"The definition of perfect pitch is the ability to throw a banjo down a mine shaft without hitting any of the accordions that are already down there."
For about 5 years, I have been studying solo voice. I studied with Sylvia Larrass for 3 1/2 years. Sylvia managed to drag me to the grade nine level in the Royal Conservatory of Music program. I passed that exam in June of 2004. I have also competed in the Kiwanis Music Festival a couple of times. I entered two classical categories in 2004 and really enjoyed it. In 2005 I competed in the musical theatre category and did quite well.
When Sylvia left on sabbatical, I switched to a new teacher, James O'Farrell. I have now completed Grade Ten Voice, with a good enough mark to go on to try for the Associate level if I want. There are a lot of exams between here and there, though. Just one more practical exam, but a total of five written ones. Not sure I'm that ambitious.
In 2006 I entered the Kiwanis Festival again, in the Concert Recital category. I performed "O del mio dolce ardor" by C.W. von Gluck, "Allerseelen" by Richard Strauss, and "Tired" and "Hands, Eyes, and Heart" by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The event took place on the evening of April 5th. I didn't "go out there and kick soprano butt" but I was somewhat more competitive than I was two years ago when I entered the same category. My wife, my mother, my cousin, and my accompanist all agreed that I had improved quite a bit, and you can't get any more impartial observers than those, can you? Actually, I knew who was going to take first place as soon as the first entrant started singing (Valentina Cuden - probably someone to watch). It was interesting to hear her take on "Allerseelen," which was my favourite of the pieces I was doing. When I got up to sing it, I found myself looking over her way and singing it back to her some of the time, perhaps because she was more likely than anyone else in the room to completely understand the German I was singing. Anyway, it was fun. Thanks, as always, to Erica Smith, my wonderful accompanist.
For those who missed my performance and are curious about what I sounded like, I recorded a rehearsal with Erica. The sound quality is not sterling, and I think actually my performance was better than my rehearsal (that's a good thing), but this is an approximation. These are MP3 files, and they're kind of big. Sorry about that. I find it easier to download them and then play them, rather than try to stream the audio.
To make the RCM practical exams official, one has to do the theory and history exams that go with them. I studied for the Grade Three History exam on my own, but worked with Kevork Andonian to prepare for the Grade Three Harmony exam in 2005 and the Grade Four Harmony exam in 2006. I completed the Grade Four History exam in the spring of 2007, which was the last thing I needed to get my official Grade Ten certificate.
After nearly two years studying with James, I was surprised to find that I had become a tenor. James helped me figure out how to negotiate the male passaggio, and I can now sing above it, even producing a high C on most days. Tenors are obviously much rarer than baritones, and I'm now trying to get my head around the opportunities that seem to be opening up for me. Most of the choirs in town are always looking for tenors, and I might even be able to go after some things that pay! Boy, add three or four semitones at the top of the range, and suddenly you're worth money. It's kind of weird.
Musical Theatre and Opera
For a while I was not sure what to do next with my voice, but I remembered enjoying my experiences in the FASS Theatre Company at University of Waterloo when I was a student. Back then, I never got much in the way of solo roles, but I thought that now I might have a shot at something a bit bigger after all this work on my voice. In December of 2006 my son and I both auditioned for roles in a GNAG community theatre production of "Oliver!" I got the part of Mr. Bumble and my son was understudy to the title character. Mr. Bumble is a tenor role, and a year ago I don't think I could have sung his songs. Now I get a kick out of singing "Boy for Sale" and popping out those high A naturals.
Then I wanted to be in a show with my daughter, but she was busy on the nights when GNAG rehearsed, so we auditioned for Suzart. Their first production of the year happened to be Oliver! and I got cast as Mr. Bumble again. My daughter played Bet. The show opened Friday the 21st of December and closed Sunday the 23rd. It was great fun to re-explore Bumble in a new context. I think being able to work more on the character with less pressure to learn lines and song lyrics allowed me the space to inhabit him more and make him more of a person.
I just learned I've been cast as Max in a GNAG production of the Sound of Music after Christmas. So rehearsals resume in January and that production will be staged in early April.
And I'm still thinking about opera. I tried out for the Opera Lyra Chorus once (at an extra audition) and didn't make it, but they have official auditions for men in January and I tried again. We'll see what happens. Here's the resume I sent them.
Goofiest Singing I've Done Lately
I was in New York recently for a conference. The hotel I was staying in was located in mid-town Manhattan, so one day I stepped out of the hotel, walked a few blocks down 7th Avenue, stood on the sidewalk facing the building across the street, and....
....sang at Carnegie Hall.
There's no evidence that the building noticed I was singing at it, but I sang anyway. "Per la gloria d'adorarvi" by Bononcini. So now I can say I've sung at Carnegie Hall. Somehow it wasn't as much of a thrill as everyone says.
I think this proves how important prepositions are.
Where am I Going with This?
I originally started taking lessons because I hoped it could help me make a more useful contribution as a chorister. Solo singing has been something of a revelation to me. I've found that singing classical music is endlessly challenging. Even relatively simple pieces never seem to be quite "finished." There's always something more I'm trying to achieve with them - I always feel I could do better. That means they don't get boring.
I also find that if I can capture the emotion of a piece of music and then get up on a stage and do a relatively successful job of conveying that to an audience, it is a peak experience. There's a sense of risk-taking, putting myself on the line, that has the same kind of thrill as skydiving or whitewater kayaking did for me in my twenties. It's a path to self-actualization, the instinctive need to make the most of our unique abilities that Maslow put at the top of his hierarchy of human needs.
Now that I'm singing tenor, a lot of directions have opened up for me. It's really fun to be able to sing solo parts in community theatre musicals. Maybe someday I'll even be ready for the chorus of an opera. I don't know where I'll end up, but I feel like I should follow the path wherever it leads.
This isn't likely to lead to a new career, and I haven't spent that much time at it or got very far, but it has already been a voyage of considerable significance. To those who have helped me get this far, thank you. It has meant a lot.
"Our soul does not keep time; it merely records growth."
- Master Kan