My Week Spot

Thanks for stopping by. Hopefully, you can find something worthwhile on these pages. I am so grateful for all of the responses you have sent, and I am deeply touched by the fact that my random gleanings have had an impact on so many of you.

Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

I am what I am

One of the hardest things to do in a constantly changing world is stay centered. 21st century realities demand constant adaptation. Careers that used to span a lifetime now seem to begin and end over night. “Long-term” relationships are often measured in something (much) less than years. Many of use have lived in several places in our lives, each move allowing and requiring self-redefinition. Madonna may be the master of reinvention, but we all have to do our share of it.

In fact, the only constant is change. Some changes are dramatic: death, marriage or a new job. Others are more subtle: a new friend, a receding hairline or a tooth replaced by a crown. Most day to day changes are trivial: a flattering shirt that gets coffee stained, a missed bus or a thought-provoking Blog. But, each change forces us to view the world differently, to accept a revised definition of “normal.”

The more transient the world becomes, the more I value those things which last. Family. Old friends. Antique furniture. Old master paintings. Classical music. While I don’t pretend that anything is permanent in this world, these things have stood the test of time and somehow seem more worthwhile to me than ephemera. That often puts me at odds with gay culture; I have no tattoos, no piercings and no Gwen Stefani CD’s.

But in the final analysis, the only reality we carry with us throughout our lives is ourselves. Sometimes this is easy to forget, because we get so busy adapting to new environments. For all the adjustments, we are still the same person. Only by holding on to who we were, can we keep track of who we are.

My career as a singer has encompassed many different styles of music: theater, pops, opera, oratorio, liturgical and cabaret, plus more than a few Temple High Holy Days. I haven’t sung in a rock band yet, but who knows? Each type of music requires a slightly (sometimes dramatically) different vocal technique. Even within the same style, different conductors can have vastly different tastes.

Since moving to Chicago in 1996, I have worked primarily as a choral bass, in contrast to my prior background as a solo baritone. This has necessitated that I expand my range downward (I use my low D’s frequently). I also have taken much of the “ring” out of the voice, in order to blend in the choral setting. These were not so much conscious choices, as pragmatic adaptations to the requirements of each gig.

Then, last week I had a coaching session with Patrick Sinozich, a friend and colleague from Grant Park Chorus and Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus. He is a brilliant diagnostician and a constructive and supportive tutor. He immediately identified the techniques that I had adapted (rightly or wrongly) for choral singing which were not my best voice for solo singing. Specifically, he was missing the ring in my voice.

As we worked, my singing improved in quantum leaps. I was seeing improvements immediately that singers study voice for years to achieve, simply by changing my thinking about how I was singing. Everything became easier, particularly the high notes. It physically felt better, always a good sign in singing. It was much more fun for me, and probably much more fun to listen to, if only because I was enjoying singing more.

I was not discovering a new way to sing, but reconnecting with the way I used to sing. It had been so many years since I had sung that way; I had come to believe I couldn’t do it anymore. I thought age (and martinis) had robbed me of my ability to sing with that ease and clarity of tone. My voice is obviously a little different from what it was years ago, but its essence has remained remarkably constant.

Singing this way brought back a flood of memories, like having my life flash before my eyes. I remembered who I had been in my prior life. (That may sound like Shirley MacLaine talking, but it’s true). I remembered roles, performances, venues, mentors, directors, conductors, coaches, and even extremely patient choreographers. I remembered the friendships I made. All happy memories.

Over the years, there have been some who liked my singing, and some who disliked it. I tried to develop as versatile a technique as possible, so that I could be useful in as many situations as possible. I always prided myself on being able to provide whatever was required by the impresario del giorno.

But attempts at versatility ignore that fact that my voice is what it is. I may try to vary it: larynx up or down, brighter or darker tone, louder or softer, more or less vibrato, crisper consonants or more legato. In the end, the essence of my voice remains more or less the same. And that’s OK. Actually, that’s pretty special.

Reconnecting to the past has been very centering. Reconnecting to a happy past has been particularly edifying, like a warm homecoming. Plus, reunion with my prior self is enabling a much more confident approach to the future. Thank you for that, Patrick.

Now, I’m going through my closet, trying on clothes I haven’t worn in a long time. Some of them look pretty good.