As I walked around the grounds of Princeton University on a chilly but sunny March Monday afternoon, I was thinking about something I heard Glen Hansard say in an interview.
The interviewer asked him about how he takes care of his voice and he replied "The voice just shows up."
I loved this answer because it reminded me of a bard invoking the Muse. As I wrote about here, there are both intellectual and practical considerations for why a bard might want and need to ask for help in a performance. Homer's Muse was Memory, surely an important trait to embrace for an extended improvised performance.
I think every singer has had a moment before a show in which he or she quietly said to him or herself "Dear Voice, please show up."
As a traveling singer who sings a demanding piece in a demanding style, I am constantly amazed and thankful for my voice showing up the way it does. I ask it to do pretty heavy things and it has rarely if ever let me down.
I mentioned in my piece about my show at Menlo School that I figured out after that I was getting sick and a head cold hit me full force the following Thursday between my trip to California and my week of shows in New Jersey and Boston.
I spent Thursday through Saturday desperately trying every conventional and homeopathic strategy (recipe for tea: fresh ginger, fresh lemon, honey, turmeric, cayenne) and Sunday I headed to New York to record a podcast interview with intermittently congested sinuses and a raspy voice. Congestion is deadly for singers: it can drip into your throat and put stress on your larynx. It can turn into an ear infection. The best medicinal remedy for congestion is sudafed but the drying effect from taking it can also be hard on your voice.
So the condition of my voice was still an unknown to me Monday I took the train to Princeton for an evening show sponsored by the Princeton Classics Club.
I hadn't sung a note since my show at Menlo School exactly a week before and following a tour of the beautiful campus I sat on stage in a spectacular old lecture hall. I had been intending to use a microphone and PA system, but decided at the last minute to go without. The audience gathered close to the stage and I started to strum the opening figure to Who Am I.
I said to myself "Dear Voice, please show up."
I opened my mouth and, somehow, it did.
I wrote about feeling as if the space is part of your singing apparatus here but there's something even more moving about doing this without a microphone.
I could hear my voice expanding throughout the hall and after it warmed up in the first few songs I tested it more strenuously and found that it responded with full power and range. The hall was an extension of my voice, a mega-megaphone into which I could sing.
The air in the room felt thick with sound as I neared the end of the piece.
And it was over.
A beautiful and intense discussion followed.
I drove south to my hotel in silence saying over and over "Dear Voice, thank you, thank you, thank you."