My mother was raised as the proverbial farmer's daughter in rural Ohio. Everyone in Bloomville (population of 800 when it was booming) recognized that mom had a gift for song. Luckily for her, she had a music teacher at her high school (graduating class of '17) who recognized her talent, got her a private teacher, and arranged for an audition at Heidleburg college. Mom got a scholarship there, and received excellent training, majoring in music education. She sang solos regularly with the concert choir, and, by all acounts, gave a terrific senior recital.
After college, mom got married, had my brother and I, and only occasionally sang. She directed our church choir, occasionally sang solos at our church, and had some gigs - most notably as soloist Christian Scientist Church of Toledo. What I didn't know was how good a singer mom was, after all she was mom. When I was 14, mom received the opportunity to sing the Messiah with the Toledo Orchestra. Although it was a BIG deal in our family (I still remember the blue satin gown she wore), and although I was very proud of mom, I didn't actually have a frame of reference for the level of artistry required. She was practicing at home all the time, so I assumed (unbelievably) that all you had to do was learn the right notes to sing the Messiah solos. I never considered the multiple nuances of singing, interpretation, etc. Since mom always was singing, I assumed all mothers did that.
As I progressed through my musical training from private lessons (piano, violin) to undergrad school, and even graduate school, I assumed people either sang, or didn't. While I could carry a tune, it never occurred to me that I could work on vocal technique and improve. The word practice, like musician, was reserved for instrumentalists.
It wasn't until I started studying voice in my fifties that I began to understand about mom's singing skills. Often, after some new vocal truth, I'd call mom up who would patiently respond to my revelations with comments like, "Yes, I've heard that vowels are pretty important." Then came the day when I was about 56 when my brother gave me a recording of mom practicing the Messiah. Recorded surreptitiously by dad about a week before the performance, the recording was a 42 year old audio time capsule. Now, with a frame of reference from my own studies, I knew the level of my mom's artistry. She had it all: support! diction! line! When I called mom up to talk to her about the Messiah performance, I had this conversation:
Me: What were you thinking about while you were singing, was it diction, support, intonation, or what?
Mom: I was thinking about the sacredness of the words I was singing. I wanted to get them right for God.
-David Tovey, Bass Heartland Vocal Artist