Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Instrument Within

I hate to admit it, but my mother was right.  When I was in middle school, she tried to give me piano lessons.  You would think that, being an elementary school teacher, the task would have been simple for her.  But I was stubborn and lazy, didn't want to practice, and was right in the middle of the 'everything your parents say is stupid' phase.  So, I never learned to play the piano, or any other instrument for that matter.  Once she realized that I wasn't taking to her lessons as expected, she told me I would regret it one day, and she was so right.  Sigh. Now I love instrumentalists and their talent and dedication, but I'm a bit envious, too.  That shiny brass of a trumpet or the gleaming wood of a viola attracts my senses, and the wonderful sounds they can produce melts my heart like nothing else.

As singers and choralists, we have an instrument.  Not a thing we pick up and blow, pluck, or strike.  It's carried within our bodies, undefined as a visual shape, the voice we produce through the physical beings we are. We study it, rehearse it, test it, stretch it, and provide for it's every need to the best of our ability.  We use the whole of our senses to control it, improve it, free it, and search for that balance that will share it's best features to the listening world.

Sadly, one of the hardest things we suffer is we personalize it.  Not that we shouldn't, mind you; the voice is the most intimate of instruments, literally a part of us.  But how do we separate ourselves as a person from the instrument we carry within?  How do we take direction, correction, critical instruction without assuming these things as affronts against ourselves as a person?

I am slowly learning several things, perhaps the hard way, about this very process.  I am sure that I will never fully be able to make the separation, but there are some things to remember and take to heart.  Remember, the director has goals and expectations for their choir.  Listen to what the director is asking for with a discerning ear.  A critique of your section is not a diatribe on you.  Know your role within the group, and you will understand how to respond pleasingly.  Know your limitations and keep within your strengths.  I don't mean don't stretch yourself and try new techniques as directed, but if you are a high boy soprano, and the director is asking for a deeper darker sound, there is only so much you can do without being uncomfortable or causing harm.  Back off in those spots; there are others that can do that work.  And they can't do what you can.  That is the beauty of putting all of these glorious vocal instruments together. It's building an orchestra without the hardware.  Every instrument has it's place, shines out at times, and supports at others.  Revel in it, learn from it, keep playing that instrument and sing!

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