Many people post polished versions of brief moments in their lives on social media. The closing of 2019 saw a rise of social media users posting photo comparisons of themselves in 2009 and in 2019. Emotionally affected by both movements, I chose to resist the former and be in the spirit of the latter.
This past December, I shared a video of me practicing an excerpt from "He shall feed His flock" / "Come unto Him" from Handel's Messiah on my Facebook. This was a video that honestly did not demonstrate me singing at my best.
You’ll notice several nervous tics as I sing in this clip, such as the stretching of the lips, fidgeting of the shirt, and beautiful arm flailing. Nonetheless, after I conjured up the courage to watch the entirety of this anxiety-ridden performance, this line from my head went straight to my heart: “I'm still happy with how I sang. I didn’t do horrendously like I feared.” And so, I posted this video capturing me in a state of unpolished, and I accompanied it with some reflection:
In early 2009, I began formal Western classical voice training believing it would not be scientifically possible to sing soprano arias, though I deeply wished to be able to sing those high notes. Singing bass, the lowest of all voice types, served as my singing beginning. 10 years later, I found unexpectedly myself having developed far enough along with my vocal technique to train in the soprano register! I finally entered the first chapter of singing soprano, and I know there are more chapters to come.
The singing journey I embarked on, starting at bass and moving on to soprano, has been joyous and fascinating and enriching and more. However, most importantly, it somehow taught me far more about living than I ever planned on learning in this decade:
1) You'll never sing "perfectly" and use healthy technique 100% of the time, especially if you're not in the best mood. No one is perfect; everyone has bad habits they actively work on eliminating, and everyone has experiences with difficult mindsets that affect their performance.
2) Vocal freedom and resonance are a result of physical relaxation. Internal freedom and resonance are a result of relaxing restlessness.
3) Don't dwell on if the notes you sang were fine-tuned or not, as you can't take the notes back. A lot of plans in life fall flat, but the best that one can do is learn from it and aim to do better the next time.
4) Letting go of micromanaging will help create a clearer sound. Letting go of micromanaging will help create mental clarity.
5) Trying to manufacture sounds (ex. dark, operatic) prevents a singer from finding their true voice. Putting on personas that I believed I "should" have inhibited me from discovering more about who I am.
6) No singer has the same voice and it can be counterproductive to one's vocal growth when imitating another singer's style. Every person has different journeys in life, and it can be counterproductive to your inner growth to compare your life with another's.
7) Trusting in the abilities of your voice allows you to sing with much less reservations. I've allowed myself to place more trust in my abilities as a human being, and I'm finding myself to be much less doubtful and limited. I'm trusting myself to be my own advocate for this singing talent.
8) If you simply sing and don't exert more effort than is necessary, you'll sing just fine, but with more ease. If you simply be in life, then you'll still live, but with more ease.
9) Sometimes you go through singing bass, tenor, and then alto to get to soprano. (Yes, I have sung all four vocal parts at some point!) Navigating one's life path isn't always clear-cut and linear (though, my journey from bass to soprano is linear in an ironic way).
10) The pianist who accompanied me for this video noted my voice was a bit all over the place, that my technique needs fine-tuning, but that there was beauty in my voice's rawness. I’ve learned to accept that I'm a bit all over the place and anxious in life, and my self-talk would benefit from affirmative adjusting. But I find beauty in my emotional rawness through the mess.
Until about 2017, I hated hearing myself sing and would delay pressing the play button upon receiving recordings of my performances. Some of those delays lasted for years. Now in 2020, I've learned to like—and even love—my voice as it is, and myself as I presently am, imperfections and all.
In my first quarter of undergrad in fall 2013 at Seattle University, I took a class in which each student was assigned to examine one practice from the Tree of Contemplative Practices, which illustrates many practices that cultivate awareness and freedom. I still have the booklet made for the assignment that tracked the exploration of my choice of practice: singing.
Reading through this booklet again, I rediscovered that I struggled to see how singing could specifically be a contemplative practice and not solely performative at the time. I ended up jotting down ideas of ways singing could be linked to contemplation for the assignment, and it would take me 6 years to fully, truly realize the ways that training as a singer would nurture my path towards contemplation. This path would then guide me towards everything I wrote about above, and towards self-love and self-compassion, both of which I've learned to prioritize.
The lines “…all ye that labour…ye that are heavy laden…He will give you rest.” are sung in that Handel aria. Though I underwent physical uneasiness singing that at the time, I nonetheless felt an inner rise of calm.
I wonder what it'll be like to read this article and watch this video in 10 years.
Winston TL is 24 years old and lives in San Gabriel Valley. He attended Seattle University and studied Interdisciplinary Arts, especially interested in learning social studies through performing arts & fashion. After graduating in June 2017, Winston began to delve into the art of writing, with a particular penchant for poetry. His poetry has been published by Papeachu Press. Interests that complement his love for art include comparative theology and health. To accompany his artist career, he has extensive experience in administrative work and education. All and all, Winston has no regrets about his non-linear generalist path.
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