Singers

Singers are not normal people. When I worked with Opera For the Young, I got to know some strange folks. There was a tenor who talked non-stop and had grown up without ever seeing a dentist as a kid, not even once; he had so much pain in his teeth he would chew on a big wad of chewing tobacco at night to numb his jaw. There was a soprano who made a habit of ordering expensive steaks, polishing them off, then complaining loudly about them when the waiter was around so that the restaurant would comp her meal.
There was a baritone who scared the kids (we performed in elementary schools) because he wore sunglasses indoors, unzipped his boots so they flopped around his ankles, and tried to explain "method acting" to third-graders. There was another soprano who would get into imaginary arguments with her mother in the van as we travelled between schools. Once when we were touring Green Bay, I went out with the baritone and the soprano, and she got tipsy off of a single shot of Bailey's and then kicked a** playing the ancient PacMan arcade game in the bar.

That said, some of my dearest friends are singers (not the ones mentioned above, believe it or not). There's something special about them. Maybe it's that when your instrument is your own voice, you're making yourself totally vulnerable to your audience in a way that no one with an external instrument has to. (I've had to sing solos in public a few times and it is terrifying.) Singers are the only musicians who can't see their instruments. A singer must produce sound using only his/her body. They have amazing lung capacity, incredible diaphragm strength, beautiful resonance. Singers are so sensitive to weather, allergies, caffeine, milk, fizzy drinks, sleep-deprivation; the most minor of colds can put a singer out of commission for days. No wonder so many singers are neurotic divas. With the possible exception of professional yoga teachers, singers are more in tune with their bodies (even if they don't all take care of themselves very well: Pavarotti, for example) than anyone else.

But singers are my favorite musicians to work with (a few of you read this blog!) Only vocal music has text, and text gives you an explicit connection to the music that you can't get with any other instrument. In some cases, like in the songs of Franz Schubert, Hugo Wolf and Claude Debussy, text and music are so intertwined they don't exist well as separate entities. The successful performance of an art song, even if it lasts only a minute, is exquisite, and if you're performing with someone you have a strong connection with, then you can experience fulfillment as a performer. I've played with some kick-ass violinists, cellists, tubists, you name it, but there's nothing, NOTHING like a good song recital.

So I'll live with, if not in, the world of singing. I'll travel the backroads of Wisconsin with talkative tenors and snooty sopranos. I'll put up with audience members gushing "Gosh, those singers are so good and so talented, aren't they?" without acknowleding my role in the performance. I'll play "Juliet's Waltz" and "Quando men vo" for the thousandth time. I'll do all that because amidst all that I can reap great rewards playing great music with people whom I consider great musicians. I think it's worth it.

Comments

annalu alulu said…
why did you choose piano over voice (or flute)? I always thought you had such a beautiful voice.
pamigelsrud said…
Awww...... How sweet! Well, I can assure you that singers like working with you, too!! : )
Suze said…
Singing in front of people takes serious courage. I was always more confident on piano. As for flute, I never practiced enough, and it turns out that piano is way more practical an instrument than flute. As a pianist, I will never run out of working teaching and accompanying; it's not always great work, but there will always be plenty to do.
Jenn Hacker said…
Too bad you don't live closer to me - I want Jamie to start taking piano lessons soon. Darn! Oh well, guess I'll have to look around here for a piano teacher.

I still love to play my flute. I stopped for a while when Jamie was a baby - he's one tough critic! Everytime I would play it, he would cry (and I KNOW I don't play that badly)! LOL
Jenn Hacker said…
I sing, too, but don't consider myself to be great. I merely have a good voice for musical theatre and character-role songs. But I'll never be a headliner anywhere!

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