There are a little set of meditations sitting near my kitchen in Berlin and I randomly choose a different one every couple of days (by random I mean I select one at random and then if I don’t like it I throw it back until I get one I like). Yesterdays’ “random” selection was:
“Can you imagine what you would do if you could do all that you can” Sun Tzu
I thought this was fairly appropriate for the little challenges I am facing at the moment. I really do mean little challenges, I realise singing is not finding a cure for cancer or (as some American singer friends of mine used to say) rocket surgery! However, these little challenges are part of the journey to finding my own voice (and I mean that in a macro as well as a micro sense).
Firstly, I have come to the realisation that I am indeed a Soprano. The journey towards this realisation has been long and sometimes confronting – peoples’ singing and speaking voice are deeply personal and help shape their self-image – our voice is the main conduit with which the majority of us engage and communicate with the world.
The idea that I was singing in the wrong fach (voice-type) was mooted by various different coaches in about September/October last year, I started to accept this possibility in January this year with the assistance of some very kind mentoring by Jane Robinson, Head of the Young Artist’s Programme at ENO and some equally kind lessons with Liane Keegan, principal at Deustche Oper Berlin.
During every coaching, where I would bring progressively higher lyric mezzo repertoire, Jane would very kindly smile and say: “Are you sure you have never wanted to sing Countess, Fiordiligi etcetera”. I would immediately feel something akin to dread in the pit of my stomach and say: “No, I have always preferred being the bridesmaid to the bride”. Eventually, I admitted to Jane that everytime she asked I felt scared that I was being asked to be open and vulnerable and I found this frightening. She laughed and said: “But that’s exactly it, that’s what singing is”. I would add, that is what singing with your real voice is.
Liane’s approach was slightly different, she didn’t engage with my debates about what singing in a different fach might do to my psyche – she got me working. She would get me doing singing exercises intended to re-train new muscle memory and with a smile told me that once we had “decrappinated” the old muscles I was using to sing, my voice would tell us where it was happiest. And so it has.
So now is the time to accept that I could do all that I can. I now need to accept that my body has done the hard work. The muscles memory is there, the technique is in. I have to keep working it, massaging it, fine-tuning it. But I have all the information I need and I can sing again – this time in a much more sustainable fashion with a voice that expresses and communicates what my brain wants it to! (nb: To give credit to Liane many of these phrases come straight from my lessons with her and I am in effect plagerising her motivational lingo)
It is time to start learning roles and coaching them and allowing myself to show them to people who I may not be as comfortable being open and vulnerable with. The great thing about having a technique is that it gives me confidence and the knowledge that, even if I am open and vulnerable, I am safe – and if something goes wrong I can go back to the practice room and work out why, fine-tune and move forward.
This little journey of training the muscles and then putting them into practice in a vulnerable situation was summed up for me in yoga class last night. I went to my first yoga class in German. When it came time to do the Headstand the entire class went straight up into the posture (I would usually have a chat with the teacher about the technique or do it by the wall as a safety support). Without being able to chat to the teacher and without thinking, I followed the class and went straight up into Headstand (Kopfstand). As a friend said, she was glad they weren’t doing the “Jump off a Cliff” posture…
I then tried a second time, as I got into the headstand I realised what I was doing, thought about it, and then did not believe I could do it – did not trust that the 7 years of muscle memory would support me. That moment of doubt meant I promptly did a spectacular half somersault (making sure I protected my neck) and crash landed out of the posture. The weird thing was that although I crashed out of the pose I was elated that I had even gotten up there, in fact the descent was kind of fun too.
And I know I can do it again.