I have been privileged to witness the transformation of a very special horse over the last few months. When Lena and I first connected, I sensed the beauty of her soul. When we first met, she had a gentleness and a warmth which shone through even the neglect she was suffering. In awe of the power I sensed emanating from her even then, I thank God and the universe that this gentleness, this true strength of her, was not put out by the misunderstandings of a human.
When we think of the Voice as a living entity, like a horse, we can learn to see and appreciate Its inherent power. It is at once a great challenge and the most simple of actions to think of a Voice as complete, whole, and unique, nestled in a body or in a consciousness, waiting to emerge. Ever since I started exploring Opera Organically I find it interesting to observe that everyone I meet, to this new consciousness, has Voice in and of them. For some, It has fully manifest. They are living, breathing Voice. For others, the incubation period has just begun. For these, incubation can take infinite forms. The Voice can be "incubated" (I use this term as opposed to muffled or squelched because it speaks to positive potential) in infinite ways: through the thoughts of the singer, the lack of exposure to music from an early age, outside opinions, lack of muscle tone, etc.
My dream for Opera Organically is to create a vehicle where this positive potential is expressed and proliferated. What I lacked as a music student was this kind of understanding: deep knowledge and confidence that my desire to sing would unquestionably reveal the true, complete beauty of Voice in and through me.
Why are we so hesitant to own this kind of confidence, and to teach it to our students?
An "outside-in" approach to teaching and learning singing implies an infinite and unattainable body of skills and information for the singing student to digest. It speaks of an amorphous "talent" which one does or does not have. The goal is an indefinable "career" or a far-away "fame" which is not thought of as part and parcel of who we are already. The "outside-in" approach is focused almost completely on the future or on the past: we have experienced "____(fill in the blank)______" in our past to either achieve or not achieve "______(fill it again)________" in the future. What we do in the studio has everything to do with achievement of a grade or approval, or a job.
Where is the singer, where is the Voice, now?
Many years ago, I had what is called a "normal" approach to horses and riding technique. Though I loved my horses as much as I could possibly love anything in life, I thought the only way to communicate with them was through absolute authority. I was always right in how I thought and what I wanted, and the horse, as long as it did what I wanted, was right, too. However, any anomaly, any resistance to my little-girl-will suddenly made the beautiful creature wrong or bad. I did not know the magic of entering into the moment with my horses. To keep myself "safe", I learned as much theory about riding that I could. I looked at the whole experience from the outside, and imposed on it a system of control which should keep me safe, should convince the horse to cooperate with me, should win me trophies and approval, and it did, to some level. What it could not achieve for me was the ecstasy of a true relationship in the moment with my horses. The focus was on the future award, and on past preparation, both potentially important but equally devoid of true happiness and contentment.
This should model of learning and teaching is what I would like to respond to with Opera Organically. I would like to propose a shift of consciousness and attitude which I call the could model of singing.
What could our Voice, this positive expressive potential, be wanting to teach US? Like the normal model of a horseback rider, I approached my Voice with total human authority for many years. When it was imbalanced, I thought it should be balanced, and I did everything in my power to impose balance upon it. Not until I had a pivotal lesson with KS Hilde Zadek in Vienna did I start to have an inkling of another way to behave and interact with Voice.
Hilde told me my voice is a horse, an It which I have written about in multiple other blog posts here.
From that point on, I began a journey of inquiry. If Hilde saw my Voice, to me broken and ugly, as a beautiful jumper that I was abusing by not learning how to communicate with it, how could I learn to know Its true nature, just as she did? How could Hilde know this about my Voice when she barely knew me? This was at one of our first lessons. Where did she glean this confidence in the beauty of Voice??
Getting to know Hilde over the two and a half years I studied with her very regularly, I began to see that her acknowledgment of this beauty of Voice came to her through choice.
Could we, as a community of singers and potential singers, believe in absolute goodness and beauty of Voice?
I begin to almost cry when I think of the beauty of Lena, relaxed and natural, circling me in the arena without halter or lead rope. This is in great contrast to our first weeks together, filled with panicked blow-ups and bolting. The sphere of safety, trust and confidence which I have been taught to foster through Parelli Natural Horsemanship has gradually grown over the months to create between us what I can only call feel. Feel is a term used by great horsemen to illustrate the phenomenon of "give and take" which can happen in a horse-human relationship. It is a phenomenon ruled by love of the most powerful kind, by a choice to see the absolute potential of this relationship to create goodness and freedom. Mind-blowingly, I realize now that every horse, like every Voice, lives the resounding YES to this choice! By their very existence, horse and Voice express positivity! They are both just waiting for us to match and become in tune with them. It's as if horse and Voice are both asking human:
Could you get to know me? Really get to know me?
This natural approach to freeing Lena to be all that she already is in completion has an intensely fertile quality. Every moment has infinite possibilities. When she is at my shoulder in partnership, we are one, and we can choose to do anything we please, together. I am the leader, and also the partner. An organic approach to Voice has the same qualities. I am not so arrogant to assume I know everything about Voice. I simply observe in awe and wonder at every moment, and try to meld myself into the positivity of existence I am shown there.
Feel in the voice and practice studio could transform the world for a singer. What if teaching and practicing could be about honoring the truth of what Voice is, rather than getting it right? What if we are looking for strength and beauty to manifest which is already inherent, rather than arrogantly imposing our ideas of what Voice should be? This world of possibility is organic and natural, and through this lense, everything is possible.
With Love and Deep Gratitude to Voice and to Horse,