Sunday, October 4, 2009

And when I got there, I figured, since I'd gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going.

(Wow, it's been a while since I've written anything here! Hopefully after my recital permission tomorrow I'll feel less guilty about spending time on pursuits that don't involve memorizing Czech music.)

I have come to the conclusion that my biggest problem is overthinking. And a great non-singing example of that is my "what would happen if I just kept running?" approach to exercise.

A couple weeks ago, the day of the Northwestern-Minnesota game, I decided to go for a "run." For a little background, I decided over the summer that I was going to teach myself to run. I do not like to run. At all. I do not like the impact or the endurance involved--the elliptical is much more my speed, no pun intended. But the weather was gorgeous and the lake shimmered in the early-morning sunlight, and it was impossible to resist doing something good for myself. I started out this way: I would walk all the way to end of the fitness route, then start jogging, stopping at intervals to do lunges or wall-sits, whatever was prescribed by the fitness equipment. I felt great.

But then I suffered a set-back. I had been wearing the same pair of sneakers for years, Asics cross-trainers, and at the end of June, my ankles and heels began to hurt like the dickens. I went to Taste of Chicago with some friends and walked around for hours in terrible shoes, and the next day could barely flex my feet, and certainly not without wincing. The doctor at Northwestern Health Services said I had tendonitis, and recommended a new pair of sneakers. I dragged myself to Fleet Feet, off the Brown Line, and with a beautiful pair of sneakers with custom-fit magenta insoles, I started to recover. Needless to say, by the time I was pain-free, my enthusiasm for running had diminished somewhat.

I joined a gym and stopped running outside so often (working nearly every day also reduced how often I was able to go). I went back to the old elliptical. But a couple of weeks ago, the day of the Minnesota-Northwestern game, I decided it would be a great day to do my old fitness route. Unfortunately, there was a ton of construction around campus and I decided to bypass it by running straight up Sheridan. I took very small steps, and before I knew it, I had made it to the end of campus...and I thought, why don't I try running to the Baha'i Temple? My friends had been talking about taking runs to the Baha'i Temple for years, but I had never joined them because of my lifelong aversion to running. I knew where it was because I had been taking the 201 Central/Ridge bus home from work for weeks.

So I just kept running. And I made it. I had to sit down and put my head between my knees when I got there, but I got there. I felt unbelievably strong and powerful. And then I ruined it on the way back, when I ran into a group of my college friends who were tailgating and indulged in a piece of chocolate-covered peanut buttery Rice Krispie treat heaven.

I made this run again yesterday, same sneakers, same shorts, same Running Mix on my iPod. It's not a very long run, only about a mile and a half (but that's way more than I've ever run at once in my entire life). But somehow, knowing from the get-go that I was heading to the Baha'i Temple made it harder. Thinking about the destination made the journey there a lot more tedious.

In my voice lesson on Friday, while working on some Faure art songs (forgive the lack of diacriticals!), my teacher told me I was worrying too much. I was nervous about memorizing the music for my permission on Monday, and the stress was coming through in my voice. I just couldn't find the right placement. So my teacher pulled out the Faure book in the medium key. Being a soprano, it is very unusual to me to take things in a lower key, but I just went with it. And go figure, it was easier and sounded easier. In the lower key, I could tap into the correct high resonant space without stressing about the notes. The pitches that were flatting were in tune, the long notes that fell off the breath no longer did.

And I think a lot of what made it so easy was the unknown. One of the songs we tried in a lower key was one that I had sung for undergraduate voice auditions; I had been singing it in the high key for six years, with dubious technique. I had no idea what my voice would do with it a half-step down. It was bizarre--I felt like my voice had suddenly dropped into a contralto key, I was using my chest voice on the lower pitches, which don't go any lower than an E or F above middle C. But for all that, it was so much better. This confrontation with the unfamiliar forced me to notice every note I was singing, every word I was saying. I realized that I had been singing this piece on auto-pilot; I had lost the pleasure of savoring the notes that were good in my voice, and had progressed to worrying about the ones that were not. In the lower key, almost every note was good in my voice, so instead of stressing out about the destination, I found myself enjoying the journey.

It's tough to be spontaneous in singing. There are only so many ways that we can shake up the standard repertoire, and for the most part everything needs to be rehearsed. Sometimes, though, we can think about it too much, plan it too much, and forget to just let our bodies do the work so that we can live in the moment. The second time I ran to the Baha'i Temple, it was so much harder because I knew how far it was and that was all I could think about. But sometimes all we need is a key change, or an unplanned change in direction, to revitalize our purpose and make everything easier.