Short Features

Kate Ludwig Follows Her Bliss
Like chocolate cake, preparing for a senior voice recital is more complicated than one expects

Kate Ludwig '03 conducts a children's chorus.

The Dress

In a way, the senior recital is all about The Dress. "We all go around asking each other, 'What are you wearing?'" confesses Kate Ludwig, a senior voice major. Beneath the dress is The Girdle, which not only helps to keep the singer "intact" in a low-cut gown, but also makes her more aware of her breathing. If this sounds like yet another example of females suffering for beauty and convention, think again.

"It's fabulous," Ludwig gushes. "I always look forward to getting the dress. It's very expensive, and I always say I'll be able to wear it again—and I never do!"

Ludwig's attitude toward the dress—even the girdle—is typical of her attitude toward life. She embraces with enthusiasm the gifts as well as the burdens that have come her way. Developing diabetes at the age of 8, she now believes, helped her become the take-charge kind of person she is today. "Back then," she recalls, "you weren't supposed to change anything unless you called the doctor. I decided not to live like that. So now I change my insulin dose according to the kind of food I want or exercise I get."

At 14, Ludwig discovered she had perfect pitch. That night at the dinner table her family clinked and clanked on glasses and bowls while she named each pitch. The ability has been an asset and an annoyance ever since. Hearing anything out of tune always irks her, but her off-key grimaces remain useful to nervous instrumentalist friends who seek her face in the crowd when tuning up before a performance.

The Lesson

With her recital less than three weeks away, Ludwig begins her weekly voice lesson with Jenni Carbaugh Cook, an assistant professor of music who uses a "body map" approach to help singers release tension. "Slouch for me," says Cook. Not a real slouch, she explains, just a more natural posture.

Ludwig is singing a monologue from a Julia Child TV show set to music, a humorous piece selected for her recital because it suits her personality. "I'm funny and loud and obnoxious sometimes," she says. The monologue on baking a chocolate cake explains that "chocolate is much more complicated than any of us suspect." The same could be said of voice lessons.

Ludwig has reached a phrase that ends with the words "almost like a soufflé!" Focusing on the "é" at the end of soufflé, Cook says, "Do it again and ever so slightly think about your upper lip."

Ludwig sings, "Almost like a soufflé!" again and again. The high note at the end of the phrase hangs in the air, unresolved.

Cook stands behind Ludwig and places a finger on either side of Ludwig's upper lip. "Engage those muscles—like when your nose itches and you can't itch it. Your shoulders should be neutral, and breathe in to all the vowels."

Later, Cook asks Ludwig to bounce, "because you can't bounce without being free." It works almost too well. "When you relaxed, you looked like your face was shot up with Novocain," Cook says matter-of-factly. "I want to see in your face the passion that is this song." It seems understandably difficult to look passionate while uttering words in French and worrying about slouching but not slouching, moving muscles that can itch your nose while not itching, and the other minutiae of turning your voice, your whole body, into an instrument. But Ludwig knows she must work on the technique until it becomes automatic. Then she will be able to focus exclusively on communicating with her audience, even when many of them can't understand a word she is saying.

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