Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Enchanted Pig

I attended an "opera" for children last night at the New Victory Theater called The Enchanted Pig  (presented by The Opera Group/ROH2 at the Royal Opera House/Young Vic)  It was a wonderful, symbolic, whimsical expression of the story of a princess and her quest for real love.When I woke up this morning, however, I realized that I had inadvertently been exposed to a tale that can also serve to illuminate the quest of a singer to find her real voice.

In the story, a young princess finds herself in the fatalistic and nightmarish circumstance of having to be wed to a smelly pig.  The story proceeds as one might predict.  He takes her back to his palace and makes her wallow in the mud and even give him a reluctant kiss.  After her despair settles down some, she manages to notice the pig's eyes and how beautiful they are.  She sees something in them and wonders how she could not have noticed it before  Then, at night, in the moonlight, he transforms to a King, a prospect of a husband she can much better deal with.

However, in the daytime, her King transforms back into The Pig.  He tells her to have love, trust, and patience, and that this love, trust and patience is key to breaking the spell over him, and helping him remain the King who has visited her in the night.

The princess, however, does not have patience.  She wants to find a way to speed the process.  She wants to help him transform sooner back into his true self.  She wants to find a power greater than love that can change him back.  She wants to find a power greater than trust to help him transform.  She wants to find a power greater than patience.

An old woman, who is of course really a witch, sees this impatience and banks on it.  She tells the princess she has a powerful spell which can change the pig back into a man faster, a magical cord that she can tie around him when he is the King at night.  This is a trick, of course, and the cord serves to bind the princess's husband and make him the possession of the witch, who takes him away from the princess's sight.

"If only you had trusted and had patience,"  exclaims her husband, "If you had stayed with me three full nights, the spell would have been completely broken."

Now, he tells her that she will see him again, but she must wear out three pairs of iron shoes searching the entire world for him.  Because she had failed to believe in the power of love, patience, and trust, her task was going to be much more difficult now.

The reason I think this can serve as an allegory of the quest of a singer is because the powers of love, patience, and trust are the ones that will develop the voice to the higher and masterful stages of singing.  When we try to rush or force the process, or find some speedier way, there is a potential to mess up our voices, and then we end up in vocal trouble, never having achieved our goal, and having to begin all over again -- this time with the greater task of undoing the damage we have done by forcing things too soon.

I see the unrefined voice that we start out with as "The Pig."  We want it to sound nicer, but it may need to "wallow in the mud" to discover itself.  The princess in the story is surprised that wallowing in the mud had been more enjoyable than she had expected it to be.  For me, wallowing in the mud with one's voice is just allowing one's self to experience the pure essence of the sound one can make.  To play around with it and discover it in the playground of pure phonation itself.  Stretch it and mush it and just see what it can do.

Looking into the eyes of "The Pig" and seeing something there, something beautiful, is like being sensitive to the core sound a person can make.  I believe that all voice teachers should have the ability to look into the eyes of "the pig" and recognize beauty there.  Not mere potential.  But the beauty of what truly IS there. When I listen to a singer, I strip away, in my mind, faulty technique,  lack of development and strength, even lack of pitch or musicality, and I hear that core sound.  That is why sometimes I think an unrefined voice is beautiful and my husband -- or whomever friend is with me -- will puzzle over what it is I am hearing when I remark what a beautiful voice the singer has.   I am hearing the quality of the sound that the  person possess on the most fundamental of levels.  This is why I love to listen to avocational singers.  Maybe I am destined to teach someday.

As a singer enters into the relationship of cultivating the voice, the voice may appear in moments like the "King" that it really is.  When these developmental moments occur, the singer is given a glimpse of what will be possible.  But these moments, in the beginning last a short time.  The singer may try to grasp at these moments and make them stay, only to have them slip through the fingers.

I had such a moment this morning.  I opened my mouth to sing and the fruit of some of the work I've been doing made itself apparent to me.  It took me by surprise, and was a delight.  My first impulse was to "capitalize" on this, pounce on it and run away with it.  I wanted to take that glimpse of beauty and extend it, make it more than it was.  I was so taken by the gain, that I was greedy and wanted more.  Can I make this more beautiful right now?  Can I have the next stage as well?  Can I make it come today?  But past experience with this -- and the message of patience from the Enchanted Pig story still swirling through my mind -- made me realize that I had to proceed with care and just enjoy the new gains to the extent that they will allow for this day.

The witch, offering a better and faster way to free the "King," is like some secret vocal method or tricks that are going to give you the "secret" faster.  A singer may fall for this.  A singer may not be willing to wait, or have despaired of waiting, or lost faith in waiting, and try to force the transformation.  Sometimes this can lead to the devastating situation of having developed improperly and therefore have limits and issues and problems with the voice that imprison it, just as the princess's King was imprisoned.

To free the voice once it has become a captive, a slave to these imbalances and problems, the journey might then become something like walking with the iron shoes around the world.  It can be done and, if undertaken, this journey may even end, as it does in the story, with a deeper and happier knowledge of the nature of things than if the princess had not taken this misstep.  What she learns about love and patience and trust in the end brings her a deeper version of love than she imagined or guessed at when she began her story.

Below is a youtube preview of The Enchanted Pig.  There is still time to go see it.  Although an excellent vehicle to introduce children to this kind of sung story, don't think you have to have a child in order to go and enjoy it.  There is much in this production that can satisfy the soul of an adult as well, humor and allusions to things about love that an adult will enjoy and appreciate.

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