Worthington Presbyterian Church vocalists are meeting every Thursday night this month, preparing summer season solos and receiving coaching from me and from colleague, Sharon Stohrer. Talk about lifelong learning! Here are women, several of them in their mature years, continuing to make beautiful music as they hone the craft of singing.
They are an inspiration to this singer of 60 years. To inspire is to ‘infuse an animating, quickening, or exalting influence into.’ To inspire also means ‘to inhale’; ‘to take air intothe lungs.’ Isak Dinesen wrote this about her Ngong farm in Africa:
‘The chief feature of the landscape, and of your life in it, was the air….Up in this high air, you breathed easily, drawing in a vital assurance and lightness of heart.’*
The sound we produce rides the breath. Soundwaves require air. It’s what they travel on. And each full and good inspiration has in it the potential to inspire as the lyrics and melodies reach the ear of the listener.
May you breathe, and yes, sing, with ‘lightness of heart’ this first week of summer—–
Humid, sunny, no breeze, no water, no hat. A horse-fly repeatedly dive-bombs, then burrows into my hair with an angry buzz. Waving walking poles at it, I whack myself in the head. Good Lord. Did I mention 7 ticks on my person? S-E-V-E-N.
Trudging up the final crest, a litany of complaints was in rehearsal, performance scheduled for an audience of one (my husband). With gaze fixed glumly on the ground, I happen upon a pair of tiger swallowtails. Returned to the present moment by astonishing and surprising beauty, I stop in my tracks.
And you know what comes next. This stopping of whatever you are doing Mr. Alexander termed ‘Inhibition’. Having stopped usual habits (i.e.–trudging, mental rehearsals, downward pull compressing my spine, etc.), I then have the opportunity for something else. Usually something much better.
Please note: optimal conditions are not required for choosing optimal Use. In other words, you can, in the most unpleasant of circumstances, stop and receive whatever is right in front of you. This provides greater ease and comfort in the physical body, and a lightness of mind as well.
That performance of complaints? Never happened. The swallowtails stole the show.
Glory be.It’s a fine morning on the hill. Bird chorus was a cacophony, and early. Sighted a Baltimore Oriole! A flash of brilliant orange and there he was, singing in a meadow bush. On lifting from his perch, he flew straight toward me, veering off to land in the nearest oak. Oh, my.
To enhance your birding experience, add some Alexander Technique thinking. Begin by simply noting and observing your usual patterns of use. Mine: 1. In the excitement of a closer view, I plop the binocs right up against my face, blurring my vision. 2. In a mis-directed attempt to obtain the best look, I scrunch down into the binocs, often not noticing this until my neck begins to hurt. 3. Arms get pulled tightly in toward torso in an effort to keep the binocs steady.
Next, having observed Habits (patterns of Use), ask yourself the question, ‘What if?’ ‘What if I didn’t ram the binocs against my face?’ The body’s inherent wisdom asserts itself when we get out of its way. We get to find out what the body would like to do instead. Instead of plopping, ramming, scrunching, pulling, there is now the option of lightness, lengthening, widening; all choices that make for more comfortable birding in a happier body.
In 1988, my father died suddenly of a heart attack, and having lost my mother 10 years earlier, I was officially orphaned. Often I found myself in a one-sided conversation with my parents, and once in a while, imagined hearing back from them.
One of those times a ditty began to sing itself in my mind’s ear, and although the melody has been lost, I do remember the lyric: Make a little beauty each day….It’s all that’s asked, all that’s required, just make a little beauty each day.
Yes. Making beauty. A roast chicken, a song, an Alexander Technique lesson, a pleasing arrangement of pottery and pictures on the mantle, a linen napkin under the sterling silver at dinner. A kind word, a lavish party. A photograph. A friendship. A marriage. A life you can love. It’s enough.
In this spring season, when the natural world is wild with making, may you be inspired to make a little beauty too. It’s all that’s required——
Rain. Wind. A bumpy Chicago O’Hare landing. Hoofing it to next flight, I grab a rice crispy bar and scurry on.
