Saturday, October 23, 2010

No. 110: Of Treasures and Jewels

This post is at once the easiest and the most difficult expression of love and life that I have yet attempted.  It may fly in the face of many of the things I thought were important or true in childhood.  It may mean that I call my actions, my thoughts, my very being into account, here and now, by professing what I here wish to profess.  And if this is all too much drama to you, reader, then I will not apologize but I will remind you that I am an opera singer through and through.  Drama is my life: drama in the most real form, engulfed by Love, producing colors and feelings with vibrations that scoop me up to heaven on earth, in agonizing Love which can only be translated as Awe.

But why write of these things?  Why confess to the cyber world my dramatic heart?  Can I say anything more than what I did say to a friend the other day when we were having a spat?:

"Forgive me if this sounds dramatic but it sounds dramatic because that's what it IS.  It's DRAMA!"

When I think of the thousands of poetic words it can take to tell a heartbreakingly simple story in an opera, of course I must acknowledge that I could try the rest of my life to express Love in words and never get to the point because Love is already in each and every word I use.  It's like trying to show and alien race our actual anatomical hearts.  If we really wanted the aliens to see them we would have to stop, cut ourselves open, and allow the aliens to watch the beating of a heart.  And even then, have they really seen what a heart is?  Can they truly understand the magic, the wonder of what it means to be human by looking at a hunk of flesh?  No...they will need our best artists, our bests gurus, and our best scientists to come together and share all of their knowledge about how life works so that the can share a comprehensive knowledge of the human heart.  All the while, there is a human lying cut open on the operating table, heart exposed. 

In the interest of science and spirituality, and art, apparently I have made myself the ultimate volunteer for virtual open-heart surgery.  In this case my audience is not alien.  I am my own audience: observer and subject all at once, hoping that, though there is already infinite knowledge and infinite illustration of the discovery of love, she can contribute an attempt at sharing her own discoveries like a little girl who finds quartz in a gravel driveway and does not know it from a diamond.  In her world, rocks and stones are as beautiful as any jewel. 

This is a secret that I as an adult am being constantly reminded of by the little girl inside of me: I must remember and commit to the fact that what is truly important, what is really pivotal in my life may seem as inconsequential as a speck of dust to another.  It is a mystery of Love, a mystery of life: that for one person, life on earth is about finding what another might take for granted.  One wo/man's treasure is another wo/man's junk.  There is no right or wrong to this.  What makes us unique individuals is our ability to commit to our treasure and to have the courage to say what we are looking for, what we have found, without fear of ridicule or judgment from those who are looking for something completely different.  This is why I am no longer hesitant to share this post, though to some it may seem ridiculous or even blasphemous.  For how could a woman of sane mind say such things without consequence?  It might not fit in to the rules she learned in childhood.  It might not be understood! Worse yet, it might be misunderstood!

It is the possibility of misunderstanding which concerns me the most.  For me, the progression of my life has so gradually and beautifully expanded to this point that suddenly I can scream to the universe my deepest gratitude whereas before I could not.  I know that the particular person to whom this post is dedicated will understand and be honored by the fact that when I bow to him I bow to every moment and every person in my life, 'good' or 'bad', which led me to this realization, to this moment, to this love.  And I indeed may use the love that he has shown me as a springboard to leap into the rest of my life, whatever it may bring.

I am writing about my teacher, Jean-Ronald LaFond.  I am writing about him, and to him, because in our last conversation I observed myself saying

"You gave me back my life.  I am re-born."

On one hand, I so deeply believe this that the words came easily, steadily, clearly and rationally.  And on the other hand, as my fellow Christian-raised friends will understand, I felt as if I was perhaps sharply betraying the Savior I was taught of since infancy.  How can this be?

I can think of no other reason for these conflicting emotions than the fact that I have experienced Jesus Christ in human form, in the form of my teacher.

If the words I just typed caused ripples in you, reader, then I challenge you to question why millions of people around the world proclaim the existence of a Savior and yet do not have the courage to bring His presence literally down to Earth, to reality.

The experiences I have had on my own personal journey of awakening so far have been so vivid, so real, that I cannot in good conscience continue to tell the story of faith in metaphors and long-lost and gone teachers.  The searching for and the finding of love are real, and here, and now, and the stories we tell about the way we realize each step along the way inform the future of our life on earth.  Are we informing courage or conformity? uniqueness or acceptability? The choice is ours, now.

And with this post I proclaim my proud YES to the universe, in proper operatic form!

I knew way back in High School that it would take something pretty marvelous and powerful to pull me up out of wherever I was into who I truly needed to be to be the kind of singer I wanted to be.  It is a unique person indeed whose only vivid memories from high school are when she was on stage and when she was on a horse.  Where did all the rest of the memories go?  This lost memory was the missing key, the blaring fog horn that accompanied me through music conservatory, where my memories are of my time at the horse barn, the Lieder I learned, my good friends at German House and the friends who tolerated me in the Vocal Arts Lab.  Also from that time, many memories lost led me to ask: Who am I truly? completely? What does it mean to live free from shame, openly and proudly who I am?

