Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Thank you

We're completely overwhelmed by the response to our funding campaign on Crowdfunder. We've raised a total of £1,255, which will pay for venue hire, costuming, props and publicity, and will go some way towards paying our dudes as well. Any excess will go towards our forthcoming projects, which are based around taking the show on tour in venues and schools across the country.

A couple of you have asked why we chose to use Crowdfunder as opposed to just canvassing via Paypal. Crowdfunder asks project managers to set a target, and funders donate an amount of their choosing towards it. If the set target isn't met, the project doesn't get any money. On some level, this seems harsh - after all, every little helps, right? - but on another level it makes a lot of sense: if the project doesn't meet its target and can't go ahead, there's a mechanism in place to ensure that the managers can't just take the money and run. Being a new company, we felt it was important that our funders could feel secure in pledging their money to us.

Crowdfunder vet the projects thoroughly before putting a bid online. After that, they are more supportive than I could ever have expected - they gave us an extra week when we looked like we might be falling behind, and they allowed us at the end to lower the target so that we could compromise on an amount that would allow us to move forward, even if it's not quite as much as we were hoping for. All this was done at their prompting and not ours. Rose at Crowdfunder support, you're a star. We love you. Mwah.

We would definitely recommend the use of Crowdfunder to anyone else who was thinking of trying to raise money by crowdfunding - as fiddly as the process may look to start with, it's definitely worth it for the credibility of the process and for the stellar customer support we've received. Thanks to them. And thanks to you, everyone who's put their hands in their pockets for us. We couldn't have done this without you.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Fach Passing

Following on from Cloud's last post about singing the 'wrong' music for your 'fach' or voice type, I'm going to look at the issue from a slightly different perspective.

Throughout my singing life, I have had several of those experiences with singing teachers. A recent-ish example – I went in for a consultation with a teacher who knew me vaguely although not well. After I had sung for them for maybe 20 minutes, they looked at me funny, and said, you know, I don’t think you’re a mezzo.

No shit.

I am most comfortable singing up above the stave. I am not as much queen of the high cs as I used to be when I was slightly younger and, on the matter of vocal acrobatics at least, more fearless, but I am absolutely and definitely a soprano.

But, see, there is an expectation not just about what sort of voice type will sing what kind of music, but what kind of voice type will characterise different personality types.

I am also, to put it bluntly, pretty damn butch. Again, less than I was when I was younger and, on the matter of femininity at least, more fearful. I am clumpy, stompy; one of life’s hairy-legged angry feminists. When I find graceful, it is an embodied, earthy kind of experience, not the disembodied floatiness that the inexperienced expect ought to go hand in hand with a high, angelic voice.

Strangely enough, it turns out you cannot judge on appearances.

And yet, the stereotypes are there. Flightiness and floatiness. Or, poise and pose. Mezzos are the ones who are angry, who are earth mothers and drag-kings, who play men and pass, visually if not vocally.

We are coming pretty close to saying - the sound of your voice limits the emotions you can express. Only loud women can be angry. Only gentle women can be in love. Of course, this is an art form where tone is used as a metaphor for content, where emotions are signed and signalled through means other than words. Of course, there is an assumption that anger will not be gentle, that love will not be violent.

We categorise and then give meaning to the categories. I am absolutely definitely a soprano, I said, not three paragraphs back. What does that even mean? I sing high notes, and violent emotions. And fear holds me back from both.

I sing regularly with a bloke with profound and multiple learning disabilities, whose voice glides effortlessly from basso profundo gravel to floating soprano glissandi. Who has never learned to categorise his voice into parcels he is and isn’t allowed to make music with. We duet, across space and understanding. And I do not want to call it inspirational, or freeing, or natural – I am so, so aware of his being relegated to the status of a lesson in a life that counts. But here’s something that’s true. When I sing with him, I am not a soprano. And I can manage graceful, in his company, in that space, where he is freed from constraints of category, and so am I.

My voice has limits. Boundaries. There are things I cannot say, or even sing. Limits of biology, of possibility, and courage. But limits of convention – if high, not low; if butch, not feminine; the imposed binary opposites of gender that radiate outwards into just about every aspect of our life. Those limits are things that can be opposed, deconstructed, thought through or worked around.

