No Roots

Love The Plateau

I remain a relative newbie at choral singing. I could do this for another 10 years and I'd still be a novice compared to most of the people in the choir who have been doing this their whole lives.

Still, having been at this for about 2 years now, my awareness and understanding is starting to grow. When I started I was just trying to keep up and do my best to respond to the conductor. But now I can participate and yet hear a lot more of what's going on around me.

After I joined the choir, I spent a lot of time getting my music theory up to speed. To me it's mostly math and I was very quickly doing grade six theory. The composition part also came quite naturally. I'm yet able to capture all the music playing in my head but getting a few rudimentary pieces down for the sake of music theory was possible. I also spent a fair amount of time on ear training. I still am not able to tell what inversion a chord is in but I can pick out any major or minor interval and can do basic music dictation.

So bottom line is, I'm not about to write a symphony but I have my basics.

Yet, I'm far from being able to sight sing – ie sing what I read – unless it is ridiculously simple. If I read something I know, even if it is a tune I haven't seen before in print, I can usually recognise it. But give me something new that's atonal and forget it.

I've also realised that my timing is pretty good – better than a lot of people. My vocal projection and confidence in pitch, however, remains weak.

Unfortunately, because I began this singing business with such a weak foundation, I developed some bad habits. I started by imitating others and learned to quickly adjust my singing to what I heard around me. But now, I continue to make these adjustments, automatically, even when it is to imitate errors. As I mentioned, my sense of timing is pretty good but if someone comes in too early or late, I question myself and usually adjust accordingly. I'm not really sure how to now find confidence in my own ability.

I suspect there are not that many people in the choir who sing with that kind of confidence. There are only a few "leaders" and the rest of us adjust. This is evident on nights when our numbers are light and we don't have the critical mass of such singers. During those rehearsals, it's a lot harder for the conductor to get a committed response from us.

So what does it take? Is it possible? Can one transcend such mediocrity?

There's really no way around it. Learning any new skill involves relatively brief spurts of progress, each of which is followed by a slight decline to a plateau somewhat higher in most cases than that which preceded it. In an actual learning experience, progress is irregular; the upward spurts vary; the plateaus have their own dips and rises along the way. But the general progression is almost always the same. To take the master's journey, you have to practice diligently, striving to hone your skills, to attain new levels of competence. But while doing so-and this is the inexorable fact of the journey-you also have to be willing to spend most of your time on a plateau, to keep practicing even when you seem to be getting nowhere. . . .

George Leonard, "Journey to Mastery"

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