I have nothing to learn.
Well isn’t that going to need a little clarification – and as that is a rhetorical question I’m going to deliberately omit a question mark. Nope, that doesn’t look right at all, so here’s one to put things right? Oh crap, this is just getting worse. I’ll start again.
I have nothing to learn.
By which I don’t mean that I have become some paradigm of knowledge acquisition, a Master of Technique, or a guru; someone who has learned it all, whatever “it” might be.
I mean that, normally, I have a pile of music on the top of our upright piano (which fancily calls itself a “bungalow grand”, don’t you just love it) which is waiting for me to tackle. But I don’t. Nada. I have no new repertoire coming up (and more on that anon) so there’s nothing for me to learn.
“To learn” has broadly two meanings for a singer. First it means to note-bash; to painstakingly work over and over on a piece until you can perform it with the score, probably for a concert. When I was younger I used to spend an awful lot less time on this process, relying far too much on the sight-reading ability I had acquired at King’s and also, I have no doubt, being an awful lot sloppier. My sight-reading has grown rusty with age and lack of use, not to mention my short-term memory, so I am a gazillion times more fastidious in my studies these days. Besides, when you are young all the repertoire is new. There’s just so much new stuff to learn. I have the luxury of revisiting old repertoire these days and can afford to spend a larger portion of my time on the new stuff, such as it is.
Also, and I’m not alone in this, I have much less trust in my brain and body than I used to. If I am not thoroughly prepared for a gig I know I will be overwhelmed with anxiety. I have lost all of the bravura and ballsiness of youth. It isn’t fun, I can tell you. I need to spend an awful lot more time in preparation so that I can feel comfortable in performance.
The second meaning of “to learn” is to memorise, which cannot be done without the first learning process; though that is a moot point, given the number of us who perform stuff from memory complete with fat fistfuls of mistakes, the result of poor preparation. The trouble is that once you’ve memorised something you’ve learned badly it is incredibly difficult to correct the errors.
Memorising is a fantastically boring process that is also becoming increasingly difficult as I get older. I can still remember huge chunks of roles I memorised in my twenties but something I committed to memory two years ago has all but faded into a dim mist. Getting it back is like coaxing a frightened cat out of a tree. It takes time and immense patience. As well as a tin of tuna and the fire brigade. If only. At least that would be fun.
So, I have nothing new to learn or to memorise.
I’m sure there are some people out there thinking to themselves “Well why don’t you learn a new role just for the hell of it?” Quickly stifling the voice inside me squeaking “What? Are you kidding? Unpaid?!!” (not that you’re ever paid to learn a role I might add, just to perform it) I would answer that this would be like moving to Lewes. I should explain. There’s an old superstition amongst British singers that if you seem to be “in” with the Glyndebourne Festival the last thing you should do is move to Lewes, the nearby town, because as soon as you do, Glyndebourne will stop asking you back. It’s a variation on Sod’s or Murphy’s Law. And so, as soon as you decide to learn such-and-such a role because it seems like a good thing to do you just know that you’ll never get to sing it. Well that’s my rationalisation and I’m sticking to it. Besides if I went to all the bother of learning a role I’m not booked to sing, the chances are that by the time I ambooked to sing it I will have forgotten the damn thing and it will all have been a colossal waste of time that I could have better spent doing something else. Like writing this blog! See?! Wouldn’t that be a terrible price to pay?
Or it could be that I’m just far too lazy. And if this whole hour spent composing this post has done anything at all, it has now given me the idea that I should really prove myself wrong.
I have everything to learn.