Wednesday, July 10, 2013

My Teenage Vocal Practice Conventions

Practice preparation that served me well back in my schoolgirl days.

1) Silently read anything that absorbed my thoughts for at least an hour or more in a quiet room. My voice was always fresh and easy to produce right after reading. I didn’t realize, then, that the reading was a form of meditation, promoting deep breathing and relaxation and sharpening brain function.

2) Singing right after eating mashed potatoes. Right after eating salty mashed potatoes my voice was always clearer – especially in the lower range. I remember remarking about this often back then. More likely than not the warm food relaxed me or relaxed some part of the vocal mechanism. Or the whole notion is just silly. Or there is some other reason why the spuds did the trick. You are welcome to try this on your own and report your findings. I would steer clear of the gravy, however.

3) Singing right after coming out of the local indoor swimming pool. The high notes were so easy to produce. There are multiple reasons why this might have been the case. Water cleared the sinus passages. Swimming laps is the best exercise for breathing muscles of the torso. I may have experienced temporary relief of undiagnosed allergies. And it echoed in there! I did suffer a serious rebound effect about 30 minutes after swimming. My head plugged up as if there were a blanket stuffed inside.

4) Singing after practicing playing my alto recorder. I highly recommend playing the end-blown flute for singers. My voice teacher had been training me to sing with a type of a rib reserve breath that, unfortunately, was encouraging me to hold my breath. I stumbled onto something more like the appoggio when I played the recorder.

5) Singing in the add-on room renovation. I was so sad when my parents finished the room. My ‘practice’ room was all cement floor and bare walls. This was much better than singing in the bathroom. Besides, with five people and one bathroom, singing in there was like tweeting is today. Only time for a commercial jingle before somebody started banging on the door.

6) Singing when nobody was home. I would light the plaster of Paris Baroque-style candlesticks atop the old out of tune player piano, turn off all the other lights and sing and play away. I couldn’t get rid of the family enough. Really. Those people just would never leave.

Notice that the key word threaded throughout is ‘singing.’ I would sing exercises, choral music from school, the Italian art songs my teacher had assigned, the coloratura arias my teacher had no idea I was fiddling with (that I shouldn’t have been fiddling with), some popular songs. I won a $25 savings bond at a pizza parlor where I sang a Puccini aria and a Burt Bacharach song. I wrote tips for breathing and tone production and such on 3X5 cards and maintained a file which I referred to when I practiced my vocalises. A few years back, the other opera singing teen from my small sports-minded town commented that no one had ever practiced when we were in school. I had been wringing my hands over the lack of practice on the part of my private students. I retorted, “I practiced!”

If you want to do a thing, you need to do the thing – and do it all the time. As many have said, a singer is a singer every moment of each day of their life. There are people who sing. And there are those who live their art.