The most recent addition to my music library is a hardcover vocal score of Massenet’s Manon. It has a green cover with gold lettering, and it was a present from my dear teacher, Enrique Toral. Manon’s “Je marche sur tous les chemins … Obeisson quand leur voix appelle” was the first aria Enrique assigned me, and it became a go-to piece for competitions and auditions.
After a very happy partnership, we had our last lesson this week. In the final minutes, I sang “Oh! quante volte” from I Capuleti e i Montecchi, since I’ll be using it for master classes and concerts in San Francisco. Somehow, it was the best “Oh! quante volte” I’ve done yet despite not having touched it for three months. All the moving notes showed up when they were supposed to, and there were no stumbling blocks weaving up and through the staff.
Over a celebratory dinner at a lovely Italian restaurant, Enrique left me with the following advice (I should have given into my urge to record our whole conversation!):
- Search for the easier way to sing rather than the better way. Singing should not feel like work. If it’s hard or if it hurts, it’s not good singing.
- Be happy about practicing instead of worried. Don’t reinforce bad habits or negative thinking.
- Resonance is passive – it will happen on it’s own. Focus instead on breath, vowel, and flow – those are the active components of singing.
- Technique doesn’t come and go, so don’t be afraid of losing it.
- Be nice to everyone. You never know where you will meet them again.
Needless to say it was an emotional dinner. We both had tears in our eyes as he drank red wine and I white, reliving the mishaps that occurred along the way but didn’t stop us. Almost exactly a year and half ago, I showed up at Enrique’s for my first lesson. I wonder what went through his head when I told him I planned on applying for graduate school – not perplexing in and of itself but unusual because 1) my voice was still very confused, and 2) I was crying at the time. A little embarrassing, yes, but that’s how much it meant for me to be singing again.
As I sat across from Enrique with my new Manon score in front of me – fresh and waiting to be explored, the full opera rather than just one singular aria – it hit me that I’d accomplished what I’d set out to do; I was going to graduate school as a singer. In the impersonal and step-by-step process of leaving my job, singing for Musical Merit, and getting ready to move, there wasn’t time to fully relish the outcome of all my preparation. My brain understood it as factual information, but there were too many items requiring me attention for me to have an emotional response. This wave of emotion finally crashed into me during dinner – I’m pretty sure some of the other customers probably thought it was a date-gone-wrong with me crying into my napkin. Then our waiter came over and poured us two shots of dessert wine to celebrate, and I pulled myself together.
Enrique has been my most ardent champion during this long process. He was more than the teacher I met with once a week. We sat at his dinner table to discuss schools and faculty. He suggested music for me to learn. He lent me scores or obtained rare copies for me. He was blunt when I needed the honesty and supportive when I needed the comfort. He enthusiastically agreed with my ambitious goals and found ways to encourage me while watching out for my vocal (and mental) health. I’m not sure where I would be otherwise. Thank you, Enrique.