Changing gears

Above: Aaron Cassidy's "I, purples, spat blood, laugh of beautiful lips" Below: Ken Ueno's "Shiroi Ishi"

Above: Aaron Cassidy’s “I, purples, spat blood, laugh of beautiful lips”
Below: Ken Ueno’s “Shiroi Ishi”

As singers of contemporary music, we are called upon to sing in many styles, and with many different vocal qualities. Working with the former is simply a matter of learning the proper aesthetic and idiom for each piece of music, or section of a piece, as it may be. Performing with a different vocal quality is a matter of physiology and muscular training, and can really throw a wrench into the works.

Rehearsing for our January 24th concert, I quickly realized I would need to use a lighter vocal mechanism for the long sustained lines of the second tenor part in Ken Ueno’s gorgeous “Shiroi Ishi” (it’s officially gorgeous, ask the New York Times). Since this was vocally the most challenging work on the program, I thought of it as my technical default for the rest of the show, centering my vocalizing and practicing around the technique required for the piece, and placing the other works on the show as much into the same space as possible.

On a wide-ranging program, however, it’s not always possible to stay within the confines of one vocal quality. I happened to have programmed Aaron Cassidy’s “I, purples, spat blood, laugh of beautiful lips” on the same show, and get this, before the Ueno. I am occasionally my own worst enemy. Luckily we had made the time to run the full program in order in rehearsal, so I was prepared for the big gear shift from Cassidy into Ben Johnston, and finally to the long long lines of “Shiroi Ishi”. Balancing programmatic and performative concerns is a never-ending process, especially as singers of new music.

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