Musings on m
y life as a busy opera singer, voice teacher, photographer and mom - not necessarily in that order! I consider myself immensely fortunate to have carved out a way of doing all of these things which mean so much to me - it may sometimes get a little crazy, but it's always worth it. Welcome to the madhouse!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Who am I this time?

A friend recently sent me an email talking about how much we singers define ourselves by our singing and our success as singers. Is it true? Is it really possible that our entire lives can become that wrapped up in the sounds we produce in our throats?

There's an old saying that being a singer isn't what you DO but is what you ARE. While the old-fashioned view of a pampered Diva swanning through life in furs with her French maid, lapdog and swarms of adoring fans catering to her every whim is pretty much a fiction these days, there is a certain kind of hyperfocus that seems to be part of the makeup of the most successful singers: ruled by The Voice, The Demands of The Business, The Schedule and The Art (and I fear that all-too-often it IS in that order, much though I would love to be able to believe The Art is always at the top of that list), even the healthiest and most well-adjusted can get a little self- (and most particularly VOICE-) obsessed. And that's before we even start talking about when life starts to imitate the art we put on the stage.... (And at this point I must insert a plug here for one of my favorite films of all time, Being Julia: the wonderful exchanges between Julia (Annette Bening) and Jimmie Langton, her theatrical mentor (Michael Gambon) express magnificently how important is that line between what we express onstage and who we are... and how very, very narrow that line can be!)

Part of it, of course, is the physical aspect. I admit it: when I'm in vocal discomfort - regardless of the reason - I feel less of myself. I know I'm not alone in feeling like I'm wearing two left shoes when my voice won't work, even if I know it's due to something as banal and entirely out of my control as a headcold. (Of course, it's worth remembering that where for a "civilian" that cold would merely be an annoyance and a bit uncomfortable, for a singer it can be catastrophic, especially if it coincides with an important performance or audition.... and particularly if it results in cancellation!)Part of that is the practical problem of basic communication with a recalcitrant voice, but I think it's more than that; we somehow begin to devalue ourselves as artists and even as PEOPLE when we feel our voice is unavailable.

But it's not only physical. I know that my mood can change from cynical frustration to elation over something as significant as a job offer, or as (seemingly) minor as conquering a particular technical passage in a phrase of music. Or, of course, the converse - when I'm frustated with my singing (whatever that frustration may be) I know it affects everything about me . And while I think most singers don't put any significant store in reviews on the "if I believe the good ones then I have to believe the bad ones" theory (and many eschew them entirely, refusing to read any press about themselves), I don't think there's ANYBODY who doesn't react at some level to published comments and feel it somehow, however quickly the sting (or boost) may be brushed off and put in perspective.

I'm not sure I'm any less ruled by my throat and performances than any other singer, but the complex nature of my life as singer, mom and teacher at least helps me to keep some perspective, I think. It may not change that I perceive my life as A Singer (with all that implies!), but it does remind me there's more to it - and me - than ONLY that. I'm grateful.

And on that note, it's time to go do some more work memorising my current role for rehearsals which start on Saturday, to make dinner for the family, and to continue learning how to use a circular saw so I can fix my porch rail. If THAT doesn't bring me down to earth, nothing will!


Anonymous said...

It popped just in my mind what the elder singer used to say.If you have a talent you don't belong no longer anymore ONLY to yourself (Hope I did express that well in english ..sigh...).I think this is very very important to value more artisitry in our present world and to know that we really contribute something important and as much self indulgent we sometimes semm to be AND sometimes are..there is something else about being a singer and having been given that talent...and especially in that current world we grow in,music might one day have to mean much more to many people than it does at the moment!
Liebste Gruesse Tanja

Anonymous said...

Oh forgive me all my typos...:)

MG said...

I do think that because we are not only musicians, but that our instrument is ourSELVES that we have a very different "internal construct" from other musicians, and really it's no surprise that se can become hyperfocused!

I know that I resisted this "singerness" for a long time, particularly as an undergraduate - in fact, I think it's one of the reasons that I didn't immediately work towards solo work, but instead was drawn to choral (even though apparently everybody EXCEPT me already saw me as A Singer!). It was actually kind of a relief to realise that Being A Singer wasn't necessarily such a bad thing. :)