"Exquisite Vividness"

"Exquisite Vividness"

Awhile back, my daily calm meditation focused on “vividness.” This made me think of the line in the Boito version of Faust (Mefistofele) :

“Stay – for you are beautiful”

Faust sells his soul to the devil, but his “safe word” is “Stay – for you are beautiful.” (I’m watching Killing Eve as I write this, so “safe word” is in my lexicon). His deal is, “I’ll go to hell with you unless I find the most perfect and wonderful moment that transcends everything I’ve ever done – and when that moment comes, I’ll go to heaven.” And when the Mefistofele is about to collect on his deal, because nothing has satisfied Faust, really, the heavenly host appears and it’s so incredibly perfect that Faust cries out, “Stay, for you are beautiful!”

It’s a moment of exquisite vividness, which, in this meditation was a quote from the mindfulness guru, Jon Kabat-Zinn:

Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives.
It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment.

When we sing, when we perform, we transcend the moment but we are simultaneously aware of the moment. We are “in the zone” but we know what is happening and we embrace it.

This was the moment where Faust experienced his “exquisite vividness” (as did I, when I sang in the chorus of this production at WNO in 1996). Have you experienced yours? Wake up – it’s there.

Mind the Gap

This morning’s meditation again asked me to draw attention to the momentary gap between inhalation and exhalation (and vice versa). Although I reject the concept of suspension when it comes to teaching breath management, as I have discussed before, I do understand the value of taking a moment to reflect.

In England, there is an announcement at the underground (subway) for travelers to “mind the gap.” This pertains to the space between the edge of the platform and the train.

In the phrase shown above, the late composer Truman Fisher says that “the pause is as important as the note.” This goes along with the concept that I teach – the high note is only as good as the note before it. You have to be grounded on that note in order for the one after it to be successful – and if there is no note, you have to be grounded in the rest. A musical rest can be significant for expression’s sake (much can be said when nothing is said), for grammatical purposes, or for preparation.

Sometimes I am so busy, particularly at the end of the semester (which always seems to involve academic, musical and personal commitments), that I don’t take any time to breathe. I’m hoping that my newfound commitment to daily meditation will help me identify when I can find those moments, no matter how insignificant an amount of time they may be, and use them accordingly to find the time to reflect, to refresh, and to re-engage.

This semester, I’m going to try to

Suspending the breath – why I don’t teach it

This morning, the subject of my meditation app involved a lot of focus on the suspension/stillness between inhalation and exhalation. The momentary pause that exists both before the initiation of each. It’s infinitesimal and you really have to be aware to notice it even exists.

I don’t really feel it and I don’t find it all that valuable. When I first started studying voice, I was giving vocalises that encouraged finding that suspension. Exercises that consisted of:

Inhale – 2 – 3 – 4
Suspend 2 – 3 – 4
Exhale 2 – 3 – 4

The exercise gradually increased the numbers, cautioning the singer to be aware of maintaining an open glottis rather than shutting down or being rigid during the suspension. I dutifully did this exercise, and then I taught it, when I first started teaching voice. Because that’s what you did. It was a basic vocal exercise that was included in all the pedagogy books.

But I feel as though breath is a continuous process and that to focus on what is a nearly imperceptible stopping of time creates unnecessary tension. In fact, I think that the act of extending the suspension beyond that split second reinforces the idea of “setting the breath,” as opposed to just moving through it.

I have written in the past that my approach to the breath is that of:

Release – Receive
Release – Resist

Rather than suspend time, I prefer to think of releasing it and welcoming the next moment. 
(The point of the meditation was to be aware of stillness and use it in your life to avoid unnecessary conflict. In that case, it’s a useful concept. But I’m writing a singing blog here….)
When I’m singing, I don’t want to suspend animation, to enter into some kind of momentary vocal hibernation, but to continue to be animated, which is defined as being “full of life.” 
So I’ll suspend disbelief (or judgment), I’ll keep people in suspense, I’ll do TRW suspension work at the gym, and I’ll milk a good harmonic suspension for all it’s worth. But when it comes to singing, I’m just going to keep the air flowing.