Friday, August 7, 2009
Tennis and Toni Morrison
I'm going through a phase. It's one of those transition times that are extremely uncomfortable but necessary, when you know that if you just go through the discomfort you'll come out the other side better than before (Caveat: the next paragraph or two is/are about the mechanics of singing, so if that sort of thing interests you then by all means read ahead. If it doesn't feel free to scroll down).
The ability to trust has always been an issue in my singing. I am unable to trust that my breath and support will truly carry the tone, and so I manipulate a bunch of other stuff that would really work better if left alone. Onstage I am unable to trust that the work I have done will pay off better if I let it take over, and so I monitor what I'm doing every second and end up suffocating it. In general, I am unable to trust my very self, the self that I need most when I am alone onstage and need to produce this powerful and compelling sound.
As a result, my sound is very often less than powerful and compelling. I'm afraid to let it go without monitoring it, and I kill it before I even start. The body can tell when your brain doesn't trust it, even if you think you're doing a pretty good job of tricking it!
(Mechanics done, powerful wisdom and armchair philosophy to commence. Stop scrolling if you know what's good for you)
So about a month ago I was bitch-slapped across the face twice by two nuggets of wisdom about trust that fell from the sky one after the other. The first was while watching Wimbledon with the hubs. The men's finals ended up being Roger Federer (natch) against Andy Roddick, (not so natch, making him the underdog). Now, I don't watch sports all that often unless forced to, but when I am forced to do so, tennis is the least painful option. So here I am one month ago, quasi-enjoying what could only be called one hell of a match. Andy Roddick is on fire. Apparently he wasn't doing so well a year or so ago, and as a result he stepped up his training regimen and worked like a dog for the past year. His comeback is amazing. He is fighting like a bulldog for his first Wimbledon victory, and it is truly thrilling. Then one of the commentators says something like this:
"This match is so beautiful and amazing because Andy is really able to trust all the the training that he's put in for the past year."
I'm paraphrasing, because it was a month ago and I can barely remember what I had for breakfast, but it went something like that.
Well, that sentence, whatever it was, really struck me, because of course that's exactly what I need to be doing. I need to be working hard day-by-day, but when it comes time to perform in front of that piano, I need to drop it all and trust in the work and my own self. I need to trust that I've been working hard enough and that my body knows what its doing. And then I need to leave the rest behind.
The second slap came while reading an article in Oprah Magazine (don't hate. It kicks ass). The article contained several writers' perspectives on writing, and it included an interview with Toni Morrison. In it, she talks about following something as simple and intuitive as an image or sentence to discover characters and scenes. She says: "I go forward...starting out with an image, even if I don't know yet how to squeeze it, how to use it. It is trusting that picture that keeps me going." Later, on this same topic, she says;
"What I feel most is that because I am open and available, the universe-the idea-comes to me...It's that being open-not scratching for it, not digging for it, not constructing something but being open to the situation and trusting that what you don't know will be available to you. It is bigger than your overt consciousness or your intelligence or even your gifts; it is out there somewhere and you have to let it in."
This echoes that Pablo Neruda poem I wrote about earlier. You can claw your way desperately to your goal because you're terrified or what will happen if you don't, if you stop scratching and working. Or you can relax while you do your work in a spirit of play, and trust that whatever you're meant for is out there waiting for you to be open to its call.
I'm learning how to do the latter. It doesn't come naturally to me. I'm much more of the desperately clawing type. But thanks to the wisdom of three voice teachers at once, I'm finally learning how to trust my breath and my body's natural ability to make sound. While I do this I feel out-of-control and childish, like a baby re-learning how to walk (or something). But I think I can trust that I'll come out the other side a more compelling, relaxed, and soulful singer.
And while we're at it, it would be great if I could trust that my first shift on my own, a busy Friday night, won't be a complete disaster. I'm terrified but...serenity now...om...wish me luck!