I find myself at a loss recapping today. Wasn’t it just another “Lazy Sunday?” What’s there to look forward to other than mimosa potential? Yet Sundays are when I get my best work done. I try to make them productive days of respite. I try to be at my quietest, pausing on a Sunday.
But quiet is the last thing I wanted to be this seemingly ordinary Sunday. Normally, Sunday is my escape from the madness. Friends help make life worth living, but being social is also dreadfully hard work sometimes. Extroverted as I am, I need to retreat into my quiet little cave once in a while. But I haven’t been able to be my boisterous self for days! What good is my cave today?
I felt a tad alone with my madness this Sunday. I’ve been stir-crazed and vocal rest has lost its luster. Ostensibly I’m contented, because once I’m through with this interminable exercise I’m confident my voice will be stronger than it’s been all month. As I approach the end of my vocal rest, each day feels longer than the last. This is vocal rest at its most oppressive. It’s lingering. It’s decidedly lacking in variety. It’s just really frickin’ long. 168 hours is an excruciatingly long time to be banned from speaking and singing! (And I just heard that Diana Damrau herself was just ordered full vocal rest for SIX weeks – just over 1000 whole hours of silence! I don’t know if that’s a substantiated rumor or what but oh my wow I would go berserk staying quiet for that long!)
One of the greatest joys (and hang-ups) of singing is the element of surprise; you never really know what you’re going to sound like before you get out of bed. It’s wonderfully frightening and exciting! Singing is constantly brimming with discovery. Though we be masters of our craft, there are always stones to unearth. There are so many “revelations” to be had in voice lessons and coachings and rehearsals throughout your life. So when you cut off all that activity, you are naturally inclined to think, crap, I must be taking a few steps back. And if your voice feels fine again like mine, why not just give it up and test the waters?
You have to play sentinel to yourself. It’s so easy to cheat when you’re the only one holding yourself accountable. You’re your own best friend and worst enemy wrapped into one overbearing entity. You give yourself a pep talk one moment and then kick yourself the next. But if you find yourself on vocal rest now or at any point in your career, I beseech you, don’t give up and see it through to the end! This is meant to be therapeutic. This is a unique opportunity to rest. Rest. When was the last time you afforded yourself rest in the last few years of your life?
So Sunday. By the blue purple yellow red water of my toilet bowl. Whoopie! My Quiet-Lazy-Fraught-Get-All-Your-Shit-Done-Ordinary-Sunday. The bullet points version of it was exceptionally boring:
Did More Work
Went to the Gym
Did More Work Again
Sleep remains to be seen. Only this post stands between my bed and me, but I am stuck riding that writer’s struggle bus through the dead of night with my seatbelt on. Not only is there less and less to say on the subject of vocal rest, but what sane person would choose to write about his experiences with it every single day!? Oh, wait…
Perhaps you, devoted reader, have begun to question my sanity too. Has Brad finally descended into the depths of lunacy? See that fellow over there? That’s Brad. He’s a funny one, always sitting in the corner listening to our conversations, but never saying anything back. He must be drowning in his pent-up words. All those words he can’t bear to speak, what a tormented soul he must be!
You know, there is something to be said for the word “torture” in an artist’s life. Torture is a curious thing, frequently synonymous with “fun.” I imagine most performers who refer to the theater as their home are like me in that we are rowdy, we are loud, and we are larger than life. Expression is like a drug and we need it and we thirst for it. Furthermore, we need to inspire people to come along with us on a journey. Our very lives are oozing with performativity. Everything is a performance. The way I order at Chipotle (hint: devoid of compassion and demanding robotic efficiency in return) is a performance. We project personas of who we want to be, on and off a stage. Maybe some of us have fascinating stories to tell while others are draining or attention seeking. But any performer worth his or her weight in gold is competent in the basic art of captivation, whether the result is magnetic or repellant. You give us an audience and we will cater to it because we are just totally hooked. Getting a good laugh at dinner can provide the same ecstasy that takes hold of you whenever you bow your head for applause. No matter how humble you may be, applause is still validation and invigorating at that. But this constant need for further validation is also torture to our bodies and voices, because we will rarely look away from another opportunity to have it again.
