Woodshedding! / by Alicia Berneche

I have been preparing old arias for an upcoming audition. I have sung them since my early twenties, so there are lots of old tongue tensions, weird vowels, bad musical ideas, etc. in them. I find the process of bringing my mature musical style to my old arias, while hard work, very satisfying. I need a recorder, of course, to hear exactly what I am doing, plus a mirror, because habits are hard to break without complete awareness. 


I found the biggest problem I had was tempo. Who would have thought that speed of the aria could be the biggest problem? I was singing them with the nostalgia of youth, lingering on passages I really liked, and generally wallowing in my sound. Got out my handy dandy metronome, set to exactly what is written (or suggested) in the score, and sang it over and over in those tempos. Suddenly, most of the tight breaths, weird vowels, and tongue tension left. It reminded me of a funny quote from the great conductor Frederik Prausnitz. I had the pleasure of working with him at Peabody Conservatory when he taught the conductors. One of the conductors was doing the Strauss Four Last Songs, taking a very indulgent and luscious tempo. Prausnitz stopped him and asked him why he chose that tempo. The conductor said because it was beautiful. Prausnitz widened his eyes and said, "Remember this is sung by a human being."

I was taking tempos not capable by a human being.

We are so lucky today to have the tools we have--metronomes, recorders, mirrors, walls, all of the things we can use to monitor our bodies.  --  Alicia