Archive for the ‘ Singing ’ Category

The Singing Librarian’s ‘To Do List’

My concert season is coming to an end, with one having been cancelled, one already over and two coming up this weekend, leaving only an excursion on 4th August to look forward to.  This means that with no rehearsals, no studying and no Sunday School to prepare for, I have that strange and wonderful thing called time on my hands.  But what am I to do with it?

Answer Reed’s questions.  For the interview meme that all the cool bloggers are taking part in, don’t you know.  I am still pondering a couple of the answers, and will hopefully post them tomorrow.

Move house.  I’ve gone and got myself on the property ladder, only I’ve bought a dental surgery with three friends and we’re in the process of turning it back in to a house.  We have knocked down walls, put in a new bathroom and ordered a new kitchen.  We are now trying to extract a quote from a builder so that we can make sure the place doesn’t fall down and make it possible for all four of us to move in by the beginning of September, at which point I must have left my current abode.  And there’s the small matter of packing everything up and transporting it across town…

Read.  My pile of books to be read is growling angrily from the corner and demands to be reduced.  So reduced it shall be.  First is The Moonstone, my next book group book, which I really ought to have picked up long ago since The Woman in White is one of my favourite novels.  Then the books that people have blogged about which I have subsequently picked up. The Lies of Locke Lamora, courtesy of Helen and The Night Watch, courtesy of Sol.  Then, if I get through those three without getting distracted, the rest of the pile which ranges from Homer to Neil Gaiman, taking in Eco, Irving and sundry others in a bewildering mix of styles and genres. 

Sing.  I am determined to add some new items to the repertoire of songs I can sing.  I may never perform them to anyone, but I’m sure it will be good for me.  So I shall attack Jason Robert Brown’s ‘King of the World’ for power, Sigmund Romberg’s ‘Serenade’ for high notes and romantic loveliness, Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Marry Me a Little’ for drama and Lerner & Loewe’s ‘C’est Moi’ for comedy (if I can pull it off the way I’d like to), which is as about as diverse a range of songs as I can manage.  I expect I’ll lose at least one of the battles and may well drive the neighbours insane, but the fight should be entertaining.

Breathe.  I haven’t got much leave over the summer, but I shall try to spend at least a couple of days out in the countryside or on the sea front, going for a walk and then just sitting.  Well, sitting and reading.  I need to relax, enjoy this wonderful county, take in the air of the sea and the fields and switch off.

I think that should keep me busy.

Having a junior moment

Once people enter middle age, whatever that may be, they seem to feel entitled to put any lapses of memory or outbreaks of bizarre thinking down to a ‘senior moment’.  I’m not sure what age allows entry to the senior moment club, but I’m fairly sure I haven’t reached it, being a spring chicken of 28.  My intriguing memory lapse at last night’s concert must therefore have been a junior moment.

There I was, happily singing the man’s half of ‘I’ll Know’ from Guys and Dolls, when I suddenly realised I didn’t know what the next line was.  I couldn’t stop, and although the music was on a stand nearby, I had no idea where on the page I actually was.  Nobody could have rescued me, so I just had to smile and keep singing.  Anything.  Any old words until I reached a point where I knew exactly what I should be singing and when.  Unfortunately, the point I was aiming for was also the point where my duet partner comes back in to the song, and I could see in her eyes that she wasn’t sure that I’d be on the right words by this point.

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A lot of learning to do

Under normal circumstances, the summer tends to be a quiet period for amateur performers.  Everyone goes off on holidays, so rehearsals dry up for a couple of months before gathering momentum with the coming of September.  However, my diary for July, August and early September is peppered with a number of concerts with different groups of people, in sundry locations around the Garden of England and with varying contents.

Somehow, I have managed to pick up quite a variety of solo and duet material in addition to the ensemble work which includes everything from a lovely Cole Porter medley to a stupid (in my opinion) arrangement of ‘Mack the Knife’.  In approximate order of singing, I have ‘I’ll Know’ from Guys and Dolls, ‘Suddenly, Seymour’ from Little Shop of Horrors, the Sergeant in ‘When The Foeman Bares His Steel’ from The Pirates of Penzance, ‘All I Ask of You’ from Phantom of the Opera, ‘Being Alive’ from Company and ‘Agony’ from Into the Woods.  Oh, and possibly singing Marius’ part in ‘One Day More’ from Les Miserables, though I’ve not really agreed to that one yet.

