on singing while playing the cello (part 4)…

Jon Silpayamanant playing with Secondhand at the White Rabbit Cabaret in Indianapolis. 2012 October 26.  Photo by Carrie Meyer/Insomniac Studios

Last weekend (Friday, Oct. 26) I did a show opening for Frenchy and the Punk with my project, Secondhand.  I sang two tunes during our set: one in Romanian and one in Azerbaijani.  Really gorgeous tunes that I love to sing.  The next evening (Saturday) I played a Sci-Fi Convention, Utopia Con, with my Klingon Band and as usual sang many tunes in Klingon as well as one in Ewok; one in Greek; and one in English.  These are all relatively straightforward, even if you disregard the fact that I sang in six different languages.  In a couple of week I’ll be performing several new compositions by a local composer, Rachel Short, and in one of them I will also be singing while playing the cello.

That tune is fiendishly difficult to sing while playing.  The vocal line is straightforward enough, but being a modern composition that originally wasn’t designed to have the cellist singing the vocal line (we originally had a baritone singing the part for the first performance) but when things were just logistically easier to have me sing (which was the original intention of the composer) I’ve morphed into that role.  Unfortunately, the piece evolved a bit when we did have a vocalist and the cello line is involved with a number of 16th notes that don’t have a repetitive pattern in some spots, making the lining up of the vocals tricky.

Here’s an excerpt of my part after the revisions for the separate baritone part:

Excerpt from “Wormhold: Caesura” by Rachel Short

As you can see, while the rhythms are straightforward enough, the pitches only outline a melodic contour while not being repetitious.  This is not something classical trained cellists normally do (though see my previous installment about singing while playing the cello with examples from Maya Beiser and Sol Gabetta for other examples).  Playing an ostinato while singing is relatively straightforward, and pretty simple.  Playing a chordal pattern while singing is only slightly more difficult.  The above is a nightmare and takes some pretty meticulous and tedious slow practice!  Rachel’s piece is filled with such material though the outer slower sections presents a style I previous implied was one of the most difficult to do–namely singing sustained melodies while playing a different sustained melody on the cello.

On the whole, though, I really do enjoy doing things like this–despite the time it takes–anything that can broaden my musical horizons is always welcome and I suspect that I would begin to feel as if singing tunes in relatively straightforward songs is old hat (which, to tell the truth, it already is starting to feel like).  Even if it is the case that I sing in several dozen languages in various styles of music from all over the world (or “universe” as it may be)!



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