Working with Priss was kind of exhausting because I had to pay so much attention to something that I normally paid no attention to at all. Singing is like walking. While I’m doing it I’m usually not thinking about it very much.
But imagine if instead of just walking on the treadmill you had a trainer who had you agonizingly lift your foot muscle by muscle, bone by bone, then carefully maneuver it to where you were going to step, then gradually transfer your weight to your toes, then the arch, then the heel of your foot, taking painstaking care every second to do it exactly a certain way. And then doing the other foot. And again. And again.
That’s what vocal exercises with her were like.
I discovered I kind of liked it when she was there telling me what to do, though. The exercises were to do things like loosen the connection of my tongue to my throat so that I wouldn’t create unnecessary tension, and strengthening certain parts of my muscles so my vocal cords could be controlled with more finesse. Priss warned me that it might take two to three years (if I kept up the exercises) to build a full connection between my chest voice and my head voice, and to rebuild what she insisted I’d “lost” from my upper range.
Also I was in decent cardiovascular shape but didn’t have the diaphragmatic power that someone who’d played a wind instrument or trained as a singer all their lives had. So we worked on that, too.
But it wasn’t all about power. One day she banished Ziggy, told him to come back in an hour, which gave me a feeling of foreboding right away. Like my ego was about to take a vicious beating but it’d be even worse if he was there. One thing about Priss, she did her homework. She knew always knew right where to hit me, like the old master in the kung fu movie knowing exactly where you’re weak.
I soon found out what new lesson awaited me. “I have something you should hear,” she said. She hit play on a boom box on top of the piano. The cassette in it was a dub she could have only gotten from Jordan. It was my isolated vocal tracks from recording 1989.
I’d heard them before, back when we were recording, but usually only for a line or two at a time before hearing it back as part of the mix. At least my pitch was good. My pitch was always good.
Then she put headphones on us both, hit record on a little portable tape deck and played back “Why the Sky” and recorded me singing my part while she accompanied lightly with hints of the chords on the piano.
Then she made me listen back to compare the original recording and what I’d just done. And then she stared at me.
“If you’re waiting for me to have a Mr. Miyagi moment, I’m not getting it,” I said.
“Let’s try it one more time, no headphones now, just you sing and I’ll play. But this time I want you to sing it softly. Quietly. Sit up straight. Breathe. You’re fully warmed up. You’re ready to do this.”
Yeah, yeah. So we did it again. With her really pushing me to pull back on the force I was putting into the notes.
And I could not hit some of them at all. It wasn’t that the pitch was flat. It was that I couldn’t even get my vocal cords to vibrate on certain ones at all without pushing a lot harder.
I looked her in the eye. “That’s not right.”
She nodded. “Now you get it, grasshopper.”
“That. Is. Not. Right.” I resisted the urge to put my hand on my throat. Nothing hurt. I didn’t feel strained. But I felt like doing it just the same.
“You’ve been instinctually avoiding the trouble spots,” she said. “But I needed to show you they were there. If all you do is power through them you’re not playing your instrument to the fullest.”
“Damn.” She was completely right and now I was kind of angry at myself. This wasn’t about singing the highest notes, either–though all my trouble spots were in the upper half of my range. “Okay. How do we fix it?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to teach you.”
“And it’s going to take two to three years.”
“Most likely, yes. At least he needs to do the same exercises so you will have no excuse when you are together not to do them. Unless you are ill, of course.”
“Of course.” I suddenly wondered who I would get to do the exercises with me when I went back out with Nomad. The answer to that question was obvious, suddenly. “Hey, you work with all kinds of singers, right? Sorry, that was a stupid way to ask that.”
Priss put her glasses atop her head, the earpiece chains making it look like an exotic headpiece. “What are you trying to ask?”
“Would you also work with two backup singers I’m hiring?”
“I have room to take one or two, yes.”
“Great.” I made myself a mental note to call Fran and Clarice and see if I might be able to get them here soon.
While I was making myself notes, I needed to talk to Mitch about who else to recruit for the horn section, and Linn was going to need to measure everyone. And we still needed to settle the question of some secondary personnel. Would one drum tech be enough for two drummers or did I need two of those, too? Et cetera.
Priss cleared her throat delicately, so as not to roughen up her cords.
“Oh, sorry. Spaced out.” I sat up straight suddenly, not because I should for singing, but because I realized something. The band I hadn’t named yet, with me and Bart and Christian, but which had managed to record an album… I told you the names of some of the songs, right? “Shape of Space” and “Skyward” and “Dawn”? It occurred to me that there were a lot of sky and space references, even if some were double-meanings, and of course Moondog Three had the whole moon thing going on. “Star Gaze,” I said aloud.
Priss put a hand on my arm and looked into my eyes, perhaps checking if they were dilated. “Are you all right?”
“I think I may have just figured out what my next band is called.” Pending a trademark name search and the other guys not shooting it down, of course. I was already picturing it as two words for some reason, maybe with an asterisk in the middle: Star*Gaze. Maybe Skyward as a backup name, but I had a nagging feeling there was a band called that. The album should be titled Shape of Space, though.
Priss patted me reassuringly. “I hear your liebling in the hallway. Go let him in.”
“He’s your liebling,” I said, as I got up from the piano. He was much more than that to me. But though I’d finally come up with a word to put on the band, there was no word that could encompass Ziggy or our relationship. Ziggy was a definition unto himself.