Training and letting go with Diane

After ending the work week on Friday, I trekked over to my voice teacher’s and had a wonderful masterclass/lesson with soprano Diane Alexander.  It was exactly what I needed after Thursday night’s unsatisfactory practice.  I’ve learned all the new notes for my Musical Merit repertoire (six pieces in two months), but getting each piece into my voice has not been as smooth of a process.

My voice seems to change every few weeks when my teacher and I uncover a slight adjustment in my approach to support, resonance, breath, or vowel. I don’t mind improving, but having these changes in the weeks right before the biggest competition in town takes some of the fun out of the process.

As a coloratura soprano, my challenges occur when navigating around E5-F5-G5.  I feel like a beginner each time I encounter  one of these notes: how do I achieve the right combination of resonance and clarity?  These notes, of course, make their appearance in every single piece, so I need to get this straightened out.

In an effort to create depth and size through my problem passaggio, my latest strategy was to use the resonators in my mouth (teeth, tongue, palate) to generate more energy in the sound.  Instead, I ended up with a tired voice and doubts about my fundamental technique. Maybe I don’t know how to sing.  Maybe getting into graduate school was a fluke.  What if I’m not special enough to compete with the hordes of sopranos circling jobs like vultures …  This is such a dangerous path to go down.  I know when this thought-process starts gathering speed, but it’s hard to slap enough sense into yourself for it to be effective.

My teacher says to relax and just have fun because this is when the best singing happens.  I try to follow all his directions, but this one is tough: how can I relax and have fun when there is so much music for me to learn and when my technique isn’t secure?!   When my short-lived career is never going to have a chance to mature?!

Then Diane gave me the same message.  I never disbelieved my teacher, but hearing another experienced professional give me the same advice and then applaud the sound I produced right after taking the advice was a powerful moment.  We were working through “Willow Song” from The Ballad of Baby Doe, a piece that Diane is very familiar with.   She took my hand.  We sang the last page of ahh-ahh’s together, our hands swinging happily back and forth.  It was incredibly lighthearted and light-spirited.  The aria is wistful, hopeful, excited, tender, joyous, carefree, and loving, and I enjoyed it more in that moment than I ever have before.

Diane encouraged me to allow the voice to flip over the top half of the mask. This was a familiar idea, but one I had backed away from because I thought it was cutting off a deep-seated energy and thinning my voice.  The extra effort it took to control and multiply the sound was tiring my voice and leading me to over-sing.  With Diane’s suggestion, I was no longer fighting to control the flow of breath and sound – what a relief.  I used this in my practice tonight and sang comfortably for about an hour.  My voice felt stronger, my line was smoother throughout my range, and my breath was more stable with less air escaping unnecessarily.  YES!  Can’t wait to practice again tomorrow!



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