Habitual Song

Breaking old habits to build a new world

I’ve just finished reading Françoise Héritier’s, La Sel de la Vie, translated into English as The Sweetness of Life.  It’s a wonderful thought intervention that challenges the reader to consider themselves as a whole sensory being and to reflect on what makes our life worth living:

“There is a kind of lightness and grace in the simple fact of existence, leaving aside our occupations, strong feelings, political and other commitments, and I wanted to confine my subject in this essay to that aspect.  To the little plus factors that are granted to us all, and go to make up the flavours of life.”

On Héritier’s list of things that make up the sweetness of her life, the reader stumbles upon:

“clearing out your cupboards, picking a wild bunch of flowers, crying while listening to Die Winterreise, seeing the Northern Lights, drinking fresh cider, to be at a concert of your favourite singer, gorging on Alpine strawberries, trying to remember the lyrics of old songs, sunsets, lying in late in the morning, wild laughter….”

Throughout Héritier’s list, music consistently features as one of the forces that makes up the sweetness of life.  This encouraged me to further reflect on the role of the singer and to return to a favourite theme of mine; why do we sing? 

Héritier’s interpretation of music and song as a state changer places musicians, like other communicators, as influencers.  With influence comes responsibility which begs the question: As singers, how much of this influence is considered when deciding to choose the stories we sing?  What percent of our choice is vocal need, and what percent is audience need. 

The decisions we make about repertoire often comes from well-formed habits.  But let’s mix this up with an Aristotelian point of view.  If the world we build is made up of the conscious and unconscious habits we repeatedly do, what decisions do we keep repeating that do not help us mindfully serve our audience or our art?

For me, I believe that stories can change our lives and change the world.  This is why I want to create a song platform where the portrayal of women is not a romantic idealised stereotype, as the classical cannon so often presents.  Rather, it explores a range of female archetypes.

To help this decision live in my creative practice, I rifled through my habits to find out what was stopping me from achieving this.   When I discovered what it was, I had to reverse a habit that had been nurtured since I was teenager; selecting a song = tessitura first.

So now, I hunt the story first and then check in on the tessitura.  If they both work, winner.  If one of them doesn't work, I don't sing the song.  This upside down thinking lets me explore repertoire in a way that liberates me to discover new interpretations and repertoire that challenges and accompanies the classical cannon’s female stereotypes.  My big hope is that this work will eventually uncover ideas from which to build new vocal archetypes for women. 

If we want opera and classical song to continue to have a place in the 21st century, we have to find a new approach.  What habits do you want to break?  What assumptions can you rip the heart out of so our every day practices and habits help evolve classical song and opera?      

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking." Einstein

Want to find out more?:
Fancy reading The Sweetness of Life - go here
Want to discover the wonderful mind of Héritier - you can start your reading adventure here 
If this article got your goat or lit a lightbulb, you can try this article for size


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