The process of learning fascinates me. The progression from concept -> study -> comprehension -> understanding -> practical application -> sharing/teaching is a rewarding part of life.
In "Oliver!", I have a solo part "Boy for Sale" where I have the stage to myself. I am hawking Oliver on the street. It is a very difficult song for me. The music is written to say that the vocalist sets the tempo on the first two words on the song. The orchestra than plays at that tempo. The suggested tempo is 57 beats per minute (roughly 1 beat a second) and I just wasn't getting it. I thought "easy peasy" this song is so slow but that is not the case. Slow songs are the most difficult to perform because it becomes more difficult to convey emotion and the other pieces of the "it" quality in music.
Frankly, rehearsal was frustrating. Suzi was always commenting that I needed to get the timing. I sounded like a dirge. It is supposed to be sad but not a dirge. The frustration was knowing it was me and not being able to understand how to perform it correctly. Hearing the orchestra play, I desired so strongly to perform well because it would sell the idea that we were selling Oliver into slavery convincingly. It is a dark, sad piece and I could deliver if I just knew how. I was nearly in tears at home some nights because I could almost see it but couldn't quite do it.
I finally reached understanding when a friend of mine suggested marching. He read the music and said it was written out as a cadence so think of the army. That became comprehension. I played my metronome at 57 bpm to ingrain that beat in my mind so I could pick it up without thinking about it. I can actually come pretty close without it now. I have to stop at some points on stage because I need to finish the song as I walk off. My friend suggested to just march in place (not too obviously) to help me keep the beat. He also suggested tapping my finger on my leg, but I had difficulty changing from leg to finger to leg.
I sat down on the piano and drilled the notes into my head. I just concentrated on playing the melody which helped me learn the key of C minor in which the piece is written. @Fraser - All that theory and writing things out paid off!
Finally, finally, comprehension grew into understanding. I marched everywhere singing. The odd looks I got in the stores (perhaps I overdid it). Opening night I spent 2 hours on the stage working out the timing. Performance came and, to me, it was meh. No comments from the director which means you got it right. You have to be outstanding to get a compliment so when you get one it is earned. Walter, the musical director, said I got it. I wasn't feeling it though. I knew it was better but, I also knew, I could do it better. Satisfaction would be knowing I did my best and the effort was not my best. I knew it.
I got up the next morning and randomly beat a rhythm. I tested with a stopwatch and every time, I could spot on keep a close to 60 bpm beat. That wasn't the problem. I then went outside and marched and did it the first time. I got all the timing right. I have that sheet music memorized and knew I was just where I needed to be on every measure. I even learned a trick to always hit the eighth notes. I did this a second time and was spot on. I then declared the rest of the day to be a no more "Oliver!" day. It is possible to over practice and lose the edge. I felt like I had it and wanted to keep it.
Last night's performance - The piece opens with the introduction, the music stops and this is the point where I can set the tempo and begin the piece. I established my march in place and opened. It was there. I was even able to interact with the cast (acting as passersby, the actor's Mom is one of the people I hawk him to) and audience, showing Oliver off, I treated the audience like buyers showing Oliver to them. I have about 90 seconds on stage which is a long, long time lol...
I had chicken skin (goose bumps), at the end. Timing perfect. I sold it. I felt it in my bones. I had that audience hooked. I was hated, the bad guy.
At intermission, Walter said "All that hard work paid off! You did it!". A few members in the orchestra complimented me. They knew what was going on. I was told that now it was learned, the bell couldn't be unrung. When real musicians offer compliments, I know that can be taken to the bank. High fives all around!
I am sorry this became so wordy. I really needed to get this out of my system. This has been a tense production. Suzi is in Civil Defense, disaster recovery efforts, and this. A mutual friend of ours mentioned she is burned out because all she deals with is hearing people's loss and trying to help which never seems quite enough. For a time, I was considering not working with KDEN anymore but now my resolve is strengthened. I understand she was pushing me so hard because she believed I could deliver. That feeling of accomplishment is better than anything in the world.