Meme is not just a musical warm-up exercise

Kay at Kay's Thinking Cap tagged me with that meme. You know, the one that asks you to reveal all the sordid, mucky details you've swept under the rug about yourself. The one about your ex- that makes it to the top of Google rankings and gets you into a world of trouble.

Just kidding. I don't have secrets. I just have multiple lifetimes of juicy living. And no more than half are X-rated. Yet.

Back to the meme. I'll be tagging some folks, irritating the heck out of some of them, I'm sure. It's kinda like getting those "send this 'friends forever' cutesy poem to everyone in all your address books in the next ten minutes or your cat goes in the river" e-mails.

Memes do two things for me, though. They usually call for at least a brief moment of introspection, which is usually a good thing. They also alert me to blogs that I usually fall in love with. When you're an elderblogger, you tend to meet exceptional people with interesting experiences and decent writing skills, messing around in non-traditional media (for that age group).

When I wrote as The Good Musician, I posted some pearls of wisdom from Margaret Hillis, long-time conductor of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. The coolest thing happened. One of the comments was from a person who adjusted my faulty memory regarding the specific performance in the conversation. It was a thrill to correspond with someone else who had worked for her and appreciated her as much as I did. I savor the essence of music distilled by a lifetime of peak musical experiences. Then share that joy with other music lovers as often as possible. Doesn't have to be classical. I still get turned on by CSNY, tears my heart out. Standing 6 feet from Janis onstage at the Texas International Pop Festival (whole roll of photos--her gorgeous purple and blue outfit), begging me to take another little piece...

Geez, haven't even gotten into the meme yet. Guess I'm not s'posed to yet. Still sore from the concert last night, still have those tone clusters in my head, still awash in the ethos. Doing my own internal debriefing. Music reviews 'R Us.

There are several key components to a vocal chamber ensemble performance, beginning well before the actual concert. Preparedness--how successfully did the group organize and learn not only the material, but how to make an ensemble sound--how to listen and blend. How to present a musical experience the composer would love. How to relate what the composer intended to the listeners. What do the words mean? How does the composer use music to emphasize that meaning? Above all, has the group found the natural phrasing of the piece? The flow that the composer heard?

Professionality--how well did the group commit to making the best sound 100% of the time? Not wasting time in chit-chat or non-essentials while the group has a few precious hours together to get the ensemble sound in their ears, the transitions, the modulations to smoothly connect sections. How willing are the singers to blend rather than blast, use their ears as part of their voice--it's all connected--all the same physical mechanism. The vocal chords vibrate the whole body, and the ears are right next to the throat. Use those vibrations to inform your sound production to sing dynamically correctly and in tune. Critical skills for a professional ensemble singer--you have to be willing to match pitch and diction with every other singer in your group, which requires both ears all the time. That's just for openers.

Performance practice--I don't mean how you get up and down from the stage. I mean are you aware of how the Baroque sound differs from the Romantic. It's a little like role-playing. Baroque instruments sound like this, so their technique of playing them would be like this. The instrument couldn't sustain a sound like a modern one does, so there would have been more separation between the notes in general, a lighter, sparer sound. You can go fairly bombasto in the Romantic. Deep, lush, gigantic orchestras, hefty singing. A conductor friend once said that when performing in the Baroque style, think lace. When doing Romantic, think velvet. Your voice has to make that distinction as well.

Experience--if you prepare properly, you can improve your sound. You can build your skills and get better. Over time, the piece will viscerally become part of you. Those vibrations will have imprinted on your body as well as memory. As you work on a piece over the years, you learn what to listen or look out for. You've memorized it long before now, so that you can swim in the flow with your fellow singers and conductors to really enjoy the music and the experience. It never stops building. The music becomes an old friend, and as such, it's more and more satisfying.

The Music Is The Thing. Not you, not your ego, not your neighbor's annoying habit of humming their part when another section is rehearsing theirs. A rehearsal no-no. Destroys focus and concentration. Do that outside of rehearsal. The sounds need to be in your ears and head before they can be sung well. You might even say it disrupts the harmony of the group (pun intended). It isn't about you. It's about sharing what the composer wrote and felt with someone else as authentically as you can, using proper technique and musicianship. The difference between playing notes and making music is proper phrasing. You have to find where the arrival points are and the most musical way to get there.

Meanwhile, I'm sore from holding up music, breathing deeply, using lots of muscles to support a dimenuendo fading to niente, a four hour round trip by car to Round Top, an up til 3 a.m. visit with my best friend from Princeton Thursday evening and Friday morning, and incomplete recovery from the Thursday night concert. It's time to get a cup of tea, take a couple of anagesic, and take a nap!

Kay, apologies for the side-track--I really will do the meme!