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—–
What is it that takes your breath away? Most recently for me it was the full moon rising over the rim of the Atlantic Ocean, emerging from the scrim of a hazy horizon. It was four pelicans flying overhead, their wide wing-spans creating shadows on the sand. And it was a shooting star, seen with a colleague at the annual Myrtle Beach Alexander Technique Workshop. (Thank you to faculty members: Renee´ Jackson, Dale Beaver, Glenna Batson, and Robin Gilmore.)
Click here for the tune that kept circling in my mind’s ear as I wrote this post. It was the theme song for the 1986 film, Top Gun. Never saw the movie, but the music was on the airwaves and became part of my life’s soundtrack. Vintage 80’s! a lyric excerpt:
‘turning and returning
To some secret place inside
Watching in slow motion
As you turn to me and say,
‘take my breath away’
May something or someone in your life inspire a breathtaking moment today. A few days on the ocean guarantees a gasp or two or three, but the possibilities are endless, right where you find yourself. Turn and return to the beauty before you.
All is well with the world when the horizon can be seen; a luxury not often afforded to city dwellers like myself. And finally the election season has ended…all the more reason to get myself to the farm for restoration. As the leaves fall, the vistas open up to distant rolling hills beyond the valley. The wide horizon lengthens and widens me into spaciousness and a long deep breath. Space to move. Space to breathe.
Opera Workshop students recently received a list of Alexander Technique Prescriptions, which included an attention-training practice and instructions for Constructive Rest (a future post). I would now add, as a prescription for election season recovery, giving yourself an horizon-view-stroll. Get outside, even if it’s overcast, windy, and dank. Dress well and go. Only then will you and I stand a chance of rallying our resources and making our next contributions to this 240-year-old experiment in living well together. We’ve got a ways to go. Start where you can. Take a walk first, and often.
(This horizon thinking stroll was made possible by Mike, who cleared the perimeter lane of the hill meadows and woods. Thank you, Mike. It was a wonderful walk.)
The very day I sat myself down to write to you about Monkey, I came across a news story of a former Pennsylvania church burning to the ground. This building was intended to become a ‘museum’ of all things Davey Jones and The Monkees. Well. Can’t pass up that serendipity, so here they are! Adorable. Love the turtlenecks. This news story took me back to my teeny-bopper days, when Jones had me and many other pre-adolescent girls swooning. (He’s the one bottom left.)
The Monkey found in Alexander- Technique-Land is ‘a position of mechanical advantage.’ Beware of the word ‘position,’ as it does not refer to fixity, but rather to a human movement pattern.
Ohio University singershave taken ‘Monkey’ and run with it this fall, or rather, sung with it. And to great good effect. What is it and why does its use result in ease and freedom?
Monkey consists ofallowing the hips to move back in space, torso (with head leading) is ever-so-slightly forward of the hip joints, which brings the arms forward of the legs and torso, able to swing freely in jungle-monkey-fashion. A picture (or two, or three) is worth a thousand words:
Play with Monkey the next time you find yourself standing at the kitchen sink. (Thanks, Alex!) Observe what this ‘position of mechanical advantage’ gives your back, arms, and neck. Work with your structure and hopefully find yourself a little bit of ease——
I stop for a mochawith vanilla scone on the way; my treat for having the courage to get my blood drawn. As I walk into the Plaza, the receptionist who greets me wears bright aqua eyeglasses and makes me smile. The intake staffer has photographs of her 4 sons (yes, FOUR) pinned to a wall of her cubicle. Three nursing staff, one of them very pregnant, laugh over a hot flash story as the blood pressure cuff tightens around my arm. Voices murmur in the patient room next door.
Some previously diagnosed thyroid cancersare being downgraded to chronic conditions, but not the kind I had. With cancer cells migrating to several lymph nodes, these were removed in 1991, along with the thyroid gland. Radiation treatments followed, and required long bouts with hypothyroidism (think fatigue multiplied by 10). The annual check-up brings this time to the forefront. Sobering? Yes. Bad memories revisited? Yes. Gratitude for all the years I’ve had since? Yes!
Waiting to be called for the blood work, I scan the room, wondering at what chapter each person is in their cancer story. I wish all of us well, take a deep breath, and offer one of my beautiful plump veins to the phlebotomist. The results, a few days later, are what I have come to expect. All clear. All good. Proceed with life.
And so I do. Hopefully, with wide-awake-ness at the glory of being here at all. And may you do the same, this perfect fall day of full sun and cool breezes, with people to love and life to savor.
“It’s Morning-Day!” This after the sound of a slap, as Lyle’s feet meet the guest room floor, followed by patter as he runs to my bedside, his face illuminated with that light only the very young possess. How I cherish this memory. The mere thought of my godson at three is more than enough to take me into the length and width and spaciousness Mr. Alexander was training his students to re-discover.
Hmmm. Skip the Alexander Technique lessons and just love on your godson? Well, yes, and maybe….and how about both! Train the mind to live fully present in a body, and open the heart to loving well.
About that open heart. The one that loves well. Longtime Alexander Technique mentor, Dale, encouraged me to let love expand not only my heart-front, but my heart-back. A great way to rediscover your heart-filled-back is to lean against a wall with only your thoracic torso (the top half where the lungs reside) in contact with it. Now exhale gently on an ‘f’ as in ‘fee-figh-foh-fum,’ followed by allowing the inhalation to move your back ribs where they join the spine. Delicious.
Happy Birthday, Lyle! Have a great time celebrating your 17th. You have brought 17 years of joy and delight to this godmother—-
Singers are often admonished to ‘take’ a breath. What about this instead? Enjoy a full exhale, followed by allowing the inhalation to happen, without any doing. It’s a bit like inhaling the lovely aroma of a rose. If a big-time sniff is used, the delicate scent is missed. A gentle inhale permits the flower to give to us the gift of its perfume.
Mr. Alexander was known in London, England as “The Breathing Man,” but he didn’t teach breathing techniques. What he did teach was his discovery of the primary place of balance in the body….head poised on spine. In the business of learning this organizing principle of the human structure, his students found they could breathe so much easier, both on the inhale and exhale.
Ever gone scuba diving? I haven’t. However, I have seen photographs of how these oxygen tanks are worn on the body. They are positioned up high on the back. Keep that image in your mind as you engage in mapping the location of your lungs within the thoracic cavity of your torso. The lungs are quite high. In fact, the top of each lung is above the clavicle (collarbone). Yes. Really.
What does this mean for how we think about breathing? Mainly, it means we don’t have to go excavating for breath. We will not find it in our abdomen (that’s where all our viscera/internal organs reside….no air there…well, maybe in the intestines, but I digress…)
Breath is not as much workas we have made it out to be. This is true for singers and other wind-instrument-musicians who rely on a well-developed capacity for breath, and also for everyone else running through a regular day.
As Marjorie Barstow used to say about the Technique, “It’s a little bit of nothing.” ‘Breathe easy’ today, and may it be a day of sweet scents.