Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fit to Sing

One of my "trademarks," and something that you will often hear me repeat, is that I have been trying to learn to sing for 25 years. Don't be put off if you hear it over and over again, because it is part of my experience, and it never will NOT be part of my experience. It, along with a couple of other mantras will be repeated as a theme here in this blog. A person has one life to live. Events happen, choices are made, and then become part of a person's history. The fact that I am 47 years old and still trying to learn to sing is part of my story, and won't change about me.

For some, people who were naturally coordinated, or found the right kind of teachers for them, or who "got it" early in life, or who had a different kind of voice, or were much more clever, I imagine it might seem almost ridiculous that I shouldn't have achieved anything in this discipline earlier than this. (And by "achievement" I mean expertise or proficiency.) It does seem a little ridiculous to me. There are a couple of other areas of my life that I have been trying to figure out for nearly as long or longer, food and weight management being one of them. That also, apparently, seems like a no-brainer to many people, but I have struggled with achieving any measure of expertise or proficiency in this area as well, and the struggle to develop my voice has often paralleled my struggle to manage my food and weight, and in recent years the two struggles have converged and become entwined with each other.

I had a big "Aha!" moment several years ago when the understanding struck me, despite previously kind of only having understood this intellectually, that singing was athletic! When this idea really sunk in for real, my discouragement from contending with so many vocal issues lifted, and a new hope was born that I would be able to get "there" vocally after all. Once I realized the kind of work and patience that would be involved, I knew that I still had a shot at achieving my dream ... a free and refined and beautiful-to-hear vocal product that would be able to perform some of the most beautiful, but most difficult, music written for the human voice! Believing that you can do something is a very important part of actualizing a dream. Living in hope is a far more exciting and enriching experience than believing it can't be done.

So, I have come to understand singing as a sport. Different sports develop different sets of muscles. It can be an interesting experience for an athlete who is a professional level at one sport, to "cross over" and try another sport and find that he is weak in the other area. That's because different muscle groups are in play for each sport, and used at different angles and in different ways. So, cross training becomes a component of an athletes program so that there is not an imbalance in the body, with a certain musculature becoming way stronger and more developed than other muscles.

The set of muscles used in singing is an interior and deep set of muscles that are often taken for granted and often not consciously developed and even neglected. They are muscles that regulate breathing, and activate speaking. They are the muscles of posture and keeping us erect. They are the muscles of interior activity, of digestion, waste elimination, reproduction and giving birth. Muscles in charge of keeping us healthy by working in conjunction with our immune system to expel foreign invaders. Muscles responsible for communication. They are deep within our core. I sometimes think this muscular system doesn't recommend itself for fitness because it doesn't show. A lot of times fitness is desired for the sake of its effect on our appearance. An interior fitness, at first glance, doesn't seem like it would be important because it's not public. It seems to work fine, quietly in the background, even when we're sleeping, right? The thought of developing it often does not occur at first.

But elite athletes who delve deeply into their sports often discover that this interior fitness is at the root of everything they do. Breath control and interior core fitness within becomes part of what is needed to reach higher levels of their outer sports.

Isn't it funny sometimes, when you behold a fit and svelte athlete with ideal muscle definition, a finely developed example of the human figure, open his/her mouth and a nasally or squeaky funny little voice comes out? It doesn't seem to match. That's because attention has not been paid to the athletics of vocal production in that person's life. It is taken for granted and not been developed. There is an imbalance.

The idea of cross training has entered into my vocal life. I see that there are elite singers who have developed this vocal fitness, but don't pay attention to the outside fitness as part of their vocal training. To me, this is kind of like the cut athlete who has the funny voice but in reverse. Well, why does a figure skater need a voice? And why would the opera singer need to be able to figure skate? Isn't it a full time job to become proficient in just one set of muscle activity, and shouldn't that be enough?

Maybe, but to me the experience is a totality, and to develop one part of the unit that is me and to not bring the other parts of the unit along with it seems imbalanced, and this imbalance is going to take its toll at some point. Also, developing one discipline can bring to light lessons that are useful in applying to the other.

I have a fitness book on my shelf called Perfect Parts: A World Champions Guide to Spot Slimming Shaping and Strengthening Your Body by Joyce Vedral and Rachel McLish, two women body builders. I am going from memory of having read the book years ago, but in this book they recommend trying to develop just one set of muscles (as opposed to plunging into full-fledged entire body building), but they do say it is for the purpose of experiencing how wonderful that is, and they believe that experiencing the results will inspire you to proceed and develop the other muscles too. So, you might start out, for example, choosing the routine to soleley develop your abs, experience the process of how to achieve this kind of muscle sculpting and development, gain understanding of the principles involved, be delighted by the results, and move on to develop the totality.

This is kind of the way it is working for me and voice. My interest in developing just my voice, merely one athleticism, has led to my interest in cross training and the benefits it will have on me as a total singing artist. So I will be writing of other pursuits, fitness, weight management, spiritual development, emotional issues as well as singing, because I have come to believe that all of these things are connected to my singing. The desire to sculpt and develop my voice has bled into all other areas, so you will hear this theme of mine over and over again as I write on these pages, because it is the approach, a kind of holistic and total approach to singing that has become my ideal.

My singing has become a vehicle for finding the true and hidden secrets of my existence as a human being. It has been the key to unlocking my life.

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