Hello, my dear friends. I hope you are enjoying the beginning of January! I finally got a moment to breathe before life starts back up again, even if it is just for a few days. I had the opportunity this past summer to be a part of Don Giovanni. I was even lucky enough to snag a lead in the production. I have never been casted as a lead in an opera before, so I was unsure on how to go about memorizing all of that music. To me, this lesson can be overlooked in schooling because lessons can be more about a single song/aria. So having ninety minutes of music to memorize with blocking and cuts made to the music seemed impossible. After my brief panic, I was able to sit myself down and make it manageable for myself.
I want to share my “system”/checklist with you all. I think it can be very helpful and hopefully I can look back on this as a reminder on how I managed to do it.
Take it one song at a time. When learning and performing it’s normal to try to sing and remember the whole thing at once, but very taxing. Not once in my life was I able to recite a 200 page book, so why should I be able to do that with music. You need to break it down into smaller chunks. So while I am singing or before I am on stage, I only think of that ONE song. Sometimes if the piece is long I even chunk it into smaller sections and take it one step at a time. This way you do not panic on stage and you are in the moment running through the music. It gives your brain enough to focus on without overwhelming it, but not so much where you can’t act and use the music to move you.
ALWAYS review your music. Just because you had the music memorized six days ago does not mean you aren’t going to make mistakes. It means that six days ago you had the music memoized and no matter what mistakes will be made. I always give myself thirty minutes to review the music before I perform that day. It gives me confidence knowing I reviewed it and I am not relying on muscle memory. I also walk through my blocking in my head before the performance so I remind myself of my own movement. This will give you reassurance and a panic-free performance, hopefully. If not just look confident and no one will notice the fire in your mind.
Learn the music right the first time. When learning anything, you do not want to cut corners. It causes back track later on, and the habit is even harder to break! Take time everyday, if possible, to go over sections of the music. Spend time getting to know the piece and the drive behind it. This will give you a clear understanding of the piece and you won't second guess yourself. This also means learning other parts well too! You need to know the piano accompaniment and the other vocalists in the piece as well. You cannot and should not rely on others to know their own part. This means you have to count, know your entrances and know your cut-offs really well. To help with this listen to recordings that are correct or record you part on the piano to learn it well. Not all music will be learned at the same rate so do not be discouraged when one piece took three weeks to learn while another is still in the process. Just keep working at it and ask for help if your stuck!
Spend time with yourself learning about the character. It takes just five min a day. This is something I still need to work. Knowing the drive, emotion, story and context of the character will take your performance so far. This will also help understand the music better too! For example, in the opera Don Giovanni Donna Anna’s lines are always higher and her arias tend to lean that way too. To me, this is her grieving, crying, screaming, crying out, etc in the opera. She is without her father and is just so full of emotion that she cannot be subtle a lot. It helps give the music more depth to it, which helps the audience enjoy the performance. 10/10 recommend
Take a break when you can. It is not sustainable to sing for three hours everyday for months. Do not even try to prove me wrong, or you will hurt yourself. Your voice needs time to relax and recover. You are like an athlete and need to have days off to rest. I can hit some super high notes, but that doesn't make me superhuman. As a vocalist I need to know my limits and how far I can push myself before I am going to tire myself out. There needs to be a line you do not cross and make sure you stick to it. Although, this does not mean skipping a work day completely. You can do so much on your non-singing day. You can write out your lyrics, walk through blocking, listen to the piece, analyze the piece, look over the piano part, etc. Again, you need to fully know the piece! The more you understand the piece the better.
I hope this list helps you all get started! This checklist helps me everyday and keeps me at ease. I am not superhuman and I never will be and this lists helps break down those “superhuman” deadlines. If you work hard and put in the effort, anything is possible! Everything will fall into place and opportunities will come when you are ready for them. Do not get discouraged, and keep working away.
Much love and joy <3