a collection of true stories.
The interesting thing about Nigel practicing his song, was that he always practiced it outside my bedroom window, and he always waited until I went to bed. No matter when I went to bed.
The house on Buffalo Street was really a little converted carriage house, and one bedroom wall was entirely a window. There was a beautiful old oak just outside the window, and Nigel would sing from there.
At first I thought little about his singing, except that I enjoyed it, he had such a sweet tone. Then I began to observe that he came night after night, and always began just after I had turned out my bedroom light. This led me to believe that he was not just singing, he was singing to me.
Because of this, I began to listen more carefully.
The first thing I noticed was that his song - even for a concert pianist - was very difficult. His aria contained many trills, mordants and also a huge leap to an extremely high note which was perhaps the equivelant of a high D above the staff for a human soprano. A taxing program! After a week or so, I began to realize that he was practicing. And lying there night after night, about to drift off to sleep, with no other sound in the universe but Nigel's lone aria - I began to give him instruction inwardly. I had been, after all, a piano teacher for over twenty years.
More accurately, I began evaluating his singing, and telling myself what might help him. His sound for instance - a sweet tone, but a bit fuzzy around the edges. The trills and mordants were good, but still a bit sloppy, his articulation could stand some improvement etc. Interestingly enough, it seemed that my private, unspoken criticisms seemed to guide his practice.
If I inwardly commented on his sound, his sound immediately improved. If I thought his articulation a bit off, he began to work on articulation. And so on. Most fascinating to me, he began to practice his song in sections, a phrase or less at a time. Which is how all musicians practice. Some nights he left all the trills out, other nights he practiced them separately. Other nights he would try the song with the trills, and if he made a mistake, he would go back to the beginning and try again. At the end of some weeks his sound was rich and centered, articulation and trills and mordants, his rhythm and phrasing were excellent - and I inwardly told him so. However, the leap, the big leap to the high note was still imperfect. He was still often cracking or missing the high note altogether, even though he practiced it religiously.
On the whole, I was struck not only by his musicianship, his talent - but also by his perseverance and well, respect for his song. He obviously was striving for perfection, but in addition he always sang his song full out, as though giving a concert before God or in Carnegie Hall, which is how I practice. I never just "run through the music" as many musicians do. And neither did he, although as a vocalist he did sometimes practice sections at a lower volume in order to save his voice. Which I respected. He sang for me as though I were his Teacher, and with every ounce of awareness and strength he had. I thanked him for that, and hold great admiration for him, even to this day so many years later.
Then Nigel stopped coming. Perhaps for weeks. I missed him and his sweet song and devotion, and wondered what had become of him. Then one night, just after turning out the lights - there he was. He sang - so sweetly - his tone even better than before, his pitches perfect, the trills and mordants impeccable, phrasing, everything had improved. I awaited the big leap with anticipation - it was perfect. A perfect attack, on pitch, a beautiful round full sound - it was Maria Callas at her best. Inwardly I applauded him, and thanked him for singing his aria for me. He sang it just that one time that night, and I never heard him sing again.
I have thought about him often. Perhaps in those weeks away he had gone off to practice on his own. Or perhaps he had decided that it was time to study with someone else. He might have returned that last night to show me what he had accomplished in his absence, or to express his gratitude. These things I will never know.