BEEN THERE: Four Infamously Memorable Performances

Tomorrow evening, my college voice students sing their midterms. I keep reminding them that they are lucky they have a halfway point in terms of assessment; most music schools forgo midterms, choosing instead to put all their eggs in the final jury and thus enabling students to frantically cram-memorize 4-8 songs in a week’s time (p.s. I’m the QUEEN of cram-memorizing). Also, I’d like to find the name and address of the guy who institutionalized the term “jury” to mean voice final. I’d like to TP his house. As if we vocalists aren’t judged enough. The phrase “voice final” is sufficiently ominous, no point in adding erroneous, clinical courtroom drama to an academic performance.

Since I’m in a foul mood today, I thought I’d share some top performing moments in my musical history:

A Performance I Did Not Amor
In my master’s program, I sang an off-the-wall-coloratura piece “Amor” by Strauss. Memory was complicated. In my jury, I skipped a page and a half (the whole song’s only 5-6 pages), but I did exactly what I was supposed to do: let the neurons fire and continue on at all costs, giving no indication whatsoever that my autonomic system was experiencing a rapid power-down.  My un-defeatable accompanist found where I was in the music and jumped in, but there was a good 7-12 seconds where I was left in the Sarah Desert of Acapella-Land. Things (and by things, I mean my throat) were pretty arid for a second there. Out of the five judges (a.k.a. regular, real-life human voice teachers with feelings…because I’m on that side now), only one of them mentioned anything about the ordeal in my written assessments. My own voice teacher wrote: did you skip ahead or did she (my accompanist)? And that was it. Crisis averted. Except that I wallowed in self-loathing for a while that day.

If I Had A Memory
My college choir did “If I Had a Harp” by Dominick Argento. This link is actually my choir…BRAG…but said incident did not occur in this instance, sadly, so I have no proof that it actually happened other than this story:

There’s two soloists in this piece: a soprano and a tenor. Here’s how the solo sections are supposed to go down:

Soprano solo: If I had a harp, I’d play on that harp ’til the glorious day
Tenor solo: If I had a horn, I’d blow on that horn ’til the judgement day

Here’s how it actually went down once:
Tenor solo: if I had a horn, I’d blow on that horn ’til the gludgement day.


Che Flub-Up costume
Like a boss, I waited until the week after Thanksgiving break to learn the lyrics to the one Italian piece in 24 Italian Songs and Arias that requires proficiency in rapid-tongue-and-lip-delivery at unheard-of speeds: Che fiero costume (Legrenzi). Two and a half minutes of pure linguistic insanity. And I waited to learn all of that thirteen days before my jury. Apologies to my teachers. I was a freshman. I had no idea what I was doing.

Where I went to school, here’s how juries worked: we would pick one piece to perform and the panel would pick a second from your jury sheet, on which you would list all the pieces you had studied for the semester. It was always a cruel mind game to try to figure out which piece the panel would pick, and you were always wrong. My voice teacher assured me che fiero costume would not be chosen by the panel. Because I’m a firm believer in the properties of Murphy’s Law, I chose not to believe that and worked like mad to prepare the Italian. Good thing I did because they picked it. Surprise, surprise. I ended up nailing it and walking out of the room with no waking recollection as to what had happened in the last 140 seconds of my life (one of two out-of-body experiences I had while performing music) and promptly fought back the urge to vomit. Adrenaline.

Choir Language Cavort
There’s this stellar lass that I miss like mad. We studied together in school for a long while. She’s also a coloratura soprano, so it wasn’t uncommon for us to be assigned to understudy each other’s opera roles (like the Presentation of the Rose from Der Rosenkavalier). We sang together in choir, where we were encouraged to move around a lot and feel the singing so as not to get caught in an imaginary, rectangular box from which we were not allowed to move any bodily appendages and in which we could only deliver sound with the utmost of tension. So glad I had a choir who encouraged literal, out-of-the-box singing. So this lass and I got used to moving our hands in a circular fashion, mimicking the phrase shape of what we were singing and attempting to create a visual representation of air and energy and other new-age apparatuses.

Which is all fine and dandy until you’re in an actual formal concert in front of people and you catch yourself doing said hand motions and the director stares you down with a funny look on his face until you stop, which is what happened to Lass right before she promptly re-entered her invisible singing box.

There’s always this unspoken communication that occurs between choir singers. An eye flick here, a head-shake there; non-verbal statements of “yes, I know I sang that note incorrectly” or “your voice is sticking out like a sore thumb. Get that taken care of.” When this concert sign-language went down, I may have ever-so-lightly brushed her elbow with my own, as if to say “haha.” She responded with a slight lean in my direction, meaning “whoops, there’s people watching.” Humans are funny.

What’s your infamously-memorable performance story?

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