Singing in the midst of grief

…It’s one of the most wonderful and hardest things to do. I sometimes have students come into a voice lesson, and maybe they’ve had a hard day, but they really can’t sing. We’ve all felt that tell-tale tightening of the throat when we’re about to cry, or trying not to cry. That sensation could not be further from the “open throat” that voice teachers through the ages have taught.

Yet, when we’re in times of personal grief, communal grief, or even national grief, singing can be a very special way of honoring that emotion. I’ve had advice from several professors over the years about how to approach this problem. One director, as we were working on an especially emotional opera (The Dialogues of the Carmelites – in which almost the entire cast of nuns are guillotined), advised us to just go ahead and cry while we were singing, since if we tried to hold it in, our throats would definitely get tight. I think I know what she was going for – but if you’ve ever tried to carry a pitch or legato phrase while you’re actually crying, you know that’s pretty impossible to do. What I think she meant was to acknowledge the emotion and rather than try to stifle it, let it come out in the sound of the voice. This goes hand in hand with the idea of having an open Throat Chakra – if you feel free to express yourself and use your voice, your throat will stay physically open. If you are trying to stifle your thoughts or emotions, it will tighten, and even fractional tightness will effect your core sound as you sing.

I encourage my students (and myself) to stay in the moment and not get too emotional while singing. Emotions are tied up in past regrets, future worries, and all kinds of other distractions from being in the now. When we come together to sing in honor of a tragedy, part of the power is the sheer force of sound coming from a group of people singing, and you can only truly experience that if you are in the moment. These group expressions of grief are needed to collectively share the emotion – a kind of congregational open throat. And if it’s a lone solo voice, at a funeral for instance, maintaining the integrity of your sound is essential to letting the listeners have an emotional experience, while you remain calm. It takes practice to find out how to honor your own emotions without letting them get into your vocal tract, but it is totally possible – and may even lead you to get more out of the power of your singing. Candle_in_the_dark