
To those in despair.
Let it promise life
To dying souls.

Place Holder Post

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I was going to put up a blog with some of my thoughts and experiences today, but after recording UIL middle school choirs all day, then going to my own choir rehearsal, I’m too tired to think coherently. Same schedule tomorrow, except instead of rehearsal, I’m performing. Wheee! I’ll eventually get another post up. Friday, most likely, or Saturday. Thanks for not abandoning me.

A Mundane Posting

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I’ve been musician, actor, and teammate. In each case, all my energy was put towards a final performance or goal. After the accomplishment or failure to accomplish, there is a brief depression. Performers often call this the “post-performance blues”. Now that the event day of Wear All White for Women’s Rights has passed, I’m beginning to understand the mindset of “professional” activists.

It’s true that nobody in my city showed up; nevertheless, it is a great rush to be part of something larger than you. On the day after, my first reaction is “now what?” I doubt the friends I made, and the friends who brought me in, will part ways. But except for a case or two, I suspect we will drift apart, each returning to our separate orbits in the social universe. It is a sad time for each participant, and the urge to find something else to do with others, either the same group or a different group, is amazing.

The one day event is done. There is, however, the follow up. The event was intended to be a social awareness exercise. Now comes the actual activist part: sending letters, emails, petitions, etc. to lawmakers. For those who are following the movement, the Wear All White for Women’s Rights community page will become increasingly important.

This is Ridiculous

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I posted this link on my Facebook page this morning. The caption was: “Happy April Fool’s Day! Here’s a sample of what we’re doing in choir today…though the words have been changed a bit.” I wonder how many people thought it was an April Fool’s Day prank. Certainly the expressions in the congregation were of incredulity the first time we whacked our heads with our choir folders. There were a few “they’re doing what?” expressions. I even saw a few “they’re not….” faces. But my favorites were the hand-covering-gaping-mouth-and-eyes-popping reactions.

As an introduction to the sermon, it was perfect. The anthem for the service was a variation on Pete Seeger’s version of “Old Time Religion”. Trust a Unitarian Universalist church to celebrate the ridiculous in a service. The sermon itself was along the theme of what UU jokes reveal about us. Much laughter ensued.

For those (two) people who are anxious about what my words of reflection today were:

I look into this flame I’ve lit,
And I watch it
Laugh and dance
And sparkle and spit.
I say to myself and to God:
This.
This is what I want to be.

And for those who want to know which lyrics to “Old Time Religion” we used:

Chorus:
Give me that old time religion (3x)
And that’s good enough for me.

We will pray to Aphrodite
Even tho’ she’s rather flighty
And they say she wears no nightie
And that’s good enough for me.

O-old Odin we will follow
And in fighting we will wallow
Til we wind up in Valhalla
And that’s good enough for me.

(Chorus)

Let me follow dear old Buddha
For there is nobody cuter
He comes in plaster, wood or pewter
And that’s good enough for me.

We will pray with Zarathustra
Pray just like we useta
I’m a Zarathustra booster
And that’s good enough for me.

(Chorus)

We will pray with those old Druids
They drink fermented fluids
Waltzing naked thru the woo-ids
And that’s good enough for me.

I’ll arise at early morning
When the sun gives me the warning
That the solar age is dawning
And that’s good enough for me.

(Chorus) x2

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