Sunday, February 27, 2011

No. 129

Quote of the Day 13: "Wenn wir uns ein Ziel setzen..."

"Wenn wir uns ein Ziel setzen, 
dann geht es gar nicht um 
das Ziel um sich

Es geht viel mehr darum,
dass wir der Mensch werden,
der dieses Ziel erreichen kann."

~Tony Robbins

Thursday, February 24, 2011

No. 128

Love cycles through my Heart:
swirling, twirling
like a girl in her first tutu
I am filled by the Spirit 
of what remains unseen.
Voices of assurance
take the form of a warm
embrace from within
and I am child and mother
at once loved, lover, and love
spinning, going nowhere and everywhere
here, at the place where I begin.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

No. 127: On Mountains, and On Flight

I love the moments in life where I seem to be receiving the same messages from several different places which speak to the core of who I am and give me the fuel to continue on my path.  For the past week I have been mulling over a sermon I heard at First Presbyterian Church on Fifth Avenue in New York City.  I went to Church with my good friend and fellow singer Leigh, from my time in Vienna. I was  eager to see her and her French-Hornist husband Chris, and to be reminded of the many ways in which this blessed journey to myself and to my voice began in Vienna.  Leigh helped me define what and who I wanted to be as a person and as a singer, just by being who she truly is: strong and quietly confident, true in her convictions with a huge heart that's anchored deep in faith.

I have not been attending Church regularly for the last two years.  This is not a confession (I am not Catholic) but rather an observation.  I have not yet found a Church family in Berlin, although once in a while I feel called to go to the beautiful Marienkirche at Alexanderplatz on Sunday evenings where the Anglican Church of Berlin celebrates the Eucharist in an intimate setting.  It's awe-inspiring to be a small group of lovers (I do not like the word of the reasons I've stayed away from Church...but I'll get to that later!) in a building dedicated to the greatness of a God Who strengthens, maintains, and nourishes fact Who IS who we are at the deepest level.  When I experience the Gospel in this light of greatness, with the knowledge of the depth of true love that I now sense, I can embrace with open arms the faith of my childhood.

Over my years of being a Christian I have heard many sermons which vibrated with greatness in the most unexpected places.  A lot of them were delivered in small-town Dallas and came in the form of a "Brown Bag Talk" where my favorite Father Homer Smith wrapped the most profound messages to us children in a paper bag and a short story.  Because of Father Homer, I’ve become accustomed to looking for Spirit just around the corner: in a conversation, in a a wooden straw, in an empty shoebox.  Father Homer taught me to honor what we know instinctively as children--and I thank God he came along in my life at the time he did! He translated my childhood experience into adult vocabulary and spoke to the soft place inside me which was in danger of being hardened by the trials adolescence.  He taught me that adults can listen, too, for the voices which come to us in the form of whispers from a place we can live in but which is not tangible in the way we expect it. He did not teach us in words.  He taught us through a way of being which informed his speech. Like the words of God which in our stories created the Heavens and the Earth, with simple words Homer created a desire in me to understand and to know what he knew, and to create something on the outside of me which might represent what I’ve found on the inside.

Father Homer is the inspiration of my current desire to put to words what is happening in my life as a singer now.   One day I hope to wrap these many words, like he did, in a brown bag or an opera Partie, or a concert, and have come across as crystal clear knowledge that speaks to all of us.  For now I will have to settle with this medium to give my heart the satisfaction that it has been heard and understood.

If anything has been learned from my studies of voice, it is that the Spirit of childhood in singing can disappear before we ever realize it!  Over time I am becoming more and more convinced that this is the most integral part of being a singer.  It is what can be beaten out of us, or chased so deep inside us it can never be found, as the child which loves to sing finds out she knows nothing about theory or languages or how one “should” act or “should” be to “achieve” a career.  It is the factor which has somehow remained intact in the artists I find most touching and thrilling on stage. 

