Ride Like Plácido Sings
I sing. Music is in my mind and heart almost every moment of my day. I’ve sung practically all my life, interrupted here and there by concentrating on this or that recreational venture or professional interest.
I’m a tenor, can read music fairly well, know all my key signatures, and listen to the baritones. I’ve trained myself over the years not to listen to sopranos; those of you who have done any amount of choral or ensemble singing may well know why.
In the past I’ve served as “staff” (paid) tenor at a couple of churches in Frederick and Hagerstown. Being a tenor is a joy. Not too many men are natural tenors – much less tenors who read music and don’t mind F sharps, G’s, and A-flats.
Classical is what I love – Masses by Haydn and Mozart, Requiems by Rutter and Fauré – serious, beautiful music for the ages.
Recently I have been listening to recordings of one of my favorite tenors, Plácido Domingo, in honor of his 70th birthday a few months ago. Whether you like his music or not is not my point. Recognized as one of the finest and most influential singing actors in the history of opera, he is also a conductor and a major force as an opera administrator, in his role as general director of two companies: Los Angeles Opera and Washington National Opera.
All that is fine and good – but what a singer he is. My goodness, the guy is good, and I would even say perfect without exaggerating much. The perfect singer, Plácido popularizes the perfect aria, the perfect Spanish zarzuela, the perfect oratorio, the perfect art song.
Plácido’s mastery is showcased through his vocal phrasing. Whether it be on a drumbeat, the off-beat, or an abrupt note change, his voice, as they say, “turns on a dime.”
Being a motorcyclist, as well as a singer, I say let’s ride our motorcycles like Plácido Domingo sings a song.
First, choose a road like Plácido chooses a song. Choose quality roads.
Plácido doesn’t sing just any song. Life for him goes well beyond Verdi and Puccini. Have you ever heard him sing from the Great American Songbook – songs written by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, and the Gershwin brothers? These have stood the test of time. He’s not Sinatra, but, like Frank, he knows how to sing, turning every phrase just the right way.
Have you ever heard Plácido sing with Sissel Kyrkjebø, the beautiful (in more ways than one) Norwegian pop singer? The two sing the “Ave Maria” to the tune of the intermezzo from Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZC82DYro1c
So develop your own “road book.” Read (better yet, study) maps, or light up your GPS. Choose roads of equivalent power and inspiration for you.
Just as Plácido Domingo performs a wide variety of music, most of it “swings”, in the same manner that Frank Sinatra’s music “swings.” Seek out the same on your motorcycle. Seek out roads with speed changes and concentrated curves, both sweeping and tight. Seek out roads with elevation change. They’re out there in our beautiful mid-Atlantic area; it is your duty to go out and find them!
Then set about learning these “invisible” roads like Plácido learns a song. Often the song would become his own. Who else sings “Nessun Dorma” followed by “Fire in Your Heart” so flawlessly?
Plácido owns a song by learning its musical score cold, and not just his tenor part. He knows it all, all choral and character parts and instrumentation. As such, learn to see a road cold. Ride it repeatedly, focusing deeply on its details. Figure out what makes a road distinctive. Know what’s beyond the next curve – and the next – before you get there. Soon you’ll be seeing roads like never before.
Once Plácido perfectly understands where an aria or song is going, he drives his voice down that musical road as if he owned it. That’s because he does own it. By first timing his breath, he can then control his voice precisely to match or play off the music as the song swings and swerves along.
Once we’ve seen a road to perfection, let’s ride our motorcycles down it like never before. After all, we know where we’re going too.
Learn to control your speed like Plácido controls his voice. The secret is in watching your tachometer, or simply listening to the engine, thus exerting control over that engine.
Control your engine by selecting the right gear to keep your motorcycle in the middle to top half of the powerband, consistently. (High RPMs are better than low RPMs.) Develop the habit of shifting gears often. You can then precisely control speed with the slight twists of your throttle wrist. (Throttle movement of a eighth of an inch is common.) Learn this skill.
Now, as Lord (Lady?) of Your Road, your motorcycle will sing, even dance, beautifully, from hill to valley and around every curve, like Plácido and Frank. Music and motorcycling are really the same thing. Soon you’ll be, as they say, “turning on a dime.”