Sue Hassel, a Creative Life

My Artistic Past and Future

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My Artistic Past and Future
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Sue Hassel

New York< //

Objective:  To evolve artistically in every medium that presents itself and to fulfill my personal destiny, wherever it leads.

Experience: A past career as a heroic soprano.  Performed in opera, concert and recital singing the biggest Wagner and Strauss. The lightest role I sang those years publicly was Norma.  I have now traded that repertoire (sung very early by a very young voice on raw energy and not much technique), for my new adult voice - that of a high dramatic soprano with coloratura, carrying over some of my previous repertoire singing with a higher narrower placement - all fortes based on a spinning support.  The comments about the early voice: "exciting, huge, tremendous actress, "reminds me of Callas" have been replaced by: "It's a very beautiful sound. And still very large."  Not a bad trade off.  I intend to work very hard to keep it beautiful.

I am now reviewing repertoire and building a new vocal identity. It has been a long journey. I sang non-stop as a child.  I was born on a farm, and the nearest musical exposure was the TV set (thank heaven for the Voice of Firestone), or choirs with the odd solo thrown my way on holidays. As a young girl I had a range that extended up to the B-flat ABOVE high C. That was cut short when I was stuck in the alto section of the school chorus because I could read music!!  After two years of singing in the choir in the wrong section, I lost the extreme top of my voice and blew a hole in the first octave of the voice because the cords no longer came together naturally. I can say this now because I have spent years correcting my voice.  Singing in school choruses is not always good.  Cheering at rock concerts is not good either. (See my blog. There is a link on the first page of this webisite).  Throughout college no teacher ever bothered with the top of my voice.  It was naturally placed to the high F above high C (bear in mind I never recovered the original extension to the high B flat above high C!). I have had so many teachers work the first octave of my voice incorrectly over the years. They were well intended, but if they had known my background, they would have worked the voice differently. Then by a stroke of luck I ran across one teacher - a tenor who was Juilliard trained (I got a scholarship to a Midwestern University for an intensive two week clinic). In two weeks that tenor corrected the first octave line-up, and I got part of my extension a back. Another huge problem is that I spoke incorrectly for years which further weakened the bottom range. To get the bottom notes I sang belt incorrectly. My frustration was compounded when I coached singers and in some cases taught voice technically to a few very gifted singers. They were my salvation as to how EVERY voice should line up.  I was able to help some very stunning voices bloom:  A coloratura with a range from middle C to C ABOVE high C (who had sung alto in a Catholic choir!).  A 63 year old alto!! in a choir, who sang her first solo in church after six months of work with me. She was a spinto soprano with a glorious instrument and an easy high D-flat! And her first solo in church after working with me was the Mozart Allelujah with a world-class high C.   A counter-tenor who had so many breaks in his voice, I simply invented his technique with my ears and physical calesthenics which I used to break the tension in his body, and a flutest who wanted to sing, but because he didn't want to lose his capacity to play flute, I made a deal with hiim: his range would not be even, but he would have at least two octaves that were free.  The last two men, after I had them sing for an operatic coach I trusted, were both hired: the counter-tenor for a lead in a Monteverdi opera; and the flutest was hired as the witch in Hansel and Gretel!  So my question to the majority of voice teachers:  If I can figure it out, why can't you?  You must listen accutely and think enough to try something new. I realize I sound resentful, but I cried a lot because my voice did not work consistently.  Nothing is more demoralizing to a singer than vocal weakness caused by teachers who are hide bound on ONE METHOD - theirs - whether it works or not!
There is not a day that I do not practice carefully to get my voice lined up meticulously. I am an adult singer who has taken control of her artistic process - I have a working range from high F above high C to middle C  - all in a carefully balanced head voice and mid-range mix. It is consistent, And I am thrilled that I finally figured my own voice out. Correcting my speaking voice was 50% of my solution.   


Above all, I must factor my past history and progress into every performance.  I must restrain my internal critic so that its judgment is balanced, so every artistic intent is not thwarted by self-doubt.  That is why I work meticulously with my Edirol MP3 recorder.  I dance so that my body is strong and flexible and can withstand the rigors of performing in opera, oratorio and recital.  I play piano so that I can perform the colors of the orchestra I have in my head that are running constantly - it is also invaluable since I do not have perfect pitch. I must always have enough time to physicially recharge my batteries, to simply think, pen a verse of poetry, or do a quick sketch. My voice has thirved on the balance of ALL of my talents in concert. I saw this beautiful rose on my return from a 2 hour ballet rehearsal in Queens. I thought one day I would likely do a water color.  Then I forgot about the picture.


Then for a show I needed to create some portable art.  I was talking with a friend on the telephone, and in 10 minutes I drew this rose with water color off the top of my head.  It is now selling on as a card. Of all my freebies at my shows this one has been the most popular.

Below is a pic of a rehearsal for my January 2014 show in Wisconsin. This pic was enough for my instructor to say "When are you going to do fouettes?"  To which I replied "I will think about it".  I have back and hip issues - and until I can torque myself forward without whipping myself off my feet backwards, I work at the barre on this only.



I thought two pics of the red harem costume was a good idea. It's the prettiest and most functional costume I have ever made. The solo was from Scherezade by Rimsky Korsakov. And I incorporated everything from Graham to Horton to ballet in the solo so the costume had to work in every conceivable position.


I have found as I improve in ballet, that this is likely where I will end up when my voice does finally go. Class alone gives me as much joy as singing well does. And performing en pointe in front of an audience is always thrilling and satisfying.  One of my classmates who is a member of a  NYC city based corps de ballet pulled me aside and said, "You could dance professionally on Broadway right  now if you want to".  The thought of surviving 8 shows a week puts me off from attempting this. And I have much more to learn in ballet class BEFORE I attempt my first serious audition. In time maybe. I performed two ballet solos in August in Wisconsin - Invitation to Dance - Berlioz/Von Weber in a romantic tutu; and then I thought well I am certainly the right age to attempt the Dying Swan solo Saint Seans.  I used Pavlova as my model. I made the costume (see below) - I had to get a pic of it - even if I am just boureeing on the sidewalk to the backyard in Wisconsin. I am pleased to say that I looked graceful. I did not stumble, and I made it to the floor without tipping over! - dying poetically. The audience really loved it and when I get comments like "The dancing was at another level... just fantastic"  I know I am improving.  And that pleases me.


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