Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Euphoria in the practice room!  A small, hard-won but vital epiphany in the way I approach the tonality of this modern piece occurred in the third hour of hard slog today.  The first hour was official, spent with the conductor (who growled at me for coming in early, forbade me to sing unless he gave the sign, then was forced to giggle as he didn't give me a sign for the next, totally obvious entrance, at which point I was silent) and the pianist (who is amazing; I can't believe that he can read all those lines in the orchestral score, given that no proper piano-vocal score exists, fishing out fragments from various instruments and playing them despite them being in different clefs, all on a few days' notice).  From this, I knew exactly where the tonal trouble points were in this particular scene, and lugged my nice fresh score into another room to explore them; a process which is not dissimilar to poking worringly loose teeth with one's tongue.

I would like to point out that I don't usually have such troubles.  Mainly because the composer has usually seen fit to have the orchestra playing melodies or at least chords underneath, which one can interpret, follow, and use as jumping-off points for finding one's own note.  Not the case here.  Much is going to depend on me being able to hit any given starting note cold, which without perfect pitch is - how shall I put this? - bloody terrifying.

Anyway, whilst snarling away at this scene, it suddenly occurred to me that the axes I had been using (an axis being a note around which one can hang a phrase; coming back to it, using the leading note, calculating intervals therefrom etc) could actually (and I would like to point out in my defence that this is NOT obvious!) be poked around to fit the dominant seventh chord of A major (and I know the name only from looking it up afterwards; I have anything but a solid theoretical grounding in music, and recognised the arpeggiated chord from a snatch of "Adriana Lecouvreur" with which I am familiar).  No, not every phrase starts with a note from this chord, but a surprising proportion do, and many others either use the semitone on either side of a member note (known to me technically as "up a bit" or "down a bit", as attested to rather shamefully by my old score) or have such a note as the axis.  I can thus construct a sort of tonal scaffolding to hold these phrases together, thus making me feel far more secure, which can only be a Good Thing.

All I have to do is burn that particular chord into my very sinews.  I started today; hopefully it will become second nature soon - at present I have been waking up imagining the notes G sharp and A, and fumbling for the tuning fork on the bedside table at dawn to check my accuracy; this is simply an extension.  I've already whipped through the score marking the relevant notes in a particular colour.  I just wish that the T. S. Eliot quote "These fragments I have shored against my ruins" wouldn't run quite so nakedly through my brain!

Anyway, it felt good.  I have a definite bipolar relationship with this opera; waves of exhilaration, waves of despair.  My partner-in-crime, whom I met by chance after this revelation, laughed at me for being so excited and cautioned against the inevitable downswing.  Yes, yes, yes; I know.  But I'll take the elation for the moment!

To reward myself I spent the afternoon and the last of the brilliant sunshine that the afternoon unexpectedly brought on my peaceful local river beach, armed with book, remains of a bottle of wine, and palpable lack of opera score: my only companions a pair of small and incredibly grumpy geese, and the first sand of the year between my toes.

As further reward, the sunset, now I am back on my balcony and writing this, has proved rather spectacular.  In one of those wonderfully self-referential 21st-century moments, the photo above shows my laptop perched on my balcony railing, this entry half written, as the sun sets along the Rhine in the background.


1 comment:

  1. Ah, yes.
    One must guard against naked Eliot-fragments running through ones' brain, mustn't one.


    Sounds good on balance, though (your progress, that is). Avanti!