What I Have Learned from the Posture of Singers

When I work with a group of singers, one of the first things I note is posture.  I can ask a group to stand, and I know immediately who is ready to sing and who will need a lot of warm-up time.  I can even discern the kind of warm-up necessary.

There is a kind of casual stance that says, “I am here, but I am thinking of other things.”  That stance has little tension, but very little intention.  This singer needs a difficult technical warm up to distract the brain and focus the body.

There is a slow, encumbered movement to people who are tired and depressed.  Their posture says, “The air is too heavy.  Standing up is hard.”  The posture is collapsed and ready to fail.  This singer needs simple exercises that feel good and waken a sleepy system.

Then there are the people who stand quickly and rigidly, with a straight back and lifted shoulders.  Those are the people who are really stressed out, and whose lives are full of responsibilities.  I always look to their knees, because they are the singers who are so firmly planted, they cannot respond to changes.  These are the people that get a back rub and instructions to loosen their hips and throw their voices. 

All three postures, if left uncorrected, lead to faint, tense, stilted, and unbeautiful singing. 

A singer has to be poised to move in any given direction.  She never knows when the conductor may throw choreography her way.  A singer has to be erect, so that air can move unimpeded through the throat and pharynx.  A singer needs to balance tension and relaxation to support the breath without restricting its flow.  Therefore, the singer’s posture has to be both loose at joints, but lifted and upright across the upper back and chest.  A singer needs no restriction through the throat and mouth, so his shoulders need to be down; his cheeks and jaw need to be loose, and his voice box must be low, as when a person yawns. 

If this is true for singing, then posture must also impact our breathing day-to-day.  If we are to live sustained lines in our lives, we have to learn how to adjust our posture to make our breathing confident, elastic, expressive and beautiful.  We need to notice when our jaws are clenched.  We need to notice when a friends’ shoulders are rounded question marks. We need to ask ourselves if we approach problems with caved-in, apologetic chests, or with bodies stiff as two-by-fours, oriented solely on one particular outcome. 

Then we need to adjust our posture.   We need to realign ourselves to support the music of life.  We need to practice warm-ups that help.  Do we need something technical and difficult to focus our minds?  Do we need something simple and pleasurable to lift our spirits?  Do we need a back rub to let someone else feel the hardness growing in our souls?

Take a week and look around.  What do you see in the bodies around you?  How would you correct their postures?  How would you correct your own?

Scattered and Sown

I made a decision today. I made the decision to shut down a website related to a consulting business I tried, half-heartedly, to get off the ground. The whole endeavor was kind of like the seeds in the parable: I just tossed them out, sprinkled them with a little bit of water and let the ground decide whether or not they would grow. And the ground decided they would not grow.

I am alright with that. Some things that are good things aren’t ready to be born yet, and when the time is right, my guess is my heart will decide to actually nurture and incubate that dream.

Meanwhile, my life has undergone a large number of changes in the past year. I adopted a new dog. I quit a job. I moved. And while I had specific goals and ideas for how I would start over here, I was sick for the first 2 months and have not yet gotten my feet under me.

What’s more, it turns out my new town is very different from my old town. While I knew who I was and what I could offer there-here, I am not so sure.

To some extent, I have arrived. I am fully-fledged with skills and techniques, with gifts and ideas, with resources and possibilities. I know who I am and what I can do. I know what the world is and what it needs. But everything works differently here, and I haven’t yet found the right connections. I keep getting distracted by new and shiny things, and temptations to return to dreams I thought had died.

And, in the midst of this uncertainty, ambiguity and possibility, the world around me has gone completely mad.

I often wondered about tipping points in history. What it must have been like when the French Revolution actually ignited. Or what series of decisions led to the rise of fascism in Europe over the first half of the 20th-century. Or whether the Civil Rights Movement just spontaneously erupted around people; Or what it was like to live through Vietnam War protests that were so extreme, our armies came home.

It seems, suddenly, that I am living in the midst of just such a moment-an American moment of toppling social structures, widespread anxiety, and bursts of vicious societal aggression that are downright incomprehensible.

So I made a decision today. I made a decision to close a chapter on my life. To quietly shut the door on a possibility, knowing I can probably come back and open it again later. I made a decision to settle one piece of business-to take control of one thing that belongs to me. When the world stops making sense, it helps to ground yourself. It helps to touch familiar things. It helps to pay bills and clean the house. It helps to exert power and control in the places where  you rightfully have power and control.

In that process, I will be moving some reflections I have shared about worship over to this blog, while reimagining the purpose of Sown In Peace. Luckily, I think it is all part of the same big thing-singing, faith, liberation, justice, and peace. I think it is all part of a call to help remake the life of this world. To build a house, to plant a garden, to eat the produce of the land, to marry, carry, and bury-even when I find myself living in a land of exile and oppression, of fear and despair, of violence, hatred, racism and war.

We’ll see what delicious thing the ground will decide to yield.