Sunday, 19 February 2012

One giant leap outside the comfort zone

It is now less than a month to go before my Grade 4 singing exam so time then for a run through of the required songs with the accompanist for the exam, Nest Harrris who is based in Quorn. It seems the usual procedure when entered for an exam through Caroline is to have a couple of practice sessions with Nest before the exam proper just to get the tempo sorted and to meet her and for us to get to know each other a little bit.

So all very relaxed? Well yes, it should be, but you know me! This is definitely one giant leap outside my comfort zone and going to sing with a new pianist made me a bit apprehensive. When Anna-Ruth and I arrived (Anna is taking her Grade 7!), it was Anna to go first, while I sat in Nest's front room. I could hear Anna's stunning voice which made me feel a tad inadequate, and when I heard Nest correcting some of Anna's minor errors, I did wonder what she would make of my efforts. I thought Anna sounded splendid, but Anna thought otherwise, but isn't that always the way? Are we singers ever happy with our performances?

My turn came all too quickly and naturally I had a minor attack of the jitters! Don't ask me why, it just happens okay? Caro mio Ben started a bit hesitantly, but I gradually got going and made a decent  fist of it I think. What struck me straight away was the quality of sound produced by Nest's piano. I do confess to being a bit ignorant of the instrument. I would've called it a 'Grand' piano, but have no idea in truth what the difference is between a 'Grand' and  a 'Baby Grand' piano. Size presumably, but whatever this was it produced a quite gorgeous sound! I've always thought a piano was a piano, but here was something I'd never heard in my life let alone attempted to sing with.

Despite my obvious nerves, Nest was very complimentary, particularly regarding my 'accuracy'. I always feel like I stay in tune, but worry about the quality of the tone I produce, but to be complimented in that way after my first nervous effort was very reassuring and helped me relax a bit. An Die Laute followed and due to my nerves, my mouth was by this time a bit dry. Now if one is going to get one's tongue around the German language, one needs a bit of saliva I find! You just try eating four unbuttered Cream Crackers and then attempt to sing 'Nachbarn aber, nachbarn nicht'. Pretty damned impossible I reckon. I hope a bottle of water is permissable in the exam room, because a good swig will be required before this one I think. Nest played it beautifully and I started to relax and get into it. We ran through the second verse again, in a vain attempt to get my tongue around the previously mentioned horror line.

One thing that Nest does at the end of each intro, is to turn her head slightly and nod at the point when one is meant to come in. I  confess that I was totally unable to follow the piano part and was unsure where to come in, but the nod was very helpful! I passed on this bit of information to Caroline later and suggested that she does likewise in lessons. Sadly, the response was "it ain't gonna happen". Harsh Caroline, very harsh! ;-)

Finally, we did Do I love You Because You're Beautiful from Cinderella. This all too brief piece went okay and again I felt a bit humbled to be standing singing to this beautiful sound. Anyway, Anna and I will have one final session with Nest on the Friday before the exam, when I will attempt to sing without copies, as I will have to in the exam. Scary stuff!

I followed this up on Saturday afternoon with another lesson with Caroline where we ran through the same songs, plus the unaccompanied folk song Barb'ra Allen. I am really going to have to practice this one hard. As I said last time, I feel horribly exposed singing unaccompanied and it felt no better on Saturday but I guess the more I practice the better it will be.

And what of the aural tests and stuff? Hmmm. Commenting on the dynamics, and tempo of a piece shouldn't be too bad, but I am struggling a bit in identifying major and minor keys. It all seemed glaringly obvious to Anna and Olivia, but not alas, to me. Just when I thought I had it sussed I got one wrong! So I think I need to have a play on Anna's piano and try and get it clearer in my head.

Clapping a rhythm is something I am totally rubbish at. My claps are a bit - no, not a bit, a LOT, pathetic! And sight reading is err, how shall we say, 'mixed'? But, at the end of the day, to use a football cliche, the biggest obstacle to me doing well in this exam is myself. If I can just relax, chill out and enjoy it, I will do well. I know it and simply hope that on the day I can. At one point in the lesson, Caroline said 'you're panicking' and she was right. She stopped short of giving me a good slap, but it's probably what I need sometimes I think.

But what the heck, it's all good, challenging stuff and something I wouldn't have considered at all possible just one year ago. Even Nest herself said that she thought I was incredibly brave to be even considering doing an exam at all! Whatever happens, I've got to just enjoy the experience and that's the ultimate aim.

See you next time,

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