What does it mean to pair a butch voice with a femme body, or vice versa? A butch range with a femme tone? I don’t know, and more than that – I can’t find out, without... performance, audience, reaction, conversation. People find it disturbing. I know that from too many stories of the difficulty trans friends get into when they open their mouths and the tone that comes out is unexpected.

I know what it feels to sing as my butch-femme self. It feels right.

And I tell you something else, which you will have heard said before if you are a reader of feminism on the internet. I am tired of watching my tone.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Fach the Tyranny, or The Importance of Being Dramatic

Hey, you! Yes, you! Do you like music? Do you like feminism? Do you like fun? Do you have a spare fiver? If you do, please donate to Better Strangers on our Crowdfunder page!

A lot of people ask me how I came to be an opera singer. The answer is long and complicated, but can be condensed down to this: I’ve been doing it since I was little; I’m good at it; and it Just Made Sense.

WonderKid!Clouds was pretty full of herself. I was told, back then, that I was something special - that I had an exceptional voice which would bring me great success. I still get told that I have a lovely voice. The one thing that they don’t tell you when you’re an idealistic little kid is that having a lovely voice doesn’t actually get you all that far.

It will surprise precisely no-one when I say that all voices are different. In classical singing, we refer to different voice types as fãcher (singular form fach). As well as Soprano/Mezzo/Alto/Countertenor/Tenor/Baritone/Bass, there are further classifications within each pitch group: soubrette, lyric, coloratura, dramatic. A very, very basic analysis goes as follows: Soubrettes have small, light voices and do best in early music through to Mozart; light lyrics can extend through Beethoven into some Romantic repertoire; full lyrics and coloratura can sing the really famous stuff; and dramatics sing Verdi and Wagner. Essentially, the difference between soubrette/light lyric and dramatic is the difference between a choirboy and the woman in the horned helmet.

I am a soubrette soprano, which periodically gives me a bit of an identity crisis. See, lyric or coloratura is where the money’s at. Mozart still gets performed reasonably often, but early music is a bit of a niche market. Which is a shame, because I think it’s glorious, but that’s another debate for another post. Much as I love early music, I also love some of the later romantic repertoire and would dearly love to sing that on a stage for money. No dice.

I hesitate, here, to say that my voice is “different”. All voices are different. Jessie has a very different voice to mine, but the thing we have in common is that neither of our voice types is particularly easy to market. In my case, there is one practical reason why I won’t get hired to sing Puccini anytime soon: my voice isn’t very loud. It will grow, I’m told, with practice and confidence, but as it stands my voice would never carry over an orchestra in a large venue.

(The obvious answer might seem to be to use a microphone. However, aside from the fact that it’s Not Done, most conventional microphones cannot broadcast the dizzying heights of a soprano voice. Believe me, I was in a rock band.)

So I’m not going to be Mimi any time soon. That’s a shame. Can I start practising now, so I can be prepared for when I am ready?

The response, at this point, is divided. If I ask my singing teacher, I am rewarded with a frown and a sharp intake of breath. Oh, no no no. Too big. You’ll hurt yourself. If I ask my vocal coach, however, I am rewarded with an encouraging smile and the promise that I’ll get there really soon - all it will take is plenty of practice and an increase in confidence. Mixed messages, much? There’s clearly no universal law that states that She Who Is Soubrette Will Break Her Voice With Lyric Arias, so whom do I believe?

Practical considerations aside, there is one thing that confuses me about a soubrette attempting bigger repertoire. In these days of orchestral reductions and, yes, microphones (where the venues can afford super expensive ones), I sometimes fail to see why I should be quite so firmly discouraged from trying it out. Sure, I’d be a silly choice for a big opera house production with a full symphony orchestra, but for a little fringe production with a piano or string quartet?

There seems to be this idea that singing certain repertoire with anything less than the ideal voice is bad and wrong and will sound horrible. The quality of my voice, however - the thing that reportedly makes it so pleasant to listen to - doesn’t change, whatever I choose to sing with it. What’s wrong with taking a few risks once in a while?

I’m excited about Ah! Forget My Fate because I get to do just that. I’ll be branching into repertoire I’m usually advised against singing. I’m not going to break my voice on it, because I’ve been doing this long enough to know what is and is not safe for me. I’m just going to sing it, the way I know how, and see where it takes me. If it really does sound awful and wrong, I’ll have learned something about the way these things were written. If it sounds all right, then maybe I can come back onto this blog next month and start really challenging these ideas about what opera “should” sound like. Because, really, why not?