Sunday, March 15, 2009

On being in the middle

I often joke, a la Jasper Carrott, that I'm of average height, medium build, average intelligence, middle aged, living in the midlands of England, etc. You get the idea. There's one thing I've not previously included in that descriptor, purely because I'd never thought of it before.

I am also a mezzosoprano.

For those not up on musical terms, this means that I have a mid-range singing voice. I can't hit the top register of a coloratura, despite the best efforts of my college voice coach (who was herself a talented coloratura). While, in fact, I am able to reach the lower register of a contralto, I don't have the rich warmth that goes with a true alto.

So, rather like the Grand ol' duke of York I alluded to recently, I'm neither up nor down. But being a mezzo is not purely a matter of elimination. The first time he heard me sing, David Matheson, who directed me in Fiddler on the Roof (in which I played Hodel), declared me a 'true mezzo'. Being a mezzo also entails a certain timbre.

It's a long time since I sang in any major capacity. But when I did, I had two choices. I could rue the fact that most romantic leads were written for '1st soprano' voices. Or I could relish the roles that were available to me. I chose to do the latter. The mezzo often gets the character part.

I mean, let's look at it this way. When you're auditioning for Oklahoma, a mezzo stands little chance of being cast as Laurie. But who cares, when there's an Addo Annie to be had? Who wouldn't rather sing 'I cain't say no' than 'Out of my dreams'? And when there's a production of Grease in the offing, let's face it, wouldn't you rather be feisty Rizzo than goody two shoes Sandy? Any day of the week! Rizzo gets to sing 'There are worse things I could do'. End of discussion!

And the mezzo has her occasional leads, too. Carmen is no role for a coloratura. And Maria in (ack, gack, ptui) The Sound of Music is pitched well for a mezzo.

As I mentioned in a recent Facebook exchange with Dave Lee and Cammy Bean, I once had to sing 'My Favourite Things' from The Sound of Music for a singing exam, and I Liza Minelli-ed up to the hilt. Why not? It's not as if I was trying to play the role in the full length musical. There's a lot you can do as a mezzo, that you daren't try as a coloratura.

In much the same way, I realise that I'm never going to play the lead in this 2.0 collaboration on the subject of learning and development. I acknowledge that I simply don't have the range of a Downes or a Siemens. But there are some fine supporting roles to be had.

And I'm up for it. How 'bout you?

There are worse things you could do.

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