There’s nothing like feeling great in your body, feeling your heart beat strongly and asking your muscles to say, do a set of pullups or get funky in Zumba class, and look at that, motion! There you are! For me it’s a joy, and if you’re reading this blog (hello! and thank you), I’m assuming we’re sympatico. But over the years, with all of this focus on fitness, it really started to gnaw at me that I was neglecting a big part of my core, and a major muscle was moving past being simply flabby to becoming atrophied: my singing voice. My voice practically had cobwebs, my range was shot, and that feeling of over-the-top joy of letting loose and being part of making music was getting farther and farther away in my rear mirror.
I’m a big advocate that if you use it you won’t lose it – study after study shows that staying active and keeping one’s muscles engaged slows the decline usually associated with aging. Inactivity is what leads to problems. And problems came… Singing It’s pretty much my best self, my inner voice made outer. Singing calms and comforts me and it is the perfect company if I need a friend, stat. I love its familiar sound and the vibration in my chest, the resonance, is almost like a massage. My soprano voice is a shadow I could always count on being right next to me, in lockstep with me through my life. I never really knew where it came from and I could always tap into it, so maybe that’s why I was careless. Time went by. I would sing another time, another time. Life got in the way. I was like the callow kid in The Giving Tree, and, well, over time, carelessly, I turned voice into a stump. And when two friends, Alex McKay and Julie Holland, from my college a cappella group, Counterparts, came over one night and we started to harmonize, just like old times, it was painful. I wasn’t soaring, lightly and effortlessly. I was cracking, I was dry, sharp. I was not the same singer anymore. Oh. No.
How is this relevant to a fitness and wellness blog, you may be wondering? Why should you care? I suppose it’s just that I’ve come to realize there’s more than one kind of health. Yes, singing has great stress-busting benefits – check out this recent NYTimes story. And I’ve learned that “balance” is about more than being able to do a dip on one foot. All of us, everyone, is under pressure and it’s so easy to lose the pieces of ourselves we really love but may feel we don’t have time for – I’m talking about the stuff that brings us joy, like cooking a great meal, playing an instrument, writing a beautiful phrase, dancing, taking photos, even simply pausing to deeply remember moments when you travel or truly connecting with another human being. I suppose what I’m saying is that we each have an art, an expression, that speaks directly and uniquely to us – that place that feels like your truer nature. It’s as individual as a fingerprint. And there’s no practical value to it, nothing you may think you need in the course of your day…but we, I, do need it. For me, the art speaks to me it’s music, always has been. It gets me between the eyes and it has the power to makes me cry in two seconds. *
And so, painful as it was at first, tentatively, slowly, I started to sing again. I took a refresher course in reading music. I dusted off my guitar. And most importantly, I was kind to myself and took the long view. Vocal chords are delicate and need to be trained to do what you want them to do — singing again felt like that gnarly first day of spring running when you venture back outside and can’t breathe after 2 miles. I suppose with my fitness experience I had a feeling I’d get back on track instead of being depressed and discouraged. Singing in the shower and on road trips was full on. I started to get my mojo back and I’m thrilled to say, as of January, I auditioned and became am a member of a fabulous chorus, Chameleonic, part of Choral Chameleon. Wooooot! Love it. These folks are really talented – many are professional singers and I’m hanging on for dear life trying to keep up, but hey, I show up, I’m learning tons, and I’m getting better every day. The kid is back:) If there’s a morale to this story, it’s that it’s never too late. Get back in the saddle, people. You won’t regret it. Come and hear us sing at Symphony Space on June 14! We’ll be singing (our version of) the song below, Earth Song by Frank Ticheli – so gorgeous. I literally burst into tears when hearing it for the first time. It’s a cappella! My people! xxxooooSteph
*Hi again – I’m laughing a bit at myself with this burst-into-tears reaction but it’s true. Here’s a partial and random list of songs or pieces that rocked my world on first listen. No rhyme or reason, just emotion. What gets to you? I’d love to hear!
- Zion by Lauryn Hill
- Spem in Alium by Tallis
- Hallelujah performed by Jeff Buckley (c’mon now -)
- Landslide by Stevie Nicks
- Yeyo by Erykah Badu
- The Senior Citizens singing Fix You by Coldplay in the documentary, Young at Heart (best!!!)
- Swim Until You Can’t See Land by Frightened Rabbit
- Nothing Compares To You Performed by Sinead O’Connor