I haven’t been working much lately.
I know what you are thinking: the purple circles under my eyes tell a different story. Of course I have been working plenty, but I haven’t had much performing on my plate which has affected my lifestyle (and inspired the well-documented periodic panic that I will never be hired again). The upside? I’ve been using my lessons to work on technique, and on all that rep that I’m always meaning to learn and never get to work on.
Since I’ve been messing around with oratorio and art song a bit, rather than the sing-loud-and-high, cut-through-an-orchestra operatic rep that I’ve been working for a while, we’ve been working in my lessons on tweaking technique, which always ends up an emotional experience. The dark side of improving is the realization that you were not as good as you wanted to be previously. We work so hard to figure out exactly how to sing and then expect everything to stay the same. Once we have everything in order the work should be done, we think, we should be able to freeze our technique and use it forever. The truth is that it’s a constant tension: light and dark, forward and back, chest voice and head voice – holding all of those things in the appropriate tension takes work. You can’t find balance and expect it to magically stay that way.
Because the work is hard and the product is personal, there has been no shortage of near-tear moments in my recent lessons. I get so angry at how hard it is, then I get discouraged that I haven’t been singing this well all along, then I become concerned that I will never be able to maintain whatever I have just learned. Finally the magic happens, and I am transformed, after the tears and discouragement and frustration and snapping at my teacher and pianist. Whatever I thought I couldn’t do, couldn’t maintain, becomes part of me, and I leave my lesson different and a bit better.
Is anyone surprised that this pondering this leads me back to the liturgical calendar? After hearing the readings for Ash Wednesday repeatedly, singing multiple masses, I was moved in the evening when reflecting on them privately. “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.”
I have known the same frustration described above when I have tried to change myself. I can’t do it, I always think: my personality is wrong. I’m too blunt, too mouthy, too angry, too whatever to be truly good. Psalm 51 reminds me that my goodness may not come of my own initiative. Sometimes getting out of the way and letting God transform and forgive is the best I can do, which is a hard lesson to learn for someone like me who wants to constantly accomplish on her own. I focus so much on what I can or cannot do, using my faults as an excuse rather than allowing God’s initiative to work through my weaknesses, to ‘create in me a clean heart, and put a new and right spirit within me’.