Sunday, June 21, 2009

How to choose your repertoir

Dear listeners,

It has come to my attention that many of my very good friends are learning music, but are a little hesitant in choosing what to include in their repertoir.

Let me stress that this is not a decision to be taken lightly. A repertoir for a musician is like a car for a bogan - a camera for a gunzel - a CPU for a geek - an iphone for a mactard - a widescreen LCD for a CEO - a designer handbag for a tween girl. It's a measure of yourself. Something by which your friends can set a value on you. He/She Who Dies With The Biggest And Best Repertoir Wins.

So, a few pointers.

1. Start with the best.
Gilbert & Sullivan. Do you hear me? Gilbert & Sullivan. They're the best. This fact is not in question except by snobs.

G&S has everything - arias, duets, trios, chorus numbers, and even counterpoint. High notes, low notes, entire songs sitting constantly middling-to-high and wide ranges in the space of one line. Largo, vivace and the best patter ever to roll off a pen onto any paper ruled with five parallel lines.

As you can guess, G&S isn't something to jump into at the deep end. Start with the Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado - Mabel's aria if you're a sop, A More Humane Mikado (Let the Punishment Fit the Crime) if you're a bass, and the Modern Major-General if you're a budding patter singer. And if you're not one of those pretentious types, take your line out of the chorus and learn to sing in harmony (because harmony is the essence of G&S - and, in fact, of music). Keep at it until you get it. You won't get it straight off.

Now, you still think comic opera is for kids? No? Amazing. And we haven't even started on any of the tough bits of Utopia Ltd.

2. You give up? Time to lower your standards.
Now there's several distinct ways to lower your standards. To find out which one perfectly suits your voice and talents, use this very simple 64-step procedure.

1. Sing a scale and record yourself doing it. Play it back. If you wince at more than four of the notes, go to step 3. If someone else winces and you don't, click on the big "X" button in the corner of your browser.

2. Play the scale and sing a third below the recording, and record the result. Play it back. If you wince at less than two of the chords, go to step 9.

3. It looks like you can't sing. You are leaning towards Broadway musicals. Find a recording of one of them (excluding The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady) and try to sing along.

4. Stop the recording and keep singing. Record yourself doing it. Play it back. Can you guess what's coming next?

5. If you wince at more than eight places in one minute's singing go to step 27.

6. This step has been left blank to conserve energy.

7. This step has been reserved for future use.

8. OK, it looks like you are a good enough singer to do Broadway. Get out of here and do it. And don't ask me to buy a ticket or send me a link to your Youtube channel. Now click that big X.

9. Right, so you can sing scales and find a third below. Now can you find a third above? Same idea. Record. Play back. Count winces. Under three, go to 16.

10. OK, so your harmonic abilities are limited. That's a potential problem, but there's a bigger one we haven't even looked at. Go to a fairly open room, about 50 square meters or so with a high ceiling. Find a friend who is close enough that you can embarrass yourself in front of them and they won't hate you. Give them a pen and paper, and send them to the opposite end of the room with instructions to write down everything you say.

11. Say very quickly: "How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?" and then "If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?"

12. If your friend could catch the sense of what you were trying to say, go to step 25.

13. Time to drop your standards again. Set up as before and say "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog". Success, go to 28.

14. Sorry, but it's French opera for you. Get hold of some and sing it. Record. Play back.

15. If you wince, go for Italian stuff. There's no help for it. The alternative to your silence is Italy's heart. Just remember to la-la all the vowels and the consonants will take care of themselves. Yes, consonants are those things you form with the tip of the tongue, the teeth and the lips. Don't worry, your musical career is beyond recovery and you won't need them. Click that big X before I realise you're reading this and write something REALLY insulting.

16. Congratulations, you can find a complete chord from just its middle note. You're doing better than I thought. If only you could learn to enunciate. Anyway, on with the procedure. It seems you can be a good choral singer. Get hold of Handel's Messiah and bash through a bit of it.

17. Find yourself a backup for your own voice type, and the three other voice types. Bash through the piece again. Record. Playback. Winceometer. Under 8 a minute, go to 32.

18. Don't fret, we all have to start somewhere. Take a seat at the piano. And he said to me "Can you play de pyano?" and I said yes, and here I am! If you aren't Bluebottle, go to 24.

19. Ehee! Play through your part on its own, not worrying too much about timing or inflexion but just concentrating on notes. Bash it out. Sing it. Bash and sing at the same time. Break out the ever faithful record-o-matic. And that winceometer. If you think you're doing better at the end of the session than the beginning, go to 25.

20. Just bash it out, 20 times in succession, without singing along. Then get up from the piano and do something unrelated for a bit - go outside and mow the lawn, weed the garden, jump on the trampoline, wash the car, prune the fruit trees, something like that. Don't consciously think about the music.

21. Go back inside and bash it through ONCE more (without singing). Your fingers will know it really well by now.

22. Sleep on it. When you get up the next morning, say JUST THE TITLE of the song aloud. If your brain falls to pieces, you're beyond help, click the X.

23. Go back to step 19 and have another shot at it. Don't worry, it'll all come naturally soon.

24. You sure you really can't play? I'm sure you can find a note and double click on it if you have to. Oh, you don't like being put on the spot? Fair enough. Scour the 'net for a MIDI or recording of the song. That takes the piano out of the equation and you may proceed as planned. Finmd nothing on the 'net? Click the X, you're just being inconvenient.

25. When you think you really know your line, call your friends back and have another shot. If it works, go step 32. Otherwise, rinse and repeat.

26. This step is intentionally blank because back up in step 5 I wanted to use the square and cube numbers for jumping to.

27. Well it seems that as a singer you make a great politician. Congratulations. Now what's the next step down from Broadway... probably rap. Or techno. I don't know anything about either (thank goodness) so go click the X. Yes, that's the blogger's equivalent of an author killing off any characters that got painted into a corner.

28. Well, it seems all is not lost. You can enunciate in speech, can you do it in song? The first step is to try it in rythm without worrying about the tune. Get yourself a recording of Sir Joseph's song ("When I was a lad"). Get that big open room and a long-suffering friend again. Get yourself a metronome and just read out the song, in time. Watch your consonants.

29. If you can't manage it, spend an afternoon with a two or three year old daughter, neice, friend's daughter, or acquaintance you ran into at the supermarket. Do nothing all day but make funny faces. See if you can make each one different from each other. If you sprain your jaw, click the X.

30. Go back and read through that song again. Think of each consonant as a funny face. Imagine that sweet laughing kid's face if it helps.

31. If you're doing all right, it's time to start adding the music. You don't have to be a wonderful singer to be able to do patter - as long as they can hear every word you say, they'll f0rgive a bit of tunelessness. When you feel confident, pick up the Nightmare Song from Iolanthe. You are now ready to move on to step 32.

32. You have made a significant achievement - you can manage some of the advanced building blocks of music without making anyone want to murder you. That's not to be sneezed at. Keep it up for a while, and after a year or two, have another shot at G&S. You may surprise yourself.

Steps 33 to 64 will be absent until further notice, due to a cessation of support from our major sponsor Acme Sound Recording Devices Pty Ltd.

3. Now that Stage 2 is over...
It's time to audition! Find a company that's doing some G&S. There will usually be one. Go for it. Good luck. Don't forget to tell all your friends to buy tickets!