Country songs and overflowing sinks

This has been a challenging week.  Between our apartment flooding (and consequently flooding the apartment below us), stress related to some new work I’m doing, and a few other things, I’m ready to run away and hide.  For a little while.

Every time I hear the electrician working away below us, I wince.  I feel for the people who live there.   But I also wonder—were I the person in that apartment—if I would shake my fist at the ceiling and curse.

Hopefully not.  Hopefully, while I would be frustrated, I would simply shrug and say that sometimes, stuff just happens.  Despite your best intentions and preparations.  Accidents happen.  Life happens.  You know why?  Because we’re humans, not robots.

And while I’m perfectly happy to extend that grace to others, I am almost completely unable to extend that grace to myself.

At what point do we decide that perfection is meaningless?  That a lack of perfection is not a fatal character flaw?

At what point do we get over whether we’re liked?  Whether our intentions are understood?

At what point do we grow up, get over it, and move on?

These are not rhetorical questions.  I ask them earnestly—not only of my friends and strangers on the bus, but of myself.  Perhaps, they are the foundation achieving grown-up-ness.  If they are, then I still have a long way to go.  I suppose it’s a matter of perspective.

There’s a New Zealand poet I quite like, by the name of Hone Tuwhare.  His poems were equally lusty, ribald, and political.  They are a joy to read, because sometimes they make you smile, but they always make you think.  They have depth.  Especially the later ones.   I’d like to think it’s because—by the end of his life—Hone Tuwhare had answered all of the questions I ask above.  So that even when metaphorically speaking of sausages, he spoke with the voice of someone who could appreciate what a rare gift it was to enjoy a midnight tryst with the one you love.  You don’t have that perspective at twenty.  Or, dare I say it, even at forty.  Perspective is the one thing we need as early as possible in our lives.  Isn’t it an irony, then, that we only gain it through experience and time?

There will be a point at which I can answer my questions, where I can extend grace to myself, and where I can get over it and move on (metaphorically speaking).  When that will be is anyone’s guess.  I suppose this is one situation in which the journey is the destination.  And let’s be real, a year from now (or even five months from now) I will not still carry the burden of this week–a self-inflicted burden for the most part, mind.  This I know. It’s just the actual getting through the week and keeping that self-infliction part to a minimum that I still struggle with.

Being a curious sort, when did you reach these points of enlightenment yourselves?  And if you’re like me—floundering and still trying to find socks that match—when do you hope to?

And if  you’d like to check out some Mr Tuwhare’s poems, there are several here and also here.

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Finding my voice

Wax on. Wax off. I am the karate kid of singing. No, I’m not talking about the fancy karate-kick-with-a-broken-ankle kind of karate kid. I mean the washing-and-waxing- dilapidated-cars kind. Except instead of cars, I have five notes. Up and down. On a rolled R. Sometimes—if I’m really doing well—on an eee vowel. Absolutely, positively, no consonants. Except g. Sometimes there’s a g consonant.

This has been a major part of my singing life for the last two months.

I recently started voice lessons again. My teacher is amazing. And very technical. And exacting.

And thus began my hour-long, “do-or-do-not-there-is-no-try” lessons and multiple hours of weekly practice on five notes. Up and down. Rolled r’s. The occasional g.

It’s not as boring as it sounds. The whole time I’m thinking about whether my larynx is open, whether my vocal folds are relaxed, whether the ligaments are stretched or loose, what my soft-palate is doing, how my hard palate is placed, keeping my tongue in the right place at the right time, and a whole host of other things. That’s a lot to do in five little notes, up and down the scale.

Image

shamelessly lifted from choral.net

Why? Why I am doing this? If you imagine the voice as a series of bicycle chains and gears, mine don’t flow together as well as they could and the switch between them is sticky. Plus, one of the chains is hit or miss, performance wise. That was never a problem as long as I was on the flat, so to speak, but anything really challenging showed the weaknesses. The aim of these lessons is to work these chains and gears, or voice registers, so that they run smoothly and perfectly, no matter the conditions. And so that I can sing Strauss. And meaty Mozart arias. And all sorts of other music I’ve always shied away from.

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Yet another great image from choral.net

I should be thrilled. And I am, but…

Here’s the thing. Voices generally match bodies. What I mean is—from a physical standpoint—a tall woman with a large jaw has a much bigger instrument than a short, slight woman. All that means—really—is that the tall woman doesn’t have to work as hard as the slight woman to produce a big sound.

But it does, on some level, go farther than that. We also expect that voices match bodies in a more specific sense (regardless of whether it’s true). Tall, willowy blonde with ankles the circumference of pencils? Surely she has an ethereal, super-high voice that spins and spins and spins into the rafters before floating down and wafting around you.

Squashy, curvy woman with a big jaw and meaty wrists? Of course you’re going to get a big sound that surges through the room, envelops you, slaps you around a bit, and then sinks into your bones.

No.

I want to sound like the tall, willowy blonde with ankles the circumference of pencils. I don’t want to sound like that squashy, curvy woman with meaty wrists.

Yes. But with hair. Long, cascading blonde curls will do, thanks.

Why? Because my whole life I have wished I had ankles that might snap at slightest misstep. (Not really. It’s metaphorical.)

I have never looked like that. And I won’t ever look like that, either. But in some ways, trying to emulate this light, floaty voice made me feel willowy, even if only for a few minutes.

I remember being a slim kid who was still taller, broader, and just plain bigger than every other kid around me. At the age of twelve, a distant uncle tried entice me to work on his farm for a few weeks because, you know, I was “sturdy”.

I don’t know a single woman who genuinely wants to be sturdy. Myself included.

Tapping into this big, meaty voice I supposedly have has required me to confront demons that seem to plague me no matter what I’m doing or what the situation is. Or how much weight I lose. It’s not a fun process.

I imagine that’s why it’s called “personal growth”.

While I continue to ponder that, I must get back to my five notes up and down.

We tried the octave last week, but my teacher quickly decided I wasn’t ready for eight notes at time. Maybe next month, she said.

Wax on. Wax off. Do-re-mi-fa-sol. Sol-fa-mi-re-do.