The fourth principle that I recommend may seem over-simplified at first glance. Yes singing is hard work and so is everything that is worthwhile. But what does that mean specifically? It means something specific to each singer. The art of singing requires so many different skills and no one comes into the discipline of singing with strengths in all areas. For one person, the problem may be technical; for another it may be the courage to go on when it is difficult; for another, the patience to learn a new skill, like music learning or memorization; for another, the complete belief that s/he is meant to be a singer.
For me it is the all-encompassing self-love. The kind of love of self that makes one take care of the obvious daily needs that are absolutely essential to singing: proper nourishment, sleep, hydration, exercise, relaxation and meditation. Meditation comes easily to me. Whether total engrossment in a book or simply daydreaming in the U-Bahn, I can empty my mind and forget the world for a few minutes or an hour. Formal meditation is harder, but only because I think of it as time I could be doing something else (I’m correcting this mindset).
My Achilles’ heel consists of the daily necessities, food intake, hydration and above all, sleep. I have gotten much better with water intake and since my bout with reflux, I eat better, but just not regularly. Not sleeping is the thing that affects my voice the most. It seems I require 8 hours for my voice to regenerate from the previous day. Science show that REM sleep is necessary for regeneration of cells. Knowledge is only a first step. Practicing something is another level altogether and even I, who make a life out of making sense of this singing thing we do, have my weaknesses that require Hard Work. Unfortunately, like most of us, I have to suffer some very undesirable experience for it to sink in.
Well I had my mini-debut in the Tenor Fach with the little opera organization that I work with in Berlin. We had a Christmas Concert in which I sang “O Paradis” from Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine (an aria I can always get through no matter what) and “O soave fanciulla”, the short Act 1 duet from La Bohème. Before my perfectionism gets the better of me, I must say, it could have been worse. To be fair, I sang as a tenor and I did not make a fool out of myself. But then I listened to my impromptu recording of “Recondita armonia” (a cappella) after a teaching day in New York and it makes me angry that I did not give myself the best chance to present my craft. On my Ipod I retain a recording of that “Recondita armonia” and one of my sustained High Cs to remind myself that I really am a tenor. Because on days like that concert, all of my scientific information and my total conviction cannot overcome the emotional disappointment that one feels after an unsatisfactory performance.
To make matters worse (I thought), my newest student was present at the concert. He stayed after to congratulate me. Before he said anything, I apologized and explained I was not fully healed from my cold and I had not slept much. He said he was genuinely impressed and he just wanted to tell me that he was happy to have come and he looked forward to his next lesson. I was doubly humbled. Not only did I need to take care of myself better in preparation for a concert, but beating on myself afterwards was another face of the same problem. This I learned from the 22-year-old junior-student in my studio.
The paradox of this is that the teacher who is supposed to know so much is occasionally the one who is supposed to learn and often from the students. I have no great wisdom to offer today. I have been the recipient of greater wisdom from my newest pupil. I am reminded of the Kung Fu master in the movie Kung Fu Panda (highly recommended) who after the tirade of the hopeless Panda who wanted to know how the teacher was going to turn him into the greatest Kung Fu master . Unlike the all-knowing Yoda character that he was patterned after, the teacher responded simply: “I don’t know.”
There are days when I too simply do not know! On those days, I can only look at the students I have taught and realize that the principles do embody a wisdom far greater than the sum of my knowledge, and that I simply need to continue to follow them. Especially after an unsatisfying performance when it is easy to lose faith.
I thank all my students for their faith, courage, patience and hard work. Their successes remind me of the value of these principles and inspire me to continue on my path on difficult days like these. At the end of the day, I feel I need to be the representative example of what I teach. Yet today, they carry the torch far better than I could. The humility I feel today is all-encompassing. And it is not negative but rather something to celebrate.