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When the sight-reading fairy abandons you

October 20, 2009

Church is really giving my head a workout. I’m practically inhaling chant notation, trying to keep up with all the constant changes, and hoping that I don’t fall on my face.

The wonderful thing about Harvey is that he loves singers. He is always supportive as can be. Less wonderful traits include disorganization and the composer’s instinct to constantly revise his work. It’s a lesson in patience and flexibility. So far I’m doing OK, going with the flow (even though I’m such a planner!).

I have to try to get more sleep on Saturday nights. All these musical acrobatics take it out of me. I really have to be on my toes, and turns out sleep deprivation doesn’t improve my brain function.

Sunday’s 12:30 cantor mass ended up as a last-minute addition to my day’s agenda. Harvey gave me an “Ave Maria” to sing. We only had a chance to run through it once, and that was with Wendy, the mezzo. It’s always easier to sight-read with someone else. Solo performance is another matter.

I’m not very confident in my sight-reading abilities. I’m actually not half-bad, but I’m no perfect pitch musical genius. If I over-think it or under-think it I mess up, and that undermines my confidence even more. And the cycle spirals downwards.

So I had my first semi-disastrous performance at STM. I think I was worn out from the day. I had gotten up at 6:30 and had already sung two masses. My brain went into overload and all of a sudden I couldn’t hear where the harmonies should go and made silly mistakes. I knew I wasn’t getting it right, but I was at sea and couldn’t find my way back. Fortunately, I had the organ to hide behind somewhat. When that happens a cappella it’s far more terrifying. The melody repeats with different words in the second half, so I managed to get a slightly higher percentage of the notes right the second time around, but overall it was pretty embarrassing.

God bless Harvey. He blamed himself for not running through it more, and gave me a total pass. I couldn’t help thinking of Eloise Ristad’s A Soprano on Her Head, in which she includes a chapter called “So you were a flop!” It’s true. I bombed on that song, but nothing happened. I survived. I hid behind the organ afterwards, but I survived.

I hope this will make me a better musician. I am being challenged every week, doing something that I hate: sight-reading. Maybe I’ll finally get comfortable doing it. Maybe I’ll finally get confident. I don’t think it’s possible to be thrown in to the fray and not come out having learned something. To my delight, I managed not to mess up “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and “Ave Verum Corpus,” neither of which we rehearsed before this morning, but both of which I already knew. There was one entrance in “Jesu” that was difficult the first mass but that I fixed for the second one. If can keep fixing things, even one note at a time, that’s OK with me. I’ve already accepted that it won’t be perfect, and thankfully I’m in an environment where perfection isn’t expected. I guess that means I have a great deal of freedom and an opportunity to learn how to make mistakes and get on with it.

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