I’m amazed at how just one beautiful note can relax, open, and capture my interest. It doesn’t take a virtuosic combination of notes for me that engages my interest, but rather the beauty one simple note can convey.
A few weeks ago I heard the internationally renown pianist Jeremy Denk perform Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier (book 1). The tone of his very first notes told me I was home. For 2 hours, his concentration held my rapt attention, and my heart recognized what it was looking for.
We had played together in grad school (it was amazing), and as I listened that evening, I recognized the same spirit coming through his notes.
I came away further convinced that technique and muscular control are only the first part of what creates what we call our “sound”.
I ask my students all the time if they can hear the difference when I tense my feet as I play. They all sense that something goes away. But then what about the tensions of my heart and mind? I’ve found that those affect as well. For instance, if I play while thinking about the past or future, my sound is not the same. If my heart is not relaxed and open, my sound won’t be either.
How does this work?
To captivate a listener, I know my first step is to become enthralled with my own sound. If I’m not enjoying my sound, I doubt that anyone else will. Every day and in every lesson I stress the importance of engaging the virtuous cycle that I wrote about a few months ago. The body is hardwired to relax during enjoyment, and getting rid of excess tension is of huge importance to access the full potential of our sound. Plus, the practice of enjoyment automatically brings you into the present moment.
When I’ve come fully into the moment with my willing focus, the second step is to engage the imagination. How do I want my next note to feel and sound — more open, more receptive, more energized? I use my body as a barometer for my sound, checking to see if my sound opened up parts of my body. Once again, if I can’t feel physical benefit from my sound, chances are my audience won’t either.
I had a student perform today at Solo and Ensemble, and we talked about how the notes are the vehicles, but not the producers, of personal expression. Yes, they need to be in tune and in rhythm, but the SOUND within the notes is what sets you apart. Is that what helped him place first to qualify for state?
Does my voice really sound like that??
For many, listening to our own speaking and/or singing voice is hard. We’re used to how our voices sound when they resonate in the bones in our head. Without that built-in warmth, our voices can sound much more thin on a recording. But more than that, I think we hear what our voice says about us from an external perspective. Our voices are a tough, true mirror. They convey so much more than we realize.
But I’ll tell you this – when you hear yourself speak about something you believe in, you hear your voice ring true. Try it. When you show up with your whole self, when you put your entire heart and soul into the words that you say, your voice carries power and truth.
That being said, there is nothing worse than hearing someone “put on” a voice that isn’t congruent with where they are in the moment. I’ve certainly been guilty of this, trying to sound more peaceful, more happy than what my true experience was in that moment. I judged people by the tone of their voices, rather than hear the truth that came through them.
What our sound says about us is valuable information. What we choose to do with that information is key to our own growth, our own development.
What do you hear in your own voice or those close to you? What pain can you recognize and address? What can you admit to, what can you let go of?
All is vibration, and all is well.