Tuesday, May 02, 2006

what kind of singing? what kind of cash?

In response to the meme post below, Scrivener asks: "You sing for cash? What kind of singing? What kind of cash?"

I'm overdue for a post about the singing, related to the fact that I haven't been doing nearly as much singing this semester as I would like. So here's the deal, and maybe the writing will spur the other stuff.

I've been singing classical music - mostly choral music - since high school, where a draconian but talented Swiss music director kept our choir interested and motivated by the force of his personality ("Don't have a pencil?? Prick your finger and write in blood!" was one of his infamous rehearsal remarks). Even given the generally high level of cultural capital possessed by many of the families at my high school, it's impressive that he managed to get a hundred kids a year involved in singing masterworks of Western culture, and make them sound pretty good while he was at it.

Fast forward many years. I discovered that some big-city churches, especially but not exclusively rich Episcopal ones, pay their choirs, and finagled my way into one. I say "finagle" because, both at the time and in retrospect, it was/is clear that I was on the low end of the spectrum, shall we say, in terms of vocal maturity and confidence. In other words, many of the other singers in that group kicked my ass vocally and musically. This was made clear from repeated frustrated comments in my direction from the conductor (not put-downs, just requests to change things musically that at the time I knew were difficult or impossible for me to change).

What did we sing? Episcopal chant for the Psalm, and anthems for the Offertory and Communion parts of the service -- early-music chestnuts like Tallis and Byrd, or more recent Anglican stuff like Howells.

I had to leave that city for grad school. But if I were still singing there, I'd be making over well over half my graduate stipend. Like I said, these are rich-ass churches.

Now, I no longer have a church job, although I occasionally sub in for other singers I know when they have to take a Sunday off. I do sing with a part-paid, part-volunteer community choir, though I'm sometimes frustrated at the sheer size of the group (80-90 people). It's like getting an elephant to move: once it gets started, it lumbers along.

I don't have a huge, operatic voice; I'm at my best singing Baroque and earlier (Bach, Monteverdi), although I'd like to get into more recent (20th- and 21st-century) repertoire as well. And I enjoy it the most when I feel like I'm making chamber music, working in tandem either with other singers or with instrumentalists. While I've grown slightly more accustomed to claiming the spotlight for myself during solo work, it's the feeling of making music in tandem with other people - the cooperative or occasionally competitive back-and-forth - that lifts my spirits. I haven't done nearly enough singing with lately.


Scrivener said...

Wow, cool! Though, I have to admit, I had imagined you as having a solo lounge act where you lounged around atop a piano crooning. That or hung out on street corners strumming a Hawaiian guitar and singing for the change of passers-by.

kermitthefrog said...

Hmm, I suppose I'm flattered. I'd like to have a lounge act, actually, but I don't know if I could pull off the brazenness without laughing.

As for the other option -- perhaps you're thinking of my frog alter ego, who hangs out on logs strumming ukeleles and singing about rainbows.

Loralee Choate said...

I wish I lived in a town to get paid singing in a choir. I DO have a huge opera voice (And not so bad if I say so myself) but I prefer singing in choirs, big and small.

I've been invited 4 times to join the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (No, I'm not kidding) but it is a volunteer choir, I would have to drive 160 miles round trip for rehearsals twice a week and they have a 7am start time every Sunday. VERY serious choir, but what a pain in the ass.

I think the church gig sounds awesome. I've retired, but I like doing stuff from time to time. It's a small community, though.

Anyway, enough rambling. Like the blog.