Recently, a student, while leaving one of his voice lessons, told me that singing lessons bring up all his non-singing issues. It reminded me of what some psychological therapists call a “doorknob” moment, when we reach for the doorknob on the way out of a therapy session and say something profound – but you have to wait till the next session to talk about it. When asked to explain, he said that he notices his self-criticism and impatience in lessons, qualities that he has in every-day life.
What other emotions may surface in voice lessons? How about stubbornness and defensiveness. Worry and anxiety? Boredom, perhaps?
Let’s look at impatience. In the Alexander Technique work, we talk about “end-gaining,” wanting to get from Point A to Point B NOW, no matter how we get there. “Doing” something, such as muscling our way through life, feels good. OK, so maybe we end up with lower-back problems, but we got whatever it was that we needed to do done. We are definitely an end-gaining culture. The idea of pausing and creating the environment to “allow” something to happen makes us want to run for the exits.
But the voice doesn’t work that way. The more we muscle, the more trouble we create. Singing is the finest balance of effort and energy and active relaxation. So, it takes a lot of patience to step out of the way, to learn “effortless” effort. We get impatient when we think we’ve got it but then our teacher says it’s not quite right. Then we notice that impatience waiting on line at the bank or supermarket. Isn’t “road rage” simply impatience that has gotten completely out of hand? In my neighborhood, someone will honk at me when I’m easing out of the driveway. They have not learned how to “pause” and allow me to back out. After all, they may get to where they are going 30 seconds late.
I have shared in past blogs that when I was younger I was quite cocky. I didn’t know much, was learning as I went along, but would never show my vulnerability. So, I was extremely defensive. I spent a lot of time solidifying my knowledge so that it became part of my identity. I had a somewhat fragile “inflation” going on. Everything had to fit in to what I already knew. Then when my voice teachers came along and turned everything on its head, it was extremely painful. It’s better now but one of the biggest compliments my voice teacher gave me recently was that she noticed how, after working together for more than a year, I had not only hugely progressed vocally but that I didn’t argue with her anymore! I notice that I’m much more malleable in life in general. I no longer hide it when I don’t know; I say “I’m sorry” or “I need help” more often and admit (albeit begrudgingly) when I am wrong. (See Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache mystery series! 😊) Now, in rehearsals, when I see someone become defensive at a director’s coaching, I feel compassion because I know that that defensiveness is a way not to show vulnerability about “not knowing.” It’s just part of a protective armor for that person’s “performer persona.”
Worry, anxiety and self-criticism are also part of the same spectrum but, rather than thinking one knows, one doesn’t give oneself enough credit for what one DOES know. That’s when faith comes in. I’ve been reading a lot about faith recently. I just finished Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power of Positive Thinking” – an oldie but goodie – and it brought a much-needed twist on what I always found annoying about “The Secret”-style of thinking – all you have to do is clearly see what you want and it will come. What was missing was faith – and it isn’t faith in oneself, although that is partially true. Peale talks about it in somewhat dated Christian terms, but it can also be expressed as a belief in a higher power, a Divine spirit, a universal energy beyond the power of man. I realize that much of my worry and anxiety in life was linked to a general lack of trust in humanity, which is understandable considering the shape of our nation and world at the moment.
I have concluded that most of what gives me anxiety these days is too big for me to resolve. I need God’s help. So, I started to have a conversation with God (hey, isn’t that the name of a book?) And, by God! I noticed a change. For instance, I was at rehearsal a few nights ago, where I am the pianist. I scramble around the keys quite well but some of the dances in the show greatly challenge me. I make some mistakes when at my best but if I’m a bit frazzled or am being watched, I make even more! So, I was super frazzled because I wasn’t feeling well, and the stage manager asked me for a recording of one of the hardest dances. Plus, the music director was standing over me. And then I heard myself say inside: “Hey, God, I need your help here!” It was actually kind of funny, asking to partner with God. But, strangely, I felt a calm and strength come over me and I played pretty well. Faith let’s us relax into something bigger than ourselves – and brings out the best in us.
So, yes, absolutely. Singing lessons mirror the emotional work we need to do to grow in life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.