My husband and I just returned from a trip to Europe, where we visited my Italian cousins in Rome and explored parts of Greece, a country high on my “bucket list.” A trip for the ages!
On the way there we stopped in New York, where I sang in concert with my sisters at the Bruno Walter Auditorium, part of the Library for Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. As a voice and Alexander Technique teacher in Marin, I spend most of my time giving voice lessons and music directing. So, I don’t give myself many opportunities to perform as a singer. The concert was awesome! Aside from my two solos, I sang five operatic duets, four with my sister Barbara, a contralto, and one with a lovely soprano who joined our “family” performance.
There’s something very special about singing with others. Whether you are in a sacred or secular choir, small ensemble or singing a duet in a show, whether you’re singing classical, jazz or bluegrass, something magical happens when people raise their voices together. The unison breathing, the power of the sound vibration and the camaraderie and conviviality of the group activity, especially with music that excites you, is fantastic.
My psyche has evolved regarding group singing. In the past, I have sung in school choirs, opera chorus and workshop scenes and musical theater shows. I always struggled with my ego – I wanted to stand out and be heard. When I was in a choir I felt a bit lost, one of many. I also didn’t have the technical facility to blend, especially singing higher, so I did much better in an opera chorus where I could “let it rip”! I ended up limiting myself to opera scenes or musical theater shows, where you have the possibility of singing as a soloist as well as in group. However, performing with others – or playing in a band as a keyboardist – always makes me happier than singing or playing alone.
Quite a few of my students and friends doing singing lessons are in ensembles and this musical activity greatly enriches their lives. For a less skilled singer, it allows her to sing out when confident and to rely on the stronger “leaders” when not. Ensemble singing also helps weaker musicians strengthen music-reading, ear-training, and singing skills. These singers do a lot of homework, especially learning harmonies. I totally admire their dedication. The only drawback I experienced when singing in a chorus is that it’s difficult to hear oneself so it’s easy to push one’s voice. It’s an odd sensation to sing without hearing oneself. You must trust and rely more on sensation. This is a skill in itself. (Or you get feedback from the singer next to you. Is she giving you dirty looks? Ack! 😊)
My recent experience singing with my family and friend brings up another thought: Singing with stronger singers is always thrilling. It makes me sing better, pulling together all that I know. Most of the singers in the concert had Goliath voices. I was pleased to have held my own with my light-on-my-feet David voice. Also, I’ve been told that there is a “Norcia” sound that we all have, which, when singing together, blends beautifully. I expect this is common to other “Sister Acts” – think the Andrew Sisters or the Dixie Chicks. And, of course, there’s nothing like singing with people you love.
Where I live and teach singing lessons for kids and adults – Marin County – there is a vibrant musical theater community. However, non-professionals looking to sing opera or operetta don’t have much opportunity. There is only one opera workshop in the area and that is a college program. Hmm, maybe it’s time to start one. Because, frankly, singing with others just can’t be beat.