Public practicing & pet peeves

Public practicing & pet peeves

Jenna Simeonov

Singers, I love you all. You’re brave folks, putting in literally endless hours of practice, taking all the criticism with a smile, getting up in front of bored-faced crowds to bare your souls. I always admire you guys, and never envy your jobs. But, we should talk about one thing that many of you do, because it a) adds to the unfair stereotype that singers are unaware of much more than their own voices, and b) is exasperatingly charming at best and objectively annoying at worst.

Singers, let’s chat about singing in undesignated areas.

Firstly, I’ll make a clear distinction between singing and practicing. What I’m talking about is basically practicing in public. I don’t know what it is about hearing someone go “aaaaAAHHH…aaaaAAAAAAaaaahhhh…AAAAAaaaaaaahhhhhh…” over and over that sparks an irritable part of my brain. Simply put, most people don’t want to listen to any one else practice. It’s not that I don’t think you sound great; it’s that I think you sound loud (probably because you’re getting pretty great at forward placement and air efficiency).

Elevators, restrooms, hallways, any place with half-decent acoustics; these are unjust traps laid for singers who love to sing. I’ve been told by many singers that it feels very nice to phonate, especially when it’s with that relaxed, easy sound that’s so desirable. So I understand the perks of practicing onsets and singing a comfortable pitch over and over in an acoustically rewarding environment. I understand it, yet…

See, these elevators, restrooms and hallways are often part of a larger building, meant for musical happenings, like a school or an opera company’s rehearsal spaces. These kinds of buildings have rooms meant specifically for making noise, and when someone leaves that room, seemingly to continue making noise, it can seem like an offensive move. These singers are breaking the rules of sound-proof doors.

Singers, I know that sometimes you have to warm up on the sidewalk outside of some church for some audition you flew into town for. I know lots of you take advantage of the screeching brakes of public transportation, using those couple deafening seconds to eke out a quick vocal warm-up. Some of you hide out in the open, walking along the busiest streets towards your gig/lesson/audition so that your warm ups can either be drowned out by car horns, or you can pass for a crazy person. Others swear by singing into their winter coats and scarves when it’s too cold to do lip trills outside. Resourceful bunch, you singers.

And yep, I’m a sensitive soul when it comes to noises. Thumping bass from a car makes my inner ears tickle and my eyes roll. There’s a restaurant behind my place that uses a really squeaky wheelbarrow to take their trash to the dumpster a few times a day. And yep, I’m a vocal coach who listens hard to singers daily, and a human voice is never background noise for me. All of these problems are mine, I know that.

I remember in university, the pianists and cellists rolling their eyes at the warbling soprano washing her hands in the bathroom, saying something like, “Just because she can take her instrument everywhere doesn’t mean she should take her instrument everywhere.” Catty, maybe. But singers, I ask you to picture yourselves as violinists, say, painfully practicing intonation in the hallway as you leave your practice studio for a pee break; ask yourselves: would that sound put you in a better mood?

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