1.) THE OFFER
ELATION! I've been asked to sing a brand new piece of music, never performed before! (ok, sometimes the notice isn't exactly far in advance, but whatever) I'm going to make this my own and get paid for doing what I love. There' s something uniquely special about being able to take ownership of a role or piece of music that has never been performed before-the only person setting the bar is me. Though new music tends to be difficult and challenging to learn and coordinate, I'm an expert and would not have been asked
otherwise. This is a niche of mine, after all. I can't wait to dive in. YESS!!!!!
Um.....ok, so....now that I've said yes, I just realized I
have absolutely no idea what this is actually going to entail. How long
is the score, really? I'm not necessarily expecting it to be tonal (hell, it might be microtonal!) but exactly how A-tonal are we talking here? Will I be requested to sing an octave
higher or lower than my actual range allows? Leaps of two octaves at a
time? Is the point of this piece to be as impossible as possible? WHYYY do
I always say yes to this stuff? Is it just because I can or because I
actually enjoy it? Who's playing anyways? When am I going to get the
The pdf of the score arrives in my inbox!!!! I excitedly scour the pages to make sure I'm not going to have to ask the composer to rewrite anything that is out of my range or otherwise impossible. That's the nice thing about working with living composers-most things are negotiable;) Ok, ok...this is manageable...I think? I hope.....Now that I've seen it all, I accept my fate and schedule the necessary practice time. Minimum of one-two hours per day until it is learned. Sometimes more, with breaks in between.
I highlight my part. I subdivide all the 7/8 measures with slashes and triangles so I know how they will be conducted. I
play each phrase, page by page, repeatedly on the piano, in the correct
range and rhythm. Then I
record it just playing the piano. Then I record myself singing each
phrase page by page on the piano. I listen to myself singing it on the subway, as I'm pounding the pavement, before I go to sleep. Any time I
have free that I am not actually practicing, I listen until I'm bored of it as possible. I practice it until I'm sick of it and
can practice it backwards and forwards. Only then will I be ready to
walk into rehearsal, where half of it will probably leave my brain.
5.) THE WALL
Good god, the frustration! Am I ever going to learn this?
Some of it's sticking, some of it's not. I have no idea what the other
instrumentalists and singers are doing around me, and the Midi recording
just sounds like a HOT MESS WHAT IS THIS?!!!! I don't know what to do. I can't take in anymore. I sit in the practice room and cry a
little. I text friends expressing my fear and worry. They text back and tell me I'm a rock star, don't worry.
6.) FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
It's hard to sleep before the first day of rehearsal. Will I be the least prepared? The most prepared? Will the composer be happy with me? What about the conductor, and my colleages? When we finally dig in, it's exciting (and sometimes a bit of a shock) to hear how this all
sounds together. Usually an impressive group of singers and instrumentalists are involved, as composers of difficult music know better than to take their chances. They're no dummies.
Is it just me, or should we learn this music before diving into character devolpment? This ain't Nozze di Figaro....#justsaying
8.) REVELATIONOK, this is finally coming together! All this craziness is now getting stuck in my head. I hum tunes that sound nonsensical to civilians when I'm not in rehearsal. That's a good sign. The magical moments begin to emerge, and the impossible now seems possible. Things that sounded and felt completely unintuitve at first now seem regular as rain. Moments of beauty, moments of humour, moments of intensity show themselves, page by page. And I remember why I love singing new music.
OH MY GOD. Now that we're off book, this is a disaster! I'm never doing this again.
ARE WE EVER GOING TO GET THROUGH THIS PIECE BEFORE THE SHOW? JESUS CHRIST.
11.) THE DRESS REHEARSAL
Ok, it may have been like pulling teeth, but we did it. We did it without stopping! (almost) We have a show. I think.
11.) THE PERFORMANCE
It's the day of the show y'all. Wrong notes or not, this is the time to commit. Everything that seemed extremely consequential in rehearsal actually isn't, because when it comes to new music, what the audience wants most is enthusiasm, energy, talent, commitment, and the big picture. If they were looking for something predictable or for perfection, they could just stay home and listen to their favorite recording of Boheme.
I've almost forgotten the hardship that lead up to the performance.....almost....I CAN'T WAIT TO DO THIS AGAIN!