Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Skylark, have you anything to say to me?

One of my sabbatical goals was to start voice lessons again.  I studied for about seven years in high school and college, and though it never "went" anywhere (obviously, I didn't become a professional singer), I enjoyed it immensely and have missed it ever since.  There's something about singing that's very Zen-like for me: it's effort, but from a totally different part of my brain and body than anything else I've ever done, and when it's going well I can slip very easily into that optimal sense of flow.

This time around, though, I didn't want to study classical repertoire like I did before.  While I enjoyed singing all those arias at the time, that music kind of leaves me cold now.  What I really want to do is sing jazz--not necessarily scatting (I'm not sure I'll ever loosen up enough to do that in a way that isn't deeply uncomfortable for me and any unfortunate listener)--but just a more relaxed, personal kind of singing that makes the best use of my range.

WVU offers private lessons through its community music program, and I found a local teacher who was willing to take me on, even though she's more classically trained.  I had my first lesson yesterday, and it was great fun--even doing scales and various silly exercises to loosen up the face and lips was a real blast from the past.  


About midway through the lesson, I was overwhelmed by a deep sense of grief.  It caught me unexpectedly and swamped me for a few seconds, until I realized what it was about.


In part, I'm doing this because at the end of his life, I saw how vital music was to him--it was, in many ways, the thing that most sustained him and gave him the deepest pleasure and peace.  And I realized that it's something I not only admired but envied in him, his ability to sustain that hobby and passion until the very end of his days.  I wanted to rekindle that love, which I shared with him, in my own life.

While my new voice teacher is excellent, I think it's fair to say she's not a pianist.  In fact, she pretty much "accompanied" me in the same way I accompany myself at home: by picking out the melody with the right hand, or just hitting the first note in a measure, and then going acapella from there.

Midway through the lesson, I wanted my dad.  My dad, who could play almost anything by ear, or in a pinch, from a fake book.
Dad at the piano(s)

Wanting to keep my own interest in music separate from his, we very seldom played together.  And now I'm sorry that we didn't play and sing every damn time we saw each other.

And it also made me miss my longtime voice teacher from all those years ago, Carol Marty. She died in 2012, and when I heard the news, I felt freshly guilty about having lost touch with her.  Not only was she my teacher, but she was also a good friend, and in addition to formal lessons, we frequently went out to sing old tunes from the 20s and 30s at a nursing home in east Columbus, often followed by lunch at the Kahiki.

Again, adulthood--or my theories about it--got in the way.  Though I doubt I could have articulated it at the time, I think that after I'd graduated from college and started working, continuing lessons was a final tie to my adolescence that I wanted to sever.  

But yesterday, I appreciated her in a whole new way.  Not only was she a great voice teacher, she was a remarkable pianist, and a very skillful, sensitive accompanist.  I know I wasn't as aware of and awed by that as I should have been at the time, but I sure am now.  In the midst of picking my way through Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark" yesterday, I wanted nothing more than for Mrs. Marty to be there, playing a lush accompaniment, the two of us gauging each other's tempo and phrasing so that voice and piano would not just synch, but together create something more full of life and movement than either alone could.

As a teenager and a young adult, I was blessed with two incredibly talented accompanists who took my interest in music seriously, nurtured it, and who went a step further and loved me.  And sometime between 4 and 5 p.m. yesterday, I finally understood that.  Too late to thank either of them.

In honor of the great Linda Ronstadt, who recently announced that Parkinson's disease has left her unable to sing a note, I'll post her version of "Skylark."  A nice reminder that if you've still got the pipes, you've gotta use and cherish them.  Will do, Dad and Mrs. Marty.  It's the best tribute I can make to you both.

(Not necessarily my favorite arrangement of that song, however...I prefer the spareness of this one.)

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