Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Pain of Relative Pitch

This evening was rehearsal just for Sopranos, but unlike what I had hoped for and expected, we didn’t spend much time going over the places in Puccini’s Missa Breva where our notes are still a little shaky. Instead it was voice training, which didn’t do me much good since I have a cold and couldn’t really sing.

I sat a couple rows behind everyone, not wanting to spread my germs to them. It’s hard enough to sit out a rehearsal when I want to be singing, but it’s even harder to listen to one’s own group not quite making it. I don’t know if my participation would have made a difference, but I noticed a number of problems, which the voice trainer managed to overlook.

She was focusing on how the sound was produced and often demonstrated the difference between what the Sopranos were sounding like and what it should sound like. Although one could hear the difference in the sounds she demonstrated, she rarely succeeded in getting the Sopranos to produce the clearest, best sound. In fact, a couple of times she exclaimed “Bravo” [not “Brava”] in places where they were nowhere near that remarkable.

Worst of all, she didn’t have a really great sense of pitch and didn’t notice when they were ever so slightly flat. (She was a bit flat herself a number of times.) Although I don’t have perfect pitch, I have what’s called relative pitch and can tell when a piece is a bit off key. I was cringing at having to listen to tones that were just a hair’s breadth under.

Having had a number of excellent voice teachers over the past few years, it’s really difficult having to study with one who’s much less adequate. The fact that she’s a bit off key, and unaware of it, makes it all the more painful for someone like myself. Basically the Sopranos’ tone could have been improved by better posture, breath, and pure vowels (especially “i” and “u”).

Pronunciation wasn’t much better. Although the teacher made a few corrections, she seemed unaware of several places where pronunciation was more Japanese than Latin. “Suscipe,” for example, sounded like “sushi pay.” Sad to say, the Sopranos sounded no better at the end of tonight’s rehearsal than they had at the beginning, and it only reinforced some of the poor vocal habits.

If my Japanese were more fluent, I would love to be doing some conducting and voice training myself. I know could bring out a better vocal quality in the Sopranos than our current voice teacher. And I’d certainly have them singing on pitch!

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