My favorite yoga studio is coincidentally located just two and a half blocks down the street from the stage door of Davies Hall, the beautiful home of the San Francisco Symphony. During my last few trips to San Francisco, I’ve made it a habit to take as many classes as I can fit in while I’m there. While I had been looking forward to this last set of concerts with the San Francisco Symphony for quite some time simply for the chance to sing one of Bach’s greatest pieces with such a great orchestra, I was also looking forward to having another opportunity to take a week of classes at Yoga Tree.
After a mildly annoying trip west on Sunday night, I awoke slightly jet-lagged and eager to start both my first rehearsal and my first yoga class on Monday morning. I went out in search of some coffee, stumbled through writing some rather unfocused and incoherent morning pages, and then made my way down to my first class of the week. I settled onto my mat in my little corner of the studio, and the teacher began to lead us in the initial chanting that would begin our class that day. Before we repeated the day’s chant for the third and final time, the teacher asked us to stop for a second and consider the following as we brought our chanting to a close. As we chanted our last round, she asked us to be sure to hear every single, individual voice in the room, as well as our own, as a way of feeling the whole that we were part of, while still being conscious of ourselves. I opened my eyes and looked at her, surprised, for a quick second before we started again, marveling at the themes for the week that were so blatantly making their presence known before I began the Bach-ian journey of the coming days.
For the rest of the class, I found myself meditating on what it is to sing Bach, and the particular challenges it poses for the singer. I often contend that Bach’s vocal music requires complete selflessness in order to be performed successfully, yet as I contemplated my toes in a downward dog pose, it occurred to me that this isn’t a complete truth. Bach also requires the singer to be keenly aware and mindful of every single phrasing nuance, technical turn, and note that they are singing, demanding a strong sense and awareness of musical self while all the time being attentive to the interplay of all the voices (whether human ones or instrumental obbligatos) around their own vocal line. Being the bearers of the text, we must deliver the message and project our own voice, yet we must always remain part of that whole, conscious of the interweaving countermelodies around our line. If we fall off balance in either direction, we risk obliterating the delicate, beautiful, complex contrapuntal tapestry that we are but one part of.
Be aware of every single voice around you while being aware of your own. It is such a basic fundamental of chamber music – yet hearing it out of context, it shed a different light on the idea, making it seem completely new. Suddenly I was understanding that fundamental on a much deeper level. Be conscious of the whole you are a part of, while being conscious of your part in that whole. It was incredibly strange to hear that in such a different, seemingly unrelated context, but just how unrelated is any one thing from any other, really?