For those of you relatively new to my blog, back in the day, I used to sing. I was pretty good too, at least according to those who told me so. Occasionally, I even impressed myself (but only occasionally). I wasn’t professional per se, though I had been paid for a few performances. Most of the time, I simply sang for my own amusement.
I started by singing classical jazz (think Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, etc.), then from there, I progressed to opera. I didn’t particularly like opera right away; it took some time to earn appreciation for it. But took to it like a duck to water, and I so enjoyed being surprisingly good at something, I kept doing it.
I took lessons for years while in my 20′s, studying for a time under a rather Prestigious Tenor, learning the classic bel canto technique (he said I’m something like 6th in direct line to Nicola Vaccai since he studied under someone who studied under someone back to the master). I learned so much from that tenor, but was intensely frustrated at being boxed in by a particular vocal type.
Allow me to explain. Regarding vocal types, most people know that, in choirs and such, you have your basic altos and sopranos, tenors, and basses. In opera, however, there are multiple sub-categories of vocal type. With women, you have your contraltos (and their various sub-categories) which are the lowest voice. Then you have your sub-categories of mezzo-sopranos (mid-range) and all the various categories of sopranos (top range). Ultimately, I sub-categorized myself as a dramatic-coloratura soprano — which is vocally akin to “jumbo shrimp”. It basically means I had a darker, more powerful sound combined with the agility to glide through all the vocal roodle doodles of the high sopranos. I had about a 4-octave voice which is pretty unusual and helped me sing all types of music.
However the Prestigious Tenor preferred light lyric sopranos (a more delicate, pleasant tone), and did his damnedest to cram my big dark voice into a simulation of that popular timbre. We worked at it for years — in time, my voice and technique became lighter and brighter which is much more desirable within the opera community.
Prestigious Tenor didn’t want me becoming involved in community theater projects lest I might become distracted from my studies of the compendium of Italian opera. I thought it was ridiculous, but the man sang with Callas and many other famous singers — obviously he knew more than I did.
I parted ways with Prestigious Tenor after we got into a row about whether or not I should expand my vocal abilities into other types of music. He said no, I said yes, he said he couldn’t teach me if I fought him on this. So… that was it. We parted friends, but it was hard on me. From there, I studied under another tenor who was wonderful in a different way, and when he left to take a job in Washington DC, I “retired” from studying vocally.
Then, about 7 years ago, I got it in my head to take piano lessons again. I studied piano for eight years as a kid, but didn’t remember much more than the basics. As an adult re-studying piano, everything came back to me quickly. I excelled and became pretty accomplished after a year of study. During that time, I had mentioned to my teacher (we’ll call him Grant) that I could sing. After hearing me sing, he encouraged me to do something with it. I got involved in a choir (which wasn’t the best move), and then I got involved in that dreaded community theater that Prestigious Tenor warned me about.
The first show I did was a rare Gilbert and Sullivan. I loved it — really loved it. I was chosen for one of the leads when the producer, director, and cast heard me audition and were absolutely stunned (like I said, sometimes I was pretty impressive). It was hard work, but completely worth it. I made a lot of friends — a lot! — including Grant.
Grant became something of a best gay friend for a while (no, not the one who f’d me over). He was a good kid, about 15 years younger than I am, but mature for his age. After he went back to college to earn his Master’s degree, we fell out of touch.
With regard to opera, I did a few more shows after that only to become deeply disenchanted with the community theater ethos. Too much infighting, goofing off, unpreparedness, pettiness, and backbiting for something I wasn’t even getting paid for. Then my ex-friend (not Grant) f’d me over and pretty much scotched any chance I had of doing it again even if I wanted to.
Then, there was the whole near-death-by-loperamide-overdose thing. When I was on life support and intubated for three days during “The Incident” a few years back, my vocal cords became paralyzed. Eventually I could talk, but singing was nearly impossible. For the first time in my whole life, I couldn’t sing a note without croaking like a frog. It scared the crap out of me. I was afraid to even try to sing for a very long time. Only lately, these years later, have I had the courage to try again with any gusto.
Yesterday, I’d heard that Grant returned to my crummy Burg to open a music studio, so I reached out to him to see if he’s still teaching voice. I need to get a hobby desperately. If I write another long post about a stupid doctor’s appointment, I’m going to shoot myself.
Turns out, Grant does indeed teach voice (as well as piano), and of course, he remembers me well. Lessons are generally about $40/hour, and since I’m on seriously limited funding, I may only be able to make a lesson once every two or three weeks or so. It won’t be like the last time when I thought one lesson per week was too few!
I sang a bit over the weekend and discovered much to my delight that my top notes seem to be coming back. I started with the classical jazz stuff that I love so much, then progressed to a couple of opera pieces. I can only imagine what my neighbors were thinking! Singing was something I always did without much thought — and I’ve been without music in my life for so long now. I’m not sure how I’m going to approach lessons since all of my sheet music is gone. ALL of it. I can download sheet music online, luckily, and re-order some of my classic books. Without a piano, I’ll have to rely on online sources too. It’ll be much harder, but maybe it’ll be worth it.
Grant texted me after I contacted him yesterday and will text again later. It’s really nice to hear from him again. I’m looking forward to seeing him and maybe getting some lessons that will keep me out of my own head and worrying about stupid things that don’t matter.
**UPDATE: I heard back from Grant and it seems he might be able to fit me in for some lessons in the evening and costs are $45 per hour. Scheduling might be a challenge though. He actually referred me to the person across the street if he can’t fit me in. Well if I wanted to do that, I would have already. So we’ll see. If it doesn’t work out, no biggie.
Ah, pray make no mistake,
We are not shy;
We’re very wide awake,
The moon and I!
– The Mikado