Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Voice

The Voice is not happy tonight.

The Voice has been with me for many, many years now. It has been my companion through every stage of life — the good, the bad, and the severely depressing — and we have survived. The Voice has been shaped and molded over several decades. It is nowhere near as elastic as it used to be; but then, neither am I.

The Voice even survived puberty with me. In fact, in many ways The Voice made that transition in far better shape than I did. Over the ensuing years I have done my best to master The Voice. At this stage of life I can only say that, far from mastering it, The Voice and I have reached a mutually beneficial agreement. We are comfortable with each other now. It does its level best not to make a complete fool out of me (difficult, given the roles I've pursued on stage in the past), and I try not to take The Voice too far outside its comfort zone.

The last time I did that was a near disaster. The Voice was fresh out of high school and singing for the local J. C. The choir director had it in his head that The Voice must be capable of stretching into the realm of the counter tenor. Dangerous ground for one so inexperienced and — at the time — relatively intractable. The Voice was asked to perform the treble solo work in Schütz's "Magnificat." Heinrich Schütz liked his tenors, ah, surgically altered, and I probably had no business trying to emulate one at such a tender age. The Voice survived, but that director and I have parted company, never to work together again.

When The Voice started speaking to me again, I vowed not to rough him up so much in future gigs. I stuck to stage work where I could use my Character Voice. The Character Voice shares facilities with The Voice, but doesn't wear them out quite so much. Different still is The Speaking Voice, which at one time was compared with — this is true — a rusty hinge on helium. On stage, one can project to his heart's content, safe in the knowledge that The Character Voice is making few demands on The Voice.

(Note: Once upon a time it was referred to as The Singing Voice, but The Voice is a pretentious snob and prefers the more mysterious cognomen.)

About fifteen years ago I hit my vocal prime. The Voice had somehow matured to a point where it was fairly easy to put up with. It had also gone through what I can only define as a secondary puberty. The Voice insisted it was a 2nd Tenor, and I was more than willing to go along with it.

On second thought, I lie. What I really wanted was for The Voice to drop into baritone range. Baritones are 2nd tenors with attitude problems. But they get meatier roles.

Musically it's been a wonderful time. I have performed for some truly wonderful conductors over the years, and have been invited to solo far more than when I was a scrawny 1st Tenor. I have a recurring gig (until they get tired of me) doing the tenor solo for our annual Messiah Sing-Along here in Yorba Linda. The Anaheim Mormon Chorale has kept me happily busy doing an occasional solo, including some Gilbert & Sullivan.


We had our first rehearsal of the season a week ago. Our director, JoLane Jolley, is a wonderful musician. Educator, adjudicator, having worked herself with some of the finest conductors in the business. She also knows what she wants to hear, and right now what she wants is more oomph in her 1st Tenors. "Woody," she asked, "would you be willing to do 1st Tenor in falsetto?"

Since this question put Woody immediately in mind of a certain brush with counter-tenorhood, Woody was not pleased. Willing, of course, but not pleased. Woody is extremely comfortable as a 2nd.

The Voice is furious.

The Voice hasn't been stretched like this since I was 18. The Voice is starting to mutter under its breath. I'm hearing words like "mutiny," "retirement," and "Harry Belafonte." (Woody is not implying for a minute that The Voice would deliberately go around singing "Daaaaay-o!" until it went so hoarse that Woody could only speak in croaks, but I'm certain The Voice wants Woody to know that it's capable of doing just that.)

Tonight, after another two-hour workout in this truly unnatural range, The Voice came very close to not speaking to me again. I tried to soothe it by reminding it that I stayed in head voice for as long as possible. I only resorted to falsetto on a few occasions, and only for short bursts! The Character Voice has been chuckling to itself all night long. The Voice, meanwhile, is huffing around the house demanding its own dressing room. With chilled sparkling water.

No, The Voice is not easily appeased. Woody has been sort of croaking since returning home tonight. I'm hoping that The Voice feels much better after a good night's sleep.

"Daylight come, an' I wan' go home."

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