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Salut, demeure chaste et pure, or the battle of the High C

In August 2012, I began a long apprenticeship in classical singing. How can I put it, it was yesterday. That’s what you say when you persist and sign. We do not see time passing, we let ourselves be lulled by the passion for exploring, abandoning ourselves to take unknown paths.

In 2017, I was giving up, it seemed to me for good, choral singing. I felt withered in a dead-end of homogenization, and if I had to age alone with my voice, I might as well explore it as long and as high as possible.

With one rehearsal per week, say a little over forty sessions per year, progress has been slow, random. The technique was installed anyway, and the victory was won, especially in the understanding of the treble. Just two years ago, I could barely sing a B flat. Now, despite the humility that this imposes, I managed, at first, to shout out a high C, and then to be able to reach it without too many accidents.

If we don’t know what a high C is, it’s the kind of note that any opera lover would expect from a tenor, and some arias are famous for beating their heads, such as Salut, demeure chaste et pure, from the opera Faust composed by Gounod. Some tenors throw the note like a biblical trumpet before the walls of Jericho, others will manage to slide on it with all the honey whose power of their testosterone allows.

On my side, well, it’s going to stay between my teacher and me, don’t mind if I do.

Without wanting to make an impact, I can still say that singing is a lifebuoy. All those days when I arrived exhausted in front of my teacher to come out of the session refreshed and excited! Learning high-pitched sound is like catharsis. No fear to have, it passes or breaks and restores confidence in life!

Now, in my little head, I can hear the height of the challenge, the narrowness, and power of these sounds which, when they resonate in the cave of my skull, cause massive doses of serotonin (or dopamine, who knows?) to explode.

Singing Gounod may not be my favorite tea because opera, you know, is a little bit like Disney on Ice, but it remains an obligatory passage to explore the various worlds of music as if you were a Hobbit in search of a height.

Now, after seven years of lessons, I have decided to return to choral singing. I auditioned to join a good level choir, the Phoebus Vocal Ensemble. I was accepted. I’m getting there as a tenor. This summer, I sang with part of the group at the funeral of the mother of one of the choir members. The experience gave me the desire to reconnect with concerts and also vocal camaraderie. It was time, I guess, for the bear to come out of its den.

I certainly don’t give up the lessons for that, quite the opposite, as long as my teacher wants me. My mother gave me her voice, my father, his courage. To life, to death, I was born a cicada, well, I’ll sing in summer and winter!

Below, fifteen examples of the same piece. You end up feeling a little sick to hear the same note. The second video is the complete aria.

Comments

  • Marguerite

    Marguerite 2020/08/09 15:38 0

    Yes, Marguerite really is my name. And I LOVE this aria. I found your article fascinating, especially listening to the very different ways that different tenors sung the high C. They sound so different! I have two recordings of Jonas Kaufmann singing this aria, one on the DVD Met Opera's production and the other on a CD (L'Opera, I think). He sings the C what I can only describe as "full out" on the DVD but on the CD it's with a light floating high C. I would so very much like to know how a singer produces the note in such different ways.

  • admin

    admin 2020/08/09 22:02 0

    Thank you for your comment. Kaufmann's technique is exceptional, although I'm not sure I like this gentle interpretation.

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