I practiced a morning focusing technique called the Morning Pages for years, which was taken from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Sometimes, I would work myself up into a tizzy by trying to solve every nagging worry, and I would then spend a page writing over and over, “Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe,” until I ran out of space. In my worry, I had forgotten to breathe, which is distressing to a body bent on survival, so the worry became magnified.
Tired of Pretending
Tonight, a recording of Barbara Bonney singing Andre Previn’s “Vocalise” reminded me of an episode from about a year ago. I was driving out of Tombstone, Arizona, and I had had just seen my father and sister for the last time for several months. I was sad, and I was trying to escape it. I didn’t realize that, of course. Instead I thought I was keeping myself from becoming attached to those feelings by keeping my body rigid and upright. Instead I just made it harder to breathe and kept the feelings hovering in my unconscious somewhere.
And then, I just let go of it. I just let myself wallow in the feelings and be done with it. I was tired of pretending. I was right then wonderfully sad, slouched, and relaxed. I could breathe again. The sadness coursed through me, but it was not a bad feeling. It was beautiful.
So what does this have to do with singing? Well, I’ll tell you.
We are involved with an emotional and naked art form as singers. Sometimes all the gabbing about posture and breath support and all that, which is necessary, cuts us off from the nakedness of singing. It is a primordial primitive thing that we work with. It is related to laughter, crying, babies’ yells, screams, moans, sighs, groans, surprised clips, giddy giggles. My teacher reminded me of this last week by having me think of desire so potent that it hurt. This caused a chain reaction of upward moving breath pressure along the front of my spine and a desire to get all the feeling out of me. I allowed the desire to exist and followed its instruction.
Out came uncomplicated vocal expression.
Letting go, to me, is related to recognition. Oftentimes that is enough to release. If we are not warmed up, we can either blast our poor voices out of the water and hurt them by trying to make them something they are not at that moment. Or we can recognize them, listen, and follow. Our voices will tell us what to do. If we are upset, we can pretend we’re happy and lock up our feelings in our tight torsos. Or we can recognize the feelings and sing through them. Our voice will tell us what to do. No answer applies in every situation. Instead, through listening, we will find the little core of truth that is the creative path.
That’s easier said than done, especially because we all are blind to some extent. This is why we ought to be thankful for our teachers who point those blind spots out. But we do have some power ourselves to find our tight spots and release them:
Just breathe and find places that do not move. Then ask why.