Tag Archive | singing lessons

Starting again

Singing classes which double as performing groups–what’s not to love?  Two groups start this week, plus private lessons in Central Square and Jamaica Plain.

The Platinum Singers at USES meet after an excellent exercise class on Wednesdays…see below for complete list of classes (and can you spot us in the little photo?)

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Red and Green

Our beautiful minds and hearts

“I don’t want to be known as ‘The Aphasia Guy’” said John to me at his lesson.

John came back to voice lessons after a break of several years. He said he wanted to sing to “keep the black dog” away. I figured he meant some kind of depression. He told me after a few weeks that he had recently been diagnosed with aphasia – the Greeks said it was “speechless”– and he was already having trouble remembering words.

I do my best to not furnish words for him, but instead let him describe around the word or just nod patiently and wait. But when it comes to singing lyrics of songs, he sometimes gets frustrated and shuts down. His normal lyric tenor sounds tight as he closes his mouth, tightens his jaw and sings a half-hearted “luh luh” instead of the words to the art song.

His love of music has remained, and he brings in familiar songs he knows, in German, Italian, French and English — Renaissance and 19th century — and some family songs from his childhood (He rarely gets the words wrong for those).

At first I encouraged him to sing a nice open Italian “ah” or some other open neutral sound when he forgot the words, but he really wanted to do as many lyrics as possible.

Late this summer, John wrote me an email saying he wanted to learn how to “read music better.”  I knew what he meant. He had always learned a few things wrong in each song, even before the aphasia. And once we learn a mistake, it’s hard to correct. But now the musical notation was feeling less decipherable. I wrote back that he reads music fine, but his rhythm has always needed work, so we should focus on keeping the beat, which has always given him confidence that he’s singing what’s on the page.

I don’t know why this works, incidentally, but in my years of working with singers I have witnessed again and again a great improvement in everything—words, rhythm and melody—when a student taps the beat with their hand, or even marches. John and I have done a lot of walking in lessons, when he wasn’t slapping his thigh loudly.

One day I was speaking with my friend Daniel Kempler, a professor of speech pathology whose specialty happens to be aphasia.  He told me that perhaps there is too much going on in printed music, and maybe just reading the words would be easier.  He told me that we “overlearn reading” so that it stays as a skill, even when someone might not understand the meaning of the words. I agreed. Writing the words is helpful to me, as I learn and memorize my songs. Indeed, I give an assignment to all my students before their first lesson to write down the words of their song. It’s a great way of getting in touch with the poetry without the tyranny of a notational representation of what the composer heard in his/her head.

John was unsure if this was the way he wanted to go.  After all, he is hoping to retain these musical skills. But he wrote down the words of his Purcell songs and in the lessons, we worked out a way to handle repeats.

He reads great!  We stayed with English for quite a while.

One odd thing: he keeps reading as if in a sentence, even if the melody expands on a single syllable (many notes on one word).  So we are working on a system that he can devise (and remember) that will make sense to him.  “Come, co-ome a-way-ay-ay-ay” might end up sounding like “Aye, Aye,” if one loses the context, which he can do.

In the early Fall, he told me he wanted to sing with his wife playing piano.  I consult with her teacher, a colleague at the Cambridge Music Consortium, about a good piece for the pianist, and I am delighted we all love a Schubert song, “Gute Nacht”, the first song in the long cycle, Winterreise.

John used to sing pretty well in German, but there are many long verses in “Gute Nacht.”   I suggest we look for an English translation he can sing and maybe cut some of the repeats.

John comes back the next week with his lyrics and a decent translation, not singable but at least we know what each word means.  He tries to sing it, but of course it does not scan–I tell him that singable translations rarely get the total gist of the original.

The next week he comes back with several verses for which he has made his OWN translation. And a lot of it really scans well and even has some of the alliteration and vowel sounds.  This excites me to no end.  We work on the awkward spots, and still, he sometimes just keeps reading the words.  We still get to work on the “good ni-i-ight”.

But it is coming.

I know John was a journalist. He was the Washington correspondent for a major newspaper during the Watergate era.  It is a thrill to witness the tenacity and inventiveness in his preparation for the lessons. To me, he is a Noble Member of the “Enemies List” of a certain president of the United States. And a really fun student to teach.

 

 

Sheet music to Gute Nacht

Free singing classes in Boston start this week

This is your chance! Daytime classes start Wednesday in the South End and Friday in Jamaica Plain. Both accessible by bus, parking is pretty darn good, and the teacher is really fun. Ostensibly for folks 55+, we do not card at the door.

The Platinum Singers meet Wednesdays 2-3:30 starting September 17 at the Harriet Tubman House, corner of Mass and Columbus Avenues in the South End. Nearly free: $15/12 classes, and no one is turned away for lack of funds.  Contact hviarruel@uses.org to register.  www.uses.org
note: no class Sept 24.

JP Jubilee begins Friday Sept 19 at 10:30 am. Flyer below

picture of singers being conducted on floral background with information about singing class

Cambridge beckons

 

CMC Open House Flyer

I’m going to be teaching at the Cambridge Music Consortium beginning in July. I’m thrilled to be rejoining my excellent faculty colleagues from Longy in a wonderful space they have created over the past year. While I enjoyed my studio in Arlington and walking to Spy Pond on breaks,  I can now walk in beautiful neighborhoods around Broadway and do my grocery shopping at the “old Bread and Circus” on Prospect. There is an open house for the whole of CMC this coming Sunday, and I will be there in the evening shift. (There’s a “petting zoo” in the afternoon for kids. I’m not sure what one could pet on my instrument, so I’ll skip that.)  I’ll be on their website before too long, and you can contact me here if you are interested in lessons.   I will be accepting new students there on Mondays and Thursdays.