Monday, April 18, 2011

Zen and the Art of Laura Parker Maintenance

In case you may not have guessed from my previous posts, I will come out and admit that I am Type-A.  I am a perfectionist and tend to lean toward the neurotic.  I am a soprano.  In my constant quest to improve my technique and artistry, I have shied away from the word “maintenance.”  To me, it always seemed the antithesis of improvement, and would lead to an inevitable backslide in my progress.  However, I have been looking at the word differently lately.  If something is great, you want it to continue to be great.  Maintenance is not floating along, but rather treading water until the next great wave approaches.

When I say maintenance, what comes to mind for many is the term “high maintenance.”  As a sappy fan of the romantic-comedy genre, I feel the need to quote When Harry Met Sally here:
Harry: There are two kinds of women: high maintenance and low maintenance
Sally : Which one am I?
Harry :You're the worst kind; you're high maintenance but you think you're low maintenance.
Sally: I don't see that.
I’m not quite that bad because I know I’m high maintenance.  I have so many food allergies and intolerances that I spend hours in restaurants ordering everything on the side or with my own creative substitutions.  I value my beauty sleep and make rest an important priority in my upkeep. I care more about retouching my roots than restocking my groceries.  And then there are the standards I hold myself to as a singer…

When I started college as an undergraduate voice major, I was given an informational handout on maintaining vocal health and hygiene.  Many of the advisories were helpful and remain a part of my life: avoid loud places, avoid eating before bed, avoid smoke, stay hydrated, etc.  However, some of them seemed a little silly, particularly the suggestion to “avoid making engine or animal noises.”  With all vroom, vrooming aside, it made me realize at a young age that I was going to be making some major sacrifices during a period when most people are feeling the freest they will ever be.  The change wasn’t easy, but took an infinitesimal amount of time compared the longevity I have been given by maintaining good health.  I just have to remember those benefits of healthy cords when my “civilian” (non-singer) friends mock me for my Sally-esque lifestyle choices.

Maintenance isn’t only about bringing my best body to the studio, it is also about keeping the projects that are not in the foreground constantly in my peripheral view.  I have to maintain quality in my older repertoire while trying to improve new pieces because if I neglect something for a period of time, it gets rusty.  Nothing frustrates me more than asking my teacher to help me apply some technical WD-40 to my arias because I left them unattended in my vocal storage closet.  I am constantly challenging myself to keep things in shape to avoid the extra time going back and re-fixing phrases that were ironed out during the initial part of the process. 

Now I’m facing the challenge of maintenance in a new part of my life.  After incurring a spinal injury eight months ago, I am at the point in my rehabilitation process that I will soon graduate from physical therapy.  I will soon be responsible for maintaining my spinal health. Alexander Technique has made a tremendous impact on my recovery, and I plan to continue my study of inhibiting and redirecting.  I am returning to my yoga practice to keep everything malleable as well.  It is a daunting transition, and it makes me realize the idea of maintaining my health on my own may be just as challenging as achieving it with a team.

Maintenance has not only allowed me to regroup between milestones, it has given me the fantastic opportunity to examine the journey I’ve made and map out the road ahead.   I am currently looking down the path at my rapidly approaching summer at the Castleton Music Festival, when I know growing-- and perhaps some growing pains-- will be inevitable, and I want to arrive in Virginia at my best and ready for two months of intensity.  If the recipe for a successful summer requires my next six weeks to be operating at a slow burn, then I will patiently simmer until I can be one piping hot Parker! 

Maybe I’ll just take my animal noises on the side…