I have heard stories of 80 year old women remembering dance steps from nights out in their 20’s and adults who were once upon-a-time piano students sitting down at the piano to remember every note to “Fur Elise.” In massage school, I learned that we hold memories in our bodies. Both trauma and pleasant times literally sit in our bodies, waiting to be triggered. I have experienced this myself… spontaneously crying or laughing during various types of bodywork. When I sit quietly, I can feel the weight of repressed expression sitting in my jaw while I gently ask it to release and leave me alone for just one hour of meditation. Anger is trapped in my neck and the only thing that releases it is a clever joke. The fears that occupy my shoulders perk up anytime I sit at the piano, making it impossible for me to keep my posture perfectly straight. My body is like a library of every emotional experience I have ever had.
If my body is like a library, then my singing lessons are like the card catalog. Every note, exercise, and song recalls an event I have experienced before. I can vividly remember 9th grade choral concerts, failed auditions, crying at competitions that earned me 2nd place equivalent scores, my first piano recital, my first solo in church, the first time I felt free on stage, hives that surfaced on my arms before dive bar performances. So many experiences have been sitting inside me, stagnated by the responsibilities of adulthood and the stress of being aware of the outside world.
In Wunderkind, a novel about a boy piano genius living in Communist Bulgaria, the main character, who is like a smarter and more talented version of Holden Caufield, complains that he hates hearing adults play Chopin Nocturns because they never get it right. Only young people can play Chopin with the sensitivity his legacy deserves. I understand what he means, and it is part of my daily struggle as a musician who is past the age of 18.
When I was more innocent and naive, I felt music internally. The sound waves of each song pierced through me and the vibrations of the piano strings shot straight into my arms, up my shoulders, and into my brain, making me feel light-headed and calm. As my singing range increased, and the resonance in my high notes became more vibrant, choral practice would make me disoriented in a way I would later understand as feeling “high.” The danger of the college years, when young people experiment with chemically induced pleasures, is that it becomes harder to reach these states in the original, natural way, with music.
Yesterday in my voice lesson, I caught a glimpse of this original state again. Just like the first time when I was 17, my high notes came out of me in a relaxed manner and I felt the buzzing in my head as my eyes and jaw relaxed once more. The whole day I felt calm and at peace with everything. I carried the calm with me through my practice, teaching, and my evening rehearsal. Because of this calm state, I was able to make mistakes without hating myself and create melodies without fear. This calm has been sitting within for a long time, and my body finally reminded me. The body always remembers.