In May, I finished my Anusara® yoga teacher training, which has been a wonderful complement to my own singing, my understanding of the body as an instrument, and how the mind/spirit interacts with the body. One of the teachings of Anusara is the idea of the 3 As: Attitude, Alignment, and Action. These correspond to how to take action in each yoga asana (pose) based in yoga philosophy, and I’ve been thinking about them in relation to my singing lately. I’ve spent the last several years intensely working on vocal technique, and it is easy to only focus on this as I open my mouth to sing. The same is true for some of the students I teach – I can see them almost checking off to-do items in the moments before they sing a phrase, and even as they are in the midst of singing. When the Attitude is one of a hurried person checking off items on a mental to-do list, the Alignment will be clunky or rigid, and the Action will be stifled or lackluster.
In other words, I’ve been thinking that the time for understanding technique must come long before we get into our “singing” or “performance” mode. I’ve been asking myself and my students, “Now, what is your attitude toward this piece?” They sometimes list all of the things they want to achieve in the piece, or perhaps places they’re worried about, or technical concepts (for instance open vowel sounds) they want to focus on. But this is not Attitude. Attitude might be something like gentleness, confidence, acceptance, etc. It’s so hard to sing from a place of gentleness when one is singing an aria or song about murder and revenge! But the Attitude of gentleness should be more about the singer being gentle with themselves and letting the music speak for itself. If I’ve done my work in the practice room, and have the notes, rhythms, words, expressive markings, etc., down, then I can let that all go when I go to actually sing. I have to trust that it is in my brain and those neural pathways will do their work. If I can do that, then I have the freedom to think about what the character’s Attitude is as they sing a particular aria.
One common thing I’ve done in the past (and notice others doing) is technique stacking – I might take a thing I did in a coaching two years ago and have highlighted in my score, add it to the breathing idea my teacher just gave me last week, subconsciously knock on some diction point a choir director harped on about 10 years ago… and voila! I’ve stacked technique on top of technique on top of technique! Lamperti advises us, “The singing voice is so subtle and demands such multitudinous activities, that it can be controlled only when used naturally and thought about in a simple way” (Vocal Wisdom, under “How do you breathe?”). This is where I’m seeing the link to the 3 As….my Attitude can’t be one of how do I solve all the problems with this phrase, or page, or song, or opera. It must be much simpler.
We can see the 3 A’s like this:
Attitude relates to Heart/intention
Alignment relates to Mind/knowledge of technique
Action relates to Body/manifestation
This past week or so, I’ve working with the Attitude of “play.” We learned about the concept of lila in my yoga training and it has been on my mind ever since….when I’m practicing, how rarely have I approached my music making with the sense of “freedom and playful creativity!” I’ve been very serious about striving to grasp and master vocal technical concepts, memorize pieces, juggle with the rest of my life and work schedule….and meanwhile I’ve been very hard on myself for not achieving more. But all of this striving lacks lila….it lacks pleasure, spontaneity, connection with the grand vibration of the world, with the inspiration of the words and notes the librettists and composers have given us, it ignores the joy of creation, and the fact that the words and notes are static marks on a page until brought to life by the unique vibration of my own voice, body, mind, and spirit. Almost all children spend the first few years of life playing. Dogs and other animals remind us of this spirit of play too. They Align and Act from an Attitude of lila. What would your music be if you really “played” it?