Kashu-do (歌手道): Ideology and Reality 2: A Personal Journey

As I prepare the teaching philosophy page of my website (under construction) I wrote the following:

We must strive for perfection knowing that we will always fall short!  It is a very different thing to strive for less because we cannot achieve perfection.  The former is noble, the latter is common. An artist understands this difference and lives by the former!

This encapsulates the necessary dichotomy of Ideology and Reality.  At my recital, as with any performance, I had a real responsibility, which is to entertain an audience. I had an ideal, which was to create musical art in the process.   The standing ovation at the end means that I was able to fulfill the responsibility, but I fell quite short of my ideal.  I did the right things.  I practiced my music very well and had enough time to work with my pianist such that we felt secure going in.  I was silent for close to two days and at my warm-up/rehearsal a few hours before the recital, I believed I was about to have the time of my life.  Two of my students walked in at the sound-check to a Bb4 that would have stood comparison to any tenor!  But that was the rehearsal!  I did not sing too much during the rehearsal, I ate healthily close to four hours before the concert to avoid any potential issues with acid reflux and the like.  I did everything right this time.  The concert began relatively OK with Purcell’s We sing to him:


Not bad!  A particularly good Ab4 on “rehearse”!  Still, I started to feel a nagging raspiness in the lower rangeEach time I sang there, it was as if something was not solid.  Whatever followed it would also end up raspy.  It seems to have come out of nowhere!  I was rested, had a super warm-up and I drank plenty of liquids throughout the day. Everything should have been golden.  Handel’s “Total Eclipse” went also pretty well, but I could feel the occasional raspy lower note:


The following set of Haitian Art Songs went well but I could feel the raspiness worsen each time I had to sing low.  The Tchaikovsky set that finished the first half was definitely a little struggle.  All the high notes came out including Lensky’s Aria and Don Juan’s Serenade but I felt I was singing though a small film of mucous that simply was not to my liking.  So I won’t bore you with the clips, which I do not feel represent my singing at this stage.  Not horrible but not pleasurable either.

I had 15 minutes at the half to assess my situation.  I felt the lower range was not engaging the breath properly, either because I was tentatively avoiding the precariousness of that part of my range or that something was causing it becoming even more mucous-ridden.

I decided to be a little more forthright about my onsets in the low range, making sure the breath was more under me and that worked more or less.  The second half was particularly more fun as a result. These two excerpts from Turina’s Poema en forma de canciones felt good as a result of this more fearless attitude:



The last song of the last set was a cute Haitian song that inspired some of the compatriots in the audience to chime in. 


 This gave me the confidence to sing the encore that I had planned, which had a particular significance to the evening.  This was in honor of the Dominican Republic, the first presence to offer help after the Haitian Earthquake of 2010. 


The top Bb4 was not as released as in my rehearsal but it did the trick. 

The importance of this recital for me was the fact that I turned a potential problem around and made the evening a success, but artistically I would have like to be more free, particularly in the first half. One can lose an audience in the first song. 

More importantly however was understanding why despite my best preparations this occurred the way it did.  As there are many singers who read this blog who suffer from allergies or some other ailment, it is important to understand all the ramifications even when the ailments have been dealt with.  In this case, I realize that I caused myself problems because I spoke between the songs and indeed spoke softly with my pianist for a few minutes before the concert.  Normally that is nothing to worry about, unless there are residual tensions from the compensations that were necessary in every day speech when the allergy (inflammation from gluten in my case) was present. When I listened to the recital on the train back to New York, I realized that my speaking was at the heart of the issue.

Upon arriving home, I practiced, concentrating on proper breath support in the lower range and remembered to apply the same to my speaking.  After those 6 or 7 years of not knowing that I had a gluten allergy that had reached a tipping point, even after dealing with the issue, my tendencies were to press when I speak, without knowing that I was doing it.  That simple adjustment made a remarkable difference in my practice over the past 48 hours.  Not only is the low better but its effect on the freedom of the top and on my legato in general astounded even me.  I think I have found the key to the rest of my technical work.  In practicing Idomeneo, for which I have a sing-through in two weeks, I was amazed at my ability to sing a supported piano.  Some of that can already be heard in the first of the Turina songs even in the recital, but there is a total sense of knowing the sensations particularly relative to the low.  It is one thing to hear it and know it aurally.  It is quite another to feel the sensation precisely.  Above all, this was a confirmation that my allergies are pretty much gone, that I was not dealing with inflammations anymore.  I can now give myself permission to expect the ideal or that the reality is not that far removed from it!  Happy days to come!

© 11/01/2001


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