When I was in high school, my father just had to have the newest toy out on the market – a mini-disc player. He had done some research and discovered that it was cheaper to buy one in
When I became a senior in High School and was sure that I was music school bound the following year, I decided that I needed to have it. My father generously “lent” it to me, probably knowing that he would never see it again. No matter – there was a newer, smaller, sleeker model coming out that he wanted to upgrade to anyway.
I originally had wanted it so that I could make good quality audition screening tapes cheaply. I never thought to use the thing as part of my practice. I mean, who likes listening to themselves?
A couple of years later, when I was in the Houston Grand Opera Studio, the Studio director and I were having a meeting about my progress when she asked me, “Do you ever record your lessons and coachings?”
“No,” I said.
“Well, you should consider it. It can be a really helpful tool.”
“I prefer to work by feel. I don’t like to record myself. It feels like a waste, because I know that I won’t listen to it, and I really do learn by how it feels – not how it sounds.”
With a simple “ok”, she let the issue drop.
Fast forward another couple of years, to this summer at Marlboro. After a morning dress rehearsal, a recording engineer came up to me at lunch and handed me a CD labeled “Schumann Dress Rehearsal”. I muttered a thank you as I took another bite of my sandwich and put the CD in my binder, promptly forgetting about it. Later that day, after I got back to my room, the CD fell out of my binder as I was putting my things down on my desk. I thought, well, why not give it a listen?
I popped the CD into my laptop, donned my headphones, and pressed play.
We were good.
Quite good, actually. But I was singing a little flat in a passage in the second song. I could hear myself coming off of my breath as I approached another high note in the third song, causing a little bump in the smoothness of the line. I was singing a little too loud in one place, but could afford to give a little bit more in another.
Why didn’t I do this all the time? I mean, this was like being my own voice teacher or vocal coach!
When I left Marlboro, I resolved to dig out that mini-disc player that had lain dormant for almost 10 years and make use of it. I was going to record my lessons. I would then take it on the road with me and record rehearsals.
I actually kept my resolution when I got to NYC and had some lessons. I recorded most of them in September and was really happy with the result. I could actually study what I had learned in detail in between lessons! So much more information began to stick.
I dutifully packed the mini-disc player in my suitcase when I left for
And it remained into my suitcase until today.
Why did I leave it there for so long? I was afraid to hear myself. I was afraid that I would hate what I heard.
Lindoro is scary. Lindoro strikes fear into my heart, because his music is simply so technically demanding. I have slaved over this role for years and only recently had the feeling that I know what I am doing.
Why would I ever accept such a role, you ask? Well, because I know I can do it. I have done it before – twice, in fact. I was sick as a dog the last time I did it, but it still went fine. Also, it’s a challenge that, somewhere deep inside, I know I can tackle. And by overcoming such challenges, we discover a deeper layer of our singing, as well as a deeper layer of ourselves.
When I caught a cold ten days ago, I was out of commission for almost a week. The past few days of rehearsal have mostly been about trying to build back my vocal stamina and strength. It’s been a frustrating process trying to find my voice through all the mucus again, and I was beginning to panic.
For some reason, I decided that today I should record myself.
After running the first aria, I was discouraged. My cold was still bothering me just a bit, and I felt like I was negotiating a mine-field as I sang it. Singing isn’t supposed to be that scary – it’s supposed to be fun. The choir inside my head began ranting off thoughts like “that was awful”, “you are a terrible singer”, among other choice phrases.
At the first break, I picked up my ancient mini-disc player and listened to what I had recorded.
It wasn’t bad at all. It was actually quite good.
I could hear the problems, but they weren’t ridiculous and insurmountable. I could quickly address them and begin to solve them myself. Phrases that scared me in their difficulty I discovered actually sounded quite easy. I didn’t need to worry so much about singing them, and I could actually ease up a little in some places. I needed to make sure to get a good breath here and there, make sure not to push in another place, maybe take this lick slower, another lick perhaps faster. I could hear that I needed to make adjustments – not overhaul my technique.
As the rehearsal went on, I made the adjustments that I thought I needed to, and I gradually felt my voice open up and my body relax. I started to feel like “myself” for the first time in over a week. I finally felt like I was beginning to take steps forward again instead of just slogging through mucus and negativity.
As a singer, I often have a hard time being objective about my singing. I often assume the worst, as I tend to be my own worst critic and I have a cheerfully negative choir that sings songs of self-deprecation in my head constantly. Other times, I don’t notice things that go awry because I am caught up in the heat of the moment. Turning to a recording of myself helps me be objective, because all it can do is show the truth. And the truth shall set you free.