A joyful noise: Discover Prompts, Day 20

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No joke: my husband thought I was the neighbor’s beagle. OK, let’s back up. You know, as much as I love to sing, I’m not much of a vocal self-starter. In the car, I typically sing along with Evita, Sia, or Fiona (holla if you’ve heard her latest–is it as wild as this Vulture interview with her?).

In the family room, my boys and I butcher Queen and Journey ballads as something of p.j.-wearing chamber music ensemble.

As the newest soprano in my church choir, I spent Advent and the Christmas season joining my voice with others’–led by a choir director who knows how to get the best from us and our vocal chords. (Not squeamish? See vocal chords–not mine–in action, here.)

And so I came to a point in this isolation that I missed it–missed feeling the sound of song start in my guts and travel through my chest into my head all tingly. I felt I needed to sing. Only, the thing about my isolation is that it’s with three other people. What’s one more than trisolation? Anyway, it’s not exactly the introvert’s ideal. So, I warned them, closed my office door, and began. I am not great, or even very good, but I am loud. So, it was during these vocal exercises that my husband mistook my voice for a dog’s.

Reader, we are still married.

Joking aside, it’s been nice to explore the free resources–and plain fun–available to amateur singers on YouTube. I like vocal coach Madeleine Harvey’s warm ups and especially her video on head voice. Freya Casey, a German opera singer and vocal coach, also leads singers through exercises and has a “How to Sing” series that breaks down popular songs–including Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro.” All it takes is 17 minutes, folks. Or, a lifetime. Still, it’s fun to try. And then there’s swoony Josh Groban’s latest isolation-themed #ShowerSongs series. Sorry, Grandma, he’s fully clothed. But check out that subway tile.

So, tell me, how are your hobbies going in isolation, trisolation, or otherwise?

I’m chronicling our isolation with the help of WordPress Discover Prompts. This post was in response to Discover’s daily prompt: Music. Care to join in? Read others’ responses here. My other prompts responses:

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Sing First, Feel Second: Discover Prompts Day 3

“I’m so happy, I could sing.” I’m saying that never these days. Sure, there have been moments during this isolation when I’ve put my fear aside long enough to engage in a little car-trip sing-a-long. It was Day 14, when I had to go out to retrieve books from my kids’ school and rescue my dry cleaning from its hold-up situation. In the car by myself, all alone, I belted out notes along with Patti LuPone in Evita (read more about how she’s entertaining her fans from her basement right now). Then I mixed it up and got a little angsty–no surprise there–with Amy Winehouse. Finally, on my way home I swung from the vocal chandelier with Sia. It was a wonderful release.

Still, I can’t bring myself to practice the choral pieces I would have sung over Holy Week and Easter. I want to. In “Open Wide” I talked about my re-upped hobby (now that my boys are old enough not to need this enforcer in the pew). I talked about joining my middling soprano voice with others’ in praise of something bigger than all of us. Now, it won’t happen–at least it won’t happen the way I thought it would.

Maybe I need to do it, first, and feel it second? Perhaps one of the biggest takeaways from my creative writing program was that there is no writing muse. Not really. There is inspiration, sure. But, it’s closely followed by work, more work, a dash of intuition at times–which sometimes feels like a muse–and then more work.

Now, I’m thinking maybe I need to treat singing like I do writing. Do the work. Do the vocal exercises like I respond to writing prompts like this; blog, little by little, and don’t wait for inspiration. Make the inspiration. Make the song. I was just going to write: “be the song.” But, really, I’m not there yet.

This was was in response to Discover Prompts, Day 3: Song.

Be well–and maybe sing today! I’ll be listening out. ~Rebecca

Looking for a good weekend read? Check out my categories above for author interviews, some of my own fiction, and more. Are we socially connected? Find me on FB and @MoonRuark on Twitter

Open Wide

Image by Erich Westendarp from Pixabay

Nope, not a post on eating, or on embouchure (a new favorite word meaning lipping, or using the lips, face, tongue, and teeth to play an instrument–including our first instrument, our voice). But close.

Today I’m going to talk about singing. Yep, on a reading and writing blog. Stop me. You’ve heard me say here before that my next-life career plan is to be an opera singer. I feel pretty confident my lack of planning for the rigors of this job isn’t going to bite me in the ass, since I’m pretty sure my next-life ass will be incorporeal.

Lack of planning for this-life careers can hurt, however. Which is why I want to talk about the glories of hobbies and my new hobby. Wait for it…

Backstory: I was never one much for hobbies. By the time I was in middle school, ballet had progressed from hobby to vocation, as serious as a religious calling in my mind: all time-consuming and all identity-consuming. I was not a girl with hobbies but direction.

When injury knocked me off that career path, I briefly considered going to culinary arts school. I mean, I liked to cook–it was fun. Why not make a job of it? (Truth be told, I think I was just excited to, finally, eat.)

Next stop: English major. And here I am, writing for my job-and-passion.

However, it’s only as I’ve gotten older that I’ve been able to start separating job-and-passion and realize I don’t have to make a gig of everything I’m passionate about.

So, we arrive at singing. My mom and her mom both enjoyed singing, both sang with their church choirs, and plied Christmas carols at the piano on the eve. (Can you hear my children groaning at the very thought?) Neither woman conspired to rise in the ranks of the choral world or make a single cent off their voices.

