You know that feeling of being charged up, ready for action, batteries all at 100%, yet at the same time feeling a profound inner stillness? In younger years, I thought the two states were mutually exclusive. Lately I’ve been experiencing them simultaneously more and more. Sometimes with coffee, sometimes without. Yet even without coffee, we can be sure that there are natural substances in our bloodstream and brain synapses that are very similar to caffeine.
The first time I experienced this powerful combination was, of course, onstage singing. Singing, especially singing opera, is synonymous with being in an extreme state of excitability or elation. After all, if the libretto didn’t have elements of extreme emotional states, there’d be no reason to sing about it. Singing in general and opera specifically IS ABOUT the lyric and dramatic expression of intense human emotions. The thing is, if you as a singer are in the grips of an intense human emotion, there is some loss of vocal control. That means that singing and acting is a big “As-If” frame and the singer does not go fully into the affect. Took me a while to really learn that. A long while!
My first experience of this degree of maturity was in a production of La Bohéme. It was the second time I’d sung Rodolfo and the aria had become a standard for me in auditions. The role and the aria had become so ‘second nature’, that I found myself relaxing into it. I happened to be on stage with one of those gorgeous, sexy, Las Vegas bombshell sopranos, that seem to be made in heaven for young, passionate tenors. So in addition to the role and the aria, I found myself in a rather realistic state of another kind of excitability. It was in this highly volatile mix that I first discovered Caffeinated Calmness. There is an increased sense of positive control and regulation, especially of the voice and body. The flow of time seems to change somehow. There is a grand sense of serenity, composure and inner peace. At the same time colors seem brighter, harmonies more intense and significant and sensations almost orgasmically expansive. I’m definitely not the first singer to experience this!
“Singen: körpersinnliches Erwachen im Lebensgefühl – Umwälzung im Bewusstsein – Mitschwingen im tiefsten Seinsgrunde…animalischer Wohligkeit zugleich mit der Lust am Klanglich-Geistigen….Aber niemals darf ein erreichtes Stadium stimmlicher Beherrschung etwa gegen den Verlust der Körperverbundenheit und Körperfreudigkeit eingetauscht werden.” Der Wissende Sänger – Martienßen-Lohmann
Singing: the physical awakening into a sense of what life is – a revolution in consciousness – deep resonance with the ground of being… an animal-like ecstasy with a passion for the spirit of sound… however vocal mastery should never, ever be divorced from connection with the body or physical bliss!” Martienßen-Lohmann (Author’s Translation)
Without spending too much time on what little I understand of Tantra, the principles and practices revolve around becoming so aware of natural, organic functions that they become directly or indirectly regulatable. Breathing, heartbeat, sexual response, digestion, sleep, the flow of various tissue fluids and regulatory substances throughout the body become not only more conscious, but less automatic and externally controlled. In other words, we are no longer a mere spectator or victim of uncontrollable internal or external forces. Put even more simply, we become mature!
In describing this to my teacher at that time, she said; “Ah, you’ve finally learned to sing with a warm heart and a cool head!” Right, as opposed to a hot head and a hot heart. Definitely a good way of putting it. However you put it, it’s got implications for an entire class of activities.
As a coach, to use one example, when I started out and a client, especially a woman, came into my practice and dissolved in tears, something in me dissolved as well. I went myself into a highly emotional state and at that moment lost my ability to coach. Caffeinated Calmness here implies entering into an empathic state with the client, yet maintaining enough perspective and distance to access resources and solutions with the client.
Maintain too much distance and coolness and the rapport with the client suffers. Too much closeness, on the other hand, and too much ‘sympathetic’ vibration and you become as emotionally blind as the client himself.
Another example is the balance found in sports and fitness activities. One of the most ecstatic and important aspects of “runner’s high” is finding this balance between calmness and agitation, between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system. Runner’s high is, of course, not only reserved for runners! Swimmers, bicyclists, gymnasts, skiers and, of course, opera singers experience it regularly. It is inherent in any activity which has the potential of autonomically putting your system into overdrive or over-stimulation, yet with practice has the potential of great balance and homeostasis.
This is of momentous importance for the voice teacher as well. All of us have experienced voice students in the grip of some unbalancing emotion. A bad audition, a frustrating rehearsal, a stubborn conductor, some power game in one theater or another and the student comes to the lesson all in disarray. Since it’s always a good idea to begin warm-up in a relatively balanced emotional state, we’ve all developed strategies for calming ourselves down and getting into a good ‘space’ for singing. In my experience, one way or another, this involves demonstrating first a degree of understanding and then offering, either by example or with an exercise, a new alternative. This assumes, of course, that we as teachers know what Caffeinated Calmness is within the singer’s context.
My last example happened to me just this morning. After drinking two large cups of epicurean, earth-moving coffee and getting into an impassioned discussion with my wife, I realized that both our passions were tending towards long-windedness. We both wanted passionately to talk and to be passionately listened to. Perhaps one or the other of you, my gentle readers, recognize this particular expression of passion. Upon realizing that this combination could only lead to faster and louder talking on both our parts, I decided upon a radical strategy; I would caffeinatedly and calmly listen until the big wave of her passion hit the shore. Miracle of miracles, when it did, she asked me what I thought and actually passionately listened til I was done. It didn’t actually even take too long. Definitely not as long as if we’d both talked at once. Will wonders never cease.
Yes. Caffeinated Calmness!
Evan Bortnick Gesangsunterricht Wiesbaden http://www.musa-vocalis.de