Sunday, December 25, 2011

Kashu-do (歌手道): The Way of the Singer Is a Solitary One -- A New Year's Wish!

First, I wish you all, dear friends around the world a very enjoyable holiday season, as you celebrate religious holidays of many kinds and reflect on the previous year. In two days, on the 27th of December (my birthday), the blog will be four years old.  My writing has been less frequent but not for lack of things to write about.  In fact, quite the contrary!  So many experiences, on a daily basis, in lessons, in my practice, in listening to singers on stage, at concerts, etc.  But as we close 2011, I am so filled with the thought of how lonely the path is at times.  This is not negative or positive, but rather a simple observation.  Each singer's experience is singular.  No one travels the same road.  In lessons, I must find a singular way to share the same fundamentals with each student.  The nature of the lesson depends on the needs of the student in the moment and what I feel they need.  A give-and-take is necessary, but certain information must be disseminated, shared, passed on, discovered...

The most painful part of the path is the one that was not supposed to have happened in the natural scheme of things.  It is not a natural thing for a singer to wake up one day and realize that s/he had not learned what s/he was supposed to have learned in order to be prepared.  And even if the true singer will go back to what seems like the beginning, in order to become the singer s/he was meant to be, it is not without great difficulty that s/he undertakes the challenge to become more complete.  The young singer who must work hard to develop a strong foundation either has the staying power or not.  In the natural course of things, the young singer will find out whether s/he has what it takes to stay the course.  Youth is indeed the natural time to deal with the frustrations of learning to sing.  When one is older it is 1000 times more difficult, but the seeker of truth (one's personal truth) has no choice but to return to the road and attempt to find the real path once again.

In returning to the road and undertaking learning fundamentals again,  the older singer must be armed with even greater faith, even greater patience, even greater courage.  To take the path again, one must take as given that a real technique (for lack of a better term) is possible for anyone who truly wants it. Otherwise, it is self-torture to undergo the path again.  One must have the courage to stay the course when it is easier to listen to the discouragement of the masses.  One must have above all the patience to realize the vision of a healthy, pleasurable relationship with singing.  Otherwise, any attempt is worthless.

In the best moment, it is no longer about the career, nor is it about adulation or impressing anyone.  A singer is fundamentally a healer.  What we do with great music, channeled through the purity of the fully-developed primal human voice is soul-nourishing.  A singer must sing and in a way that heals others and him/herself through the process.  To be blocked and frustrated is nothing short of karmic poisoning.  We must complete the process of becoming skilled.  Not for money, not for a career, not for applause, but for the sake of what singing means to the singer and indeed to the world of listeners.

Too much in the past year have I witnessed the hidden anger of singers who must come before an audience with a feeling of uncertainty and worthlessness.  It costs them so much to keep their composure, but they should not have to go through such a hell.  Too much the frustration of singers who yearn to be able to sing the song the way they always wished they could!

I am however lucky to have witnessed this year the light of hope in singers' eyes who see the light at the end of a long tunnel, who realized that indeed they can become masters of their voices, paradoxically by training it and then releasing it to do what it was always meant to do without conscious help.  Yet there are moments, even after accomplishing once-seemingly-unattainable skills, when doubt rears its ugly head--doubt of whether that day will ever come when true ease is possible.  This is the challenge that plagues so many otherwise capable and potentially inspiring artists.  That question:  "Will I ever sing well?" is poison.  It is doubt!  Those who were lucky to have developed good vocal strength and coordination before they were conscious that singing is a learned skill take for granted that they "have a beautiful voice" and can always find it again.  The disadvantage of the singer who must consciously find his/her natural voice for the first time is that s/he feels she is chasing a dream, a legend that may or may not be true.  I promise, it is not a legend.  But like any true buried treasure, it takes an adventure to find it.  But what wonder when the treasure is unearthed!!!

A beautiful functional voice that responds to the need to express is the "norm" and a birthright for every human being, barring some unfortunate physical handicap. A singer simply adds the musical component to that innate capacity.  Yet our consciousness, which leads to the act of mimicry causes us to copy the voices of our parents, our older siblings and eventually our favorite singers, all the while losing track of the original, unique voice that is each individual's personal treasure.  That unconscious loss means muscular deviation and unbalance.  To regain our nature we must often go through unnatural frustrations. Yet, it is completely worth it because honest, unedited expression is healing to the human spirit.  Hence the re-acquisition of our voices, our instrument of expression is not only necessary for the singer but for the human being.  Unfettered expression awakens a truth in our fellow human being that makes vocal performance, whether theater or singing, a necessary ceremony--A ceremony that requires that the singer be a vessel of inspired human experience that is to then be shared by means of the voice. 

My wish for each of you, my friends, is that you do not abandon the path to your true voices.  In 2012, I wish you all some moments of clarity when you experience a glimpse of how special it is to express yourselves by means of your most natural voice.  Stay the course: Faith, Courage, Patience...Hard Work Is a Given!

© 12/25/2011

3 comments:

Beth said...

I'm in the process of relearning how to sing after a seven year hiatus. Your New Years post belongs on my practice area wall.

Seven years ago when I sang, I sang to prove what I could do. This time around, I'm singing to find out who I can be. A subtle but very important difference that is intimately connected to this observation of yours:

-- In the best moment, it is no longer about the career, nor is it about adulation or impressing anyone. A singer is fundamentally a healer. What we do with great music, channeled through the purity of the fully-developed primal human voice is soul-nourishing. A singer must sing and in a way that heals others and him/herself through the process. --

Thank-you.

jamesb said...

Thank you for your inspiring and wise words. I am so taken. I have always loved to sing and in so many ways it has saved my life. However, in the process of trying to build a life I lost my voice and all of what you have just written are all of those things that are of primal importance. Thank you for reminding me.

ScholarChanter said...

Thank you for walking the frustrating journey with me. After 13 years as a baritone/bass, it is likewise enlightening to know why my voice didn't quite function at its peak although I could sing well otherwise; yet tenor-dom is filled with obstacles. Nevertheless, I cannot give up, as tempting it is, as a non-singing professional, because I must express my (true)self, my true voice, not what I am comfortable with presenting in public! I also was motivated to sing "well" to impress, prove myself. New things for this year include finding a new teacher and time to sing in midst of work and a new baby.