Updated: Jul 25, 2020
We’ve sung behind screens--computer and otherwise--for nearly half a year. We’ve Zoomed and Skyped, Whatsapped and FaceTimed. We’ve clipped and glitched and echoed and frozen. We’ve a cappalled and accompaniment tracked. We’ve Soundjacked and Cleanfeeded. We’ve spaced out and sanitized. Most of us have gone from in-person studio models, seeing and hearing our beloved singers weekly, planning and prepping recitals and studio classes and auditions and karaoke nights, to...smiling and waving from behind a screen. Or, if we’re lucky and brave enough to offer in-person lessons, giving air hugs and high fives from 16 feet away. Teachers around the world have transformed their business and teaching models overnight. Done waaaaay more work than they ever had to do for in-person lessons. Spent small fortunes in tech and tutorials and blue-light blockers. It’s been rough. On us and our students. I’ll be honest: When all this began, back in March, I cried at the end of every teaching day. From loss. From fear. From fatigue. From uncertainty. From seeing my kids’ weary, pixelated faces and knowing that they felt as angry and sad and lost and cheated as I did. I’m a naturally upbeat person to begin with, but oh heck, did I crank it up to an 11 during those early Zoom lessons. I was adamant that my students would not have a subpar experience just because I hated teaching online. And, if I’m honest, because I was angry about what we were losing. My family and I were scheduled to move across the country in June, and I was already gutted about leaving my students. I had specific, clear plans about how I wanted our last few months together to go. I wanted parties, karaoke nights, cabarets, formal recitals. I wanted to see every one of them shine in their spring musicals. I wanted togetherness and community. The stuff that Sand Dollar is known for. And the anger and helplessness I felt--feel--at knowing what we lost? It hurts. If I’m honest, I’m still angry and sad. I feel cheated of time with these amazing souls and robbed of opportunities to serve them the way I wanted to. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. Because for all my sadness-masquerading-as-rage For all my boxing at shadows and charging at windmills For all my jaw clenching and wall punching And for my occasional shower sobfests They’re still singing. I saw them in person ONCE between March-June. They’re still singing. I moved from Ohio to Nevada. They’re still singing. They transitioned to a different teacher (who is wonderful, of course, but it’s still a change for them). They’re still singing. They’ve lost proms, graduations, auditions, their very sense of security. They’re still singing. Know why? Because it’s not about me. It’s not about me.
It’s not about me.
Whoever it was that said “art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” got it right. We are all experiencing a massive cultural disturbance. And we all need some serious comfort. Singing is creation. Creation is comfort. We are designed to make, to do, to form. Sit too long in any one position, and it hurts. Live too long in any one way, and it throbs. We are required to live in a certain way right now. To curtail our habits, routines, plans, former ways of existence. It burns, it stings, it aches. It’s loss by a thousand cuts. And we’re still singing. I’ve been wrestling with the validity of voice lessons in a time when performance opportunities are minimal at best, unsafe at worst. And here’s what I’ve come to: This is the time to sing. Of course we should sing. Of course we should continue to study singing. Singing has carried humans through centuries of hardship. Every historical period of grief and unrest has been accompanied by song. It’s how we honor our history. It’s how we share our stories. It’s how we forge our futures. Singing is big. Singing is vital. Singing is necessary. Voice researcher and pedagogue Dr. Meribeth Dayme used to say, “Your voice is the sound of your spirit.” And when things are hard? Your spirit cries out. It wails. It keens. And somehow, in all that resonance and racket...it heals. As I learned in Orff training years ago, it’s not about performance. It’s about process. And the process allows our hearts to sing what they really need to sing. The process allows us to heal. It’s about the stories. It’s about the connection with the composer, with history. It’s about the breath. It’s about the intention. It’s about quieting your mind, clearing out the clutter, and focusing on one thing--just one thing--for 45 minutes. It’s about coming home to yourself. It’s about building resiliency. It’s about choosing to bring joy and beauty and goodness into the world, even if there’s not a spotlight in sight. A year ago, I was singing with the Cincinnati Pops, before an audience of thousands. Now? I sing to...my kids. My cat. This empty, ringy room that makes me sound awesome. I keep thinking about the chorus from that Hozier song, “To Noise Making”: You don't have to sing it right
Who could call you wrong? You put your emptiness to melody Your awful heart to song You don't have to sing it nice, but honey sing it strong At best, you find a little remedy, at worst the world will sing along So honey, sing.
I don’t know when we’ll sing together again. I don’t know when we’ll have audiences again, at least not in the way we’re used to. I don’t know what college auditions will look like or what incoming freshmen can expect. I don’t know when I can responsibly travel back to Ohio, when we can have even the simplest in-person studio class with me and Sarah and Coleman and Josie and our flutists and pianists and singers. I don’t know when our studio will laugh together again. When we’ll share those ridiculous running jokes. When I’ll, yet again, order way too many pizzas for karaoke night. I don’t know when Sarah and I will learn another stupid hard duet and amaze ourselves. I don’t know when Coleman and I will close out another long teaching day sitting at the piano and singing together. I don’t even know the next time I’ll hear another human voice in my studio.
But I do know that we have to keep singing. Who cares if it’s behind a screen? If that’s what we have, then that’s what we do, and we'll be grateful for it. And we'll make it AMAZING. We'll find ways to share our voices. Smartly. Safely. But let’s keep singing. We have to sing. Singing gives words to what our hearts aren’t brave enough to say. Singing sets us free. Singing helps us heal. And in our healing, maybe we can help to heal others.
So honey, sing.