I called myself a tenor for most of my adult life, and then, one afternoon in early August, I learned I wasn’t.
I’m not proud of my reaction. Part One
As you know (from Sasha’s post last week), I spent the past week in the White Mountains of New Hampshire at a choral music camp. She did tell you where I went, didn’t she?
And, as you also probably know (if you’ve read my Author Page or any of my various bios) I sing tenor.
What you might not know is just how much I have loved singing tenor.
I love it so much, in fact, that rather than saying, “I sing tenor,” I often say instead, “I am a tenor.” I’m proud of my tenor identity.
The low notes are fun to sing, comfortable for me. But more than that, I love that being a female tenor is a fairly unusual thing. Sure, in each of the choirs I’m in there are other female tenors. But for the three of us in the hospice choir there are fifteen other women who sing either alto or soprano. It’s the same ratio in my regional choir as well.
Imagine, if you will, my surprise (and dismay) when shortly into my Tuesday afternoon master class, after offering the Malvina Reynold’s folk song “Sing Along” for critique, I was told I was not a natural tenor but a soprano. A mezzo soprano, to be sure, (second soprano, the lower one), but a soprano nevertheless. They didn’t even consider alto first.
“I can’t be,” I countered immediately. “I’m a tenor.”
“No. You are a soprano, naturally.”
“But singing tenor is so comfortable for me,” I declared.
“Being comfortable doesn’t necessarily make it right.” Said a new friend, overhearing.
“You’ve just been using the muscles in that range.” Says the another. “Start singing the higher notes and those muscles will strengthen.”
Two weeks ago I wrote how facts don’t always help us change our opinion; often, in fact, they do the opposite. I lived that lesson during this past week.
Here’s a photo with my two new gurus, Tim Brown and Paula Rockwell, after we had a most productive session Friday afternoon, on one of the hottest and most humid days I’ve ever experienced.
Tim Brown — a Brit, currently the Artistic Director, Zürcher Sing-Akademie, Zürich, Switzerland; the Founding Director, English Voices, London, UK; and a Life Fellow, Clare College, Cambridge — asked me to step over to the piano and in a series of chords and coaching got me to sing the A flat above high C. That’s a fact. Tim works all over the world. Whether directing 250 singers in Handel’s Messiah in Israel or 20 singers in Vivaldi’s Gloria in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he is a world renowned musical legend and I pushed against him every chance I got, denying, countering, minimizing.
Paula Rockwell — a product of the Nova Scotia air — led us each morning in vocal and physical exercises. I discovered fairly quickly what a gem she was. She led the master class I took on Tuesday afternoon (video to follow next week) and met me again on Friday for a half hour session to show me I was indeed a soprano.
How about you? Have you been in a similar situation? Thought you knew something, only to find out you were mistaken? Had your life story down pat only to discover it was the wrong story? How did you react?
Next week, Part Two: Choosing that reassuring lie over the inconvenient truth.