Now, by the formula presented a few posts ago (that singers think about quitting at least five times a day), the correct answer to the equation would be x>65. I mentioned this hypothesis during a ‘singing is hard’ conversation and one soprano insisted she never thought about quitting, which is clearly a lie. I’ve had friends tell me that they so dread the process of warming up that they wonder if they’ll ever sing again. Some friends have tried other jobs, other artistic outlets, and just keep coming back. A dear one tells me singing is for masochists, and I think she might be on to something.
I approached meltdown yesterday after a coaching. I had had a similarly dolorous moment the previous day at the same time, which leads me to believe that the angst may have more to do with the hour than with my vocal folds. My coaching was actually quite wonderful, with a coach who knows the repertoire and the voice inside and out. He was relentless for a half an hour about my keeping vertical space and not spreading. He told me “Quando tu canti verticalmente, è bellissima. Quando canti orizzontalmente…è una vergogna” (When you sing vertically, it’s very beautiful. When you sing horizontally…it’s a shame).
As anyone who has tried to change anything knows, CHANGE IS HARD. What can become overwhelming is the amount of habitual action that needs to be overcome in order to get out of the way of the sound. I hold my head slightly tipped, spread the tone, sing indistinct vowels, manufacture vibrato, ecc. Next time you see a singer, pat them on the back for all of their hard work.
The habit that I think will be most difficult to break is holding my jaw. I know you’re having visions of me on stage with my jaw in my hand, but that’s not quite it. During Alexander classes in grad school I was always the one who couldn’t release tension in order to allow other people to move my body. If told to let someone else wave my arm, or allow someone to lift my head form the ground, I wasnàt able to relax enough to do so (me, unable to relax? unbelievable!) I hold tension in my shoulders, as if my arms would fall off without that effort. So when Ubbaldo was trying to yank my jaw around yesterday I felt like he’d discovered my secret shame.
Take your jaw in your thumb and forefinger. Try to move your jaw only with your hand and not with your mandibular muscles. It’s difficult, ESPECIALLY IF YOUR LAST NAME IS FELICE. I am lucky there was the language barrier yesterday, because had I more facility in Italian I probably would have confessed the fact that I am a chronic stresscase, that I sprang from the womb leading with my jaw, that I’m from New England, that I haven’t been wearing my bite guard…any number of excuses that probably would have left me in tears. Instead I passed a maudlin hour and then went back to the practice room.
Who’s got two thumbs, speaks limited French, and hasn’t cried once today? This moi.