Calm

“Nothing can be more useful to a man
than a determination not to be hurried.”

Henry David Thoreau

Of all the bon mots that I’ve shamelessly stolen for the last few weeks, these are the ones that strike closest to home. Daily life is getting faster and faster for many of us, and yet our bodies and souls (thankfully) are far more attuned to the rhythms of the natural world than they are to the pace of computer chips.

I’m not a Luddite, even though I sometimes wish I were. I embrace the amazing ways in which these last few decades of technological advancements have widened our worlds. I love geeking out, and I crave speed. But the pace at which our bodies breathe and think and live cannot keep pace with the blinding speed of our tools. We must be determined not to be hurried by computers and smartphones and other techie toys and tools. They should not be allowed to dictate our priorities.

Digital audio and video make it possible to benefit from the interpretations and performances of generations of musicians. Web translators and other resources make it faster than ever to get a preliminary grasp on the operas and songs that are the stuff of our professional lives. The first step is easier and more widely available than ever. (Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was cutting my operatic teeth, I had to borrow LPs from friends with libraries and hunker down at Lincoln Center and the Library of Congress to actually read reference books. I am not nostalgic for those days.)

This new world is wonderful and better in many ways. But it tricks us into thinking these first steps are the whole journey. Truth is, the amount of self-knowledge, the commitment to the message, and integrity of the vocal technique are more important than ever. And there’s no quick path. You rush any of it at your peril. Be determined not to be hurried.

“The word panic comes from the ancient Pan, who,
when the terror anticus came upon him,
would pull out his pipes and try
to play himself back into peace.

Madeleine L’Engle (Two-Part Invention)

Calm can come from your music, and a helpful and healthy cycle can result. Remember that; both for yourself and for your audiences. But it’s hard to “go there” when the music is also your livelihood and brings with it so much worry and fear. Try. Find a place in your music-making that is yours alone, not subject to the criticism or guidance of others. For some folks that means trafficking outside of their professional sweet spot; the opera singer goes folk and the jazzer plays with arias.

All of it is in search of the place at the core of us that feeds everything else we do. It’s always there, but if it’s not honored, you run out of fuel regularly and dangerously. I have a mantra on my iGoogle page that serves me well when the speed of life threatens to throw me to the edge like a crazy centrifuge. “Look in. Lean in. Stay in.” Find your own reminders and litter your life with them.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us
are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

When you are constantly putting yourself out there – for teachers, panels, producers, judges – it’s frighteningly easy to forget who you are. What we want to see and hear in the audition room is a person who is confident, relaxed, energized, and calm, all at the same time. Of course, it’s never as simple as it sounds, but you have to start somewhere.

“At the still point, there the dance is.”
T.S. Eliot

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