Puzzle intersections (Kimberly Barber, 2021)

I’ve been inspired this week reading Parker J. Palmer’s classic, The Courage to Teach. There is so much to be gleaned there, but one of the things that really landed for me was the notion of paradox in teaching, and the intersectionality of all things. So much of our thinking in the West is based on the binary Cartesian model (thanks, René!…NOT!) that tells us everything is in opposition. It’s always an either-or proposition which dissects the parts and separates them from one another: mind/body, good/bad, strong/weak, winner/loser, smart/stupid, in/out. This kind of thinking reinforces our feelings of separateness; from one another, from other beings, from the environment. These disparate elements become things to overcome, to conquer, rather than to co-exist with in dynamic relationship.

What does all this have to do with singing? With selfhood? Intuitively, I think I have always felt this connection between things. Even when I studied philosophy back in my undergrad, I always wondered why different hypotheses were placed in opposition to one another rather than informing and supporting each other. I wondered, too, why we weren’t talking about the things we were learning in different areas of our education, why there was a separation between disciplines and ideas when so clearly there was an interrelation.

Singing is a dynamic relationship between apparently opposing forces–our feet in the floor, our spirit reaching toward the sky; our outgoing, communicative breath released in a controlled emission that is regulated with a complex and elastic leaning against the rising tide of the diaphragm and pelvic floor; the intellectual connection of text and meaning with the intuition of artistry and melody. Rather than thinking of these as mutually exclusive, we learn to enter into a “both/and” proposition, allowing flow and intersection. It’s a lively dance, a back and forth, a flowing, where we respond to sensations and impulses in an ever-evolving connection.

By extension, then, our singing–one of the most profound expressions of self–is a way of intersecting with our environment, our audience. We give our breath, our imagination, our sound, and we meld it with the creativity of a composer and poet, and in partnership (usually) with a pianist, send a message to our listeners. This audience, in turn, listens and responds with their own breath and attention, and gives back to us their energy (in the best-case scenario; if this doesn’t happen, this is something for us to examine and work on, so that our message can be more effectively delivered) in a wave-like, reciprocal relationship. Because we breathe together, we are intimately connected to all other beings, to the atmosphere, to the living world. When we deny this interrelation, this intersectionality, we deny ourselves a feeling of belonging and wholeness that could heal us all.