Every singer who brings me to tears has shared with me the absolute vulnerability and paradoxical strength which is at the core of all of us.   It’s a quality which leaves us normally when we ‘grow up’, when we ‘figure life out’, when we decide we want to ‘make it work’.  It’s a quality we like to belittle, a quality many people are afraid of.  To see the world through the eyes of a child can be frightening.  It’s not ‘safe’ to be a child, with so many dangers and influences and so many people who do not honor the beauty, worth, and unique qualities of children.  It seems much easier to believe I can control, to believe I have to believe life is a fight and a struggle I can win if I am strong enough!  NO CHILD CAN CONQUER THE WORLD!  Or can s/he?

This morning my devotional reading was a call to remember the story of Saul, David, and Goliath.  I know the story well, but I had not considered in in the context of my life, lately.  Though this has always been a story of the weak prevailing over the strong with God’s help, now it is a story of the wisdom inherent in childhood: David, the youngest of eight sons, a lowly shepherd, saw a way to  defeat Goliath that the entire amy of King Saul’s slaves could not imagine.  It was a laughable proposition!  A child and his slingshot kill a giant whom no soldier would face?  His brothers laughed at him, yet in his certainty he made his way to an audience with the King, and he told Saul of his experience guarding his sheep, how his arm was strong and his aim was sure, and that God was with him and with the Israelites.  A child had figured out how to defeat the Philistines with the certainty of his vision! 

What I love about this story is not that a child won the fight...but one who thought like a child!  I am certain that there were perhaps hundreds of men in Saul’s army who had better aim and more experience at a slingshot than little David.  However they had been hardened by war.  They were used to awkward spears and shields...they had seen too much blood.  Forced to labor as slaves sent to die for their King, they did not search for the inspired thought which comes from God to save.  When we are in a position of slavery, of desperation, of little hope, God cannot share the simplest solutions with the child-like hearts SHe is looking for...indeed, the hearts SHe sees in us at all times, regardless of what we believe.

When we worship something or someone, we kneel to them in the conviction that we are separate from them.  I used to worship singers who somehow seemed to have figured out how to be a part of the music they sing.  I thought, like many people do, that there was something god-like about them: they have been blessed to a special degree which allows them to do what they want to do.  In this worshipping state of mind, I automatically separated myself from the vision I saw and felt.  I squelched the imagination of my internal “David” and put myself by default in the same category as the thousands of members of Saul’s army: enchained and shackled by the common thought that what makes a singer is a mystery, I languished in my lack of information.  I, like Saul’s servants, sacrificed myself over and over to the giant “Goliath” of what it means to be a singer.  I attacked it with every imaginable weapon. I tried to engage it in philosophy and in spirituality.  I tried pleading with it and yelling at it.  I tried walking away.  But every time I turned, my “Goliath” would still be standing in front of me, unvanquished.

It is not by chance that I have met a singer as part of this most recent awakening who shall remain nameless here to protect my unabashed praise and love for him (it is enough that I dedicate this blog to ONE tenor!).  Through all of his life as a singer he has somehow managed to maintain a sense of fun and play.  Sharing a meal with him is like recess on the playground...always something new and fresh, always something to appreciate and enjoy!  To top that time with him off,  I also had coffee with a dear friend and colleague who loves shoes as much as I love horses and stands in the midst of a shoe gallery with the same passionate joy that I feel when I stand in the horse barn!  What treasures!

These colleagues and friends are I hope just the beginning of my great discovery of sweetness in the singers around me.  It took an internal journey, it took being open to the fun-loving girl I also am, to find my way to the slingshot and rock which has toppled the Goliath of my dreams.  The solution came quietly. It came in the form of a hug I gave without knowing came in the form of laughter and joy and letting go into the center of who I came in the form of a teacher who embodies all of the things I admire in a singer: a man who has maintained an open heart while cultivating an incredibly exacting mind so that the technique he shares sends us directly to the source of our truest power.  It is with deep humility that I stand here and now, slingshot in hand, Goliath toppled...with the same feeling of wonder I felt when I found a kitten to protect or a horse who would let me ride him, or an Oregon sunset which stunned me into silent tears.

What does it take to get to this place?  Where did this transition come from, and what of the mountain of my own building which I believe I have been climbing?

