In a week-long rehearsal period, Wednesday is usually the last calm day before the wind-up to the Sunday performance. The concert still seems far off, and you feel you can still explore and experiment with no pressure to have a final result.
That was not true today. Nicoletta and Sam have done part of this concert before, so the repertoire divides neatly between things they’ve performed and things that they heard other people sing. The gulf between familiar pieces and the ones still to be absorbed looms large for them, and they are trying to get off book as fast as possible. Right now they are somewhere between 80 and 90 per cent memorized, which means that the new additions go rolling along until they smash into a wall. Sam was belting out his song about the subway ticket-puncher—“Pendant c’temps que je fais l’zouave, au fond d’la cave”—and suddenly his brain froze. I was hoping that his obvious frustration was just part of his character, but I could tell that Sam’s blood pressure was no longer 120 over 80. (Of course, I thought Sam was mad at me. He assured me that was not the case.)
Nicoletta doesn’t search for words as much as Sam. She’s at a bit of an advantage: we were able to do some work in June on the new material, and she’s farther along in her memorization. But she is having a little more difficulty finding the right vocal character—the right color—for some of her pieces. She has a larger range of possibilities than most singers—bright, dark, rich, floating, warm, etherial. It is one of her glories. But this versatility comes at a price: she’s unable to settle down until she finds the right mix. I try to support her as she wrestles the songs into submission.
I had a guilty feeling that one of her pieces I gave her, “Cimetière” by Poulenc, sat just a little low for her. In contrition, I offered to take it up a step, from Ab to Bb. And indeed it sounded easier in the new key. But I secretly didn’t like it in Bb. Yes, it was more opulent, but the character suddenly sounded too confident, too triumphant. The song’s passive modesty was gone. Having liberated Nicoletta by lifting the key, I gently asked her to try it again in the original Ab. And voilà, it was just right: sweet, settled, gentle. There’s no place like home.
We had a few visitors today, each of whom heard a song or two. It was wonderful have an audience, even just a single person to listen to our music. It reminded me of the pressure cooker our musical lives have become over the past fifteen months. Our songs have gotten as far as the rehearsal room and the zoom screen—but now we’ll get to experience the energy exchange of a roomful of listeners. We’d almost forgotten how different it feels to play for someone who is hungry to hear live music. Today was our first taste of that once-ordinary pleasure.