I'm trying to write this while staying under my blanket. The quest for warmth never ends, folks. Last weekend was busy but felt uneventful. You know how you can do a lot of things but it feels like not much really happens? That's what it was like. I haven't yet decided if that's nice or not. I can't imagine a reason why it wouldn't be. I'll let you know when I've reached a verdict.
On that note, allow me to say this: It's okay not to know how you feel about some things. You are not required by law to make a decision or reach a verdict on everything. The jury is allowed to be out. Because life is still happening around us, in transit. We don't live in finished products. It's okay not to know.
On Friday we had a very long masterclass with the young British dramatic soprano Susan Parkes. What a ball of life! She is so energetic; I loved her. She is vastly knowledgeable about British repertoire, and as such, she offers wonderful insight about performance. I coached with her on Saturday afternoon, and she helped me to see one of my songs in a new light. It has taken on new life for me now: a heartbreaking but small story, almost understated in its trauma. If my job is to bring the story to life, Susie helped me to do so.
I picked up an extra lesson on Friday afternoon, and it was FABULOUS, so I'm glad I did. I've been classified as a mezzo-soprano for a year-ish, but after our first concert in Oxford, many people asked me if I was sure I was a mezzo: my high range is so comfortable. At first I brushed it off: I knew my high stuff was the best part of my voice, so it wasn't a surprise that they said those things. But since then, I've been told I was actually a soprano by (no joke) everyone at this program. It happened at AIMS, too. In fact, everyone except for the people at home tell me I'm a high soprano.
With the voice, it's important not to just take what people give you, like you're an infant being spoon-fed. You have to decide what you like and what makes you comfortable. So I've been listening (not quite literally) to my body and my voice over these days. My lesson on Friday helped me so much with that. The technical things I'm working on right now give me the clarity and razor-sharpness that my voice needs, and they reveal my Real Voice. And judging by where I'm comfortable, and how it feels to sing, I would also say that I'm a high soprano. As Andrea, one of my AIMS teachers, put it, I'm a high flyer.
I've spent a long time identifying with my inner mezzo, and I've written about it a lot here. So this is kind of weird to write about. But all I can tell you is that, vocally speaking, these past weeks have felt like coming home to myself, to my sound. This is the most like myself I've ever sounded: I can feel it in my bones (and my vocal tract). And therefore I need no other reason. I need say nothing more. If you feel like you when you sing healthfully -- I mean, isn't that what healthful singing does naturally? -- then that's what matters. The rest is nil.
Friday night, we went to the local parish church to rehearse with their choir: we sang Evensong with them on Sunday night. I think all of the CASI-ites went into this rehearsal expecting to sight-read the music. It was harder than that, much harder. I have never sung responsorials before, so that was a new musical adventure. But it was a great experience to have, and I'm glad I had it.
Saturday, the faculty gave their showcase concert as a kind of teaser for the student concerts later this week. It. Was. Fantastic. Soon Cho sang songs from Schumann's cycle Frauenlieben und -leben, one of my favorite works for mezzo-soprano. It was beautiful. She used her music, but you would never have known from her performance. Dr. Sadlier sang a set I knew (Schumann's Liederkreis) and one I didn't know (Finzi's O fair to see). The rest of the faculty all sang, but I think the show-stealer was DQ, who sang the very famous "Erlkönig" by Schubert. There are three characters in that song, plus the narrator, and he clearly delineated between all of them. He sang in his natural countertenor voice for the narrator; for the Elf-King (der Erlkönig) his tone slightly altered, but the main difference was in his face. I would have sworn he was the Elf-King. For the son, he began each phrase with a purer sound, and for the father -- a lot of countertenors could also be baritones; they have that low range. When he dropped into his low voice, all of CASI collectively freaked out. To say that we did not expect that was an understatement. I only want to hear countertenors sing that piece from now on, for that effect alone.
