Life for me in St Louis isn’t all blogging, swimming pools and smokehouses. No siree, no. I am actually squeezing in a bit of singing too. And, oddly, I’ve actually quite enjoyed it.
Now, if you’re not a professional singer, if indeed in singers’ parlance you’re a “civilian”, you possibly won’t get that remark. You would naturally assume that we singers enjoy singing all the time. Well, no, that would be an amateur who does that, in the literal sense of the word. I’m not saying that professionals never enjoy singing. I’m just saying that professionals don’t have the luxury of singing exclusively when we feel like it. We have to do it an awful lot of times when it’s about the last thing we feel like doing. And I’m not saying that professional singers don’t love singing (and I use the word “love” advisedly); it’s just that, like all affairs of the heart, it can be something of a stormy and complex relationship. In fact I’m finding these days that it’s a bit like dealing with a parent that’s going through the onset of dementia.
As the parent/voice gets older the instances of lucidity and clarity become shorter-lived. The real person/voice is in there somewhere but he is befuddled and it takes a lot of patience and gentle coaxing to get him out. This can lead to frustration and tears, culminating in putting the parent/voice in a home that smells of pee and forgetting all about him. Well, perhaps not so much on the last thing, but you get my drift.
In spite of these difficulties that the ageing singer faces – and these are inevitable and undeniable truths; I’m not being twisted and cynical – I can still find myself being pleasantly surprised by the physical act of singing.
Take yesterday. I drive Lucy into her piano dress rehearsal, go to my usual haunt for a cappuccino and a catch-up on Twitter and Facebook (which takes a long time in the mornings when you’re six hours behind most of your friends) and then drive back to our digs.
Despite every fibre of my being opposing the idea, I think I should do some practice. I have an audition next week (and I’ll get to auditions in another post). I start warming up, very gently at first to coax the old bugger into life and then with a bit more gas. It seems to take an age to feel like a tenor again. Finally I have my full range. I sing through all my numbers, fiddling about, trying new things. Playing a bit. I have no real idea if any of it is any good but after a while the rush starts. It must be something to do with taking in larger quantities of oxygen or the release of endorphins, but bugger me if I don’t start to feel the old sensations of elation. They are nothing to do with any sense of self-satisfaction but are entirely physical. I carry on for a good hour. Normally I hate practising if I think anyone can hear me, but once the rush has kicked in I’m past caring. And after I’ve finished, when my voice is getting tired, the chemicals keep pumping through the veins and I’m on an up for an hour or two more.
Am I back at the piano the next morning? Like hell I am.
Like a middle-aged subscriber to an expensive gym, all the elation is forgotten and all I can see is the struggle up the vocal hill, while my nostrils seem to be filled with the faint smell of pee from the Silver Meadows Home For The Elderly Vocal Cords.
I’ve also watched a dress rehearsal of The Death of Klinghoffer, and I was bowled over. The Opera Theatre, like Glyndebourne and Garsington, has a young chorus during its short festival season, made up of young artists on the foothills of the profession. John Adams’ choruses are fiendishly hard and to see these young singers go for it with conviction, passion and finesse was a very moving experience. All the moaning and sniping, the accusations about opera and the resultant outrage – all of that seemed insignificant in the face of such commitment to the art.
So, if some people aren’t comfortable with the world of opera, there are very many of all races and classes who are, and who are hungry for the chance to prove it. Watching the rehearsal I was overwhelmed, bathed in a sudden sense of reassurance. I found myself thinking that if anyone in my profession doesn’t realise that we are all eventually replaceable then they must be an idiot. Oddly, rather than making me sad, this makes me feel extremely happy.