Remember to breathe
I’d recognize him anywhere
Love is deaf and blind
What I wrote is below.
It’s the only time I’ve been late, and I’m rushing up the stairs, the voices battling in my head. It’s okay. You’re late. It happens to everyone. You’re tired and stressed. You’re going to sing like shit tonight. Hurry up. Slow down. Breathe. If nothing else, breathe.
Just as I reach the restroom, out comes Nikil, our teacher. “Hello!” he says, the deep resonant voice, the white smile.
“Hi,” I say, and finally exhale. I’ve been holding my breath.
“See you in there,” he says, and I think: Musicians are always late. Why am I freaking out?
Inside the tiny classroom, Nikil sits in front of the five of us; his wavy black hair and large eyes remind me of Ganesh, the Hindu god. “How is everyone doing tonight?” he asks, and I notice his milk chocolate skin peeking through a tear in his jeans. When he places his elegant hands on his belly and says, “Okay, let’s start with a few nice deep breaths,” some part of me wants to weep with relief. Just breathe. That’s all you have to do. “And two more,” he continues, “this time engaging in your core, like you’re blowing out candles on a cake.”
The day had gotten away from me, the alarm going off at 7:00 a.m., my lunch hurriedly packed and unappetizing, two crowded classrooms filled with 40 new faces. One of my students is blind. When she took my arm and I walked her to the shuttle stop, she confided in me that she hadn’t always been blind, that she lost her sight just a few years ago, and that because she was a trained singer, she had a well-trained ear.
“It’s a blessing in a strange way,” she told me. “Being free from the way we judge one another by how we look. I have an image of you in my mind,” she said. “Because of your voice.” My voice.
Now Nikil is playing scales on the piano, higher and higher. “Nice relaxed jaw,” he reminds us, “tongue flat in your mouth. Open your throat.” Marianna is sitting on my left. Last week I sounded terrible without her. Karen on my right sings easily, soulfully, but Marianna and I sound like children together. “Don’t strain,” Nikil reminds us, his long fingers climbing higher on the piano keys. “Pull the note back away from the sinus. Relax the root of the tongue.”
Marianna and I are in perfect pitch, but we’re approaching the top of my range and in two more octaves, she’ll climb beyond me, and I’ll have to move back down in order to climb back up.
I’m surprised how good I sound, though. Much better than I expected. The clock on the wall reads 6:45—only 30 minutes left—and I think, Breathe in; sing out. Don’t focus on anything but this: the position of your ribs over your diaphragm, the jaw loose. There is no bad news here. No appointments to make. No bills to pay. Just this. Only this. My voice, my lungs. My lungs, my voice.