I take it for granted that after writing more than 300 posts on this blog that it is clear what Kashu-do (歌手道) means. “The Way of the Singer” can be very easily misconstrued. The emphasis should be on the word “Way” and not “The”. I am not so egocentric to think that there is only one way to approach the teaching of singing. That is not the meaning behind all this. It is rather that we as singers (as classical singers especially in a world governed by superficial consumerism) do indeed follow a path that necessitates specific road markers with regards to what singing signifies, independent of the career aims of those who undertake this discipline. Art is a celebration of transcendence! It is understood that art (singing in this case) at its best elevates our consciousness beyond the trivialities of daily existence and even at its most commercial, art, indeed singing, should not lose what defines it–Its transcendental power.
For an artist to become a conduit for the energy that transcends, s/he must have prepared himself/herself for such a task. Indeed the artist summons the energy that transcends through an intimate knowledge of the medium of art that s/he practices. At the end of a song, we should all be “different”! We should have been changed, transformed!
The composer mixes the elements of words and notes through an alchemy that becomes something greater than both, but this composite remains inert until it is made real by the singer’s voice having passed through his/her psyche. INDEED, ARTISTS DO NOT JUST OPEN THEIR MOUTHS AND LIKE CANARIES MAKE PRETTY SOUNDS. The sounds we make have purpose and context, both in the moment of performance and in the infinite time that one could meditate upon that moment. Our work has consequences and we should be responsible. We emit vibrations into the air that permeate every molecule within an ever-expanding radius. They cause an effect! We should be responsible!
The way of the singer is a dedication of self to an ideal that has transformed the world many times over. It is a commitment to something that goes beyond daily cares and yet soothes away the cares of the day. It is the singer who is called when it is time to celebrate or when it is time to mourn. The performances of great singers give us pause. They make us reflect on the nature of our existence and consider our relationship to this life and our connection to our fellow traveler on this plane.
To become an artist, a singer, is a mystical experience that we too often take lightly. Once upon a time, this concept was obvious for people lived consciously! Do you ever wonder what goes on in the mind of a painter as s/he contemplates what brushstroke to make next? Or what happens in a great pianist’s mind as s/he plays the notes of a piece for the first time and what s/he decides when she plays it the second time and the third? How does it feel to read through a piece for the first time when you are an accomplished musician? Did the composer make good choices with respect to declamation, harmony and melody? Do his notes make the aims of the poetry more powerfully experienced or do they obstruct? How do you, as singer, make real for the audience the mysterious product of the poet’s and composer’s solitary meditation? Are you linguist enough to grasp the totality of the poet’s experience? Are you musician enough to understand the choices that the composer makes? Can you compare and contrast Schumann’s and Wolf’s Lied der Mignon? Can you bring the totality of your humanity to bear on the experience of two different songs on the same text and give your audience a sense of why both composers made correct choices totally different from each other? Can you do all this without explaining but only through your singing?
An hour of technical exercises take a completely different attitude when the questions above are behind the training. Vocal Technique cannot live in a vacuum! We train to be able to deal with the artistic contemplations above.
Great comedy has substance and great tragedy is not merely heavy! The paradoxes and apparent contradictions, the grey area and the line between are the domain of the artist. We live where the questions are and we provide enough clarity such that the listener, the observer may make his/her way through. To do that we must master our artistic medium and we must be artists enough to contemplate our existence and that of our fellow travelers on this plane. Like the baker who takes pride in making the best bread, so must we take care to nourish the souls of our “customers”! Only when we have totally baked the bread of art can we even conceive of being paid, of being recognized.
I sense too often that too many among us want to be paid and recognized before we have even learned how to bake a proper bread!
“The Way of the Singer” is a reminder that we have a discipline that is complex, that demands every ounce of our energy to comprehend and even more to become competent. A young singer should be made to approach classical singing, indeed any kind of artistic pursuit, with a sense of awe and respect. Then we would not have so many who try to get by hoping that they can climb the ladder of success by means of extra-artistic attributes instead of artistic competence.
Every singing lesson, every practice hour, every performance must be an opportunity for us to contemplate our existence, and how responsible we are to our society in the practice of art. We artists have always been and must always be the “conscience” of our society. To take on such a noble role, we, in our training, in our preparation, must be worthy of the honor.
It is my hope that we may commit our hearts and minds to revolve around our soul-nourishing art, just as the Earth is committed to begin another full revolution around our life-giving sun!
Happy New Year in Art