So, I’ve been resting on my laurels in one of my choirs, and I got busted for it. Not by anybody but me. Nobody said anything to me, but I felt the discomfort of not being prepared for a long rehearsal.

I’ve lovely excuses, I was in New Hampshire for one rehearsal, I missed the first rehearsal and the second half of the second rehearsal because of my retinal tear and subsequent surgery. But I don’t like the feeling I had, of not knowing my part. I love making music, but this was painful. I know that I rely heavily on the other people knowing their parts. I learn by being “in” the music, where I can hear all the other bits that are going on. It helps me to tune and learn and to make sense of the music.

I can try to plunk out my parts (on the piano that is being tuned as I type!), but for whatever reason, the line doesn’t make sense to my head (or rather to my body) until I can hear it and sing it with the rest of the folks, but they have to know their parts.

It’s not exactly fair, but I also don’t know how to change it. I can pound a line over and over again at home, and frankly, sing it just fine, but then I can get into rehearsal and that line that I could sing by heart no longer makes sense, because I haven’t placed it where it belongs in the harmony.

It would help me immensely if I could play the piano, but I cannot, not multiple lines, just my own. Occasionally, if I’m going really slowly, I can play the soprano line and sing my line against that, but I can’t play both those notes at the same time in the proper rhythm. Sigh.

So, I went to a rehearsal and didn’t do near as well as I thought I would.

At one point, the conductor was having the altos sing their line all by themselves and I completely lost the tonality of the piece, so I was singing sharps when I should be singing flats and vice versus. It was embarrassing! But it did point out to me again, that I learn my pitches based on what else is going on in the chord, so the line all by itself doesn’t make sense to me. It truly didn’t make sense to me.

Not that I have any intellectual grasp of what’s going on in the chord, mind you. I know the difference between a major and a minor chord, and I can, if I think carefully about it, sometimes tell you what note I’m singing in the chord (meaning the tonic, or the third or whatever), but it’s more a matter of feel for me.

I must drive “proper music people” crazy. I’ve learned some theory, a very long time ago, but it’s mostly instinctual by now. I’ve been singing in choirs for so long that it feels like I know just about all of the Western forms of music enough so that they familiar.

What was funny about that whole “losing the tonality” thing is that once the whole choir, with all the parts, started singing again, I was rock solid on the line. It had to do with trying to sing the line all by itself, out of context.

It would appear that context is everything for me, at least in singing!

Well, the piano tuner’s getting up into the high notes and I’m going to have to leave my perch to get away from the sound. I had wondered whether becoming a piano tuner was something that I could do, and clearly it’s not. The sound is driving me insane, and the whole point is to listen to the sound (along with the cool gadget that identifies when the string is vibrating at the proper pitch).

So, how do you learn things? Can you learn something by itself and then add it in with other things and have it make sense, or do you need to work from the outside in?