Monday, 31 August 2009


This is the vowel with which I have been in mortal combat for the past few days. Yes, I'm aware that normal people don't get into fistfights with parts of the language, but I'm a singer; we're odd beasts.

It's the U umlaut, a vowel we don't have in English, but which crops up with monotonous regularity throughout German (sorry, I'm biased at the moment!). It occurs in the first phrase of my first aria to be performed before an unwitting German public, and bugger me it's difficult to get right.

I thought I'd got it (by George, she... oh, wait. No.) The instructions remain clear in my head from German pronunciation lessons at college: sound an "u" vowel; leaving the lips and mouth in the same position, sound an "i" vowel. Simples. Well, it seems not quite.

In what passes for conversation at present, I can get away with it. The trouble comes when I sing it. Both the wonderful repetiteurs I have been working with have pointed it out. Too much like "i", they said. Irritatingly, upon listening to my recordings of the coaching sessions, they are right. Doesn't sound like that in my head, but as any singer knows, that's no guarantee of what the audience hears. So I have been trying to rework the entire vowel.

This involves listening obsessively to recordings; recording again; listening again; mumbling into my beard when cycling; struggling to reposition my errant tongue and lips; battering at already-formed habits; shrieking in frustration; practising again; and again; and again. (I often wonder what it must be like to be a singer without a perfectionist bent!)

I'm getting there. Mastering this small, insignificant-looking vowel will give me great pleasure. Yes, it's splitting hairs. In the arts, however, it's really, really not worth doing something unless you're fully engaged and concentrating; and that means that the smallest details become quite extraordinarily important.

One of the luxuries of having a long run-up to the first première is the time to iron out wrinkles like this, which will serve me very well indeed in the future. I look forward to reworking all my German repertoire with this in mind.

In the meantime, how else could I sign off, but...


No comments:

Post a Comment