Rehearsals for next Wednesday’s concert continue apace, and about 90% of the concert is ready to go. Marc and I have scheduled 2 more rehearsals, Sunday and Monday, and you can be sure that I’ll be drilling certain passages in the meantime.
I’m really, really happy with the song selections that we’ve made, and I very much look forward to presenting them next week. A few extra weeks of rehearsal would be nice. Even one more week would go a long way. But I also think that the concert would be good if we performed tomorrow.
In the past year, I’ve picked up a hobby horse that I absolutely love to ride: supporting the vocal line in a song or aria. I’ve hounded certain composers whose work I’ve performed about giving the singer more guideposts along the way – it’s something that I aim for in my own work, and is very important to making the singer’s job a little less aggravating. I think we often write harder music than is absolutely necessary so that we look smart to other composers. (“My music hard, and that makes me smart.”) It was certainly drilled into my brain by a number of past teachers that I had to write music that was super-smart, which clearly meant “not attractive” and “difficult”. I was even told that certain pieces of mine, typically the more well-received of my works, were “too beautiful” – which means exactly what? (I think that it means absolutely nothing.) One trap that we song composers fall into when we lose our bearings and stumble off into SmartyPants Land is to make our vocal lines extremely difficult. I don’t mind super-hard vocal lines, myself, so long as they’re supported in the piano, or whatever instrument(s) I happen to be singing with. A well-placed note that gives me my starting pitches – or that shows me that I’m on the right track – can go a really long way toward making me comfortable. It always feels nice to know that I’m not completely on my own – I question myself a lot less.
Accuracy is clearly something that is desired by both composer and performer. But if, after weeks of rehearals and private drilling of parts, I still can’t find my pitches, I have little choice but to approximate in performance. It’s not ideal, obviously. And something I maybe shouldn’t really admit to. But I also believe in being honest with composers or performers I work with. I’ve told performers on a number of occasions to approximate certain passages because, honestly, who but me is going to know the difference? I’d rather that they sing the pitches that I’d spent hours/days/weeks working on, but if it comes down to the singer sounding timid and unsure of themselves, or sounding as though they know what they’re doing even if they don’t really, I choose the latter any day. I’ve also had to tell some composers that unless they gave me more support in the piano part, I’ll probably end up singing pitches that are quite inaccurate, but I’ll sing them as though they’re right.
I’ve mentioned that I strive to support my singers as much as possible, but I know that I sometimes fall short. I definitely do in two of the songs from echoes, which I’ll surely be revising a bit after this performance. My supportive sins aren’t major, but I’ve found myself floundering in the middle section of “conspiracy”, and in the opening of “people shouting”. A few well-placed supportive notes would go entirely unnoticed by listeners, but would have made the songs simpler to rehearse! How bizarre to be having problems singing my own songs! Fortunately, the unsupported sections are short, and the vast majority of the cycle feels great.
I do want to single out one cycle in particular from this concert for the composer’s excellent work in supporting the vocalist at every turn in a way that is comforting to the singer and very elegant. Zachary Wadsworth’s Three Lullabies is really well-written, and I’ve felt super comfortable with it in rehearsals. At first glance, it’s a little intimidating (some harmonic nebulousness that seems prohibitive, and some seeming rhythmic scariness in the second song). However, his songs have given me the least worries, and have felt really relaxed from the beginning. At every entrance, and during tricky phrases, Zach gives little nudges in the right direction. He never outright doubles the vocal line, but selects important pitches (and sometimes rhythms) throughout many of the phrases and echoes them in the piano part. Unsupported, X or Y pitch may be difficult to grab out of thin air, but he always finds an elegant way to make his singer feel at home, even with tricky, chromatic passages.
There are some moments in the program where I’d like a bit more support from the piano part, or a little clearer engraving (another hobby horse, one I’ll surely address here soon), but I like to think of myself as a smart singer – I can figure it out (I have figured it out, but we’re all prone to slip-ups). I feel as though all that remains to be done now is to pound about 5 or 6 entraces into my brain. Beyond that, the program is performance-ready!