Trauma center

I think of my professional craft, and my professional interest, as “unlocking human energy.” Over the last decade or so, as the logical continuation of that interest, I’ve become increasingly focused on trauma. Trauma arrests human energy. It prevents individuals, groups, and societies from flourishing. The traumas I am thinking of include a range, from developmental traumas of neglect and abandonment, to extreme violence, to daily mundane dissatisfactions and thwarted expectations, to giant historical injustices. Trauma wants our acceptance and understanding. As an intrinsic part of the human experience, it is both the obstacle and the path. Trauma triggers the…

Drawing the owl

Some job descriptions ask for many years of experience in a particular field on the assumption that understanding that industry is very difficult for a newcomer. Often this belief is false. Advanced skills like heart surgery or singing German lieder take a long time to nurture. Ditto virtuoso creativity. But raw understanding of how an industry or field works, or how a particular company works, can come together fast, particularly if one makes a point of finding a good teacher or being a good student. I mentioned in my last post that I have a few simple procedures I use…

It’s (partially) complicated

In my professional work, I think a lot about the differences between simple and complex systems. As I wrote in my earlier article “It’s (not) complicated”: “We all understand simple mechanical systems like pulleys. Complex systems, like rainforests, however, work differently. They exhibit unique characteristics, including modularity, homeostasis, self-organization, resilience, emergence, non-linearity, inter-dependence with other complex systems, and collapse.” Some systems actually are complicated, though, or at least partially complicated—more like a Rube Goldberg machine than a rainforest or a pulley. The human olfactory system is a good example. Biophysicist Luca Turin has argued persuasively that some defining aspects of…

Results

Note: This article is the concluding post in a six-part series about mastery. “On the EMI label, there is a classic compilation titled Les Introuvables du chant Verdien, which is almost guaranteed to transform even the huskiest young fan into a tiresome old opera queen who complains that no one can sing Verdi anymore.”- Alex Ross, Listen to This  Leontyne Price is a treasure in the world of opera and the world in general. She was featured recently in an excellent documentary on the making of the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center and in February celebrated her 92th birthday.…

Tools

Note: This article is part five in an ongoing series about mastery. Renée Fleming is one of the most famous living opera stars who currently performs. Some of her master classes recently gurgled to the top of my YouTube home page, and they are a treat to watch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMahAGNJHWo Fleming is gracious and effective in this video, and the student is excellent. But something that struck me about Fleming’s approach is how often she focuses on tools: first, a straw to connect the student to her ribcage and support, then a pencil, to help her find a higher and more…

Process

Note: This article is part four in an ongoing series about mastery. I have a friend who loves Leonard Bernstein’s Candide… and we’re still friends! Okay, so Candide is magnificent in its way, but I’ve been slow—very slow—to warm up to it. The show’s music is as intricate and fresh as Bernstein’s earlier musical West Side Story. But without Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics and Jerome Robbins’ choreography—and shackled to Voltaire’s relentlessly episodic plot—the play often never fully takes flight. I’m one of those people who thinks of Candide as an “A for effort” musical like Chess that just doesn’t work. As…

Methodology

Note: This article is part three in an ongoing series about mastery. When the LA Opera recently announced its 2019-2020 season, a major coup was the world premiere of Eurydice by Matthew Aucoin. I am very excited about this opera and Matthew Aucoin’s music in general. Though, to be honest, as of today, I haven’t heard any of it. A quick explanation is in order: Matthew Aucoin rocketed to fame in the last several years as an unusually gifted young opera composer and conductor. His best-known work Crossing—an opera about Walt Whitman—has played only in small houses so hasn’t been seen in…

Principles

Note: This article is part two in an ongoing series about mastery. If you ever need a study break, I recommend checking out Thomas Hampson’s performance in the Willy Decker 2005 production of La Traviata. Hampson’s rendition of “Di Provenza il mar, il suol” has authority and a beautiful vocal line. His acting is also solid. At one point in the aria, he lumbers towards his distraught son, arms outstretched with love, but looking like Frankenstein’s Monster. With his voice and physicality, Hampson brings to life the conflict in the character: Germont is the bad guy, but unintentionally so.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v69gHTw71uM…

Mastery

I love watching opera master classes online. If you’re not familiar with this genre, here’s what it involves: Young singers perform in front of an audience, while well-known opera stars critique their performances in real time. The singer may start out as solid, or even exquisite, but the teacher finds subtle and blunt ways to coach them to new heights. Singing difficult material in front of a live audience—and a global online audience—with a famous expert standing right beside you, telling you what you’re doing wrong, requires a level of vulnerability that most of us don’t risk in our daily…

Don’t be a pushover

In my twenties, I was in a bad car accident. As part of my long recovery, I tried a bunch of things, including at one point Rolfing. During our first session, my Rolfer tried to explain her practice. She talked about fascia, energy patterns, and “vectors.” I didn’t get it. So she pulled out an album of photos of her past clients, each one standing upright. She asked me if I could see turned-in knees, flared chests, uneven shoulders, tense necks. I could… but not really. At that point in my life I don’t think I had a clear image…

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