Saturday night, after our coachings, some of us got together at the Sadliers' to watch Downton Abbey, one of my favorite shows. We watched the first episode of Season Two, because of the way it depicts both the war and the effects of the war at home. My friend Ceci loves period dramas (Jane Austen is her girl), but she had never seen this! Needless to say, she fell in love with it and questioned her entire Downton-less existence. It was so lovely to hang out with my people and just be with them. After all, this is the last week.
On Sunday morning I slept for an impossibly long time. I got up and went to acting class after lunch, and afterward I hung around with Marc, our acting teacher, to talk about Cherubino and how to best play a fifteen-year-old boy. My eyes have been opened, y'all, and I have seen the light. It was as if an entirely new world was opened to me. Men move so differently from women, in minute ways I've never even noticed! I have so much movement stuff to practice, but I am so excited to work on it!
Sunday night, as I said, we sang Evensong, and after that I went to dinner with my host family. We had the best time! It was so much fun to hang out and laugh with them. Then I came home and finished my book (so good). Monday morning I awoke with the realization: this is the last week. I am so sad to leave, but we won't talk about that now. There will be plenty to write about it later.
We watched more war footage at the Sadliers', and I had a lesson at noon. I spent the time in between in practice. My lesson was good, and I love voice lessons, but oddly, sometimes lessons -- even great ones -- can be discouraging. I confessed to Dr. Sadlier that sometimes I was afraid I would never get it. And that's how I feel about a lot of things. But he reminded me that everyone feels that way. Everyone. And he's right. But sometimes, the feeling of inadequacy is too much.
As I ate my lunch, my own reminder came to me, straight from the Spirit of God, whispered like He held my hands: There has never been a time that God did not come through.
In a way, He almost has to come through if He wants to accomplish His designs at all. Because Heaven knows we can't do them.
I think that's what inadequacy is for: to point us back to our desperate need for God. Last night as I was lying in bed, my mind whispered to Him, I cannot. I am not able. I am so little. What do I know? The road is so long. What can I do? How can I ever expect that the improvement I need will come? How can I have the audacity to believe that I am capable of anything at all?
Well, I'm not capable, but God is.
And He has always come through for me, in all the ways.
Other voices that helped me (in lesser ways) were those of my mother and Amy Poehler. When I feel I'm just never going to get something, I call my mom and talk to her about it. I tell her, Mom, it feels like I'm never going to get this. During a recent instance of this, she responded, very matter-of-factly (which is totally my family's style), "Now how many times have I heard that before? And it's always happened for you." Way to quiet my fears using my mother, Lord.
I started reading Amy Poehler's book Yes, Please last night, and in the PREFACE she totally rocked my world. God brought me exactly what I needed to hear from a fantastic comedienne, and if that doesn't speak to His power, I don't know what will. Here is what she said:
So what do I do? What do we do? How do we move forward when we are tired and afraid? What do we do when the voice in our head is yelling that WE ARE NEVER GONNA MAKE IT? ... Well, the first thing we do is we take our brain out and put it in a drawer. Stick it somewhere and let it tantrum until it wears itself out... It will be muffled, and just the fact that it is not in your head anymore will make things seem clearer. And then you just do it... You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing... So here we go, you and me. Because what else are we going to do? Say no? Say no to an opportunity that may be slightly out of our comfort zone? Quiet our voice because we are worried it is not perfect? I believe great people do things before they are ready.
- Amy Poehler, Yes Please, emphasis mine
Amen and amen. God reminded me in that moment that I don't have to be perfect: not now, not ever. I am only required to show up with my little self and all I have to give. I am to show up before Him. He will do the rest.
Besides, thinking about singing isn't singing. In order to sing, I have to do just that: sing. Not talk about it, not work on all the things that go with it: just get in a room and sing, dangit. God will take care of me. He always does. He has never not.
So here we go, trusting in His faithfulness to us. It feels like a leap into the darkness. Really, though, it's a coming home. Our dangerous inadequacy leads us to safety. Beauty from ashes. It's His way.
Let's follow it.
Still to come: concerts, more lessons, more books. And these amazing people I'm blessed to spend my days with.