After playing the clarinet since fifth grade, I was ready for something new. When my sophomore year of high school rolled around, I decided to join the high school choir instead of continuing with band. My parents didn’t mind what school activity my brother and I did, as long as we did something we liked.
Since our high school chorus was a performance-based class, we students didn’t receive individual attention from the teacher beyond “oh you have a low voice, join the bass section,” or “you have a low voice, go with the altos.” (That was me.) So my mom signed me up for voice lessons.
Every week for two and a half years, I went to Mrs. Baldwin’s home for voice lessons. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Not only did I learned how to breathe properly, how to enunciate, and what my range was, but most of all, I learned how to sing in a foreign language.
My two favorite classes in high school were French and chorus. No surprise there for this proud music and language nerd. So I delighted in singing songs in Italian. Not only is it beautiful, but also Italian is one of the easiest languages to sing in, bar none. Ah eh ee oh oo. That’s it. So much easier than English when it comes to vowels.
Singing Italian art songs and arias as a teenager led me to choosing to take Italian language classes when I entered in college. As a French major, I was required to take another foreign language. Oh no. *sarcasm* Everyone else took Spanish, so I went for Italian to be different. I could’ve really gone for different and chosen Hebrew or Arabic, but I wanted to stick with a Romance language.
I took two years and a half years of Italian and loved it! While the similarities in vocabulary with French helped me with my learning (the verb manger means “to eat.” So does mangiare), I loved the language enough on its own. There is a reason that so many operas are written in that language. It’s musical and sounds gorgeous. The grammar at times was also different enough from French that I felt like I was learning something new, i.e. the placement of direct object pronouns and the more frequent use of present participles. I considered myself not fluent but conversational by the time I finished Italian 301. I got the gist of Italian pop songs and I could read basic Italian.
Then I forgot most of what I learned.
You know what they say, if you don’t use it, you lose it. That was my Italian knowledge. I didn’t find a use for what I’d learned. I haven’t been to Italy yet. One day. My French knowledge stayed, of course. After all, I teach it all the time, so it’s kind of hard to forget that!
Then I got an idea a few days ago.
One of my favorite singers, Eliza Rickman, wrote about a challenge given to her from her producer Jason Webley. He challenged her to write a song on an instrument that she had never played before. She came away with not one but two songs that day, written on the ukelele, which she hadn’t picked up before that day.
I thought to myself, That’s a cool idea, writing a song with something you’ve never tried before! Why not try writing a song in a language you’ve never written in before? I had been meaning to keep up with my Italian anyway. And I could still form basic sentences, enough to teach the basics to someone. Why not give it a try?
I am proud to say that today, I wrote my first song in Italian.
What was it like to practice a song in Italian?
Well, it goes without saying again that what a musical language Italian is! And SO easy to rhyme in! Unless it’s a foreign word like il bar, most words in Italian end in either -a, -e, -i, -o, or -u. So creating a rhyme scheme was easy peasy lemon squeezie (or however that last word is spelled!). I wrote a basic draft of some lyrics in a little under an hour, then music was put to it in about forty minutes. Not bad!
And of course, I will be sharing this song later, once I’ve practiced it a few more times! Who knows if it will make my next album. I really enjoyed the process nonetheless! I got to brush up on a language that I don’t speak everyday, and I have a beautiful song to play too!
Who knows? I might end up writing an album’s worth of songs in Italian in the future!
Speaking of songs and such…. My collection of Italian music isn’t as extensive as my French music collection, but I do have some favorites. When I began learning Italian, I sought out as much (modern) Italian music as I could, like what I did when I learned French. Italian music, however, was not as easy to come by as French music.
Elisa is hands-down my favorite Italian singer, not just because she’s actually one of the few Italian singers to write and sing most of her material in English. She has an amazing voice that can be soft and vulnerable but also powerful and emotional. I also got to meet her a few years ago ( ) but that’s a story for another time!
Here’s one of my favorite Italian songs of hers, called Luce (Tramonti a nord est) which means Light (Northeastern sunsets):
I also enjoy Laura Pausini, who is more known here in the U.S. for her Spanish albums. She records each of her albums in Spanish as well as in her native Italian. Given the large Hispanic population here in the U.S., her Spanish records are easier to find. I, however, prefer her in Italian. Her music is a bit more adult contemporary than much of what I listen to, but for clear diction and interesting lyrics, I like her music. And she has a killer voice!
This is probably my favorite, called La prospettiva di me or My perspective. I love the lyrics, which talk about getting away from a bad relationship and striking it out on your own, finding your own perspective on things:
And OK, because I couldn’t choose between two songs, here is my second favorite of Laura Pausini’s, a cover of a 70s song called Io canto, which means I sing, and is the title track of the album of the same name. What I like about Io canto the album is that its a covers album full of songs that I don’t already know. So I’m not making constant comparisons between her version and the original. What it has done is expose me to more Italian music!
And now, here’s Io canto.