Opera attempt leaves them wanting more ... beer

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So I’m at the School of Music singing “Dirty Old Town” to a lauded Canadian opera singer.

It’s 10:30 a.m. and a workday. The type, and quantity, of adult beverage that makes me sing have not been consumed.

No, Elizabeth Turnbull is part of the Opera on the Avalon faculty. She’s teaching me to sing a note.

A minute in, she suspects I’m a baritone, although she may have said, “I can’t bear his tone.”

She’s an acclaimed mezzo, making her an impressive singer, not a sister to “Here & Now’s” Azzo.

She shares wisdom:

• In singing, there are only vowels and breath. Pitches are sustained on vowels.

• Singing is like playing a stringed instrument; it’s energy applied to something that vibrates.

• Breath is applied to the vocal chords, which our ear adjusts to pitch.

There’s a lot of info coming my way. I duck.

Turnbull suggests keeping it simple.

Warm-up exercises begin.

I swallow my shyness and repeat her, “Ooo-ooo-oooOOO-ooo-ooo.”

“Make it ugly,” she pleads.

No prob. Attempt two.

“But can you make it uglier still?” she asks, explaining a paradox.

“When the singing voice goes in the right place, it sounds ugly to the singer. One of the things we say is ‘tin inside and gold outside.’”

I want gold, baby.

Turnbull explains opera is sung by getting the body’s core to generate breath for the vocal chords

She makes me sing “Ho” from the gut. I sound like Abe Simpson.

I’m apparently better at “Hea, hea, heaaaaaaa.”

“Highly successful, and not easy to do,” Turnbull tells me.

I’m chuffed. It appears I hit one.

But then we try a song, “Dirty Old Town.” Don Cherry singing, “How Great Thou Art” would sound better.

I’m self-conscious about my awfulness.

Turnbull reminds me the vocal chords should just vibrate, that everything comes from the core.

“Naturally speaking, everyone of us would love more of a six-pack,” she says.

The 45-minute lesson ends. I have a new respect for what’s required to sing opera. Turnbull says it takes years of hard work.

I ask for advice, like I had just auditioned for a really big show.

“You just need to work on strengthening your core,”she replies.

I leave knowing there are completely different types of six pack on our minds.

(This article orginally appeared in the June 15, 2011, Telegram.)

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