Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How to Love the Voice

Kindness is a fleeting whisper
To the ears of the weary heart
And joyful laughter in the soul
Of One who knows the Truth

Sometimes I struggle with a sense of a lack of purpose in the world.  Like most people I wonder 'What am I doing here?'.  More particularly I ask myself 'Why am I studying singing?'  'Why should I sing?'  'What is so special about me, about my voice, that it should be heard?'.

Yesterday I sang the best I ever sang in a competition for opera in a small town in southern Italy.  I sang Tosca's aria, 'Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore' ('I lived for art, I lived for love').  With Maestro by my side I warmed up to sing with the knowledge that my voice is working in an organic, easy way that I have been searching for since I started singing lessons many years ago.  The voice was flowing, complete.  I did not have to imagine that I was singing well.  More than a fleeting feeling, my awareness of beauty--that I am an expression of beauty and love--ran so deep it seemed to be a wisdom that I knew before I was born.

And yet, even after singing with the awareness of ancient wisdom, I did not make it past the first round of the competition.  Strangely when I got the news it did not change my triumphant mood.  The fact that I 'lost' could not take away the knowledge that I sang incredibly well. Having Maestro's uncompromising ears by my side only confirmed the belief I have that I am, finally and with eternal gratefulness, approaching the place I have been searching for all my life: the place of awareness that I am who I am, and where who I am is more than enough.  In fact, it is the source of all goodness and love, all light and happiness, trust and belief--the place where everything that is not true is burned in the fire and gentle, insistent violence of Love, and where I stand and sing only as my Self.

Although my sense of achievement is not tarnished by my loss, the way the world reacts to my voice never fails to spark questions in my mind about what I am doing.  'Why not take the easy way?' I'm tempted to ask.  'Why not believe what so many others believe: that success is something that can be purchased rather than earned, and that singing and living truthfully is not the ultimate goal, but getting ahead at any cost IS?'

When these questions come up I like to turn to what I have learned on this Journey to finding my voice.  I like to turn to the things I've learned to be true, and I like to think of ways I might share these things with the world as a way of giving my struggles and my search for answers worth.  

I've chosen to write today about kindness.  

Fred Rogers is my great Vorbild, or role model, when I think of someone who really understands the value of true kindness and gentleness.  When I met him in person at my brother's graduation from Dartmouth College where he gave the keynote speech I felt an all-embracing love which radiated from him in a way that made me know that everything is okay, all is fine and well with me, with who I am.  He radiated the Truth that we are all loved unconditionally and unquestionably.  In his presence, all darkness and unclarity was more than burned away.  It was proven unimportant, practically non-existent in the light of his awareness.

This is the way that I have always hoped to approach singing, and the world: with such a faith in the Light that darkness disappears; with such a knowledge of Love that hatred has no power.

Where does kindness then come in?  Why be kind at all to our selves and to others, especially when the path to singing truthfully seems full of such roadblocks and bends in the road?  Why, on the search to our Selves, is the Other so important?

Mr. Rogers said

"There is something of yourself that you leave with every meeting with another person."

If we examine ourselves truthfully as singers we will find that we have many valuable opportunities to leave parts of the essence of who we are with other people.  The nature of who we are is visible and vocal, and audible at high decibels.  Are we always thinking about the nature of our sounds, the basic foundation and impetus of our performing?  If we were, not only would we experience more joy and security in performance but we would also be educating audiences to expect and crave not just perfection but real life on stage.  

My first teacher in Europe, the great Kammersängerin Christa Ludwig, once told me the story of how she cracked a high note on the stage of the Vienna State Opera during a performance of a new role.  It was a chance occurrence, and covered over by her excellence the rest of the evening.  In all her beauty and sincerity, the audience forgave and applauded her.  Madame Ludwig told me at the end of this story that she was sorry that audiences today would probably not be so forgiving of a young singer.

But why is that?  I can think of no singer that sang with more heart than the great Christa Ludwig.  What she gave on stage is the same thing that I experienced from her singing in her home in France: a love so refined in the form of sound that it makes you forget everything which is unimportant and surrender to its infinite power.  Is it only the listener's job to seek this power out?  How can an audience be choosy and demand this kind of living, organic beauty if it never presents itself?  How can we singers blame an unforgiving or ignorant audience when all they are hearing is 'perfection' in the form of lifeless, heartless performing?  It is our job to bring the heart, soul, and life back to the singing world.  It is our duty to seek out ways to love our voices and our selves so that others can also understand and take part in this unconditional love.

It is this unconditional love which inspires kindness.  The road to learning the truth of what a voice really is, how closely it is related to heart and soul and the very being of who we are, must be accompanied by kindness.  Where there is kindness to ourselves and others, we know that we are on the right path.

Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese writer who lived over the turn of the 20th century who my brother introduced me to around the same time he graduated from Dartmouth, said that

"Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness but manifestations of strength and resolution."

For reasons that I will hopefully be able to articulate soon on this blog, I am committed and resolved to express the very fundamental truth of what it means to be a singer.  I will continue to do this in the face of rejection and failure.  I will continue with it because I know that Love wins in a subversive, silent war that embraces all of who we are, beyond death, beyond darkness and lies, beyond even who we think that we are.  I am committed to the manifest nature of Love that is inherent in every piece of great music and expressed by every great singer.  

It is a great honor to be on this path, and as always I express my deepest gratitude to Maestro, to Madame Ludwig, and to the many other people who have shown me the kindness that it takes to reveal the Love and the Truth that exists in me and in every one of us.

Now, on with the Journey!!

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