On being a soprano
When even your shrink asks, “What is it like to be an outlier?” you know you are pretty weird.
That’s why I love being a soprano, just about the only part of my life where I am normal. Well, that’s not quite true. I am physically normal: brown/black hair, 5’4.” I look normal. But my brain is not normal.
Being a first generation American, feminist, abortion rights, gun rights, tae kwon do loving, sacred song singing, agnostic, meat-loving, vegan-cooking librarian means whatever group I am in, I am going to piss someone off with my beliefs.
But when I sing, I am normal.
I am a typical soprano. When I sing, I am addle-pated, focused, self-absorbed, loud. Every cliché that comes along with being a soprano, I have, and I love them all, even the negative ones, because it is such a relief to be normal.
Also, I am not naturally very talented, and it takes all my concentration, which is a good thing. Whatever else is going on in my life, that one hour a week when Balder makes me sight sing is a miracle. Nothing else can get into my head when I am singing.
Not my messy house or my unweeded garden. Not whether my child is eating correctly, or when I have to put those bills in the mail (or is it time to start paying them online?).
Every brain cell is processing what’s on the page. Every atom of my body is making that music. If you don’t sing—sing classically, anyway—you may not know how physical it is. After singing a five minute aria, my abs are as charged as after an hour of Body Blast at the gym. My spine feels the tension if I stand incorrectly, and feels relaxed if I am doing it right. It even matters what shoes I wear.
As I improve, my songs get longer. I used to have two or three minute songs (arias) but now I might have a five or seven minute one. There are operatic solos that go on for a good ten minutes without anyone else popping in. So it takes a lot longer to practice than it used to.
Oh, I nearly forgot: I fought being a soprano. I wanted to be a contralto, like Marian Anderson, or even a mezzo, like Dana Kruger. I just didn’t like the sound of the soprano voice, or the soprano rep. Who wants to play Mimi (Mary Ann) when you could be Carmen (Ginger)??
I have a pretty good range and through High School I was in the alto section. In college a teacher told me I was a soprano but I put my fingers in my ears and continued to work on my low range.
I was taking voice lessons from an alto who gently pushed me into soprano, but, poor woman, I resisted. Finally, Balder, my current voice teacher, pointed out my tessitura and I gave up and accepted the soprano rep. I didn’t have to sing Mimi. I could do the soubrette thing. Zerlina is pretty cool.
Tessitura sounds like a stripper name but it means where your voice naturally changes from your chest voice to your head voice. Mine is quite high. There’s no arguing with it.
It’s a good metaphor for being gay. You can’t fight who you are forever, and sometimes other people know before you do, and it’s a lot better when you accept it and work with it. (At least I think it is a good metaphor; I probably should have asked some of my friends about this before coming to this conclusion.)
And I have to admit that the sacred music in the soprano repertoire is more interesting than the mezzo stuff. In the choral work, mezzos get a lot of the same note again and again while the sopranos get the melody. I don’t have a choice anymore: I get the melody.