With Urgent Joy
…is the tempo indication for Harris’ I am Loved, but not only that: Joy was the title for Sara Teasdale’s poem from where the song’s text was taken. It also interesting to note that Teasdale’s Joy was in a collection of poetry entitled Love Song.
If you are learning I am Loved for the first time, you won’t be surprised that I suggest you start by reading and then speaking the poetry. Select some words and lines that speak to you, and try to bring that emotion to your singing from beginning of your learning process. Teasdale’s poetry is beautifully written with evocative imagery, and seems perfect for a musical setting.
Ideas for Practicing
On the piano practice track there are many places where measures are not strictly in time, due to tempo changes indicated by the composer. You’ll need to carefully study and mark these places in your score.
Listen carefully and audiate (mouth the words without singing) and rehearse these spots in order to practice staying exactly with the track. Getting off from the track in practice (and in auditions) can throw off your breathing and can keep you from doing your best on the big day.
It is important to note that in the majority of instances, a fermata on the practice track is indicated by doubling the length of the note. Then, a breath is given in the tempo you are singing next, so you must listen for the length of the silence to time your breath and your entrance.
It is also standard practice to have the piano jump to the vocal line when they don’t have anything to play and the choir is singing a capella. In these instances, since the piano is playing your notes exactly, you have no freedom to depart from the track and must listen for your notes.
Breaths and Cutoffs
Decide what kind of consonant you need to say, if it is voiced or unvoiced. For example, a ‘t’ doesn’t have voice or pitch. A ‘d’, by contrast, requires a pitched shadow vowel. I recommend re-writing these instances as “DUH” so that you remember what kind of consonant to say. For instance, the ‘s’ of trees should be placed as a voiced [z] sound on beat one of measure 18 with a quick catch breath.
If a word ends in a consonant and is followed by a rest then the ending consonant should be placed on that rest. There are many instances where you can cross out a note that is tied over a bar line and replace it with a rest. Give yourself an entire rest to put on your consonant and breathe. The same can be said for longer notes, such as a half note. If you’re breathing after it and there is no rest, shorten the half note and write in a rest. For example, fill in the note head so it is solid and the note looks like a quarter note, then write in a quarter rest over the next beat.
When your eyes see a rest on the page, your brain will allow you to take more time to breathe and put on an accurate, crisp consonant.
The relaxed and expressive section in measure 56 requires breathing more often. I suggest reading through the text and marking where it makes sense grammatically to breathe (even without a comma). For example, at first it makes sense to breathe at the commas, but the 3rd phrase may require a breath after “grass”. The best thing you can do is to plan out all of your breaths and practice them consistently so that your body knows what to do with your mind is full of nerves in your audition!
Since this piece is in 3/4 and the accompaniment flies by quite quickly, I think it is helpful to write in counts, as well as to count up measures of rest and mark these (including the introduction.) You may also want to plan out and write in early breaths at moments where you are resting for several measures. When you have an extended period of time to wait, you should take advantage of the opportunity to take a slow, low breath.
Pointing to each measure while you are not singing is also a valuable technique to keep from getting lost. Counting and pointing is especially helpful in the opening entrance which seems to come at an unexpected time.
Dynamics and Articulation
There are many opportunities to show off your dynamic range, and I find that Harris’ markings are very conducive to healthy vocal technique and emotional connection to the poetry. From tenutos that should be connected to your breath, to crescendos that encourage a free and joyful vibrato, I Am Loved is a chance to show the judges all of the different colors of your voice as well as YOUR interpretation of the music.
In general, begin a crescendo soft enough (maybe even slightly softer than marked, as long as your tone is beautiful,) so you can demonstrate an obvious contrast in your dynamics. Remember judges can see the music score and want to hear all dynamics as indicated by the composer first but then would like to hear you build on them.
Tenutos and accents should should be articulated but not overdone in this style so as to affect the legato line. I like thinking of the tenutos as word stresses (leaning on each but not disconnecting the line) and accents as a dramatic sigh with a more intense attack.
I am Loved is one best pieces this year to show your musicality and beauty of tone. Thankfully, Christopher Harris offers many ideas with dynamics, crescendos, and more! Dig in and make it your own.