The Singing Lesson

Norman Wisdom Laughing

Norman Wisdom Laughing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Time to raise a smile on the blog. The above is an extract from a British film (movie) called Follow A Star (1956) and starred Norman Wisdom and Hattie Jacques among others.  It always makes me laugh my head off.

I’m very pleased to say my singing lessons aren’t at all like this!

Not only that, but last saturday I was pleased to be acting as a Room Steward in one of the voice competition rooms during the Medway Festival of Music, Speech & Drama. This is a festival to give amateur performers of all ages, (sizes and shapes) an opportunity to compete for cups and certificates. Competitors also achieving a Merit go on to perform in a concert in May.

It was a dream of an afternoon for me. I’d already had a great singing lesson that week.  I arrived early enough to be invited to sit in on a lesson in progress with a celebrated young soprano. There is was, 9.45 am sitting with Figaro (a dog – nothing to do with Mozart) on my knee, listening to (can’t mention her name) singing Bizet.

My job as Room Steward was to collect tickets from the performers and audience at the door, note down names of winners and hand completed files to the runner who came by from the office every now and then.  And make sure latecomers were kept outside until a performance was over.

I didn’t have to bounce a single rowdy!  Which meant that I was, in effect, an attendee at a singing masterclass, as every competitor was given a critique by the adjudicator. In this case, Gabrielle Burstin Lister. A vocal and choral specialist, she studied singing and piano at the Royal Manchester College of Music and then with John Carol Case and Erich Vietheer in London and Federico Davia in Italy. She freelances as a soprano, is a former member of the BBC Northern Singers, teaches privately, leads workshops and masterclasses. So what a treat it was to be able to listen in on her advice!

The video, though comic, contains good advice for singers, which Gabrielle repeated in various ways in her critiques. I hasten to add that she didn’t try to drive home her advice – as Hattie does to Norman – by slapping and punching the competitors!

The focus of her advice was on the voice as wind instrument. Therefore on  breathing. Breathing at the right moment before the song commences. Breathing through the mouth.  Pulling the air into the body then up through the roof of the mouth into the cavities of the head (where sound resonates) and up and out through the top of the head. She especially mentioned  energy in singing. “Energy, energy, energy …!”

Watch the video again and you’ll see that Hattie is giving Norman similar advice, even if it is a bit on the brutal side!

Boys singing, illustration of Psalm 150 (Lauda...

Boys singing, illustration of Psalm 150 (Laudate Dominum). Panel decorating the cantoria (singers' gallery), actually a balcony for the 1438' organ of the Duomo. Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence, Italy. Marble. Français : Chœur de garçons, illustration du psaume 150 (Laudate Dominum). Panneau décorant la cantoria (tribune des chantres), en fait un balcon pour l'orgue du Dôme installé en 1438. Musée de l'Œuvre du Dôme de Florence, Italie. Marbre. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m learning to sing two songs at the moment:  Mozart‘s Laudate Dominum and Mendelssohn‘s Hear Ye, Israel from his oratorio Elijah! So I went home and tried to apply the advice.  I also listened and watched others performing these songs. I came across more vocal advice from celebrated soprano (and one of my favourites) Renee Fleming. She talked of how she was a visual singer, how she sees the form of musical phrases in her mind.

I’m a visual type, so I was particularly interested in her visualisation of  legato  (the art of tying notes together smoothly). She said she visualises  a clothes line with pegs attached here and there along the length.  The pegs are the consonants that come to interject (or interfere!) with the vowels in a phrase.

She also mentioned the importance of tension in singing. I see this as equating with creating suspense in writing (especially fiction) and in visual art. Suspense makes people want to carry on listening or reading or looking to find out what’s going to happen next.

I’ve added these items to my list of things to pay attention to when singing. Here’s some of the list:

1   Sing all the notes
(That is, don’t rush past the insignificant ones to get to the best ones. (There aren’t any insignificant notes and there aren’t any best ones)).

2  Sing in the head
(As opposed to the throat, which will damage your vocal chords).

and now I have:

3   Clothes pegs on the line

4   Tension

5   Energy, energy, energy

and most important, I’ve found is:

6   Don’t eat toast while practising. (I’ve nearly choked myself to death singing while eating breakfast).

Hey!  You don’t have to be young to take singing lessons.  I’m 61 next week. Okay, I won’t ever sing as well as Cecilia Bartoli … maybe!


About AnnIsikArts

Artist/Writer/Chess Enthusiast/Musician (Singer)/Gardener
This entry was posted in Music, Singing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Share your light here:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.