Quite an assortment of pieces, using all of my performance muscles as they cover comedy, romance and drama, and using pretty much all of my vocal range from the deepest depths to those notes which make me want to switch to falsetto.  The pieces, only one of which I’ve sung in public before, were written between 1879 and 1987 and range from songs which the audience will know very well to a couple of numbers which will be new to the majority of people.  I am at least on nodding terms with all of them, but I have an awful lot to learn over the next month or so, getting the words and tunes right and trying to blend my voice to four different duet partners, all with much more musical training and technical proficiency than I have.  Still, I like most of the songs and I enjoy a challenge…

What you do is not who you are

My blogging identity is a handle I’ve used on a few other sites.  The Singing Librarian.  Recently, however, a real-life friend who knows of this blog commented that they didn’t think the handle really summed me up, that they wouldn’t think of me in those terms.  So I wondered.  And pondered.  And sat on the thought for a while.  Is the Singing Librarian really who I am?

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Shameless plug – The Sound of Gershwin

Loyal readers, my posts have been few and far between recently.  I can explain, really I can.  Approximately half of the blame lies with my studies, as I have just e-mailed off the final assignment of the academic year, the first year of my postgraduate foray into the world of Information and Library Studies.  The other half lies with that ever-present aspect of my life, rehearsals.  In ten days, the curtain will go up on The Sound of Gershwin at the Whitstable Playhouse, and the Singing Librarian will be singing the songs of one of the twentieth century’s most successful popular composers alongside two dozen other performers.

From my perspective, this is a rather mad show, which gives everyone much more to do than you’d normally have in a traditional ‘book musical’ with a plot and characters.  We’re simply singing and dancing our hearts out to scores of Gershwin’s songs, from the well known hits like ‘I Got Rhythm’ and ‘Summertime’ to neglected gems like my two solos, ‘Who Cares?’ from Of Thee I Sing and a snatch of ‘That Certain Feeling’ from Tip-Toes.  The solos give most of the company time to breathe and execute a subtle costume change (waistcoats, scarves and so on will be flying on and off throughout the evening), though everyone is called in to duty at various points to dance or react while others are singing.  As the evening progresses, I am seduced against my will, dance a Viennese waltz (or try very hard to do so), tease, flirt, run, march, click and kick.

We’re still putting a few last things together in rehearsal, which is rather scary for this stage in proceedings, so it’s impossible to say how well or otherwise this will hang together as a show, but it should be a lot of fun for performers and audience.  Certain bits of it are excellent, so the rest needs to catch up fast!  Should you feel the urge to see a librarian sing and dance, then please do come down to Whitstable.  Tickets are available by telephone on 01227 272042 or through the theatre’s website, which I cunningly linked to earlier in the post.

Not convinced you know or like any Gershwin songs?  Well, here’s a selection of ten of the more famous numbers that are included: ‘I Got Rhythm’, ‘Strike Up the Band’, ‘How Long Has This Been Going On?’, ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’, ‘Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off’, ‘Fascinating Rhythm’, ‘Embraceable You’, ‘Summertime’, ‘I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin” and ‘The Man I Love’.  With another forty or so numbers included, in whole or in part, I think we just about do justice to Gershwin’s output!

Singing Librarian flashback: S Club Library

Last weekend’s charity concert of The Pirates of Penzance put me in mind of another charity singing event, and one that was much stranger than dressing up as a pirate and a policeman.  I was, however briefly, a pop star.  With screaming fans, signed photos, farewell performances and everything else that goes with great fame.

When I joined the merry staff of the Library of Doom, men were few and far between on the front line, and young men even more of a scarce commodity.  But after a while, a number of young men were recruited almost simultaneously and someone remarked that we now had enough to form a boy band.  The seeds of a very silly idea were sown.  As the annual fund-raising opportunity of  the BBC’s Children in Need appeal approached, I decided to attempt transforming this ridiculous idea into a reality.  Why not, for one performance only, form a library boy band to raise some cash for this very worthy cause?  Unfortunately, one of my colleagues chickened out after initially agreeing to take part, and we were left with a trio, including one chap who just can’t sing (much like many members of real boy bands, then).  The obvious solution was to invite a couple of carefully selected young lady library staff members and form S Club Library, a take-off of a group who were very popular at the time (November 2002).