As the packed plane pushes away from the terminal, I say to myself, ‘Only a 40 minute flight. Almost there.’ Brain ahead of body. This is called end-gaining* in Alexander Technique lingo. Our pilot then informs us of weather delays. And there we sit in the dark, rain pelting against the tiny window.
Time for some Inhibition.* I call it The Pause. In pausing, I notice my head jutted forward. (Thank you, seat backs.) Bloated belly. (See rice crispy treat above.) I simply quit with my habitual response to discomforts. They remain, but I am no longer fighting them.
Next is the gracious giving of Directions* to oneself. Head on spine. This thought brings with it a gentle movement into length. Full contact of sit bones with seat. Let the cushion receive gravity traveling through the body. Soften. And so forth.
As the planedescends through cloud cover, a glittery scene presents itself. Columbus Ohio comes into view; a shimmering jewel, my home. We touch down, and I am grateful for the means-whereby* to have traveled with a bit of ease on subways, trains, taxis, cars, boats, and planes—-
*end-gaining: to go directly for an ‘end,’ causing a misuse of the self, making the end unattainable.
*Inhibition: to inhibit is not to consent to a habitual reaction which causes a misuse.
*Directions: use of words as an aid to organizing kinesthetic experience
*the means-whereby: Creating and using the best possible means to achieve any given end; pause, observe, choose, direct.
(Indirect Procedures: A Musician’s Guide to the Alexander Technique. Thanks to author, Pedro de Alcantara, for his AT vocab. definitions.)
1.the state of being inactive. —Syn. Dawdling, pottering, shilly-shallying
2.disinclination to activity. —Syn. slowness, indolence, slothfulness
Webster’s New World Thesaurus was fairly upbeat with its ‘idleness’ entry until ‘indolence’ and ‘slothfulness’ made an appearance. Here we enter into the realm of judgment and the expectation that incessant activity and productiveness is a preferred mode of being.
Easter Sunday was a rare day of, yes, I’ll claim it, indolence. The positive spin would be ‘rest.’ The massive and very dead ash tree along the Rt. 296 lane had finally been removed and Mike was tired. Our social life found us happily out late the night before, celebrating the season with long-time friends. The plan had been to hop in the car the next day and get ourselves to the hill, but after sitting on the back porch in perfect bliss with our morning coffees, we concluded a trip to the farm was altogether too much doing.
Or as my godson Lyle used to ask, when I picked him up from preschool and proceeded to run errands, ‘Diana, could we please stop going?’ Yes, Lyle, we could. What a fine question. We do not have to keep going. Stopping is a very good idea. Essential, really.
We live in a world with very few pauses, and I write this week to encourage the finding of spaces, moments, hours, even a day, to quit with going and doing. This Easter Monday finds me refreshed* following a rare day of do-less-ness. Wishing for you the same—-
*Thanks to Beth C. for her delightful uses of the word ‘refreshed.’
With new walking poles in hand,I traipse through the pine woods on an enchanted April morning. Meandering over the animal trails, I eventually pause in a small forest opening, catching a glimpse of a thrush hiding in low branches, waiting me out.
How often do we get to be face-to-face with a bird? That’s what happened next. He studied me carefully, decided I was no threat, and continued his routine, hopping along the pine needle carpet, his beady black eyes intent.
Let’s redefine what it might mean to stand still. When I’m teaching choristers, they are encouraged to observe the support of their feet. From there, they can let the body move ever so slightly in a figure-eight pattern. These micro-movements prevent fatigue and fainting, both a hazard for choral singers who often stand in place for long periods of time.
Standing still in this lively way brought so much more of the world to my notice. On leaving the forest opening by the same path, I now saw spring beauties, the bleached jawbone of a woods creature, a wooly-worm, and heard a deer snort nearby. None of these wonders were in my field of attention on arrival.
Whether bird watching, singing, or waiting in line at the grocery, remind yourself that standing still can bring the world to you, and does not require freezing in place. May a few moments of lively stillness be yours today—-