Finding my voice

Wax on. Wax off. I am the karate kid of singing. No, I’m not talking about the fancy karate-kick-with-a-broken-ankle kind of karate kid. I mean the washing-and-waxing- dilapidated-cars kind. Except instead of cars, I have five notes. Up and down. On a rolled R. Sometimes—if I’m really doing well—on an eee vowel. Absolutely, positively, no consonants. Except g. Sometimes there’s a g consonant.

This has been a major part of my singing life for the last two months.

I recently started voice lessons again. My teacher is amazing. And very technical. And exacting.

And thus began my hour-long, “do-or-do-not-there-is-no-try” lessons and multiple hours of weekly practice on five notes. Up and down. Rolled r’s. The occasional g.

It’s not as boring as it sounds. The whole time I’m thinking about whether my larynx is open, whether my vocal folds are relaxed, whether the ligaments are stretched or loose, what my soft-palate is doing, how my hard palate is placed, keeping my tongue in the right place at the right time, and a whole host of other things. That’s a lot to do in five little notes, up and down the scale.

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shamelessly lifted from choral.net

Why? Why I am doing this? If you imagine the voice as a series of bicycle chains and gears, mine don’t flow together as well as they could and the switch between them is sticky. Plus, one of the chains is hit or miss, performance wise. That was never a problem as long as I was on the flat, so to speak, but anything really challenging showed the weaknesses. The aim of these lessons is to work these chains and gears, or voice registers, so that they run smoothly and perfectly, no matter the conditions. And so that I can sing Strauss. And meaty Mozart arias. And all sorts of other music I’ve always shied away from.

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Yet another great image from choral.net

I should be thrilled. And I am, but…

Here’s the thing. Voices generally match bodies. What I mean is—from a physical standpoint—a tall woman with a large jaw has a much bigger instrument than a short, slight woman. All that means—really—is that the tall woman doesn’t have to work as hard as the slight woman to produce a big sound.

But it does, on some level, go farther than that. We also expect that voices match bodies in a more specific sense (regardless of whether it’s true). Tall, willowy blonde with ankles the circumference of pencils? Surely she has an ethereal, super-high voice that spins and spins and spins into the rafters before floating down and wafting around you.

Squashy, curvy woman with a big jaw and meaty wrists? Of course you’re going to get a big sound that surges through the room, envelops you, slaps you around a bit, and then sinks into your bones.

No.

I want to sound like the tall, willowy blonde with ankles the circumference of pencils. I don’t want to sound like that squashy, curvy woman with meaty wrists.

Yes. But with hair. Long, cascading blonde curls will do, thanks.

Why? Because my whole life I have wished I had ankles that might snap at slightest misstep. (Not really. It’s metaphorical.)

I have never looked like that. And I won’t ever look like that, either. But in some ways, trying to emulate this light, floaty voice made me feel willowy, even if only for a few minutes.

I remember being a slim kid who was still taller, broader, and just plain bigger than every other kid around me. At the age of twelve, a distant uncle tried entice me to work on his farm for a few weeks because, you know, I was “sturdy”.

I don’t know a single woman who genuinely wants to be sturdy. Myself included.

Tapping into this big, meaty voice I supposedly have has required me to confront demons that seem to plague me no matter what I’m doing or what the situation is. Or how much weight I lose. It’s not a fun process.

I imagine that’s why it’s called “personal growth”.

While I continue to ponder that, I must get back to my five notes up and down.

We tried the octave last week, but my teacher quickly decided I wasn’t ready for eight notes at time. Maybe next month, she said.

Wax on. Wax off. Do-re-mi-fa-sol. Sol-fa-mi-re-do.

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