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Vocal cords as bus stops

Well, you go for months without singing in public, then three very different sings arrive at once, within 24 hours of each other.  Like busses, only on a more extreme scale.  Or bad things, though I can’t honestly say I’ve ever noticed them coming in threes.

I’m certainly rehearsing a lot at the moment.  Kiss Me, Kate went a bit strange for a while, but is back on.  I’m playing the role of Ralph the stage manager, a small and fun role which also means that I get to double as a chorus member and generally keep busy for most of the evening.  But that performance isn’t until March.  This coming weekend, my vocal cords are going to be in almost constant use.

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What’s my motivation?

Generally, it’ll be the most pretentious person in the company who ends up uttering the immortal query ‘But what’s my motivation?’ when asked to move to the side of the stage, sit down or stand in a particular place in a grouping.  Generally the answer should be ‘because I said so’, or ‘because if you stay there, you’ll be in Fred’s way when he comes in’, but many directors will give in and supply a motivation, generally very spurious.  Personally, if I have to do something that doesn’t make all that much sense, I’ll just go with it unless I really, really think that my character wouldn’t do it.  Come up with any old reason, or at least make it look as though you (both actor and character) know why you’re now standing behind the chair, and everything will generally be fine.  There are more important things to worry about, and I have found that if the reason for your character’s actions is at all significant, you’ll already know what it is.

But that’s not the focus of this particular bit of rambling, which is about a different sort of motivation.  Recently I have been wondering what my motivation is for performing in the first place.  Continue reading

The other side of auditions

One of the duties that comes with being on the committee of my operatic society is being on the panel for society membership auditions.  Most of the other duties involved letters or e-mails, so interaction with real people makes a pleasant change.  And although I’d never want the responsibility of being on the casting committee for a show, I rather like doing this.  Tonight we had eight auditionees, as we’re beginning show rehearsals and that always brings a stream of people in.  It was a mixed bunch, but a pleasure to listen to.

We had songs from stage and screen, including ‘Chim, Chim, Cheree’ and ‘Music of the Night’, and even a traditional Welsh song.  Lovely.  None of it was painful, and it was heartening to see people overcoming nerves to sing to us.  Some just sang the notes and some really performed the song, giving it their all.  Some had ludicrously large ranges, one was very limited.  Some sang scales beautifully, some rather raggedly.  But it was interesting to sit and focus on someone else’s voice, hear the potential in it and think about its possibilities.  You’re really willing the person to do well, and feel a bit nervous on the behalf of anyone who’s shaking or sweating.  Having been on the other side of the divide many times (and soon to be again), being on the panel for this is probably very good for me, giving me an insight into the mind of the panel members and reassuring me of their good intentions.

We inform the auditionees of our decision by post, so thankfully there’s no call for immediate feedback, positive or negative, which would make me squirm.  I’m no Simon Cowell.  I’m just a young man who wants to see talented people join the society and have fun.  And hopefully that’s what most of tonight’s auditionees will do.

Liquid comfort blankets

I’m trying to decide whether or not the ever-present bottle of water is a new thing or not.  It seems that Western society is suddenly unable to function unless everyone totes a small plastic bottle of water, whether shop-bought or from the tap, literally everywhere they go.  Clasped in our hands in the street, at work, at the theatre, at church, at the gym and anywhere else you care to mention.  We don’t necessarily use the contents very often, but the bottle can not be too far away before we begin to panic.  You may be late for Cousin Doreen’s wedding, but if you forgot your bottle of water, you still need to stop off at the petrol station to get a new one.

I am certainly not immune and have noticed with alarm my extreme attachment to my silly little bottle at rehearsals.  In performances, I can obviously only drink when off-stage and manage perfectly well with no ill effects, but in rehearsals, I sneak sips of water in the middle of numbers if the sopranos are warbling away on their own for a few bars and practically inhale the stuff after particularly taxing numbers.  A few hours at rehearsal, even if we’re just singing, will see me get through at least 500ml of water.  Of course, hydration is a good thing, but this strange psychological dependence can become compulsive and sometimes inappropriate.  Surely it must increase the number of visits we all make to the little boys’ and girls’ room each day?  And isn’t it just a little distracting when your neighbours insist on using their liquid comfort blanket at the most ridiculous times?  In the midst of silent contemplation at church, or a quiet solo at the theatre, for instance.

Have we all gone mad?  Is there something in the water?  Or is this all perfectly normal?  I’m not sure, but my throat suddenly feels very dry…

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