Somehow, with Father Homer’s voice in my ears, I suspect I know the source of my mountain.  I suspect I know why I feel I have been fighting an uphill battle, one which the people who love me with consternation could not understand!  “Why are you not singing everywhere?” they would ask... “With a voice like that I would be taking on the world!”.  It has not been my particular journey, to lack people in my life who believe in my voice.  My particular uphill trek has been driven by a lack of knowledge (not belief--belief I have had since I was born...I just did not know it!) in myself.  How could I express something which seemed to be ever-changing? How could I ask anyone to invest in something I did not understand? How could I in any confidence share something which I did not truly know?

While I was sitting on the couch here in Gothenburg earlier today (an aptly name city, as God indeed is here), I was sitting across from my best friend of all time, the woman who has believed in my singing from the beginning of my vocal rebirth.  This incredibly beautiful girl now has a precious baby...a baby who is one year old, with a head of stunning black curls and eyes which could melt anybody’s heart.  He is one of those special babies who is just bursting with joy.  One look or one kiss can send him into ecstatic fits of laughter.  His facial features could be easily transferred to some monk in the mountains who is saturated in love.  He laughs at nothing and everything all at once.  My heart does not know whether to weep or laugh with him, or better yet both at the same time, for the beauty of what he represents.

This precious baby knows love so deeply that he will reach up his arms in pure joy with no prompting at all, and fall backward into empty space.  He has entered the stage where he is beginning to know his physical strength and flexibility, but he does not yet know fear. It is an interesting stage for me to observe as his honorary Auntie, and I can’t help but see the wisdom in his existence, as without fear and in complete joy, he flies, unguarded, into my sheltering arms from the side of the couch.  His Mother in all her wisdom, watching, said “Does not God want us to be like that?” which I had to reply “Yes, Yes, Yes...”!

The love which runs so freely from this child and the trust which is so apparent would not be were it not for his loving family.  If his watchful parents were not there to catch him, trust would soon be lost and the pain of life would color those gorgeous eyes in a deeper cast. 

It is here that I have learned the greatest lesson of all, as I consider the next steps in my life as a singer.  For if the greatest singing I have known is also the most child-like, where are the singer’s parents?  Where does s/he find the love and trust needed to let her inner child play in wild abandon?

Is a great singer not only a grown-up version of their own inner child, but also its watchful and caring parents?  Is our vocal technique vocabulary not riddled with the words of parenthood? “Keep the head voice up...”  ... “Keep the little smile...” and of course “Don’t let the head voice fall...” ... “Don’t sing too heavy...”  ...  “Be wary of over-projection...” ... “Stay away from all extremes...” ...all in the name of keeping the voice, our precious baby, safe from harm, and honing our slingshot arms and aims.

I am learning to be all in one: a child as pure and as real and courageous as can be, and her Mother, with firm boundaries and a warm embrace.  I am preparing, as if I were a woman having given birth, verily, to a precious living, growing creation, to allow my voice to fly, unafraid, into my own waiting, protecting arms...into the arms of God and the Universe and Love and Life...and I am preparing to watch this all happen before me, as the maintainer of this holy temple and nursery of my body, through the eyes of a God who, in my years in Church gave me the words to say for whom and for what I truly live. 

I have finished with fighting and climbing.  I am now, officially, before the world in all openness, leaving behind the mountain of dead dreams killed by my struggle with the Goliaths of my past.  God and Her servant David have laid claim to my voice and I, as my dear teacher told me today, am ready to “do my job” in completion and in sincerity, in trust and in truth, as a child, as a Mother, as an artist and as a woman.

It is here that I must share with you the quotation from the sermon at Fifth Avenue which started this whole journey of thought and realization. You will see how it crystallized the floating thoughts in my heart to such an extent that I could finally express them to you here:

“[Faith] is a mountain we cannot climb by our own efforts; and if we could we should only perish in the ice and unbreathable air of the summit lacking those wings with which the rest of the journey has to be accomplished. For it is from there that the real ascent begins. The axes and picks are “done away” and the rest is a matter of flying.”
~C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics

I am not afraid, for I know more and more by the day how to read my voice like I can read, relaxed and observant, the body language of my precious ‘nephew’ as he takes his deep breath before flight.  I am ready, darling, I am ready.  And this...this is Love.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Quote of the Day 12: Being an Evolutionary Change-Agent

