Sunday, July 26, 2009

Reflections on RESONANZ

It's not often that you get an opportunity to fall in love with 25 people all at once. That's why I am still treasuring the memory of my week in Albany, NY, at the College of St. Rose Massry Center for the Performing Arts. Wonderful musicians and artists have gathered for three weeks of learning, self-development, and new perspectives at RESONANZ.

Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Heidi Skok envisioned a summer festival and training program where students and faculty could experience something different from the typical "grind" of coach-practice-perform-stress that is typical of such programs. Her inspiration came, in part, from the tragic suicide of a colleague, Jerry Hadley, in 2007. She reflected: Why must performers feel so desperate? What ingredients are missing in training, or in life? At RESONANZ, she has created an atmosphere of sincere caring, mutual respect, and joy in performing. The student artists receive mentoring, coaching, and honest feedback from top-flight faculty with impressive performing credits. These folks have got the goods.

The unique feature of RESONANZ is its emphasis on each singer as a whole person. I was honored to contribute the perspective of the Feldenkrais Method in classes during the first week of the program. Students and faculty participated in a daily Awareness Through Movement class, as well as in meditation training from Lance Brunner from the University of Kentucky. They will have the opportunity to incorporate the benefits of a yoga practice in the coming weeks, taught by Albany area teacher Susan Hoffman. This ain't your standard opera training program.

Whatever your field of interest, from sports, or opera, cooking, or knitting, there's always the temptation to fall into narrow thinking about it. It's rarely just about how much you "know;" it's about how much you can learn. Learning offers an open and dynamic process and perspective; "knowing" can turn rigid and dogmatic if you're not careful. At the beginning of the vocal masterclass I presented last Thursday, I shared part of one of my favorite poems:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there. (Rumi)
I invited the singers and the audience to meet in that field. To include other points of view and new experiences in their thinking. To develop an expanded "movement repertoire" that will permit freedom, comfort, expressiveness, and enjoyment in performing and in living. To expand their notion of "THE one, right way" to include their very own versions of several ways that work pretty well. Each of the three singers discovered new freedom, new sound, new capacity. The audience witnessed the transformation of each person, not just each song. Tears of joy flowed as they experienced "Making the impossible, possible; the possible, easy; and the easy, elegant." This ain't your standard opera masterclass.

The Feldenkrais Method offers concrete experiences of exploring and experimenting with new ideas. For some, the new idea is that you are an interesting, wonderful, and worthy human being. For some, the new idea is that performing does not have to be an expression of ego: it can be a demonstration and expression of LOVE. When you are more aware of yourself, you will be more aware of others. You can use your powers for good. A Feldenkrais class is a laboratory for learning how to turn intentions into actions. Embodied, intelligent action is the foundation for excellence in whatever you pursue.

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