Is it me, or does today’s gig economy-mindset encourage us to turn any talent, penchant, or hobby into a job? To monetize passion. And in doing that, does the passion remain? (I’ll let you know from the afterlife how the opera goes.) Here and now, I have to say, I started this blog as a little passion project and have rejected the idea of making money from it–maybe, partly, because it would make blogging a job. (And I have one of those already.) Do hobbies now smack of privilege?

They say that if you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life—but what if what you love becomes nonstop work?

From “The Truth About the Gig Economy” by Julia Tache

Who has time for hobbies? Maybe none of us. Maybe we all should be striving to monetize every facet of ourselves. But, really, no one is ever going to pay me to sing.

Yet, that didn’t stop me from belting out the carols as the newest member of the soprano 1 set in my church choir. (Don’t laugh–or do. Either way, I loved it.) I loved it, even when I messed up the last few stanzas of “Come Join the Angels Singing.” I loved it when I probably didn’t quite hit the high note in “Carol of the Bells.” I loved it so much that when my boys hugged me after the concert, I didn’t think to turn the moment into a photo op.

So…jobs, passions, hobbies, gigs. What’s your take? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

But first, Merry Christmas, if you celebrate it. I hope that all the voices you hear sing sweetly as angels!

Aloud: Off the Page, Into the World

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In my next life, I will be an opera singer. This is not the first time I’ve made this declaration and it won’t be the last. (Mind you, the next-life gods need to suit me up with a better voice and the ability to read music, at the very least.) It’s not that I believe in next lives, but such a dream–belting out “o mio babbino caro” a la Maria Callas–is more of a this-life mantra. The hot stage lights, the costumes, the adulation–none of this is what appeals. It’s the voice. Our first instrument. When I tilt to strains of a violin, it’s because it reminds me of singing or crying, even keening. Same for the clarinet played in a minor key, like a folk singer’s lament.

Still, my voice is generally reserved for the rote songs of Mass, a little shower-singing, and belting out Whitney’s “I Wanna Dance…” with one of my boys. Fairly private venues; certainly not performance-grade.

As a young adult, I went from one silent art form–ballet–to the next–creative writing. We college-age fiction writers kept fairly quiet–our work was there on the page–until our monthly reading series held at a local art gallery, called Movable Feast (after Hemingway’s memoir and the relocatable series, which featured brie-and-crackers and grocery store sushi, when my friend and I were in charge of said feast).

My friend did–and does–write poetry, an art form more suited to recitation. Mic-ed, there were those poets at our Movable Feast, whose words took flight on the strains of their voices, some breathy and soft, some staccato and sharp, some exotically-accented. Sometimes, the words all but disappeared in the song of those poets’ voices.

Tone. Mood. Interesting language and turns of phrase. Even a surprise rhyme scheme. Moments. These are the elements that shine in recitation and are perhaps more dense and readily-found in poetry than fiction.

How to recite fiction? It’s not an easy task: Plotlines and plot points. Character names and descriptions. Landscapes. These details are easily lost to the ear when recited and best read on the page, in the quiet.

I know now that my success and failure (I don’t remember what I read aloud in grad school, and I’ll bet no one else does, either) when it comes to readings is less about my actual voice than choice.

My actual voice is not breathy and light; I cannot master the soothing monotone of an NPR announcer. My accent might grate on some more gentile listeners. Still, to read our work aloud is an exercise in performance we writers should seize–and so I do.

It’s been a year or so of finding my reading voice. There was the audio feature I recorded of my short story “Recruit,” for Flock literary journal. Then, I read a piece of flash fiction at a literary festival near where I grew up, where I felt at home, where everyone’s voices sounded something like mine. Most recently, I read at Little Patuxent Review‘s issue launch event from my short story, “While Our Grown Men Played.”

I had five minutes. Five minutes–to a fiction writer who trades in thousands of words on the page, sometimes daily. Five minutes for time and place and character and mood and theme and… voice.

As it was when I was a dancer on the stage, the during part is a blur. But I remember the after-the-reading discussions with several fellow readers at that issue launch, including local author and poet, Alan King. Thinking on it further, I have a few takeaways. Here are five ways to deliver a good reading:

  1. Forget the frame of a story; keep it short and tight.
  2. Pick a pivotal scene.
  3. Sensory description lets the audience in.
  4. Humor helps, when appropriate.
  5. Use your own voice (accent be damned).

I’m coming a little late to spoken word, poetry meant to be read aloud– performed really, rather than simply recited. But I think it has a lot to offer, not only in and of itself, but as inspiration for writing–and reading aloud–works of fiction or anything else. Check out spoken word artist “little pi,” who I met at the LPR issue launch event. And many thanks to Miami University Press in Oxford, Ohio, for introducing me to Janice A. Lowe, poet and composer of musical theater and opera(!), whose collection Leaving CLE: poems of nomadic dispersal, I’m currently devouring. People, I dare you to “unhear” such compelling voices, even if you only get to read them to yourself on the page.

Do you attend poetry, spoken word, or fiction readings? Listen to podcasts? Is there a poet or author whose voice speaks volumes to you? Have you read your own stories or poems aloud?