Monday, March 16, 2009

What Is Beautiful Singing?

Today in my voice lesson, I received an explicit instruction that should have been easy to fulfill: 'Rebecca, sing this piece beautifully'.

On any other day until today I would have nodded self-assuredly at Maestro, and confident in the qualities of my voice, I would have produced a sound that had been called beautiful by someone in the past. I would have reached back in my memory files and tried to remember what must have caused the complimentary listener to call my voice beautiful: a particular emotional involvement, a physical sensation, a facial expression or posture or vocal color.

What I learned today is that there is no simple equation, no A+B=C when it comes to beautiful singing. There is no formula to make me feel safe as a performer and as a person, and there is no way to step back and watch myself sing, detached and technical, separate from the inevitably powerful, insistent flow of music through me, the instrument. This is a most frightening and awe-inspiring realization: I have found that I am not just a person singing but rather I am the music that I sing, at its beck and call as its vehicle. This leaves no room at all for wondering how my voice might sound from the outside. It leaves no room for judgment and only room for wonder. Singing now seems to be like building a roller-coaster while I ride it. Learning technique is about digesting the laws of physics thoroughly enough so that I don't end up flying off the very track I'm building as quickly as I can!

This is not what I thought I was signing up for when I decided to study music! It wasn't what I had in mind while investing so much life into my voice! I did not reckon that the time would come when I would be flying through the air, building my safety net below me while on a projection course to the end of an opera! I thought one day I would come to the point where the entire roller-coaster of this journey called 'Being an Opera Singer' would be built, steady and safe, and all I would have to do is climb on, strap on my seat belt, and go for the ride. Little did I know that it would all be much, much more thrilling and exciting than I ever imagined.

The only way I think I can describe this sensation, this realization to you more clearly might be with a metaphor: letting go and trusting in the moment has happened to me in Love. It's the feeling I get when I am with a particular person and the connection between us is so strong that when we look in each others eyes the rest of the world disappears. Suddenly there are no appointments, no alarm clocks, no train schedules and no directions. There is only US: that which makes us up and that which brought us together. In these moments time stands still. In these moments I understand perfect rest, perfect peace in being who I am. In the arms of Love I am completely present and time stands still.

Only, Love must get up and move around once in a while! Love cannot sit hour after hour staring into its own eyes. It must read maps and organize hours. It must decide what to eat and when to go to sleep. It must take care that it doesn't fall down when crossing the street. Each of these little functional details, the makings of a life, are to me like the different notes and phrases in an aria. Love is the music itself in its entirety. Letting Love function it what I do as a singer. The music demands action and flexibility in the same ways that our busy lives demand these things: we must be ready for any variable and any change and we must be able to adapt at any moment. And most importantly we must know what we are living for so that we can organize our priorities as we adapt to the things that life brings us.

What I am learning more and more is how to remember the reason why I sing in every moment. As in a relationship where Love is the driving force to keep it alive, music is the power that gives me reason to keep singing. Trusting in the sacredness and divinity, in the perfection of every little note in the score and sticking to it is like trusting that every puzzle piece in life, each moment spent doing even the mundane, is a part of the greatness inherent in our experience. Honoring every musical detail and then letting in go so it can claim its moment in time without overstaying its welcome is a lot like doing the dishes. We do them, they take a bit of time, and when they are done there is another activity to do. The next musical phrase is cooking a meal and eating, the next after that is calling our Mom or taking the dogs on a walk. Each activity, when supported by Love, is equal and just as requiring of our letting it go to move on to the next.

So what does all of this have to do with beautiful singing?

I have recently learned about Helioseismology, or the study of the sounds that the sun makes. Some people say that, through quakes and vibrations the sun sings her own song.

Does the sun know she's singing?

When we are truly loving, do we know it? Or is Love more like a way of being that we can remain in forever if we are willing to dedicate everything in our lives to letting it shine?

Beautiful singing is as bright as the sun singing in all of her glory. The details, the vibrations of her songs provide the details and flourishes of her performance, and she expresses herself through countless variations of energy and light, just like we live our lives through variations of love. Each moment is different, and the sun, thank goodness, never stops to wonder at the changes. She just sings on an on, and keeps us warm while we learn from her the meaning of beauty, and the power of true song.


  1. There is inherent simplicity in the wonderment of complexity, and this you understand better than anyone I have met, and yet you are not self-conscious about it. Not only that, you are also the bravest human being I know. Again I say, Namaste!!!

  2. I reread this often. It makes me smile and feel proud that you think this of me!

    Namaste friend,