(Back to the story.)
Halfway through the summer, I realized I was being a little too creative in my editing of notes from the CDs. I couldn't reach the high ones, and had a 50-50 chance of navigating the break between my chest and head voice, somewhere around the E above middle C, without coming to a screeching halt along the way. I knew how to sing correctly, in theory, but that didn't mean I could.
So I decided to take some lessons. Although I had been in choirs since I was a kid, I never really worked very hard at it. Not that I didn't love to learn and improve--hundreds of hours of a cappella workshops completely changed my sound, ear, and stamina--but I had no aspirations to be a soloist, nor did I practice a whole lot when there wasn't a fun concert coming up. New York offered plenty of opportunities--especially for an alto who could sight-read--to sing as an amateur with world-class, professional musicians at amazing places like Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. So, "dayenu" ("it would have been enough").
But this was a whole different ballgame. It would be just me and a microphone for hours at a time, and no other voices to hide behind. The microphone, which I had never used before, was a scary enough prospect, to be stuck right in my face like a skinny, serpentine conduit to the ears of 1,200 people.
I contacted a vocal coach who also happened to be the music director of the synagogue where I sang the year before. He was a master technician with an uncanny ability to pick out exactly what was going wrong--and with alto voices, in particular.