Tuesday, January 31, 2012

When Bad Things Happen to Good Singers

One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain. -Bob Marley

I’m sure you’ve all heard the story of triumph on the operatic stage.  You know the story, (insert opera singer here) had to overcome (insert injury or personal trauma) on the opening night of (famous opera) at (A level opera house).  In this game of operatic mad libs, the music always triumphs over the emotional or physical pain and the audience is none the wiser regarding the drama offstage.  We are taught to persevere, unless, God forbid, we have sinus drainage, acid reflux, or our period.  Then all bets are off.  So here’s the question, as singers, when do we wallow and when do we wail through it?

January is never my favorite month of the year.  The weather is grey and my inbox starts filling up with those lovely rejection letters from December auditions.  So, I’m already as low as east coast temperatures and this January, I received an additional blow.  A member of my family passed away recently and the memorial service was delayed, putting me in a two-week limbo of grieving in the city.  I will go home to California this weekend and find comfort in my family, my hometown, and my German shepherd.  I’ve felt about as strong as tissue paper and equally transparent over the past two weeks.  Little things have been setting me off, an angry client at my day job, a rude commuter on the subway, disappointment in my dating life.  I knew I wasn’t really crying about the guy who wouldn’t move to the center of the train, but I was afraid if I tapped into what was really bothering me, the flood gates would open and I would not be able to get through each day.   But how could I open my mouth without opening my soul?

I had an audition last week in the midst of my distress and I was very worried either my singing would be tight in order to keep my emotions under control or I wouldn’t be able to present myself with poise or composure because I was on the verge of tears.  Luckily, I got though it and, for better or for worse, I felt like I gave a much more genuine and vulnerable performance than in past auditions.  Before the day of the auditions, I was going back and forth questioning: you can cancel if you’re coughing, but should you cancel if you’re crazy? 

I have an even greater challenge next week, singing at my uncle’s funeral.  I hate singing family funerals because I have to remain stoic in order to get through each piece.  I can’t sing and grieve simultaneously, so I repress everything until after the performance is over.  It’s very hard on me, and I feel isolated from my family throughout the service.  However, if I have a gift I can offer my family during a time of need, I need to put my issues aside and try to bring comfort in whatever way is in my power.

As hard as it feels some days, I’ve decided to just keep singing through this difficult time.   My vibrato may shake, my eyes may well up, but my cords will stay strong and, hopefully, my spirit will as well.    Because, unfortunately, people will come in and out of my life, but music will always be with me on this journey.