Monday, December 5, 2011

I am singing in the cold.

My voice miraculously healed after four months of weirdness just in time for the all-Lutheran Messiah performances this weekend. It performed excellently for three of the four concerts, and I feel human again.

Because, you know, my humanity is tied to being able to hit an F above high C and sustain a note for longer than one beat without croaking like a frog.

Actually, though, I have to give my voice a qualified opinion for a clean bill of health. It seems to be able to once again hit, more or less reliably, any note in my usual range except a D above high C. High D still is either croaky and awful or completely non-existent at the moment.

I hate that stupid note. It's always been the tricksiest one for me to hit, for some reason, yet it's probably the most common "soprano note" around. Yet for some reason, all the composers (mostly men, and so hitting any note in the treble clef was more of an academic exercise for them anyway) got together and decided that this would be THE note to make a song sound high.

"Yes yes," they said, rubbing their frozen fingers together (I always imagine composers as wearing fingerless gloves and shivering in unheated workshops). "We shall distinguish the soprano and alto parts by having sopranos sing a high D. Want to make your hymn sound high and impossible to sing by the average congregant? Toss in a high D or two!" Then they cackled wildly in rumbly bass voices.

(Don't believe me? What is that high note in "Happy Birthday" that nobody ever hits? A high D. The notes for the first "Rejoice!" in "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" that everyone strains to reach? High Ds. The reason most people don't sound good singing "It Came upon the Midnight Clear?" A plethora of high Ds. Seriously. Look up some song or hymn with a note or two that you never thinks sounds good, and I will bet you money (not really)  it's a high D.)

You rarely see notes higher than the D above high C in hymns or other songs, especially melodies intended to be sung by both sexes. It's the upper limit of most women's ranges and altos will whine incessantly if asked to hit one. Thus, a lot of melodies (aka soprano parts) feature this note when they want to sound high and pretty and feminine.

And I hate it. On a good day.

Handel, however, shares my disdain for the D above high C. Good ol' G.F. Handel, alone in his garret, not having been invited to the frozen composer party, said, "Fuck the high D. Are you men or are you sopranos? You will float along effortlessly on a sea of Es and Fs and Gs. You will hit that A up there on the line above the staff and by God you will like it or you will be cast into the depths with the altos, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth and actual work involved in, like, reading music and stuff. You will sing real high notes and your voices shall reverberate from the rafters and the audience will weep with joy and envy and the alto-voiced among you who are pretending they are sopranos because they can't read music will hang their heads in shame and recognize you as the true masters of the singing art. This is my gift to you, sopranos, O my dearly beloved."*

It's not strictly true that there are no high Ds to hit in those choruses, but it's much easier to hit said note when you come at it from above than when it's the highest note in an otherwise lower-range song. And if you creak on the D, well, you will probably have a crystalline F or a piercing A-above-the-staff in the next phrase anyway and no one will even notice.

I love you, Handel. BFF 4EVR.

*All views expressed in this paragraph are exclusively those of Georg Friedrich Handel and not necessarily those of the author.

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