Quote for Today: Frederick Douglass

Henry_Ossawa_Tanner_-_The_Banjo_Lesson.jpg
I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the north, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness. It is impossible to conceive of a greater mistake. Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears. At least, such is my experience. I have often sung to drown my sorrow, but seldom to express my happiness. Crying for joy, and singing for joy, were alike uncommon to me while in the jaws of slavery. The singing of a man cast away upon a desolate island might be as appropriately considered as evidence of contentment and happiness, as the singing of a slave; the songs of the one and of the other are prompted by the same emotion.
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave
Image: The Banjo Lesson by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1893

A Healing Song: The Breathless Choir

Society encourages us to pursue marketable things at which we excel. Is there value in pursuits that challenge our weaknesses?

 

The weeding and winnowing starts when we are very young. What was it for you? Too short to play basketball. Can’t color inside the lines. Can’t do math. Can’t visualize. Has no rhythm.  Can’t sing. Might as well give up now. We’ve all fallen victim to such pronouncements, whether they come from peers, parents or other authority figures.  It is incredible how powerful they can be, lodging themselves deeply inside our psyche, shaping every though and action that comes after them.

Many of these pronouncements come at a young age, but there is one type that we usually deal with later. I’m speaking of those related to health and wellness. Some of these things we cannot change; there is an intersection between perception and reality. For example, I have serious gluten intolerance issues. I can’t eat or inhale wheat, barley, rye or anything made from them without becoming very sick. I will never compete on any reality cooking shows– too many things there that would make me ill– but I can make some awesome tasting food in my own home!

Meet the singers in the Breathless Choir, a project sponsored by the Dutch technology company Philips, famous for innovation in the fields of lighting, sound and recording engineering, healthcare and lifestyle improvement. These are people who have extremely serious breathing impairments: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, cystic fibrosis, acute asthma. There is even a 911 first responder who has lost one third of his lung capacity. Director Gareth Malone had one week to get them to sing, to get air flowing and help them match pitch. He had to get past their diagnosis and their fear.

The result might not be the most perfect musical performance, but it is enjoyable, both for the performers and their audience. The miracle is that many of the singers become healthier in the process. Singing teaches people to make the most of their breath, loosening areas of tension and retraining the mind. Joy and confidence are worthwhile byproducts, but physical healing and maintenance are completely priceless. The intersection between perception and reality can also be a place for growth.

You might complain about their vowels, their technique or their tone quality.

Stop it!

As a professional singer and voice teacher, I can attest that we do far too much of this kind of critiquing. I see young singers every day who have no intention of becoming professional musicians but would like to learn to sing better. Many are afraid of their own voice because someone told them they were too loud or tone deaf. This often keeps people from starting or progressing, even if there is a “diamond in the rough” there. There is a place for being critical when singing is part of competitive, artistic business, but we must also recognize the value of singing and performing for the joy of it. There need to be safe places in the community for people to explore music, dance and art, even if they aren’t going to be stars, even if conventional wisdom says they aren’t talented. Let them move, let them create, let them sing. Some will surprise you.

We all reach points in our lives where we feel stuck and need to find a new point of view, a new tactic to continue growing. If we can consciously identify those pronouncements and assertions that are governing our lives, we can examine how valid they are for us. If you can’t do something that you desire to do, it may be that you need training to do it better. Even if you won’t be able to be the best in that field, pursuing it may supply something else for you: joy, calmness, confidence, even healing. Those things may not bring you public recognition or monetary compensation, but they can change the quality of your life.

What is it you have always wanted to do?

Quote for Today: Rosalind Fordham

© leafar with CCLicense

Some tribal cultures believe that the act of creation takes place through music. They literally sing their homes, their villages and their valleys into existence. They keep them strong and real regularly and ritually through music and belief. It’s a little like prayer, isn’t it? Somewhere in the world, someone is chanting their own universe into being right now. We modern folk are not so different from this. We speak of being in tune, of needing harmony and rhythm to feel complete and alive. We create our own realities with our words and our songs, our eyes and our hands. Each world is defined by our own outline, the envelope of skin and nerves and light and air we inhabit. Every time we push against something, we feel ourselves.

–Rosalind Fordham

Image © leafar with CCLicense

Quote for Today: Henry David Thoreau

There is some of the same fitness in a man’s building his own house that there is in a bird’s building its own nest. Who knows but if men constructed their dwellings with their own hands, and provided food for themselves and families simply and honestly enough, the poetic faculty would be universally developed, as birds universally sing when they are so engaged? But alas! we do like cowbirds and cuckoos, which lay their eggs in nests which other birds have built, and cheer no traveller with their chattering and unmusical notes. Shall we forever resign the pleasure of construction to the carpenter?

Quote for Today: Wendell Berry

Public Domain Image from the John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Public Domain Image from the John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

I loved the different voices all singing one song, the various tones and qualities, the passing lifts of feeling, rising up and going out forever. Old Man Profet, who was a different man on Sunday, used to draw out the notes at the ends of verses so he could listen to himself, and in fact it sounded pretty.
Wendell BerryJayber Crow

Happy 80th birthday to Mr. Berry! We’re thankful for your voice.

there are mermaids

This is a beautiful, poetic reblog from my friend Tony at t h i n g s + f l e s h. It really captures for me the essence of what it means to immerse yourself in any art form. That which lies beneath the expression is even more wonderful than the expression itself. I hope this resonates with you. Enjoy!
kat

Sing and Dance to End Violence Against Women: Break the Chain Video

On February 14, 2013, people all around the globe will be coming together to dance, sing, and support ending violence against women. If you are interested, look here for an event near you.

Produced by Eve Ensler and V-Day, directed by Tony Stroebel, written and produced by Tena Clark with music by Tena Clark and Tim Heintz, and featuring dancer and choreographer Debbie Allen. Video via vdayorg on Youtube.

“Break the Chain” aims to raise awareness around the world about V-Day’s fastest escalating global campaign to date, ONE BILLION RISING. The ONE BILLION RISING campaign began as a call to action based on the staggering statistic that 1 in 3 women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime… On 14 February 2013, V-Day’s 15th anniversary, activists, writers, thinkers, celebrities and women and men across the world will come together to express their outrage, strike, dance, and RISE in defiance of the injustices women suffer, demanding an end at last to violence against women.” V-day.org