Hearts tied on the pedestrian bridge across the Saone River in Lyon France, August 2019 (Photo: Kimberly Barber)

In the aftermath of my participation in the cross-Canada Mysterious Barricades concerts (www.mysteriousbarricades.org), I’ve been thinking a lot about the language of the heart. I had the pleasure of performing a song by Samuel Barber (no relation), written when he was a young man, a setting of a James Joyce poem called “Sleep Now”. It talks about how our heart seeks comfort from another heart, and reaches out. It also speaks of the inner struggle of one heart to grapple with its own pain. It made me think of the struggles that so many of us have with our mental health, and how very much we need the support of others in our lives to help us through the tough times.

As I embark on a new year of teaching with my wonderful and eclectic mix of students (both in my opera class and university studio), I listen to their hearts as they begin to get to know one another and to know me. This past week, several of them and spoke out about isolation, loneliness and suffering in our weekly sharing circle.

And I realized this: in order to truly connect authentically with our audiences as singers, it’s essential that we tap into our vulnerability. We must open our heart to our listeners. This is, naturally, a pretty exposed place to live in. It necessitates our being brave in accessing feelings, sounds and sensations that may be uncomfortable in all kinds of ways. In our curated culture, where we can filter everything, suddenly we feel ourselves front and centre with who we are. We speak our loneliness out loud. We give voice to our sadness, our fear, our insecurity. But here is also magic: because in the telling of these things, we realize that we are not alone. Others are telling stories like ours, sharing their words and woes. We create community. And herein lies healing.