Holy smokes! Soprano clef strikes again.

Lately I’ve had the luxury of lots of practice time to polish the music for my next month’s worth of gigs:

Bach and Purcell scores

and work way ahead on some of my repertoire for next season:

Handel, Keiser, Jacquet de la Guerre scores

These are the tasty musical treats I alluded to in my last posting. This is all such good stuff! Every time I sidle up to my piano I have trouble deciding what to dig into first.

I’m particularly excited about the aria from Keiser’s opera Croesus. I decided I needed a German baroque opera aria to round out my rep list for period group auditions. Um, there’s German baroque opera? you ask? It’s certainly not in the canon of mainstream opera companies, but it did exist (check out the praise the Boston Globe and  NYT heaped on Handel’s Almira this year at BEMF), and luckily my trusty network of Facebook friends who are baroque opera nerds helped out with several suggestions.

I chose Elmira’s aria “Liebe, sag’, was fängst du an?” primarily because I could get my hands on it without leaving the house; there’s a decent full score of the opera on IMSLP (let’s take a moment to give thanks for IMSLP). It also happens to be fabulous, with a beautiful lyrical A section and a fiery B section full of coloratura. It’s not long, and leaves lots of opportunity for flashy ornamentation on the return to A. Pretty much the perfect audition aria. You can listen to Sandrine Piau’s rendition here:

But, I haven’t gotten far in learning it because the vocal line in this score is written in soprano clef. Drat!

Copyists and printers of the past must have really hated legder lines, because they used a number of now-obsolete clefs to keep most of the notes on the staff. In facsimiles of original scores or even in 19-century editions like this one, soprano vocal lines are frequently written on soprano clef, with Middle C being on the bottom line instead of on the first ledger line below the staff.

soprano clef

Everything’s just one line higher than it would be in your everyday treble clef, but it’s amazing how reading everything a third off from normal can make your head want to explode. I’m sure singing from soprano clef is one of those brain-exercising activities that can help you stave (oh heavens, no pun intended) off Alzheimer’s.

And I eventually get good at it. Actually I can sing the A section of “Liebe, sag'” just fine. But then the B section begins, and here come those 32nd-note runs:

fast notes

Yikes is right. I can’t decide which would ultimately be more work, learning the whole aria in soprano clef, or teaching myself Finale and creating an edition I can read. It’s seriously a toss-up. I’ll let you know how it works out.


Diva Dressed Down

Here’s one thing you might not know about the life of a freelance singer:

Sometimes we don diva gowns topped by glamorous makeup and hair, sing glorious concerts, great our adoring public, then retire for the evening to a luxurious hotel or homestay…

…and other times we spend seven frustrating hours at the Raleigh-Durham airport waiting for a hopelessly delayed flight and then, unshowered and grumpy, have to warm up in a NYC taxi cab.

Luckily RDU is a very nice airport (see photo below) with free wifi.RDU

Also luckily I had built several extra disaster hours into my itinerary in case of just such a setback as this. Still, it was aggravating to spend all those hours at my gate, awaiting the periodic announcements of further delays, knowing that I could have slept late and taken a nice shower and still have made it to the airport in plenty of time to wait hours for my flight. I was also worried the stress and extra time in canned air would affect my voice for the OSNY competition the next day, so I tried extra hard to stay chill.

It worked, partly thanks to a couple pleasantly distracting Freaks and Geeks episodes I watched on my phone. I landed at LaGuardia at pretty much the last possible second that would have allowed me to just barely make my already-postponed rehearsal. But without a minute to spare, which meant that I wouldn’t have time to warm up before singing the high Cs in my arias, unless I sang in the cab from the airport to Manhattan.

I spent the first ten minutes of the cab ride stewing about whether I should make a spectacle of myself that way.  And then I said to myself, “what the heck?” I warned the driver that I’d be singing a little so that he didn’t think there was a crazy lady in his backseat. He immediately turned off the radio, which I assured him was not necessary. And then I began to sing long, quiet tones through a stirring straw.straw


Rather than being annoyed, the driver was fascinated. “What do you call that thing?” he asked. He was incredulous that a lowly stirring straw was allowing me to make sounds he’d never heard before. He asked me several questions, and then left me to my warmup.

The straw is an amazing tool, taught to me by my wonderful voice therapist and illustrated by the great Ingo Titze in this YouTube video. This was the first time I used it to warm up right off an airplane, and it sure did a great job combating Airplane Voice.

I had a good rehearsal, sang well in the competition the next day, and won an award. Thanks, Ingo Titze/taxi driver/Freaks and Geeks!

on stage