Monday, March 13, 2006


Last week, a great writer came to give a talk at the school where I'm working, as part of an annual writers' symposium. The school sponsors a writer to give talks to the middle and high school students, who have all been reading his or her work in class, then the writer visits English classes and leads discussions. I almost didn't go. I almost didn't make the trip across the hall to the theater, in favor of an extra hour of planning time.

What I almost missed was a wonderful, thought provoking talk, followed by equally wonderful, thought provoking questions from the students, who continue to amaze me every day. Mr. Wideman spoke mostly about Education, and the role it should be playing in the lives of young people. Education should include and allow for people to come to know themselves in the process, and only through that knowing of oneself can one begin to understand other people and the greater world as a whole. He spoke of feeling like an outsider as a child, as a teenager, and as one of six African-American students at Penn when he was awarded a full scholarship, and that he continued to feel like an outsider today. Moreover, he offered that it was impossible to enter in to the process of self knowledge without that feeling of not fitting in to the world around us. In my own experience, I have found this to be true. I have often felt most fulfilled by experiences entered in to with trepidation, with a feeling of discomfort, and knowing that I was an outsider to some extent.

Beyond this, he spoke of the absolute importance of silence in cultivating self awareness. Today, when we can take our phones, our music, the internet, television, movies, and other distractions with us everywhere we go, we too often fill our silences up with so many other things that we cannot hear ourselves. Not a new concept, certainly, but certainly one to be reminded of over and over in this noise of day-to-day life. It made me question the last time I had had real silence in my days. It had been a while. In my former life as a pianist, I had lots of it. In a practice room for four or five or even six hours a day, silence was a regular part of my routine. That extended practice time allows for ideas to develop in a leisurely way, for silence and sound to mix. In addition, I lived alone and often found time for meditation, or even just a quiet nap in the afternoon. As a singer I find that I often don't have these luxuries. First, I'm not a student anymore, and real life takes up a great deal more time than student life, allowing less time to practice. Secondly, even if I had six hours a day to practice, I couldn't possibly sing for that long, or even half that long if I have other singing to do that day. Certainly, there are other things we have to work on than actual singing -- translating, thinking about acting choices, etc. However, even with all that included, my practicing as a singer tends to be more..... full, is the only way I can think of to describe it. Often I'm learning things quickly for a looming deadline, or brushing them up for upcoming auditions, and a sense of space is lacking.

Now that I have a little more time in my days, I've made it a priority to find silence whenever I can. Still, I'm sure I'll need reminders like the one I was given by Mr. Wideman the other day.

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