by Mark Dow

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“Don’t sing so carefully,” she said. 
Renée Fleming said. Instead 
of worrying about the pitch 
make one direct line out. She said 
someone said the Handel’s “the most 

                    A     R     I     A

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and told the mezzo to measure breath 
and phrase length together. Forty-nine 
hours before the open master class I’d
gone with my mother to Carnegie Hall 
(practice) to hear The Creation (Haydn), 
based in part on a translation into English 
of a German translation from the English 
of Milton. In the 1798 program 
Haydn asked that for continuity’s 
sake there be no applause between 
movements, but there was. Tonight’s 
notes quote Richard Kramer on 
“the sound that was not yet music... 
before language and reason recognize 
one another.” Raw materials without 
organizing principle were there. It all 
belongs here. That same night 
I gave my mom, who taught me how
to talk and feel, a book I’d just read 
on the origins of language because
she’d recently wondered 		

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                   A     B     O     U     T

						         that and 
I wanted us to have read the same thing. “I just 
want to hear the connection to the breath a
little more,” Fleming said. She used to think 
“it won’t really be impressive unless it’s impossible 
to sing,” but not anymore, not exactly. “Frankly, 
if you miss a few notes it’s going to be
more interesting to us than if it’s perfect.”

Open up the sound, she told a soprano a little later. 
Imagine the tone on a cushion of air as if you 
have no neck, she said. She said, in warm-up make
“any sound to get things loose.” The ee sound is EZ 
and “focuses your voice.” ah is harder. Bridge them: 
sing ee in the ah position, ah in the ee, 

                                                                             A   N   D

                                                                            S   O

                                                                            O   N
The HOT DOG I’d WOLF’d DOWN before the class began 
began repeating on me here. “In the crescendo 
                                                                                        up the                 			


She told a tenor his Strauss was “disembodied.” 
In the old days they resisted the notion your voice 
comes from your body but we see things differently. 
In Capriccio: A Conversation Piece for Music 
suitors argue whether words or music supersede. 
One sets the other's sonnet to a tune, the second 
complains the first fractures the sense of it, and
the Countess whom they’re fighting for listens. 
“Do not underestimate the charm we find in you 
while you’re conversing without the restrictions of
metric form,“ she says or sings. “All is confusion; 
words are singing, singing speaks.” Strauss used
a sonnet by Pierre de Ronsard, de-translated here:

	Not a soul could come between us,
		No way, baby, only you
		Could tear me up the way you do,
	And I mean no one. Even Venus.
	Your eyes, and yes, it’s so cliché,
		One wink’ll make me come undone,
		The twinkle restore me. It’s that sudden 
	And up to you. I have no say.
		(The final sestet gets too dense
		With images that make no sense.)

Men tend to rely too heavily on pressure, Fleming told him. 
Don’t be overly “fascinated with the pronunciation of the words,” 
as she herself once was. Too “art-songy,” she said. “Just say it.” 

“Some aspects of my singing took ten years to fully gasp —
grasp,“ she said, replacing the dropped consonant without 
comment. “I wrestle with my voice every single day.... 
When you’re really doing well you don’t even 
think you’re singing anymore.”

“Don’t sing so carefully,” she said, 
				                                her trimeter natural as air.

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Author’s Note:  Mark Dow is the author of Plain Talk Rising (poems), American Gulag: Inside U.S. Immigration Prisons, and the Mudlark Chap Feedback and Other Conversation Poems (2015).

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