Being an evolutionary change-agent means living on the very edge of this vast process, knowing that it has taken fourteen billion years to reach this point, and actively endeavoring to move the entire process forward through your own transformation. It won't be easy, but I have no doubt that for those of us who have glimpsed the glory of our higher potentials, this is what we are here to do.
~ Andrew Cohen

Quote of the Day 11: The Signs

"But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters."
C.S. Lewis 

Monday, February 21, 2011

No. 126

We are taught that we must own our voice, that we must own our mate, that we must own our life.  However while attempting to purchase these things we become blind to the truth: that we can never own those which we love, for they are the fabric that is who we are!  They are here in us...and when we let go in that knowledge, the universe is free to dance with us all in a choreography made from beautiful pieces of One whole.  Perhaps, then, we could speak of knowing rather than owning...for I would much rather know Love than own it, any day.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

No. 125

Every moment of growth along the Path is an opportunity to foster compassion and respect for others along their respective Ways, and to feed the knowledge of the mystery which binds us all together, even when all the while it fuels our differences.  When we can celebrate every little step as progress toward the summit, toward true happiness and fulfillment and satisfaction in life, then there is no more worry, no more guilt, and no more shame.  In fact, the further along we are on this mountain Path, the more the fog of deep intuition comes in to embrace all of who we are, so that who we are not is suddenly, one day, invisible. We become lost, not in fear, but in love.  We become lost, not in need of a map, but in the knowledge of a way of being, where all sustenance is ours to accept as a treasure we've carried with us since birth: a message in a bottle which we've somehow managed to pluck from the stream that runs through the woods below the depths of who we are as individuals.  Bring on the messages, and bring on the foggy, all-enveloping truths which proclaim certainty where we are blind!  Bring on life, bring on love!  And leave all else behind...!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

No. 124

A desperate heart cannot sing! It can only scream. 
Beautiful singing is born of a desperation seen, heard, understood,
and then loved, cultured, considered, in order to be shared 
as hope, joy, and the very stuff which makes up eternity. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

NO. 123

This dance of Love continues
in its give and in its take, 
as ever, ever, Music and Horse
in their beauty, mirrors make
of who we are, of what we want,
and of what we do believe.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

No. 122: Emmitt's Transformation~Our Surrender to Balance

I have been struggling to put in to words a sensation which I have recently come across while singing.  The closer I get to true vocal balance, and the more sincere compliments I get on my singing, the more I feel a sensation of being "lost" mentally, physically, and spiritually while singing.  This is what I have dreamt of for so long: becoming One with my Voice, being a walking Stimme---an organic instrument through and through.  It is on one hand a beautiful sensation:  the music comes, I sing, I go with it...there is nothing to hold on to, nothing else to think about, nothing else to do except to be Voice.  The Moment is vivid, real, I feel connection to all that I am.  I am present.  Yet, on the other hand, it can be terrifying for me, always the "good" student, dedicated to doing things "right" and achieving as close to "perfect" as I can be.  The way in which I can now sing brings me to a level of surrender to the music with such a feeling of all-pervasive love, that I want to be just there, and never come back!  It's as if I have followed an expert guide through the most dense jungle of the world to find a temple filled with gold which is poisonous when I touch it...a sort of Midas touch effect where I may love what I see and admire it, but I must not seek to become it, or all that life is supposed to be on earth leaves me: ecstasy turns quickly to confusion; the most exquisite security turns suddenly to insecurity.  Where, in this beautiful journey to the absolute treasure of my Voice, am I to find balance?

A surprising analogy and solution came to me while I was playing at Liberty (in a 50' round pen with only the aid of a 'carrot stick', a 4-foot fiberglass stick with a string attached) with Emmitt, our Paint gelding, in Oregon.    The goal of Liberty play is to test true communication with the horse.  Is the horse truly responding to my Love, Language, and Leadership? Or is he just responding to the fact that I have a rope attached to his halter with which I can keep him confined?  Does Emmitt really want to be with me?  or is he just going through the motions so I will eventually leave him alone? 

