I have this voice student. She’s a soprano, a freshman in high school (14 or thereabouts), and is quite the mature little miss. She wears these quirky-fashionable-hipster outfits, but not in the sense that most high-schoolers wear those kinds of things. She actually lives the garb in the sweetest, truest way possible. She’s got this uber-calm demeanor, is more tactful than a 60-year-old church lady, she’s quiet, and just all-around a good girl.
Vocally, she’s struggled a lot with her break, like all musical theater participants do, so we’ve really worked on finding her mixed voice, tipping her sound forward, and creating a believable faux belt. You know, so I don’t destroy her larynx for life.
She’s singing “For the First Time in Forever” from Frozen. I may be the most cliche voice teacher in the world, but I refuse to give “Let It Go” to anyone who’s not a 30-year-old (or older) belter. “FTFTIF” is a good compromise piece that’s actually age-appropriate. The last 8 times we’ve worked it, I’ve said the same three things repeatedly: raise your eyebrows, breathe silently and with an open throat, and relax your jaw on the high notes. The final note has always been her nemesis.
Then in her last lesson, a glorious thing happened on that high note at the end. Trying to describe what went down can only be likened to THIS STORY:
When I was 15, my parents dragged me on a family trip to the Colorado mountains. I was a real shithead about it. Apparently, meandering leisurely through the forests, antiquing, and enjoying the local cuisine was just too taxing for my fifteen-year-old self to handle. I’d kill for that kind of family vacation today.
We’re well into our trip, up near the top of some godforsaken peak in the middle of a national park that has taken my family 7 hours to reach because my dad had to pull over at every scenic view and take approximately 179 moose photos.
We’re up in the heavens and there’s this place where you can climb 1000 steps to the top of a summit. The signs promised even grander, more spectacular mountain views. I was the young, nimble one in the family, and nobody wanted to go with me because the altitude was making people light-headed and squeamish, and I feel like we might have been short on time.
For a second, I was crestfallen. The one thing on the entire trip that interested me, no one else wanted to do.
Except my dad. The beefiest dude in the world. 250 pounds of pure muscle. He agreed to go with me because he’s the best dad in the world.
This path had a lot of “turn back now” signs, and was not for the weak at heart. I saw a lot of other sight-seers giving up. There may as well have been mangled skeletons and empty skulls littering the steps. We climb to the top, the two of us, and almost busted our guts in the process. My nose actually started bleeding.
Winded, we reached the top.
The sheer, indescribably glory of what awaited us up there surpassed our wildest dreams. The summit was heaven. We were parallel to the sun, moon, and universe, all at once. We were higher than everything, like silent gods perched upon celestial mountain thrones, impervious to terrestrial affairs. All those inconsequential, trivial matters were mere specks on the horizon below us. The world up there was technicolor, unsullied by petty earthly filters. The air was pure, like glassy angel breath, and silenced everything but our beating hearts. We could touch nothing, and nothing could touch us. Nothing in my life has since come close to rivaling this experience.
Except the noise produced by this student in her last lesson.
Here’s what happened: I quickly ceased all sixteenth note activity on the piano and leaped out of my seat, my eyes rounder than saucers, leaving her hanging on this ethereally resonant, otherworldly tone. It was perfectly shaped, magnificently vibrant, and rivaled most professional broadway sounds I’ve heard at performances and on recordings. She lived there for a few moments before realizing she was completely alone, totally summited in her efforts, and promptly retreated into her early teen shell.
I was totally silent for a moment and I think she thought I was angry, when in fact, I was transported to that sublime moment on top of that Colorado mountain, where every fleshly matter seemed frivolous and the sound of the cosmos reverberated in my ears.
That’s what her break-through was like.
I live for these teaching moments.