There are times in life when I am absolutely certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that music, singing, movement and dancing, are how we heal ourselves. Most times it's so enjoyable to sing in a concert or to take in a performance that it's not conscious, it's not a conscious choice that you or I would go to a concert or trot off to a gig with the idea in mind, "Today I will heal people. I sing so that I may heal others." Sometimes, sure, when I know that a person who is having a hard time is attending a concert I'm singing, there is a line of thought throughout my performance that runs along...."these notes, this singing is for my friend...she shall be healed, she shall be whole..."
Most of the time, I think of the beauty of the people sitting in front of me and I wonder at their ability to take in the music, to restore their souls, to be filled by and to fill up with the music. Time gets lost and we all get lost in the music together.
Let's jump back in time for a moment. In August of 2001 I moved to New York to begin my Master's Degree in Classical Voice. I moved into a dorm room on the 14th floor of the dorm; I looked out my window and took in the magnificence of the George Washington Bridge every night. It was beautiful. Orientation finished, the school year began, and I signed up for my Opera Studio audition.
On September 11, 2001, while one plane crashed into one tower of the World Trade Center, I was half asleep. I got up and went to my friend's room to check my email and she told me that a building downtown was on fire. I thought of the NY Fire Department and their fine reputation and was comforted for the people in the building. From where we were, several miles away on the 14th floor, it didn't look as bad as it really was. As I wrote, emails from friends started to come in. They were short, very odd. "Are you OK? What happened?" "What's going on in New York City?" "Are you in Manhattan?" I heard screams from the next room and naively wrote to a friend,
"I'm fine! New York is interesting but I haven't seen much of it yet. People just screamed in the next room and there's a building on fire downtown, I need to go find out what's going on. I'll write more later."
As I walked to the room next door, I didn't know the first tower had just fallen. I didn't know I would spend the entire day there, glued to the television. I didn't know our dorm would be locked down and we would be witness to the streams of thousands of people walking up Broadway, trying to get home. I didn't know I would see taxis racing up and down Broadway all day long. I didn't know we would be watching the television as the second tower fell. And when we looked out the window, that it would be gone. And the sky...empty.
Despite the endless, oppressive presence of fear, school opened again two days later, we were allowed to leave our dorm, we went to our Opera Studio auditions, and we began to talk, at least a little bit, about healing. Denyce Graves sang at a televised memorial service in Washington D.C. and we wondered how she could ever get through it. The group of students in Opera Studio gathered and somebody said something about being so solid in your performing that you just do it, technically, or something.
I didn't get it, and I wondered how a singer could ignore her emotions and just sing? We saw some quivers in Ms. Graves' hands, we saw the focused concentration--she was grieving and healing right along with us, and it was anything but purely technical. I wondered how she felt inside.
Now I don't wonder anymore. I've been asked and have accepted to sing the Mozart Requiem on September 11, 2011 and it's been running through my mind all week. Now I have no doubt about how important it is to sing in order to heal, to grieve, and to move through whatever needs to be moved through. Now I know that singing is as vital to memorializing and grieving as water is to life. Now I know that there is so much to be sung and to be expressed and healed through music itself--that hearing music puts people at peace and calms their troubles. Music holds their hearts in a sacred time and space. Singing is a way to reach out to thousands of people at one time and put my arm around all of them and say into their ears, "It's going to be OK. It will all be OK. We are in this together and we will be OK."