We've been playing at Liberty for a few weeks together, and having good results.  However, I needed to start 'upping the ante' to achieve more of the goals that I have with Emmitt.  We need to become more mentally and physically fit, which means doing our exercises together at a quicker pace.  A request from me could be responded to by him with no longer a quasi-teenager retort like "yeah, whatever" before he finishes the task with a lack-luster effort.  Now we are at the level where things can get exciting: we could do turns on a dime, we could try spins and jumps together.  I could start playing with him like his best horse friend (if we could find one he could play with where they did not mutually injure one another because he plays so hard...!) would play with him if he had one.  I needed to learn to mirror him and even be a little challenging to him to even start to get to this level.

Our great conversation at the edge of trust and the precipice of fear began three days ago.  Our Liberty routine always includes a "dress rehearsal" where we do all of our games Online to see where our relationship is at.  Emmitt is a good student, like me.  I prefer to know the exact order and manner in which my assignments come to ensure that I do them correctly.  Emmitt is the same way, and would do all of his tasks perfectly without be even asking if I did not request that he do them in a different way each time.  I must add at this point that I'm sure my voice teacher Jean-Ronald has had the same challenge with me as I have with Emmitt, as I would much rather be able to control each voice lesson's outcome to ensure that I am "good" and "correct" in all that I do.  It's my personality, and it's Emmitt's too. Yes, we are made for each other!

We did the games online better than ever.  The first three games, also called the Principle Games, were almost flawless.  There was a lightness and quickness there which I had not yet seen from him, and I was excited to see what would happen at Liberty.  I took Emmitt's halter off, gave him some loves, and moved on to the "Porcupine Game", which is a tool to teach horses to respond safely and appropriately to pressure against their bodies (instinctively a horse will push against pressure; we humans need them to move away from it, for obvious reasons).  He promptly took off running around the pen as fast as he could.  I was surprised...!  WHAT HAD HAPPENED?

As I followed him around the pen, staying with him in his fear and being the best leader to him that I could be while I waited for his mind to come back to me, I thought back to what we had done in our "dress rehearsal".  The only glitch I could think of was Emmitt's tendency, as I asked his hind end to move way, to move his forehand toward me.  I thought it was a sign of dominance, as dominant horses will often crowd up too close to their subordinants to be pushy.  I had quickly corrected what I thought was a challenge from him, but I missed one thing.  I had pushed Emmitt, a normally super-confident individual, to the point of insecurity as I asked for more respect from him.  Insecure horses will also crowd a human, as they do in a herd when a lion approaches: the ones in the middle won't be eaten so, "Let me in...!" ('crunch')

The voice studio can be rife with incidents like these: one moment I am confident in my knowledge and singing well, but the next note comes with its own set of demands and I am suddenly plummeting into imbalance and insecurity, with all of the emotions which come attached to these states of being.  Jean-Ronald, like I have with Emmitt, has followed me as I ran panicked, many a time around the "round pen" of the studio, waiting for my mind to come back after my emotions spilled over the surface in a challenging passage.

What touched me the most and taught me the most about Emmitt's reaction to my request at Liberty, was that he ran from the SLIGHTEST touch.  If I had dumbly and insensitively slapped him on the rump, of course I would expect him to run... and in that case, he would be more than justified to add in a little kick as a mirror to my disrespect.  However all I had done was to barely touch him on the rump with my fingertips.  It was as if, in his newly-found freedom, he could not fathom or imagine responding to such a light touch while completely "free"  and still be able to maintain his dignity and safety.  It was easier to run away than to face the possibilities of communication with me at this level.  I knew I had to convince him as soon as I could that it was possible to respond to me with ease and respect while still maintaining his freedom and safety.  He needed to know that even without his insulating guise of a "tough guy", he could be himself and be loved.

I too had been told for ages that I had a "quiet confidence" which actually could be tested to a point where it broke down, allowing true confidence to blossom--but not until I found a teacher I could trust to do this--or one who was interested at all in my true freedom as a singer.

