Monday, June 16, 2008

Birds gotta sing...

This year, tossing out my usual esoteric New Year's resolutions, I chose one of my fantasies instead: a singing lesson.

During my session with Monterey's flamboyant voice coach Linda Purdy, I realized that, like any other art form, singing means learning how to do new, strange things, followed by practice, practice, practice. That omnipresent formula: Hard Work = Transformation. I think I was secretly hoping for her to just hand me a microphone and I'd be off to the Grammys...

For the past few months, I've been repeating my vocal exercises like a good dilettante. Mostly, I drive up and down Highway One dropping my jaw, relaxing my tongue and making funny sounds.
I'm a grown woman (more or less), who's paid someone to teach her how to "motor-boat." Songstress Rebecca Sayre helped me out with this skill, revealing the mystery of how kids make those silly, explosive sounds. Having spent my childhood cringing at campfire sing-alongs, I'm still working up the nerve to sing in the shower.

My renewed interest in singing began last year, when life threw me a curve-ball. I began to hear a particular Linda Rondstadt song in my head, found it on CD, and began belting it out with her in the sanctuary of my moving car. Somehow it made me feel better. Guess that's where the Blues come from: sinking down so low you
have to make some kind of soothing sound, and in the process you resurface among the world of the living.

My new, Big Sur singing mentor,
Lisa Goettel, daughter of opera singer, Karla Goettel, says "When I was little I used to just walk around singing everything. My life was an ongoing opera - a constant, sung narration of my experience. When I do this now it has a pretty cool effect: a) it brings more awareness to me about what I'm doing - my relation to the present moment, and b) it lightens everything. It's kind of hard to take the propane bill so seriously when you're singing about it."

Lisa adds, "Singing raises endorphins in the body, and like yoga, helps move stagnant energies, oxygenates the blood and supports a healthy immune system. Plus it's primal: through breath we find our individual resonance, an intimate reminder of our connection to everything." She points out there's a whole field that addresses this phenomenon: You can get in touch with the gestalt of your voice at Esalen. Diane Austin, executive director of the Music Psychotherapy Center in New York says, "Nothing accesses the inner world of feelings, sensations, memories, and associations as directly as music does."

Singing along in Spanish is great fun, because of all the open, warm, round vowel sounds. Silvio Rodriguez, of Cuba, and Chavela Vargas, of Mexico, are my current favorites. Silvio sings pure poetry in his socialist ballads, while Chavela growls passionately about love and loss. To me, their music conveys the essential drama of Life: the search for justice, fulfillment, and peace of mind, pouring forth in full, lusty notes.

Then there's those melancholy, yet uplifting lullabies, this one perfect for the season. Sing along with our girl Janis...
Summertime, and the living is easy
Fish are jumping, and the cotton is high
Your daddy's rich, and your ma is good looking
So hush little baby, don't you cry.
One of these mornings, you're gonna rise up singing
You're gonna spread your wings and take the sky
But till that morning, there is nothing can harm you
With your daddy and mommy standing by

Photo: the young Chavela Vargas
Lullaby by George Gershwin

1 comment:

Linda said...

Sometime during my marriage, I lost my singing voice, or I misplaced it. But after I moved into my own space, I found it again. Thank you for reminding me of Silvio. A work-mate gave me a CD years ago that I had forgotten about. (Lost in iTunes....). And Chavela Vargas, yes, thanks for reminding me of her. I love her voice but didn't have any to listen to. And Lila Downs.

I have this theory--as recorded music became more omnipresent, we stopped singing to ourselves, in our own private operas. What a lost to human culture. Singing becomes a performance instead of a private yoga. I was particularly aware of this change in culture when I was a union organizer. I just don't understand how you can have a revolution without singing together. I doubt it's ever happened.