I learned something I didn’t know from the vocal coach. I freely admit I knew only the rudiments of singing. You learn a little by osmosis in music school, even if you’re not in voice. I sang in my junior high school choir one year, too, and learned a little bit there. You know how it goes.
I thought of Ziggy as a tenor. In my level of knowledge, stemming from chorus, the four voices were soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone. Very few guys are true basses, and most choral music is written with these four parts in mind. I knew in opera there were more fine divisions, but in day-to-day modern music we really didn’t worry about the difference between a countertenor and a tenor, say, or what “coloratura” was.
Sarah’s vocal coach was an older woman with an impressive mane of salt and pepper hair, held back by large eyeglasses perched on the top of her head. She greeted us at the door of her Upper West Side apartment with a white cat twining around her ankles. The cat scampered off to hide as soon as we came in, though. The woman introduced herself as Doctor Priscilla Oates, but then said we could call her Priss. We followed her into a sitting room where there were a couple of couches, many bookshelves, and a piano. I could see a copy of the 1989 CD sitting on top of the piano, next to a stack of sheet music.
The first thing Priss did once we’d all trooped into the room was tell Ziggy to hold still, and then she essentially grabbed his larynx with her fingers. Okay, grabbed is too strong a word. She felt around and pressed on either side, and while holding onto his throat like Darth Vader told him to move his head from side to side.
“Ow,” he said. Sarah took a seat on the couch and I perched next to her, watching them closely.
“Hum,” Priss told him, and kept poking around. Ziggy hummed. “You’ve got evidence of some strain here.” She had almost no accent at all but the way she spoke sounded like maybe English wasn’t her first language. German, maybe?
“Eh,” Ziggy said as she let go.
“Remember that cortisone shot when we were on tour?” I piped up.
Ziggy winced. “I almost forgot about that. Yeah, I was on painkillers and couldn’t feel how ripped up I was getting. But I recovered.”
“What did you do to recover?” Priss asked, looking skeptical.
“Sang kirtan in India for a couple of months…?” Ziggy offered.
“Hm.” She took her cardigan sweater off and laid it over the back of a chair. “Well, if you were doing it right, that might have been beneficial. Sit.”
She gestured for Ziggy to sit in a chair facing her while she took her place at the piano. She wore her glasses on a chain hanging from her neck and she put them on as if she were about to read sheet music, then scolded herself and took them off again. No sheet music necessary.
“Here we go,” she said, and she ran Ziggy through the familiar exercises I knew as warmups, the up-five-notes-and-down-again pattern, working him first down the piano and then up. I knew she hadn’t reached the top of his range yet, but she paused and said, “Excellent. Good clarity.”
“My falsetto gets higher.” Ziggy said.
“Are you in your falsetto range now?”
“No.” She tapped her hand on the wood of the piano for emphasis. “No. Who told you that’s falsetto? That’s no falsetto.”
Ziggy and I exchanged a look. I think we both said, “It’s not?”
“No. Do they no longer teach this at RIMcon?” She shot me a look and I found myself sitting up straighter, like I’d been scolded in class.
I tried to defend myself. “I wasn’t–”
But she cut me off with a wave of her hand and the words: “A true falsetto is a voice quality. The octave jump is brought on by a variant movement of the vocal cords. Just because it is high does not make a note falsetto.” She said this to me instead of to Ziggy, and I wondered how she knew I had gone to RIMCon. I guess she had done her homework on Ziggy, and by extension the rest of the band. “Your friend here has a true tenor, his so-called upper register is not a separate register at all but an extension of his true singing voice. Above that is a falsetto, where only the edges of the vocal cords come into play.” She turned to Ziggy. “With me. Sing.”
She played another set of the warm-up style exercises, singing with him as they worked their way up and up. Ziggy was in fine voice despite partying late last night and everything. And now that I knew what I was listening for I could hear the difference, where the change came from full voice to falsetto.
Priss stopped again, and again spoke to me instead of to Ziggy. Which maybe was a bit weird, but I was caught up trying to absorb what she said more than how she said it. “In opera he would be called a tenor leggero. Interestingly enough, it’s common for singers like this to be misclassified as baritones because of such excellent lower range! He has very good range and the good news is that the strain he experienced was not likely from singing out of his range. At least if the songs on your CD are any indication.”
Yes, Priss definitely did her homework. “I like his upper range and write for it a lot,” I explained.
She patted Ziggy on the knee. “He is like the coloratura soprano. Flexible, expressive, able to jump pitches easily. A joy to write for, I am sure.”
Then she turned to address Ziggy directly. “When you work with me I will adjust the placement of your tongue, the manner in which you employ your vocal cords, and so on. We will work on phonation, breathing, posture. You have a fine, fine instrument. I can strengthen it and make it so you will not need cortisone shots or anything like that.”
“I got another half octave I didn’t used to have,” Sarah reminded him.
Ziggy held up his hands. “Sign me up. I’m sold.”
“And you?” Priss said to me. “Do you need voice work, too?”
I shook my head. “I’m pretty sure I’m a garden-variety tenor and I only sing backup anyway.”
She gave me a half-smile. “Fine. Go tend to your gardening. Sarah and I have a session to do now. You are welcome to stay in the kitchen…?”
“Was that a pizza shop I saw on the corner?” Ziggy asked.
“I could meet you guys there in an hour,” Sarah said.
“Good.” Priss clapped her hands and made shooing motions, and Ziggy and I beat a hasty retreat.
(DGC Site news!
Patreon is for the supporters of creators like me who create online content. It’s a little like Kickstarter except it’s for ongoing microdonations instead of one-time events. I’m asking people to consider giving one dollar per week: that’s only 50 cents per episode. And if my Patreon total goes over $75? I’ll switch DGC to being three posts a week ALL THE TIME. Wouldn’t that be awesome? So if you’ve been thinking about donating, you can set up a weekly pledge of $1 (or more) at http://www.patreon.com/ceciliatan. Click to read more details, see a video of me talking about it, etc.
Meanwhile, speaking of Kickstarter…. See photo below for what arrived today: several HUGE boxes of Daron’s Guitar Chronicles: Omnibus 2! When I ordered them they said they wouldn’t arrive until December 4th! Instead, voila! I’m still planning to do all the packing and shipping between December 7 and 9. If you’re in the Boston area and want to come help pack them up, drop me a line at ctan.writer @ Gmail!
Lastly: Daron was totally wrong in the liner note about last Thursday being the ending of the story arc. It’s THIS Thursday, Thanksgiving, when that’s happening. See you all on the other side of that!