Today’s post is written by Carryl Robinson. Carryl and I “met” in an online writing group where we connected over a shared love of music and hockey. Besides writing, what else do you need? Carryl’s writing fills me with hope and makes me consider how I can make my own writing more lyrical. I was thrilled when she agreed to be one of my guests during this year’s 30 Days of Thanks. You can read more of Carryl’s work by visiting her blog, Echoes From The Cave, or by following her on Twitter @CarrylRobinson
It began with sorrow, a gift from a dear friend who was moving half a continent away. A business card emblazoned with a treble clef staff, and, peering through the “spaces” of the staff, a pair of eyes. I felt them pierce through me, as if the person connected to that drawing already knew everything there was to know about me. Vocal Eyes Music, the card read. Lynn Skinner.
“I think you’ll like working with Lynn,” my friend told me. I didn’t even question her; I had learned to trust Susan’s instincts over the years of our friendship. I called Lynn the very next day, my first voice lesson scheduled within the fortnight.
Lynn’s studio is calming and restful, with few distractions. It feels like my favourite hoodie, a warm sunny spot on a winter afternoon, and a hot cup of tea all rolled into one. On one wall, however, there is a photograph of a man. He is obviously seated and he is studying an object in the foreground. It is the neck of a guitar. The photograph had been taken from behind the guitarist, the man’s gaze was fixed, laser-like, on the guitarist’s hand and the neck of the guitar. I was transfixed.
“It’s Pablo Picasso with the uncles of the Gypsy Kings,” she told me.
What manner of voice teacher has a photograph of a painter and a guitarist on her wall? And why did I have such a hard time tearing my eyes away from that image?
I don’t know what Lynn recalls about our first meeting, but I remember feeling I had absolutely no business being in her studio at all. I knew my breath control was abysmal. I knew my voice was good enough for choral singing, and perhaps the occasional musical offering at church, but it was nothing special. This pixie of a woman, this dynamo, this miracle worker who had given Susan her voice back was going to have her work cut out for her working with me. I was a hopeless case.
And so we began.
It all begins with the breath. Don’t let anything impede the flow of the breath.
When my beloved father died, very unexpectedly, I spent the entire hour in Lynn’s studio, sitting on the carpet, tears sheeting down my face. Breathe. Just breathe. She played the piano while I struggled to take the next breath, and the one after that. And when I started holding my breath, in a futile effort to control pain and loss: Keep breathing.
Other lessons followed.
Singing seems to lead your writing, and sometimes your writing leads your singing. Let’s work with that.
So she has me to write things. What does it mean to live life in an open key? Tell me about artistic alchemy. She has me to experiment with colour and form as I listen to a much-loved guitar piece. She invites me to play with sound, with melody. I begin to learn to fly, even if my wings are under-used and weak, even if I think I cannot. She invites me to show up, to put more of myself into song.
The Wailin’ Jennys, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, The Secret Sisters, The Indigo Girls, K.D. Lang, Sarah McLachlan, what do they have in common? Why do you like to sing their music?
They’re all storytellers, I tell her. I love songs that tell a story. Start there. Tell me a story.
And so I write a backstory for the narrator of “Angel from Montgomery” and I improvise a narration that fits “Bye Bye Blackbird,” and in the creation of both, I find the music shimmers every so subtly and takes on a different vibrancy.
I cringe and shake my head when I mess up a warm up exercise, when my fledgling efforts to improvise end up in a convulsing heap on her studio floor. There are no mistakes in music. Only time.
As an adult, how do I learn how to play? I think it’s more accurate to say we have to remember how to play.
And I begin to learn to be patient with melody. I begin to learn to be patient with story. And miracle of miracles, I begin to learn to be patient with myself.
Slowly, sometimes painfully so, I am learning the lesson of the painter and the guitarist and the photographer and the voice coach who harbours them in her studio. Because art, like life itself, is a gift, and gratitude seems the only response my heart is capable of offering.