In the fifth and sixth grade, occasionally a classmate would smugly announce, "I'm taking tap and toe." (These were always girls; we would have been slack-jawed with astonishment if a boy had said these words, even Stanley.) "Taking tap and toe"--the words made me giggle. "Taking toe" brought great visual images of contortion: where would you take the toe; what would you do with the toe? Of course we all knew what the phrase meant: skinny Helen was learning to tap dance and toe dance. (Ballet? Or just free-form en pointe?)
So all that is just to say, as unsmugly as I can manage: I'm taking voice.
The lead-in to the voice lessons can be found in an earlier blog. So why the delay in reporting on the lessons themselves? First, if I told you what happens, you'd think I was blowing smoke up your kilt. Second--well, never mind about the second.
So at 10 a.m. on Fridays I go up to this pretty little house and, without knocking, walk into the front room. The room is dominated by (in order) a very large piano; a long wall of shelves, floor to ceiling, crammed tightly with music scores and songbooks ("Songs of Old Italy," "Songs of the Pampas," "Songs of Porter and Gershwin," and 4,000 more such); and 1127 images of angels. Small plaster angels, large porcelain angels, medium-sized straw angels, copper, bronze, and resin cherubs, woven, water-colored, finger-painted seraphs. So far, no actual photographs.
I have not inquired about the angels, but clearly they bless the goings-on in that room.
So I go in, belly up to the piano and the tape recorder that lies in wait like a net, and we begin. First we make the HOOOO sound, a lot of wind, not so much voice. Think noise in the chimney on a stormy night. Then we leap up the scales on EEEEEEEEEEEEE, just as high as I can go. And then I screech five more steps, muscles clenching, eyes squinting with the strain, and the sound that cometh forth sets off the three or four Chihuahuas behind the dining room door. They are in anguish, and they're not the only ones. Soon we are making siren sounds, "siren" as in someone is dying, not "siren" as in seductress. I am singing EEEOOOOOEEEEEOOOO,
following instructions to "smear it," make one continuous legato noise, up, down, and up again.
The larynx muscles, which have for seventy years done whatever they jolly well pleased, now are in boot camp, at the mercy of the Teacher, she of the angelic eyes and voice and the focus of a drill sergeant. Unlike Sarge, she doles out praise and encouragement at each effort, however pathetic; then sets the bar a little higher.
The lesson ends with a new song to learn, often in Italian. It is the dessert, the gelato, the tiramisu. And after HOOOOing and EEEEEEing and YEEEWWWWing, no matter how I torture the new song, it sounds--okay. It's a song, real music, and in Italian.
(The English translation is better forgotten.) The teacher sings it, and the notes are balm to my shattered ego. It's on tape, for me to take home and learn, to layer her limpid voice with my limping vocals, all week long. Smiling and, yes, well, smug.