As a child I was entranced by harmonies. From 2nd grade onward, my class had music twice a week with Mrs. Smalley, my favorite teacher. She was a tall, stout woman who wore her graying hair pulled back in a bun. In her classroom we learned to read music, traveled through American history via folk songs (remember the Erie Canal?), tried and tried to match pitch as a whole class and practiced singing parts. That’s when I learned the word harmony. Singing harmonies lifted my heart out of the troubles that followed me from home-to-school and back again. My brain buzzed with pleasure and happiness to be part of these beautiful songs. I carried them with me, humming my way down the hall or on my walk home.
During one session I remember being so enthralled with a melody that I wasn’t aware when the class stopped singing. Mrs. Smalley was a wonderful teacher but quite strict. She was clear and articulate in her conducting and we were expected to stop with precision. Upon hearing me hum she sternly asked, “Who is that singing?” Shamefaced I whispered, “It’s me, Mrs. Smalley.” As she looked at me her face softened and she said something like, “That song just carried you away, didn’t it, Robin?” I nodded and we all laughed. Mrs. Smalley saw how open my heart was to music and she acknowledged it in ways that empower me to this day.
By the time I was in 4th grade I was old enough to play an instrument. I knew immediately that it would be the cello. The resonance and depth of tone thrilled me; I could feel the sound like a quaver inside my body. But life spun me in another direction. There were only two cellos in my school and they were already assigned to older kids. I was very disappointed when I learned that my choice was between the clarinet and the tuba. Clarinet it was, and (in High School), the bassoon. Playing woodwind instruments I learned to maintain a resonant timbre, to make tiny embouchure adjustments (in order to match pitch) and I developed great lung capacity (for breath control). These are skills that transfer beautifully to the world of song – lucky me!
In 5th or 6th grade while playing in a school band rehearsal, I had an experience that has powerfully affected my life from that day to this. Now anyone who’s been in a grade school band knows what a field of learning it is. We stretch and reach and struggle for pitch, to play the correct rhythm and follow the conductor’s changing tempo. It can be chaotic and dissonant. Sometimes inside that striving sound, however, there are moments of perfect connection. There I was, honking away on my clarinet when all our sounds coalesced and my senses opened. Listening from inside the sound, vibrating threads of music carried me past the barrier of my skin and I merged into the flowing moment, connected to everything. I remember feeling my heart gasp with awareness: we are one. For the first time in my conscious life I was not a separate being but held in the arms of all that is.
Since that first awakening, I have had the deep pleasure of many similar experiences. I now believe we have an innate capacity to discover patterns of harmony through which we can travel together into deep communion. Voiceweaving practice is a pathway in.