Reconstructing the Dream
I must confess that lately I have been feeling the strain of nearly a year of wondering, “when will we be able to make music together again?”
Being a singer has been like being in a painful, long-distance love affair, and what contact I have been able to make with music and audiences has felt like a strange game of telephone. I am grateful for the singing opportunities I have had, don’t get me wrong, and I am profoundly grateful for this blog and the opportunity to talk with you about the whole picture of what it is to be an opera artist. But, as you all no doubt feel from your days of Zoom meetings, there is a lack of intimacy and human energy of proximity that can leave one feeling drained, yet hungry in a way that’s hard to quantify.
Too often, the performer/audience relationship is viewed as a largely transactional exchange based solely on ego, merit and circumstance. But, as our opportunities for that interface continue to be delayed, I find that the things I miss most about being a working singer are the transcendent moments of ensemble. The moments when all the forces and energy fields of performer and audience form a living crystallization of intentional human expression. It’s like being on the same amazing bus tour with friends, but also with perfect strangers; you all band together to experience the thrill of that adventure simultaneously. What makes the ride unique is not the tour, but the participants themselves. I miss that energy, that unity, that ride. I miss my ability to lead and shape that magical mystery tour with my instrument, my passion and my intentions.
How do we find our way back? How do we recover from the stress and sorrow of lost time? How do we stop mourning the predicament, and start leaning into the possibilities? For those who are in the early stages of living their musical dream, how do we repair and reconstruct that dream and set it back on its wheels? For those who have only just met opera or classical music, how do we encourage you to deepen that relationship without a definitive live event to look forward to? For administrators, how do we stay positive and dedicated to remaining, rebuilding and reimagining?
I believe the answers to all of those questions lie in our ability to recreate that crystalline space of intentionality with our instruments and through our understanding of the essence of ensemble. The good news is, that process can start right now, even as you read these words!
Take a deep, rib expanding, low belly breath with me now, the kind that extends into your lower back. Hold it at the top of the inhale, where philosophers have observed we are balanced between life and death. Let that breath out with a sigh and feel yourself drop into this moment. If it takes one more deep breath to get you to arrive, do it. Now, in this space of arrival, recall a memory of pure joy that singing, witnessing, producing, or participating in music-making brought you; don’t focus on the specifics, just the raw material, the ingredients of the recipe of that feeling. Try to feel as much of that memory as you can hold. Breathe it in and let it strike like a spark inside you. Let that raw joy begin to glow, like a flame in a latticed lantern. Try to let yourself believe in what music has been for you again, the way you might let yourself believe in love again after heartbreak; one brave step at a time. When you start to panic or feel hopeless about making music again, breathe and return to this space. Create your own unique visualization or mantra that brings you back to the central understanding that music has never left you. Your ability to create this kind of inner ensemble can sustain you as you bravely reintegrate your inner musician with your outward physical reality. I promise you: nothing can kill the music in you. Nothing can remove, exhaust or extinguish what music has already given you. Music is always waiting for you to come home.
Your next steps could be as simple as falling in love again with repertoire that brings you joy. Don’t go stomping into your instrument or your musical goals or your office with a list of reasons you are failing, or the sky is falling. We are living in a unique moment. Everyone at every level has been knocked off their game. Allow that fact to give you permission to take your time, and just have some fun. Sing or play to your dog or cat, open a window and serenade a neighbor. Dance to your favorite interlude. Share a favorite playlist. Be simple and silly and loving and free. Play your way back to center. Then you can decide which direction to go. If you are a music lover, reconnect to what made you fall in love with music for the first time. If you are a student, go on a hunt for the repertoire that says exactly what you want to say. If you are a new opera lover, the internet offers a feast of performances from anywhere in the world or in history. Savor this journey. Embrace this opportunity. Use this time to come back stronger than ever.
Finally, as you let yourself trust music again as a pursuit independent of occasion or venue, clear some space to dream about what kind of endeavors and organizations you would like to see survive and thrive after this deadly hiatus. Go into your intentional space and really think creatively and hopefully about what could be and what will be when we can all be together again. Think about what you would like to leave behind, and how you can be part of innovating our path forward. Give yourself permission to feel the validity of your voice in the creation of a new day for opera; a day that we can bring out of our collective imaginations and into reality if we just believe in the regenerative power of ensemble.
These steps to reconnect to one's essential and joyful self can apply to anyone caught in the lethargy and uncertainty of our current moment. As Dorothy learns in The Wizard of Oz, the power to return home is always available. Neuroscience bears this out, and finds that what we focus on and who we focus with determine our wellbeing and our trajectory.
There are undoubtedly many variables that are out of our control. But reconnection to ourselves, to our breathing, to our instruments, to our original joys and to our creative vision is a critical step away from despair towards hope. So, my friends, until we can be together again, take that step. Encourage and empower each other. Be a passionate part of this world wide ensemble that will deliver an opening night someday soon that the world will never forget.