January 8, 2013

Listening vs Doing


I don't have enough support, right?" The soprano asks, in a self-questioning tone. "I really should be supporting more, shouldn't I?"

I take a breath before I answer. 

"What does the word 'support' mean to you?I ask. 

She opens her mouth, but nothing comes out. 

"Do you mean pushing and pulling on the muscles of your abdomen?" I ask, like an attorney at a deposition, trying to get at the truth of the matter in a dispassionate manner.   

"You know....support!"  She says, hands flailing away in the air. 

No, I don't know.

I'm not a fan or this word "support", which on the face of it sounds like something needs propping up. Does it really?  I want to ask. 

She stands there, her face all shadow and darkness, worried that she will never enter the promised land. I don't talk to her about support. Instead, I ask her to intone the words of her song, to pretend that she is calling to someone across the road, that she needs and wants to be heard. It's important! She really needs to be heard! This takes some coaxing since she tries to do this mechanically, making more effort than necessary. 

I show her what I mean by calling myself. 

Hey there! I have something I really need to tell you! Hey!  Yes, you! I am talking to you, sir! 

I don't breath a word about pure vowels. Instead, I show her what I mean by example. She calls after me, her voice growing to twice its size, its resonance penetrating without being harsh. It's the real deal, baby. We go back and forth like this for about 3 minutes, not saying a word, just calling back and forth. And then I ask: "Were you thinking about support?" 

She blinks. "No."

"What where you 'doing'?"  I ask.  Teasing things out just to be see what she is going to say.  

"Just...just...just doing what you were doing." 

"And what was that?"

"It feels big." She says, in a wonderful re-direct, a quizzical look on her face. "Really big!"

Now she is on to something. 

"Does the word 'stereo' have anything to do with 'big'?  

"Yes...I hear it all around me."  

"Were you 'doing' anything physical to make it happen?" 

"Not exactly." She says.  

Not exactly. That's the rub. 

We live in such a mechanical age, one that seduces us into thinking that 'doing' something overtly is going to give us what we want.  However, the opposite is far more true. The student who can wrap her ear around a sound will 'feel' the result in her body, which is altogether different than trying to make something happen in the body to make a sound. 

Wrapping the ear around a sound, a vowel, a phrase of Bellini, isn't something that one does by force of will, by the push and pull of muscle. It takes time, an educated ear, patience and inner stillness, which should not be confused with passivity. It entails a moment of suspension. 

Those who meditate deeply have an understanding of this matter; that is, the deeper one goes, the more the breath seems to be suspended. This is because the meditator is listening, which has everything to do with an awareness that eschews discursive thought. Singers, likewise, live in the sound of the vowel, not thoughts about the vowel; the vowel itself coming into being because the singer must bridge the gulf between two seemingly separate selves, vocal folds, ways of hearing, sides of the body: making everything one. 

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