Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Kashudo (歌手道): The necessary paradox of the art and the business

A student of mine of which I am very proud had an interesting experience recently. I am particularly proud of him because he too is a dramatic tenor who sang as a baritone for quite a while. His voice is magnificent. He now warms up to high Eb occasionally and has not lost the full baritone-like color that is his real voice. This is the product of several months of hard work. He recently had an audition for the role of Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus, an ideal transitional role for him. Knowing how his top voice had developed, I had no worries whatsoever for him. It turned out at the first round of auditions that he cracked a high G that had been perfect during warm-ups and rehearsals. Why? By his own admission, he imagined that he might crack that note when he was getting ready to go in for the audition. The disappointing high note was a product of his own imagination. He got a callback anyway. Concentrated that time on his process and is cast in the role. Congratulations RC! Great recovery but we must be prepared the first time!

Another tenor with a gorgeous voice had a series of auditions that were difficult after battling a cold. I warmed him up before two of his recent auditions and they went relatively well. In one case he thought he sang really badly and ended up impressing the agent enough to be put on the roster. You're blessed with a great talent PH, but must learn to own it!

What is it with tenors anyway? We are a different breed for sure. But then again a mezzo with a magnificent instrument who appears very confident in general has shown lack of confidence after a series of really good auditions that do not yield the kinds of results she wants. All the agents like her and claim that there are not many jobs for her particular Fach. I'm proud of you AS, but we must learn to bring the BUSINESS to us. That takes faith.

The problem in all these cases is that the singer is so concentrated on trying to get the job that they forget about the special thing that makes them desirable: "Singing for the sheer joy of it!" and "Singing with principles instead of feeling compelled to impress people." People are impressed when we can have fun.

This is one of the reasons why I am spending a good amount of time speaking about intellectual and spiritual techniques. Physical coordination is a great confidence booster, but we must also release ourselves from outside pressures like wanting to get hired and wanting to please powerful directors and conductors. These pressures harm the psyche and prevent the kind of flow of energy that makes a singer exciting to watch and listen to. Psychic blockage is just as palpable as blockages due to vocal function. In fact, vocal function is affected by mood, sense of self-worth or lack thereof, etc.

Like a good Bikram Yoga class (I had a satisfying one today), one does not know how it will go. How will my body deal with the difficult postures? Will I be strong today or will I feel faint? Will I be able to concentrate today or will I be distracted by my thoughts about the day? Will I be able to stay in the moment?

The reason I have become really excited about Bikram Yoga is that there is no point to it but a personal journey of self-improvement and discovery. I do not judge myself, or compare myself to the other class members. Oddly enough although I am new to Bikram Yoga, there are a couple of postures I do better than those in the class who have been doing it for months or even years. The only thought in my mind is "do the posture". Interestingly this is also my thought about my daily singing exercises, which I am preparing to post here on the blog. Doing the exercises as correctly as possible is the objective. Technical improvement, increased strength and flexibility is a consequence that we try not to judge. I am finding that improvements in Bikram Yoga and in vocal function can happen quickly when we are truly process-oriented and when the process is truly correct. I intend to video-record these fundamental exercises over the next couple of weeks with one or two of my advanced students and put up here.

The goal of exercises is to give us principles that are fundamental to everything we do. A performance must have these foundations at its core. And audition must not deviate from these fundamentals. They must be done physically correctly, with a well-focused mind and a joy of creating vocal sounds. These exercises must be a performance whether it is a good day or a bad day. I had a couple of beers with some friends last night and expected the alcohol to affect my practice today. It did! But unlike the past, I did not accept defeat. I did the exercises knowing full well I would experience phlegm. However I did them with a determination to go through each exercise with joy and with a principled discipline. A mere half-hour later I was demonstrating Bbs to a student. My new respect for my body and its possibilities means that I should not drink if I intend to practice. But occasionally we have to live life and deal with the consequences. I am excited about how tomorrow will be since I did not drink tonight.

I am convinced that this kind of routine that occupies body, brain and spirit and their interaction prepares us for the auditions and performances we have to face. The important thing is to face them with a game plan that is well-seasoned in our bodies, our brains and our souls such that the total WE is truly trained to sing and does so automatically regardless of the conditions. This is the ideal we work for. And from day 1, the young student must do the same fundamental exercises that the advanced singer does. The advanced singer will do additional exercises, but will always begin with the fundamentals. In this way we become compelling singers inviting the world to listen in. In this way, THE BUSINESS seeks us and not we prostituting our karmic energy to CONFORM (what a dirty word) to what we think IT (the business) wants.

Yet, in the end, we need the superficial world of THE BUSINESS to act as a counterforce, as a temptation. The business lures the vocalist and the entertainer to abandon the path of the singer for quick and fleeting glory. In this way it provides a distinction between the average performer and the advanced artist who is most often seen as a compelling anomaly, a curiosity, a dazzling exception. In truth there is nothing exceptional about the artist other than extraordinary hard work on all the elements that are necessary to be a great artist. They seem enigmatic because the average singer has not gone through the baptisms of fire and water, of frustration and sweat, of fear and earned courage that no one sees and that reporters find too lofty to write about.

Great artists often despair and feel alone. When singing becomes a complete discipline as it was centuries ago, there will be plenty to write about that is compelling and the work of the great artist will no longer be a mistery, but rather a comprehensible discipline that even then few will dare to undergo, not because they don't know how hard it is but because they will know precisely what is involved: A commitment to perfecting body, brain and spirit resulting in a complete whole that decries the thought that they were ever separate. In other words, a fully-formed human being emmitted atom by atom through song!

© 03/04/2009

4 comments:

thetruth said...

Omg I know. Im about to message you on facebook with a couple of things. hopefully youll have the time to assess and you like what you hear and can offer some good insight.

Beach Bum said...

Some great stuff in this post. I had struggled for years with tension and technical shit, but it wasn't until I gave up singing as a career and went back to school for something completely different that my singing really took off.

I am convinced that once I didn't need to sing any more, and simply sang because I wanted to, I was free to release my true voice. There is much wisdom in finding the joy in what we do. Because without that joy, we're just making pretty (or not) sounds and might as well be a trumpet.

I'm now singing better than ever, and it is a constant joy. One of these days, I'll have to find an audience again, other than the shower walls.

Toreadorssong's Vocal Technique Blog said...

I hope you do find an audience. Having found the true meaning of your singing, you are more competent to sing before an audience than most who get paid to do it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and please get out of the shower!

With humility and admiration,

JRL/TS

KG said...

I was reminded of this article while I was doing a post about auditioning today. I've always felt that auditioning was one of those paradoxes of the art and the business of singing.
Talk about a tough situation to "sing for the sheer joy of it!"
Thanks as always for the insight.
Auditions - a singer's first impression