We artists run from auditions to rehearsals to performances to survival jobs to do schoolwork to run errands to squeeze in a workout to call our fathers and our mothers and our siblings and our cousins and sometimes all in the span of a single day! It’s absurd. In an effort to check our boxes and get the most out of our everyday performances, we are utterly brutal to ourselves, and our bodies and voices most of all. Actors and singers and dancers are unique among artists. Our humanity is our craft. You can’t help even your best performances being an indirect reflection of how your day was spent and the toll it took on your mind, body, and spirit. To lose yourself in a character is paradoxical, because how could you ever fully lose yourself? Instruments existing outside our bodies have resilience and can be put away, or be repaired, or be replaced altogether. But the human body is feeble by comparison, and we are rarely taking care of it the way it ought to be.
It is a great thing to be extroverted and exuberant, but the unfortunate reality is those unforgettable (or soon forgotten as the hangover steamrolls you) Saturday nights out at the bar nary make a good performance of “Rejoice Greatly” in the morning. Violinists would not treat their violins the way singers treat their voices. But that is simply out of pure necessity, not maliciousness. Voices are vital, whereas violins are not (although if you can order a burrito bowl at Chipotle as efficiently as I can using only your violin, I would very much like to be your biggest fan, immediately).
I’ve spent a lot of this ordinary, lazy, lonely Sunday at least peripherally reflecting on the days, the weeks even, leading up to my “incident,” wondering where the trigger was. I think I’ve finally reconciled with myself enough to say there likely wasn’t one “wrong” thing I did that set it all in motion. We humans are millions of little pieces all working together. Maybe it was one too many Taco Tuesdays, or maybe it was that hymn we sang at my church job 47 times instead of the normal 39, or maybe I didn’t quite get seven hours of sleep for a few nights straight in August, or maybe it was just nothing at all.
Woefully, my incident probably was what I suspected all along: a freak thing. Sure, it’s nice to think there aren’t any red flags in my memory banks jeering “HEY BRAD you were stupid to do this one blatant thing that effed you up!” All the same, a nebulous answer like “it was just a freak thing” isn’t exceptionally comforting. We musicians, especially classical, fall victim to subjectivity in our careers, such that we gravitate towards definitive yes-or-no approaches to performance. It’s assurance that we are doing something “right.” Learning to sing classically is perilous – your voice sounds different to your ear than it sounds to everybody else, and then the sensations you feel inside are rarely just as your teachers and coaches describe them. Thus, even with a perfectly sound technique, it’s impossible not to have doubts about what you’re doing. Combine that with factors outside the vocal apparatus, and we become the worst of hypochondriacs, utter plagues to ourselves and others. Was the week super humid? Well, just have the piano tuner come in for a little fix. As for singers battling the same humidity? Dealing with it is really all you can do, though most prefer to complain, whipping themselves into some kind of self-induced frenzy, chalking it up to the aforementioned humidity all the while.
What I’ve given most thought to as I write this is where in my life I can make tiny adjustments. I prefer to think of this as recalibration, rather than renovation. (I doubt it’s very smart to totally uproot my normal behavior all on account of this singular incident in my life, after all, I’ve been vocally healthy throughout my career.) For starters, I shall continue to be hyper-vigilant over my throat clearing habits, unquestionably more so than before. I shall continue to be hygienic and drink more liquids than I think I need, especially because of this crazy September weather in Louisiana. And as I’ve learned surrounding myself with my equally high-spirited friends over the past few days, I shall not speak without good reason. I need not be constantly contributing to the conversation in order to have a meaningful time. In this way, validation is certainly not worth using your voice to compete with your loud (or louder) friends at the restaurant or bar.
And I shouldn’t need to validate myself. Though I continue to be on my vocal rest, I know my voice is intact. It’s there. It’s great. And I love my voice. Knowing that, there is nothing left to prove, except that I will do everything in my power to lead an even healthier singing lifestyle in the future…without making myself absolutely bonkers that is.
A brief interaction from earlier in the week keeps replaying in my head as I finally get ready to turn in. He commended me for still coming to see him for lunch. He rightly remarked that I am a “people person” and that must be why. He doesn’t know how he would do what I’m doing. He said he probably would have just holed himself up, not wanting to see anybody until it was all over and done. I sympathize with this. Throughout this week I’ve had my fair share of withdrawals and I’ve recoiled in the presence of strangers. But holing myself up sounds like all my ordinary Sundays, as I liberate myself from concern for anybody else but me. Therefore, I guess this Sunday wasn’t like all the others. Today, I craved being a member of society again. My vocal rest has been a series of silent and extraordinary Sundays, hasn’t it? But I want a Monday, for once.