Tonight at choir practice my conductor visibly winced at several notes coming from the Alto section. ouch. When this happened the last time, a few years ago I went home determined to perfect the offending passages. I played it on my piano and could not hear where I had gone wrong, so I emailed the Maestro and told him, "I'm sorry I will not be able to change a thing for performance so I am not sure what I should do. I cannot hear where my errors are." He responded with, It is not you. When you see me looking at your section I am just looking at the section leader but it was not you personally who was off. Well, okay I was eager to believe that so I did.
As an alto I am used to being largely ignored by the conductor as we sing our part seldom needing correction. The conductor's face does not turn our way often, and when it does it is usually of neutral expression. There are the rare occasions where we elicit rapture on his face, during certain passages in the Brahms Requiem for example, but mostly he is content that we are there and that is the end of it.
Not so tonight. There we were trying our best to bring a legato velvet sound to the Mendelssohn when his face did not so much turn towards us, as jerk with a painful wince. Several times he stopped us and inquired as to our inability to take a whole step up. Why did we think 3/4 step was enough? Hmm, well. I am beginning to doubt the veracity of his words those years ago. I am most sure it was I who was off as the alto section was singing as one voice and I was singing when his face contorted. To make it worse I could not even hear that we were flat even after he pointed this out.
What to do? Well I could try a smile which may remove constriction in the throat and that in turn may help me to avoid singing flat because it will require less air to produce the sound. Less air means less cord resistance which should lessen the chance of a note going slightly flat. On the other hand I could look like a crazed fool smiling through "Er zaehlet unsere traenen" or worse, my director may think I am trying to charm my way out of having to sing the right notes.
I could quit singing in choirs. Gulp! That is too much like saying I could quit living, and yet, do I want to be the person in the choir that is always flat? Maybe, I will try wearing higher shoes next time.