Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Kashudo (歌手道): The Acceptance of Alchemy in a Static World
Everything in my experience this morning in my adopted hometown drives me to philosophical meditation today. The topic is Alchemy, commonly linked with the transformation of base metals to precious ones, mainly gold. From Paolo Coelho to Dan Brown and even the non-philosophical novels that I read to keep up with my languages, all the books I have been reading lately lead me to today's post.
I woke up melancholic at the thought of leaving my city behind to go back to my other city, NY. The arrival to either place is always celebratory. I get to visit anew with the students I left behind the month before, revel in their improvements and the chance to help them get to the next phase of their personal transformation. Yet, despite my very philosophical nature, I am not exempt from the common human resistance to change.
After the melancholy of realizing that I have three more days here before heading back to NY, I woke up to Berlin transitioning from Fall to Winter. Today I witnessed the heavy wetness of Berlin's seemly eternally grey skies transform into a light space fluttering with large white flakes: the first snow! This magical transformation was accompanied by a strike of some service workers that manifested in an endless motorcade that stopped the otherwise timely buses of the city for a full half hour.
All this happened on my way from looking at my potential new living quarters. I am moving out of my current place. For one who has moved around as much as I have during my life, it surprised me that I would suffer so much pain at the thought of moving to a new place.
And so it hit me as abruptly as the snowflakes turned back to heavy rain that the one thing I hate in this life is change. I left my country of birth at 10 years of age and engaged in an endless pattern of moving throughout the last 33 years, and though filled with all kinds of wonderful adventures I would not trade for anything, there is a not-so-secret part of my soul that longs for one place, one girl, one family, one work, one regular hangout where I watch the Soccer World Cup with the same friends, rooting together for our one national team, wherever it ends up being.
Yet eternal transformation and the acceptance thereof is our destiny and the only fact of which we are certain. From our first human incarnation as a fertilized human egg, we continually transform until we leave the body we inhabit to graduate to whatever next level that is beyond this existence.
Now to the vocal point! So it is also with our voice. Not only that it changes continuously but that indeed our lives as singers, professional or avocational require a continuous alchemy of voice in all its forms, physical, mental and spiritual.
Like me, human beings do not like change, even those like me who seem to thrive on it. Thus it is not surprising that when it comes to voices, the culture of singing denies change in so many ways. "He has not much voice!" One teacher of mine, one of my heroes, would say. "He has a limited voice!" A colleague of mine would affirm. "She has a limited talent!" Another coach would claim. Maybe it is my gypsy-like existence that has taught me that everything transforms. And it is not surprising that my students talk about their time with me for better or for worse as "transformational".
Despite my instinctive resistance to change, my life remains all about change, most prominently my unlikely transformation to tenor, my alchemy from base-baritone to precious tenor. Precious because tenor is what I truly am! This week made manifest another one of my visions: to sing a sustained high C in context. And low and behold as I always dreamed, I was able to sing the high C in Pollione's aria in Norma (incidentally a desire I had long before I ever knew I was a tenor) and the throwaway high C in the third act of Otello. I always felt that note should be sung, not screamed. It has greater dramatic power when it is actually sung with rage rather than yelled on a lower pitch.
Parenthetically, if I thought my new tenor voice had completed its transformation 100%, I would be flooding the internet with my clips. But the many nay-sayers who believe in the static nature of the voice have made me less apt to put out too many clips, other than here on the blog. And don't worry, I will have them soon. I have made enough progress to warrant a kind of coming out.
The greater point here (beyond my own transformation which has probably become a source of boredom for you readers, since I mention it so much) is the alchemical nature of the voice, particularly with respect to what we start with when our soul says: "You are a singer," and what we must become vocally to follow the path that destiny has prepared for us. Our battle therefore is with a world that judges you for what you are right now as opposed to what you should become given the change to transform.
Nature gives us the dramatic example of the caterpillar who transforms into the glorious butterfly, yet we do not realize that this is as much a metaphor for our own lives.
The lies that I have ached for so long to denounce are these: "You have a limited talent!" "You don't have much voice!" "You have a limited voice!"
What makes you think you are a singer? Did some little voice deep inside of you at some point in time immemorial whisper to you that you must sing? Why else would you undertake this path that is froth with obstacles and seeming unfairness and chaos, with possibly little in return in terms of material reward in the static sense? There are two answers: 1) The universe is a happenstance experience with no purpose and we humans are the butt of a cruel joke. 2) We are here for a grand purpose that is made clear to us and the Universe will provide the means for us to carry out our destiny, which is our source of ultimate satisfaction in this existence. Whether I am living an empty delusion in believing the second answer, I find it much more acceptable and because of it spent the last 26 years making sense of that destiny.
Whichever of the choices one choses to accept, what I can be certain of is that those limiting pronouncements I denounce above are indeed falsehoods. I know for fact, I am scientifically certain that other than people born with a physical limitation, every one of us has a voice capable of the most extraordinary musical potential. The only determinant is whether the individual in question has that inner desire to transform from vocal caterpillar to operatic butterfly.
The last seven years beyond the loss of home and the routine of unhealthy relationships to at least the hope of a loving one has been the most affirming. The last five years beyond the safety of an academic paycheck have been the most fulfilling if precarious, and the last 19 months in my cocooned state have been the most transformational in every sense. Through the last 7 years I have transformed into the butterfly I was supposed to become. I only need now to break out of my cocoon and take flight. Somehow through this blog in the last two years I think I have begun the process of breaking through that shell.