I could now go in to the myriad of ways my confidence was dashed, my senstive spirit crushed, and the importance of understanding repressed memories for pages and pages here.  But it would be like arguing the value of my beloved quartz found in the driveway compared to a woman's coveted diamond ring. It would be fruitless!  What matters is what is important here and now.  That is, that I have found love.

One of the dangers that a singer faces is over-identification with her voice.  We see it every once in a while: a great singer experiences a tragedy and can no longer sing.  Her 'life is over'.  We see it in retired singers who, though they may have had great careers, now struggle with the meaning of life and pass their lack of understanding on by wreaking havoc in masterclasses full of young singers looking for answers themselves.  Yes, it is very dangerous to over-identify with our voices.

I was in danger of that for a while, I believe.  It may have even been the cause of the lost memories.  I suspect I may never know the real reason for that.  But I do know that what I now say of my Sensei I once believed only of horses: Horses saved me. My Sensei has saved me.

I knew this much about horses before I could even articulate it.  To sit on a horse who is giving its heart and soul one-hundred-percent to the joy of being alive is the same as flying through heaven itself.  Horses are the ultimate expression of love: power, passion, movement, unabashed exuberance. Get on a horse and you are forced to leave all your worries behind: all you can take with you is Love, because that's the only thing that can keep up with the wind.

For a long time I was caught between the realization of my passion on one hand and the lack of expertise to express it on the other.  Any artist who has been through the struggle of finding herself will recognize the pain.  How can you know the power of Love and not know how to express it?

When I think of the Classical Schools and all of the students that follow their teachings, adding in every student's personal history and personality, it is amazing that we are still speaking of the Classical Schools and not a bunch of borderline crazy individuals bouncing around calling themselves artists.  In some circles there is indeed talk like that, but, really, how is it that we ever hear great singing anymore?  How can it be possible for the modern human to dig through all of the relative 'junk' we are handed to find her true voice, to become a sane and real artist?

I believe it has to do with our teachers.  It is a rare teacher indeed who wields a sword sharp enough to cut through all of our frail humanity to the infinite flow of Love that is below the surface, indeed beyond the layers upon layers of "life" we have spent our time accumulating, which we think make us who we are.  It takes an excellent teacher of almost unparalleled wisdom to teach that who we are is the same as Love, the same as Music, the same as that current to Heaven that can carry us onward in song or on horseback.

Most importantly, it is rare to find a teacher with such a commitment to technique which makes his sword sharper than any other.  It is our human knowledge that has brought us so close to understanding matter and energy that we are *this close* to being able to glimpse God through science.  We have so much knowledge in our world, that without a skilled teacher to show us how to follow a map to our unique treasure, we will be lost. 

I could have also become lost on my way to my voice.  It was not until I realized Love that my particular treasure could be put into perspective.  When a singer believes that who she is is her life experience, how can she let go and ride the current of Love which she knows has the power to whisk her away into music?

In my most recent voice lesson, Jean-Ronald and I were addressing the "small voice".  Finally I have come to the point in my vocal development where I am strong enough to begin producing a truly supported pppp in my true, full voice.  Almost immediately I felt such strong emotional response to the exercise that I felt choked with emotion.  It took me a while to understand that what was reacting in me was a ghost of past experience:  often times this "small voice" exercise had been handed to me before I was ready for it, kind of like a trying to heal a disease with a vitamin.  This lead to disaster.  For a young woman who identified so closely with her voice, not being able to perform this crucial exercise was suffocating.

In the spirit of the openness we have between us as student and teacher, Jean-Ronald and I talked through this.  He even indulged my need to express my frustration as I spoke to my invisible 'ghosts', literally, in the corner of the studio.  But what was truly special, what inspired my ever-deepening Love for him, and what inspired this post, was what he did next.  I remember he smiled, gave a little chuckle, and looked me, raving drama queen, in the eye, saying "You'll get it. Just desire it."  Then he closed the book, rumpled my hair, and we said goodbye.

That, my friends, was the final sword stroke, the cut that went as deep as it could go and let loose the torrents of Love into my life.  You see, this has very little to do with singing.  Yet it has everything to do with hope, patience, grace, humility, confidence in something much deeper than who we often think we are.  It's about opening up our hearts as far as we can until we hit liquid gold.  It's about trusting the tour guides life has chosen for us to follow to the depths of who we are.  It's about believing, indeed knowing, that these guides are here, and now, in our midst.

Because I have already unabashedly equated him to Jesus Christ in this post, I will hesitate to call Jean-Ronald an angel.  And for a list of his faults I believe all you would have to do is sit down with him for a beer because he is one of the most humble men I know.  But if you want to learn to sing, I mean really sing, beyond singing itself, he is the one and only guide I know, and to know him I am eternally grateful.

Signing (and singing) off,


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