she called me adorable, then hit me.
I am not in an abusive relationship - at least
I hope not. I have merely taken up serious singing, at an age when,
if I'd been serious to start with, I'd be calling it quits, and
my teacher, several decades my senior, is a perfectionist who in
her passion for music sometimes gets carried away. It's true that
I was hunching my shoulders - a less than optimal way, instinct
notwithstanding, to reach the high notes. The swat was utterly justified.
My new obsession began innocently enough, with
involvement in a community choir. Small semi-solos - quartets, trios,
duets - have slowly led to this, my greatest challenge to date,
singing the part of Gilda, Rigoletto's innocent young daughter who
sacrifices herself in the name of love. "Caro nome" -
"dear name" - is the aria I've been entrusted with, and
it's a bitch, sprinkled with high Bs, Cs, and in its pen-ultimate
flourish a trill that dances even higher, in a range I would have
thought audible only to dogs. It is one scary undertaking.
Every time I head over to Paulette's studio
("Breeze een!" her Swiss-accented admonitions haunt me;
"don't chute!"), I have to wonder how absurd my newfound
ambition must seem, right up there with Zelda Fitzgerald taking
up ballet in her thirties. How many good or even passable-amateur
years can I have left? And yet when I leave each lesson, I'm walking
on air - "sull'aria," as the phrase goes in another selection
we're preparing, a duet from Figaro. Musical phrases pursue me throughout
the day. It's all I can do not to burst into song while poring over
mesclun in the supermarket. And alone in the car? Forget it - I'm
Callas and Sutherland rolled into one, a blasting bundle of virtuosity.
My mother, a former concert violinist and dedicated
non-athlete, took up tennis in her late sixties, so there's some
precedent for this type of late-life mania. She got healthy and
strong. I'm getting slowly pried out of shyness. If you want to
sing, you can't lurk and hope to be overlooked. You have to put
yourself out there, front and center. The only way I've found to
do this is to imagine myself in service to the music. Ego comes
into play, of course, but less as goad than stumbling block: stop
to consider how you sound and you're sunk.
Performances invariably flash by in a sickening
swoop, not unlike a ski slalom. Did you catch that breath? Uh-oh,
too bad, forge ahead and don't take even a micro-second to berate
yourself, it's too late. You emerge at the end so high on adrenaline,
it takes ages to return to earth and remember where you are. At
some point, with any luck, you managed to zombie-walk offstage.
You'd think the post-concert compliments would
be the big payoff, but really the most rewarding part is when you're
summoning the courage to get up and do this thing which your rational
mind tells you you simply can't.
"Don't sink - just DO!" Paulette's
voice infuses my every waking moment. I wish I'd met her decades
ago. I'm glad to have her poking and prodding and praising me now,
even if she does sometimes tend to get carried away. I'm starting
Sandy writes on travel and culture, visit her
website at: www.sandymacdonald.com
To read a recent press article on her story and the upcoming 2DO book, click here...
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(c) Sandy Macdonald 2004