Any aspiring opera singer in the conservatory system knows the pressures of practicing. “Practice makes perfect,” they say, and, as any good New Yorker will tell you: “practice, practice, practice” is the only way to get to Carnegie Hall. Of course, whenever any Big Apple-ite actually greets me with this tired aphorism, I can’t help but channel my snottiest Ivy-League attitude and reply: “Actually, Carnegie Hall is on Seventh Avenue.” Then I usually hit them with my Nalgene bottle or my G. Schirmer collection of coloratura arias, whichever is readily available.
The truth is, a few hours of isolation in a dingy practice room can sometimes have a rather miraculous effect. For example, Susie Soprano is practicing her favorite vocalism (and perhaps listening covertly to the rather dashing baritone singing next door) and suddenly she has an epiphany about lip tension. Everything her teacher had been telling her begins to make sense. An entire new world opens up, a world without problematic vibrato or strident high notes (and of course, a world in which said dashing baritone would gladly sing a little “la ci darem” to her over supper).
Within a few minutes, Susie’s phlegm descends and her technical problems reassert themselves, yet for those few minutes, she was the operatic version of Henry Higgin’s improved Eliza Doolittle. Beware when you talk to Susie in class tomorrow: her practice room success will have temporarily transformed her into that dreaded singer who boasts: “You know, I have such a BIG voice. I really sound just like Joan Sutherland.” Just be sure to have your Nalgene on hand for easy throwing.
Sadly (though perhaps for the benefit of soprano-soprano interactions), these miraculous vocal discoveries during practice sessions are often few and far between. And, despite your youthful optimism, vocal improvement isn’t going to occur just because you lock yourself in a practice room for six hours out of sheer stubbornness. Leave that kind of craziness to the violinists.
With that in mind, I have a compiled a short list of suggested activities that are ideal for any singer in desperate need of some mid-practicing rejuvenation.
Activity #1: Carbon date the various snotty mucous membranes that previous tenants have spread on the wall during their own mid-practice crises. Then add your own to the collection.
Activity #2: Imagine how many people have had sex in this particular practice room. (Answer: none. Did you forget that this is a conservatory? And no, playing a piano four-hands duet doesn’t count.)
Activity #3: Use your voice recorder to make an entry in your Captain’s log. For example, “Stardate 12369.432. We encountered a group of crusty nebulas with perfect pitch and an inclination for Schubert lieder and decided to investigate. Little did we know…”
Activity #4: Stare at the people in the hall through the window in your door. When one of them makes eye-contact, open the door and blast a high C in their face. Then toss your scarf over your shoulder with a huff and slam the door.
Activity #5: Flick the light switch on and off while humming the theme song to the Twilight Zone. Note: this should not be performed by anyone suffering from epilepsy.
Activity #6: Re-fill your water bottle every time you take a sip. Then formulate a quadratic equation to conclude how many times you are going to have to pee in the next hour.
Activity #7: Walk surreptitiously past the practice room containing your favorite tenor/baritone/soprano/mezzo crush, gaze at them through the window until they notice you, and then pretend that you are just on your way to the bathroom. Don’t repeat this activity too often unless you want your crush to assume that you have a bladder infection.
Activity #8: Loudly slam your hands, feet, and head on random piano keys while gazing intently at an imposing-looking musical score. When pianists begin to peer through the window in terrified curiosity, break into an impassioned 4-minute finale that concludes with tears and your collapse on the floor.
Activity #9: Pretend to be Steve McQueen in solitary confinement in “A Great Escape.” If you forgot your baseball and glove, throw cough drops at the wall instead.
Activity #10: Make a mental list of all of your friends who have real jobs. Then, make a mental list of all of your friends who have incomes above $70,000. Then, make a mental list of all of your friends who are married. Then, make a mental list of all of the people you hated in high school who have real jobs, incomes of $70,000, and spouses. Then, make a mental list of how many more years you are going to be paying off your student loans.
Some of you have finished reading this list and are still trying to figure out the Star Trek reference from Activity #3. If that is the case, I pity you.
Others of you have no doubt made a romantic connection with the tenor/baritone/soprano/mezzo mentioned in Activity #7 and gone off to grab coffee (or perhaps even to solve the problem of Activity #3). If that is the case, I offer you my most insincere congratulations and promise to try my utmost not to gag when I see you canoodling in Diction class tomorrow.
The rest of you have finished reading this list, done the math for Activity #10, and promptly sent your resumes off to the nearest headhunter. Don’t despair, my friends. Practice makes perfect, remember?
But, just in case, would you mind forwarding my resume as well?