Monday, March 9, 2015

It's all acting

Most people are really surprised to find out that I didn't major in English or any writing-related fields. My degree is in education, but I started as a music major and spent a year and a half in the voice program. I also spent the previous four years of my life in high school heavily involved with the choral programs. It was pretty much the only thing my world revolved around.

So as you might imagine, I performed a lot of music. Giant choral performances. Small groups. Solos. And of course karaoke just for fun. But what I found frustrating about most of it is that I was required to perform so many pieces that did not resonate with me.

At least 90% of what I performed was either religious or about love.

As a person of atheistic Pagan persuasion, it does get a little exhausting to have so much of the program devoted to songs about Jesus year after year at holiday time, and it doesn't help at all that most programs that seek to be more inclusive or diverse do so by including one Chanukah song. I sometimes was able to relate personally to the pieces that were less explicitly religious and I could pretend they were about the season itself rather than the religious message, but it gets depressing and repetitive singing so many songs about how much you love someone else's god.

And as a person of aromantic asexual orientation, the songs about longing for a specific person, longing for a significant other in general, missing an absent partner, or how great/nice/hot the significant other/desired partner is . . . also got very tiring. I was very disconnected from these sentiments, but especially because I was a young soprano, they were assigned to me for solos constantly. For my first semester as a music major, I was assigned the following songs:
  • "Come and Trip It" (basically "yo, let's dance!")
  • "I Love All Graceful Things" (basically "see that? I love that. see that other thing? I love that too.")
  • "Se tu m'ami se sospiri" (basically "if you love me that's awesome but I'm not going to stop messing around with other people 'cause I like them too")
  • "Caro mio ben" (basically "god I love you so much and it sucks being away from you")
  • "Se Florinda e fedele" (basically "I'll stay if you're faithful")
  • "Alma del core" (basically "I'll never stop loving you and man I want to kiss you")
  • "The Daisies" (basically "there was this field and I ran around in it with my partner and it was cool")
So, two of the six were not explicitly about being with your partner or having issues with your partner. Guess which two I chose for my required performances? Yep.

They kinda went on like that for the next semesters, too, though I kept pushing for less lovey-dovey stuff in my repertoire.

But eventually, I came to realize that singing performances were sort of like acting. Just like writing is like acting.

When I write about someone who is not me--especially if they do not think like me, do not share my values, and like things I don't like--I don't abandon their stories. I don't throw up my hands and dub myself so unable to relate that writing their stories is tantamount to going through the motions. I love slipping into their modes of thought and vicariously experiencing things I wouldn't enjoy as me. Why not with singing?

So when I perform, I'm playing a character. It sounds sort of silly now that I didn't start out doing that from the beginning, but I guess I wanted to sing as me. And I don't think that's unreasonable, either. But if the pieces available for your voice type are mostly about chasing/loving some dude and the pieces available for your choir are mostly about God, you're out of luck unless you are also a composer. (Maybe that's how I got stuck in the first place; at that time in my life I was mostly writing poetry that really was about me, and though I wasn't a songwriter, I hung out with a lot of people who wrote ditties on their guitars and sang about things that mattered to them.) To enjoy the process--and give a good performance--it's sometimes necessary to be someone else.

Now I can slip into another frame of mind and imagine what it would be like to be a person who feels grateful and relieved and full of love at the idea of a savior god giving his life for humanity, or to be a person who is consumed by attraction and desire and love for another person. I have versions of these feelings that are inspired by other experiences, and it isn't a huge stretch for me to "be" another person so I can both enjoy and convincingly perform these songs. I've given very emotional performances before that had people asking me who hurt me or why I relate to this if I've never been through it (implying either that I do in fact relate or that I'm hiding something), and all I can say is it's not difficult at all when you're singing as someone else. It's not like I'm trying to manufacture sorrow and tears or false emotions; I just want to be part of what the song is about if I'm going to bother singing it, and I can only do so as the character in the song--not as myself.

It's all acting. But it's the farthest thing in the world from fake.

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