There is much to write about after the drought of the Holidays. I decided to address Patience because the activities and events of the last few days point to it. I teach a group of tenors who had relatively long careers as baritones, ranging from 8 years to 25 (the latter being me). It seems in the last month we have all reached a tipping point. One of the tenors, a young Heldentenor was reported to have warmed up to F5 and according to his wife, an excellent voice teacher herself, he is feeling very confident about his development over the past few weeks. This is particularly exciting because he went through an early battle with reflux, had been diagnose (falsely I think) with peresis and experienced a difficult period with his passaggio. That was already fantastic news. Another one of the tenors came to Berlin for a few days to work with me and he obviously had his best weeks. He warmed up to some excellent high Cs and sang some excellent Bs in context. Before I had left him in New York three weeks ago, Bbs were still a question mark. Yesterday, I met with the youngest of the bunch over Skype just to have a check-up. He expected a tough lesson because things had been a little more difficult lately and low and behold he warmed up to his first C5 and sang Belmonte’s first arias quite convincingly. I thanked him for such a nice birthday present (yesterday was my birthday and incidentally the blog’s second anniversary. Imagine confetti and champagne)!
Today was my turn. I had been having some difficulties with my high notes and I could not figure out why. I had not changed my approach, but when I first arrived in Berlin, I was recovering from what appeared to be swine-flu, which had a bad effect on my concert (which I talked about here). Well, today was my tipping point! After teaching four students in a row, I decided to practice and found that my very high voice, what some might call a reinforced falsetto, was no longer such. It had become full. My voice did not want to sing the heavier high notes anymore. It is as if the crico-thyroids became suddenly strong enough to dominate the antagonism with the vocalis muscle while still enduring opposition from the same–That sensation of the voice being driven by the top. There was an abandon, a freedom and a sudden ability to express my feelings totally. I sang many sustained C5s and C5# and felt that the D and and Eb were part of my full-voice range (although not as rich as the C and C#. Obviously this is no point of arrival, but it is the kind of even that tenors who have sung as baritones look for and cherish. December 28, 2009 is for me the day I became a real tenor. Every time I promise clips, something new occurs. So I will not promise clips and maybe I will have something to offer soon. To the tenors who sang as baritones, Patience is indeed a virtue!
Paradoxically, my stay in Berlin this time became a tipping point relative to my pedagogy. I talk a lot about a total approach to singing, but much of my time is spent on technique (i.e. physical coordination). Of course, I have spoken about the mental part of singing and indeed the spiritual side of it, but not to the extent that I felt compelled to these last weeks. The importance of teaching singing as a total strategy became most obviously necessary this time when I began to teach two young students, a 22-year old tenor, who had an unsatisfactory experience in the conservatory and decided to seek my tutelage instead of going to a school and a 19 year old soprano who wishes to be prepared for conservatory auditions. Imagine that simultaneously I am teaching professional singers who have full-year contracts in German houses!
To me, it became clear that I had to set a path for those two young students that led their own contracts. This means multiple-lessons each week in which we get to discuss not only the physical fundamentals ad nauseam, but also what it takes to become a professional singer: that performance begins in the studio, that concentration is total mental presence, that a tone is not just a sound but an expression that requires consciousness and not a distracted mind, that an artist has a noble purpose with respect to his/her audience, that success is not happenstance but rather a willful sequence of accomplishments, etc. All this I discussed with my two young students. It became clear to me that some of my professional students needed to hear some of the same things. So their lessons became not only about vocal principles but about owning the moment, of being decisive and purposeful, that they deliver a performance; it does not happen to them. So many get to a level where they have the luxury of singing in a professional theater daily but have no conscious concept of why they got there and what they need to do to deliver their best work on a regular basis. They are not lazy! They need guidance. And I must give it to them in full, even if it is difficult.
To top it all off, I had a two-hour lunch with the great Rossini tenor, Lawrence Brownlee. I was already a fan of his work as I have expressed here on the blog. I will not quote him here because we were just having a friendly lunch, but I will say this: anyone who meets Larry (he is a very down to earth guy who prefers to be called Larry rather than Mr. Brownlee) will understand in a quick minute why he is one of the most sought after singers on the Planet. He is confident! His confidence is born of achievement, which is born of hard work, which is born of purpose, which is born of Faith. Faith that he is following his true path.
The tipping point of the ex-baritone tenors teach us the following: in everything, there comes a point when one must claim the prize. It does not mean that one has completed the journey, for indeed the journey does not have an end except for the end of life itself, but one must be careful not to turn patience into complacency. It is too easy once one learns patience to get caught in a vicious cycle of waiting. Patience is in fact the contrary of waiting. Patience is active. It is about moving purposefully in the direction of accomplishment and success with the goal clearly in sight, such that when the tipping point comes, it will require very little effort to floor that cow! (For non-native English speakers, you may need to look up the term “cow-tipping” to understand that last sentence).