Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Natural Singer

Over the past 5 weeks, I've been taking a class called "The Natural Singer" at The Open Center which is my latest favorite place. We had our last class on Tuesday night and it was so surprising to me to reflect on the things I've learned about myself in this class.

The biggest realization is that I am an emotional bivalve. In the way a clamshell is sometimes open and sometimes clamped tightly shut, I open and close emotionally depending on how safe I feel at any given moment. Yes, I aspire to be open all the time (who doesn't?), but I realize that sometimes I am so watchful and so extremely protected as to be -- at times -- shut down. I am afraid so much of the time -- afraid to do or say the wrong thing, afraid that if I don't do things right, it will mean that I am a bad, bad person, afraid to stand up for myself because I fear someone will be mad at me or not like me. (How insidious is the need to be liked!)

There were a couple of times during the "improvisation" moments where I simply froze -- my throat locked and no sound would come out. And during all that I could almost hear my mother's soft voice, "If you can't do something right, don't do anything at all." If my mother had been born American, she would have been a southerner -- a Steel Magnolia. She was something out of a Pat Conroy novel.

Here's the message I would like to put out into the world:

Dear Mom,

I love you and I know that you were doing the best you could with the tools you had. I love you and I know that you wanted to protect me from being hurt by a world that had hurt you with racism and inequality. But about some things, you were wrong. Earning a "B" in a class didn't make me a bad person, or even a stupid person. I will always love you for the things you wanted for me, but I hope you can love me for the things that I want for me.

Your Youngest Daughter

P.S. I didn't take the singing class because of potential economic benefits...I actually took it just because I thought it would be fun.

Well, suffice it to say, the clamshell was pried open for a little while longer last night; there were a lot of tears around the room and a happy vulnerability suffused the room as we bade each other goodbye and promised to stay in touch. I wonder if we actually will?

Highlights of the course:

1) Claude Stein. More "roshi" than "teacher" in the western sense. The coolest thing to observe was the "finding out for yourself" exploration that he led each student through. (I'm reminded of Cheri Huber saying at the beginning of her workshop, "Believe nothing that I say. Find out for yourself." He created a safe, nonjudgmental place in what is quite possibly the most unsafe and judgmental city on the planet. And that is a miracle.

2) Augustina: She sat so quietly and appeared to be trying to make herself invisible at the far end of the room, and she barely spoke or sang above a whisper. During the personalized coaching, however, what emerged was a lovely clear soprano. And when we did a partner singing exercise in which we had to look into each others' eyes, what I saw was such a gentle spirit. Her song: A gospel song that she clearly felt strongly about. I wish I could remember the name of it.

3) Penelope: She started out with a very pretty voice. What was astonishing was on the last night, when Claude effortlessly guided her up to a High C. My God. Her song: "I Don't Know How to Love Him," from Jesus Christ Superstar.

4) Laura: Another tiny voice, but there was so much going on behind her eyes. And she commuted down from Westchester every week for this two hour class. This was a woman who had something to say and needed a place to say it. Her song: "Blackbird," by The Beatles... the lyric seemed to mean more coming from her.

5) Daniel: Sang a beautiful song in Spanish accompanying himself on the guitar. And on the last night, with the individual improvisation -- actually found humor in his song with the last line, "and I have a blue fish in my pocket!" I guess you had to be there.

6) The Other Laura: A teeny tiny little birdlike person with a voice the size of Montana.

I'll have to add more later.


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