I've had two singing lessons so far. At the last one, I had a moment of clarity about something; something which I've seen over and over in different contexts, but which seems to have to be learnt again each time (so much for 'transferable skills'...).
I suddenly saw that part of my angst and discomfort and fear of exposure was coming from the fact that I was unconsciously carrying an idea about 'having a good voice' (or not). I've grown up in a culture that distinguishes between people who have good voices, and people who don't. A good voice is innate, part of the genes, comes from the throw of the dice - like intelligence, you got it, or you ain't. You imagine that people with good voices just open their mouths and watch as this gorgeous tone emerges, creating rapture and appreciation in its audience. Sure, you can get lessons and learn about breathing, but first of all you've got to have this good voice in the first place; something beautiful to hone and improve....
It's a version of 'talent', which I've written about so often here in relation to being able to draw. And I've written over and over about how the idea of something god-given and special seems to me to be a nonsense in relation to drawing. What I, at least, have learnt to focus on is not whether or not I'm naturally 'good' (which relies on a mythical audience to make this judgement and constantly feed it back to me) but what it is that I want to do, how it is that my line comes out, where my line is trying to go. In other words, the drawing, the line, instead of 'my skill'.
So there I was in this singing lesson, singing away, wondering if this time it was 'coming out any better', and my teacher started talking about something they say in the Scottish tradition about the song. The song - not the quality of the voice singing it, not the skill or brilliance or wonderfulness of a special tone (in a specially gifted person), but the song. She said, the song is a gift for someone else, it's not about you. It's come down through the generations, and your job is to pass it on to someone, make it for someone else. Give it to someone else.
Oh. Like, my painting comes through me from life, is life working through my body, is life talking to life through the medium of me? Like, the painting has its own character, its own direction, and it's my job simply to get out of the way and let it be itself? Like, the painting is not about me at all? Yes, Tamsin, like that.
When it's me out out there, hanging in the air between my body and another person, all naked and exposed, wavering and havering and constantly feedback looping to myself about how good or otherwise 'my voice' might be sounding, it's a form of torture. And, of course, a form of exactly what I've been writing against all this time - a form of people-pleasing, of the-judgement-of-others-referencing - which seems to me to be the route to insanity for any kind of creative person.
But what if it's not me out there, but the song itself? Even if the song has been written by me, I know from the way that the songs come that they aren't some kind of intentional cleverness, they just come in the way that they do. How would this change the experience of hearing my voice come out into the space between me and another person?
Well, it would stop being about the experience of hearing my voice come out into the space for a start off. I have learnt this, slowly, on the violin and viola. As I've gradually stopped freaking out about how bad I sound, how crap people will think I am, and instead starting listening to the sound, respond to the instrument, the sound itself has improved beyond all recognition. Now I have to learn this all over again in relation to the voice, and the song.
The other thing my teacher talked about was putting emotion into the song. That was an even harder idea. I haven't worked it out yet. How does the idea of 'putting emotion in' sit with the notion of a straight, unmediated response? And I could feel the ego-monster recoiling in horror - what, you mean I've not only got to risk myself out there, but I've also got to put real feeling into it, show myself at the level of emotion? Oh no, no no no no no.
But you're not risking yourself, are you, if it's not you that's out there, but the song? And if this is the case, then presumably you're not 'showing yourself at the level of emotion' either. If you're focussed on the song, does emotion emerge somehow differently, some way that isn't about exposure and fear? Does the focus on the song cause emotion to flow a new way, becoming art, instead of torture?
I feel as if a whole new field is opening up before my eyes. I remember discussions at Paul Oertel's Discipline of Freedom workshop about the difference between the private and the personal; he said something about the difference between the audience feeling like a voyeur, and the work of the artist connecting the audience to their own private emotion. The first is icky, the second is connection.
This emotion thing is beyond me for now. But it must be linked to being focussed on the song rather than the voice.
I love the idea of the song as a gift. In theory, at least, you could just step out of the sticky self stuff into a clear open space, with a parcel in your hands....