I allowed myself an hour's travel time. Grabbed a lamb and mint pastry at a shop in Covent Garden before hopping on the tube. Took the Piccadilly Line to Piccadilly Circus, where I changed for the Bakerloo Line. Headed north on the Bakerloo to the Queens Park stop. When I emerged, I asked for directions to Montrose Avenue. After ascertaining that it was only a few blocks away, I ducked into a convenience store and bought a cranberry drink. In retrospect, I should have bought water, since the juice got the phlegm going. When I got to Montrose, I figured I'd have to walk all the way down to the other end of the street, since the building I was next to was 63. But a glance across the street taught me about England's peculiar way of street numbering. I was already across the street from my destination, 5 Montrose Avenue -- and I had 20 minutes to kill, so I went back to the main drag and entered a Starbucks to use the loo.
[Why the hell is he telling us this shit? We only care about the lessons and the verdict!]
Mr. Pollard opened the door. He is tall, I would guess about 6'4", thin, and white-haired. He asked me to sit in the hall while he finished his current lesson. Finally, I entered his studio and we got down to business.
He first asked me to sit so we could chat. He wanted to know more about me. How long have I been singing? What's my background? Do I play any instruments? How did I find out about him? How do I know Carole Bajac? Has anyone other than Carole suggested I have professional potential? I answered as honestly as I could.
Then he asked me to sing. I started with "Non pìù andrai", since it is my best aria. Then I sang Händel's "Impara, ingrata" from Atalanta. During the course of the lesson he also asked me to sing a song, something that was not an aria, so I sang the first Don Quichotte song.
He asked me how much I felt I knew about breath support and singing. I explained that I felt I had an intellectual understanding of what I'm supposed to be doing (especially since I'd been reading Richard Miller's The Structure of Singing), but that I couldn't translate that to practice. He proceeded to pan the Miller: "I don't agree with everything Miller says about breath support, which is ironic since I'm the person he always seems to refer students to out here." He noted that I breathe perfectly, but that I don't manage my breath well at all. "I'm going to be impertinent and say that, frankly, you don't sing with support." He also asked how much I think about singing in the mask, to which I answered, "Not at all." The fact that I was singing without support and not placing the tone in the mask was causing me to resonate lower than is natural for my cords. So he determined that for our four lessons we would work on support and placement.
He apologized in advance if anything he told me was obvious. He said he wanted to make no assumptions and didn't want to risk that the one thing he'd assume I knew was the one critical thing I didn't know. Then he plunged into an explanation of how the vocal mechanism works to produce sound. He explained concepts both using hard, physiological facts and by creating metaphors. Then he demonstrated what he wanted me to do, and I mimicked him. We did a few exercises designed to help my support. Every step of the way, he asked for confirmation of what I was feeling, to see if my sensations accorded with expectations. We later worked on exercises for placing the tone behind the nose, without allowing it to get nasal. When I didn't do something correctly, he would show me exactly what I did (and his tone would sound exactly like mine!) and then what I needed to do to correct. Working in this way, we got me producing a decent tone, one that didn't sound wooden, that had natural vibration, life and energy, that was resonating in the right place. Each lesson was very physically intensive.
I think it's quite amazing how much I improved in just a couple of lessons, just by working on the support and placement issues. During our third lesson, he asked if I could sing "O du mein holder Abendstern," since it was in my binder. I didn't have it memorized, but I know the aria. I just struggle with those long phrases, I pointed out. "Yeah, you and everybody else," he responded. But I found myself not struggling with the phrases. I still petered out at the ends of some of the longer phrases, but I had never had that kind of control in that aria as I did then. I actually enjoyed singing it, rather than worrying about it. It was a wonderful feeling!
Pollard pointed out repeatedly that I've been singing too low. When I don't place the voice high enough, the cords don't vibrate tautly enough. If the cords are too relaxed, I lose my natural vibrato and sound (as Cincinnati pointed out) wooden. Once Pollard got me placing the tone high enough, I could keep it there. He was impressed that I didn't allow the placement to suffer when I sang lower notes, and that the voice sounded warmer and more alive. He also pointed out that "there's nothing bassy about your voice" -- I'm definitely a high baritone, if not a tenor. He told me the story of one of his most renowned students, Gwyn Hughes Jones, who won the Kathleen Ferrier prize, one of the most prestigious contests in the U.K., as a baritone; but it soon became apparent that he was developing into a tenor and made the repertoire switch. After my first lesson with Pollard, apparently the student that followed me asked if there was any chance I was really a tenor. Pollard said he told him there was a 5% chance but that "now I think it's a 20% chance." I'd have to take back everything I've ever said about tenors!
Anyhow, the verdict: Pollard likes my instrument. He told me several times, "You just have to know that you have a good voice," and that good technique would allow the voice to shine. He likes my potential as a professional and would be happy to work with me. At the same time, he preached caution, taking a conservative approach to keep me grounded. He doesn't want me to rush into a decision I might possibly regret. He made it very clear that he thinks I have good potential but that his is just an opinion, and while he is confident in his abilities to judge the voice, his opinion could very well be wrong. And there are no guarantees, no promises, that I would succeed. Also, in his opinion, there are several teachers I could work with who could teach me what I need to know to become the best singer I can be. He said there are probably 10 to 15 teachers in the U.S. whom he would feel comfortable recommending me to, making a move to England unnecessary. He is concerned about my losing financial stability to come to England, about my ability to find decent work with the complications of a visa. He also told me I might want to consider staying an amateur, that quite a few amateurs are better singers than some of your run-of-the-mill professionals and are able to land occasional singing jobs while holding down full-time jobs. He wanted to know what my aspirations are. I told him that I just want to sing for a living. "I have no pretensions of being the next Bryn Terfel or Sam Ramey," I told him. "Good," he responded, "because that is equally unlikely." But I think it was clear that he thinks I have the potential to be a decent working professional singer and that he would be happy to work with me if I chose to move to England, but that the decision was entirely mine. "Some people, I would tell them to remain an amateur," he said with a sly smile, "but I am loathe to tell you that." He pointed out that some people sing much better than I do now, but it's clear that they have pretty much maxed out their potential, are singing as well as they can ever be expected to, but that I have a lot of untapped potential. "I would much rather work with someone like you than the 40-year-old baritone who is already quite accomplished and feels he must work with me because it's the thing to do. I consider you a challenge." But he asked me to take my time and consider everything fully before I make a decision: "You've waited until you're thirty; what's another three to six months?"
So that's where I'm at right now. I'm leaning strongly towards going, but I do want to consider all the options. I think he thinks I currently have more financial stability than I do, and I can't stay at this job much longer anyway, so that's not really an issue. I guess it comes down to whether I'll be able to find decent enough work, whether as a European or as an American with a work visa, to afford living in London and paying for lessons with Pollard (£60/lesson). It would suck being so far away from my closest friends, but there's e-mail and LJ (though that is no substitute for hanging out). And I would miss watching and playing football, I think, but that's a small sacrifice. Really, I can't think of too many negatives in going, beyond the work issues. It would be good being in a place where I know my sole task is to work on my voice, where I have none of the usual distractions, and where I am in such close proximity to Germany, France, and Italy and all that culture.
So I have to start thinking about a potential move. That means I have to get rid of a lot of shit. I would have to get rid of my truck. It doesn't have any real resale value, and I'm sure my dad could use it, so I would probably drive it back to San Diego and leave it with him. I'd have to find storage for those things I didn't want to part with but wouldn't take to England. And I have to start a job search. Ah, so much to do, so much to think about....