After about five laps around the pen, Emmitt responded to my urges and trotted back up to me in the middle.  I tried the Porcupine Game again Online successfully, and then again at Liberty, and again at the slightest touch, he was off!!!! This was our pattern until, at one magical moment,  Emmit, his muscles still sweaty and his lips licking, moved away at the slightest touch of my finger, executing that magical feat whose profundity one can really only understand when one experiences it:  this 1000-pound horse, capable of trampling me, capable of leading a herd and killing a cougar, respects me so much that he moves at my slightest touch!  And not only does he respect me enough to move as I suggest and move quickly, he likes me enough to STAY with me as I ask him to move AWAY. 

Amazing.  We had done it.  Needless to say, Emmitt got a huge hug and rubs and was brushed and pampered for an hour that evening.   We had reached a level of balance between horse and human that evening which I had not experienced before.  I was deeply honored and still crumble in awe when I think of Emmitt's courage at that moment.  It also makes me proud to know that I followed through and went with him into the "dark moments" of his fear, and brought him back to safety.  I could have second-guessed my instincts and given up, leaving the challenge for another day, but I chose to stick with him literally, and it paid off.

My Voice and I are at exactly this junction!  Emmitt is my Voice, and I am the Singer.  The more we know about one another, the more we can move in freedom and joy, safety and confidence!  Thank God for Jean-Ronald, who serves as the well-informed mediator between us, who has translated so expertly the language of Voice and Human to the point where we can now, mostly, understand one another and 'play' together in harmony just like I do at a new level with my Emmitt.

So we have the Voice, and we have Me now, growing more and more together with time...and where now does Music come in to the picture?  How does understanding how the relationship grows between Voice and Human help me avoid getting us both lost in the Music?

I believe that I am at a very important point in my development as a singer.  It is the point where I allow myself to be my Voice, and where I allow the Music to step in and take the place which my Voice once had, and which Emmitt now has, in our relationship together.  It is as if I have been trying to maintain a relationship amongst the three of us (Myself, my Voice, and the Music), only inevitably to loose balance as the dance steps fell apart amidst one-too-many partners. 

The time of separation between me and my Voice is coming to an end.  It was a necessary separation, as any singer who has rebuilt her voice knows.  There is no way to find strength when you are constantly identifying with weakness.  And I know that there will certainly be times in the future when I regularly step back to observe the health and happiness of my Voice.  Now the Music, the Horse, requires our Oneness.  I have, in my focus on perfecting my singing, had to forget my relationship to the Music.  It was as if I had to learn to use my arms and legs, to re-teach my mouth to form words, in order to even approach a relationship with the Music, with the Horse.  Emmitt is lucky that I am relatively physically fit and that the steps to growth which I must follow as a Horsewoman are all relatively tangible, compared to the growth steps I had to take as a singer.

Now it is time to dance with the Music.  It is a fine balance, a give and take which can send the relationship sprawling with one off thought or miss-step.  It is also a beautiful, mutually intimate flight into the Now when rider and Horse share the same language, when Voice and Music share the same respect.

It is time now to step in to the round pen of the stage and to know that I am not seeking control of the Music, just as I am not seeking control of darling Emmitt.  I am seeking a relationship.  I am seeking Life...I am seeking Love.  These things come in bucket loads when I remember what Emmitt taught me three days ago:  Singing is not about becoming the Music.  It is about knowing the Music so well that my Voice knows Music's language.  It is about learning to Love and Lead in such a way that the Music is free and joyful, full, confident, and complete.  It has everything to do with letting go, everything to do with Trust,  and everything with being courageous, and real.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

No. 121

Eyes wide open I drink in the sound
of Truth beyond vaporous noise
at the precipice of Who I Am
How can there Be
a convergence at the edge of Me
of All there Is
And how can All There Is
speak to me as if it, like the vibrations of sound
travel through this body
even in sleep?...and how can I see It even
as I feel It...all around, in nothing-ness
which is the something-ness of me?

This place, where perfection beyond perfection is born
Moment by moment
Laughs with a joy the same as tears
as I cry out, as I sing,
and my voice, my Self,
indefinable, inseparable amidst All-embracing Love
which comes with the sun as it
burns away the fog of  un-knowingnes,
of all that obscures this deep Sight
at the meeting of Me
and Light...