One of my students is a talented, accomplished, and generous man who takes singing lessons with me over in cyberspace. The simple fact of interacting with him makes me more alert and intelligent. He brings new vocal and musical materials into my life, he asks pertinent and not-always-easy-to-answer questions, and he gets me thinking about the meaning of life.
The human voice is quite complex in its working, much like the owner of the voice. No two people speak and sing exactly alike. Thoughts and emotions are boiling up inside your head and your soul, and at some point “you give voice to them.” The voice has a bestial component. Listen to little kids shouting at one another in the playground, and you’ll hear wolves, goats, eagles, all fighting for territory and supremacy. The voice has its anatomy. Can you shout without lungs, without vocal folds, without a larynx and a pharynx? “The Goat and the Pharynx.” Someone ought to write the book.
My student and I get pretty creative in our weekly dialogue. His goat bleats and my goat laughs. And the thing is, he and I keep improving our speaking and singing voices. Fun is work and work is fun, and life’s good and the goats sing happy and proud.
The other day he asked me about my concepts and exercises. Where do they come from? Did my teachers teach me the things that I do with him? How, how, how? It was one of those useful questions, and I have one of my quaternity answers for it. Trinity: three things; quaternity: four things.
I think that, for everyone and in everything that they do, four factors are in permanent interplay. The first factor is what you’re born with. Some people call it genetics, but I prefer calling it embodied family history. The baby kind of looks like his father and his mother, and that’s, wow, your first problem in life. (Joke, maybe.) Innate strengths and weaknesses, innate brain, innate body, innate asymmetries, crossed eyes, flexible fingers, platypus feet, hairy back. I sit at the cello, and my crossed eyes and flexible fingers are part of my posture and my technique. Did you know that intonation problems in cello playing are caused by a hairy back? I blame my father.
The second factor is what we’ll call education, all the experiences you have in the environment in which you dwell, including school but also family, playground, lessons, books, teachers, colleagues, excursions, movies, books (did I say books already?), travels, meetings, encounters, trainings, seminars. Let’s stop the list now, before we bust our data plan. I had a whole bunch of cello teachers, for instance. You can meet them here. Their ideas cross-fertilized over the months, years, and decades, and here I am: a unique cellistic hybrid, because no one else in the world met the same set of teachers I’ve met and no one else in the world has my same hairy back and platypus feet. Similarly with my voice teachers: they were seven brothers for seven brides, and they had forty-nine children all counted, and each and every child is called Pedro.
The third factor is what we’ll call personal initiative, the stuff you originate yourself, the bursts from within, the thoughts and feelings of which you’re the reluctant owner, the experiments you undertake alone or in the company of siblings, friends, colleagues, and students. Personal initiative starts very early in life. Babies and puppies, you know? They never stop exploring and experimenting. Then they become adolescents. Nothing has more personal initiative than an adolescent puppy. I once married a fire hydrant in Las Vegas.
The fourth factor is the hardest to name, but we’ll call it mystery. I mean, something that we don’t understand and can’t explain. Inspiration, intuition, insight, in-something. Brainwaves undetectable by science. Channeling information from sources unknown. Receiving gifts from the ether. Opening your seventh chakra, come what may. Connecting with Nature, or the Universe, or the Supreme Being Whose Back May or May not Be Hairy. For rationalists, this whole thing doesn’t exist. But when did a rationalist ever “get the goat”?
©2019, Pedro de Alcantara