WordPress suggests topics for blogging and one of those was to write about doing or trying new things.
From 1990 to 1995, we lived in Somerset and this coincided with our two children starting school, so for the first time in five years, I had a few hours to myself.
I decided to start by teaching myself embroidery. I wasn’t interested in cross-stitch, but crewel work, with a variety of stitches to conquer. I’m left-handed, so this makes embroidery a little more interesting to learn.
There are lots of kits, with some lovely pictures and good, clear instructions to follow and when I had an hour to kill, I filled it with embroidery.
Across the road from our small house, was the library. It was here that I decided to expand my knowledge of literature. I tried Henry James, but the sheer density of his writing was just a bit too much.
My next choice was E. F. Benson. His prose is also dense, but quirky and amusing, with an acid wit and observant eye for the oddities of life after the first world war.
I fell in love with ‘Mapp and Lucia’ and bought up as much of his other works as possible. This became easier with the advent of Amazon, but before that, I raided charity and second-hand book shops.
I’d started to have singing lessons. This was my third or fourth attempt at learning how to sing and suddenly, something worked.
I learned how to free my voice, so that it resonated clearly, using the hard palate and sinuses and how to keep my soft palate lifted. That, along with my well-trained diaphragm muscle made voice projection and resonance easy.
The final step was an exercise taught to my teacher by the actor John Telfer. It is a vocal resonance exercise that makes voice projection far easier. You placed your tongue behind the top teeth and do some of the daily vocal exercises (scales and note groups and runs) with the tongue in this position.
One day, I bought the Schirmer book of Operatic Arias for Mezzo Soprano and my musical world changed forever.
We’d decided that I should enter the Bristol Eisteddfod musical competition and I had to choose an aria that lasted less than either four or five minutes, I can’t remember which now as it was many years ago.
Verdi’s ‘Stride la vampa’ fitted the time frame and I sang through it. This aria is deceptive. It has a dum da da rhythm and my first thought was ‘ice-cream music’ and I revelled in it, until I read the translation and realised that the singer was describing the horrific death of her mother, who was burned at the stake. Instead of happy music, it was a horrendous irony of a tune, which would be a Napolitan love song, if it was in a major key, but it’s in E minor and the singer has to portray the grief, horror and anger of a daughter describing her mother’s death, viewed by a screaming crowd.
My next goal was Rossini. To my surprise, I found the runs and sheer number of notes to be quite easy. I loved Rossini and still do. He’s my sort of composer.
When I was studying at university (well, okay it was Kingston Poly), opera was from Mars. I had no desire to sing arias or learn about it and as I played the flute, my world was J S Bach and Handel and French composers.
You never know what’s around the corner. Keeping an open mind – ready to accept challenges when they arrive, makes life interesting.
I started to study Spanish, prior to our first holiday to Spain in 2004 and bought Michel Thomas’ method and again, had a ‘wow’ moment. I can’t say that I never looked back and I had many crises of confidence, but in the end it started to fall into place.
My next goal is to read a novel in Castellano and so, I bought my favourite Terry Pratchett novel, ‘Men at Arms’, translated into standard Spanish and I will read that, along with the original and hope that it expands my vocabulary, to the same extent as Terry Pratchett expanded my imagination.
Here’s to the people who have helped to make life better and more interesting. My husband and Rossini, Terry Pratchett, E.F.Benson, Michel Thomas and my saviours of sanity, the group Red Priest.
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