Scene4 Magazine: Claudine Jones
Claudine Jones
Wasn't that you?
Scene4 Magazine-inView

October 2011

Our friend Bill was in town last week from Paris. I love Bill. He's big—like standing next to a horse—oversized and slightly intimidating, but warm & approachable. He wasn't my friend first; I met him long ago through my partner, who had known him through theater projects. It's just a funny technicality: that I think of him as R's friend & because of that I don't rate somehow. This is not something that Bill perpetuates—it's just my paranoid fantasy. Nonetheless, it's real enough to make me slightly uneasy when he's in town because of our History.  

I will explain.

I've always been musical, but in 1982, if there was anything of a musical offering in my immediate vicinity, I developed an especial and somewhat obsessive yearning to be part of it. The Bay Area was ripe with opportunity. I mean, if say, the local community college had an interesting group (it did), then why not join it?  If there were half a dozen small opera companies, why not see if I could sneak in? Hell, it was the Home of Lamplighters Musical Theater!

When I first embarked on a formal music education, I had plenty of performing chops. I could act, I could dance. Stage fright was never my issue.  No, no, no. Not at all. However, my stubbornly vague knowledge of keys & clefs was becoming an impediment. I learned by listening and I got cast; but deep into the opera chorus of some devilish Beethoven, in my naivete I once asked one of my sister sopranos plaintively why, if all else be presentable—pitch, clarity, tone & accuracy—should reading music be such an issue and she replied if a director had to chose between two singers of equal measure, the ability to read would be the deciding factor. I was shocked at this simple logic. And thrown into panic.  I had to think fast; I wasn't getting any younger.  I found that my neighbor around the corner was not only a Julliard-trained accompanist, but also a licensed hypnotherapist who could trance me out of my fear of sight-reading...why not let her put me under?  And then not six blocks from my house, a voice teacher offered coaching for a reasonable price. Why not hazard some lessons?

A year or two at this, and a moment came whilst singing away at my teacher's house, her husband the conductor walking down the hall remarked 'you have a very listenable sound—you should look into the conservatory!' and my teacher grunted; yet I took him at his word & followed up on the suggestion. Auditioned & parlayed my way into the institution, even being past the age of competition of any meaningful sort, transferred everything I could from my old days at UC Berkeley, signed up for my first classes, teacher & coach.  And then came up against it.  There was just one teensy problem.

I flunked the musicianship entrance tests.  

I was still froze up. My old teacher had been giving me Vaccai vocal exercises to learn and I had had to painfully work them out on the piano and then into a tape recorder and then listen to them over and over, and still feel wobbly at my frickin' lesson. I could & did put myself into a light trance in order to get over nausea before lessons. WTF?  Damn.   

Paying for bone-head, non-credit musicianship courses at the conservatory felt so...demeaning'Pas pour moi, mon cher!'  What to do next...I went through ear-training tapes in the car. I met with a very bizarre woman who outlined her RULES before our first meeting--'five minutes LATE and the door is LOCKED'--

Here's where Bill comes in.  

After R. convinced me Bill wouldn't bite, I signed on with him for weekly sessions. He took me in hand: analyzing Bach Chorales as the best possible tool for tuning the eye, the ear, the mind. A bunch of other horrifying stuff I don't remember.  Chord progressions. Plagal cadences. I just recall terror.  I recollect bursting into tears. And I think back & realize he was the kindest, most generous of guides. I had nothing whatsoever to fear.  Ultimately, I skated through my musicianship studies by a damn thin margin, making it all up as I went along, in the same way I finagled my acceptance by pretending I never got my rejection letter.  Force of Bill, if you like. Bill was my biggest cheerleader and even went on to compose a song cycle for me to present in my Senior recital as the 20th century portion of jury requirements.

So now, a couple of decades & a half later, why am I hating him?

[to be continued]

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©2011 Claudine Jones
©2011 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Like an orthopedic soprano, Actor/Singer/Dancer Claudine Jones has worked steadily in Bay Area joints for a number of decades. With her co-conspirator Jaz Bonhooley, she also has developed unique sound designs for local venues. She's also a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives


Scene4 Magazine - Arts and Media

October 2011

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