Getting back to regular exercise after colliding with an upright piano (don’t ask, and please do not try this at home*), I find myself torn between pushing and holding back. Yeah, that old conundrum. No pain, no gain and all that. Well, at a certain point we all have to listen to our bodies and heed what they say or they yell louder (“That HURTS, you IDIOT–can you hear me now?”).
I’ve always been a get-back-on the-horse as quickly as possible kind of person, so I’ve been walking and stretching. Today I tried an exercise class. I couldn’t do everything, but at least I went. I listened to my body intently as I moved, and feel pretty good now. It took a few years (okay, decades) to get the hang of how to garden for a short time and then stand up and walk around or do something different with my body. So now i have another reminder.
And so it is with singing. We push for the high notes, lift our shoulders, tighten our necks and jaws. We have all sung without warming up, pushed through vocal fatigue and colds and done a thousand other little things. My favorite is how we lean towards the audience as we sing to show we really care…
I was singing a recital with my wise colleague Francie Fitch after a bout with bronchitis. I was frustrated that I couldn’t get from 0-60mph as soon as I resumed singing. She reminded me that in the 19th century novels, heroines often had a “long convalescence.” How lovely, to give oneself such a gentle recuperative period. We don’t. I know. It’s even faster paced now than when I was a pup. I was anxious to be a good employee at every gig I landed, always showing up and singing full voice, never being a troublesome colleague. When I had vocal problems, I ignored them and the results were not pretty.
We are told not to listen to ourselves when we sing. I know how hard that is. But we can listen to our bodies–in a loving and respectful way. They tell us to take a sip of water, to rest the voice for a while, to take a nap or have a meal. There is an art to living in a body, and an art to having your instrument in your body. It takes patience. And practice.
*okay,I was trying to prevent a small upright from tipping over. I was moving said piano–as I have every week at the Harriet Tubman House for 6 years, mind you–to use it to teach my lovely class and the wheels froze (kind of like shopping carts, it felt like) and my helper gave that extra push…since I was holding the handle and I desperately wanted to right the piano, I held on too long. It had lost its balance on occasion before, but had never fallen on its back. The piano lived and only one note sticks–the low Eb that is the tonic for our Bach aria, by the way. I have bruises all the way from elbow to tip of fingers. The full mechanisms are slow to get back and to strengthen again. But it could have been much worse.