Vocal Wisdom: Paradigm Shifts

by Denise

“There is nothing more difficult to undertake than to establish a new order of things.”

As a classical vocalist working to hone her craft, I have the pleasure of working with a teacher trained in the tradition founded by Manuel Garcia and passed on by Margaret Harshaw.  This technique is valuable not only because of its success in vocal training, but because in many ways it trains the character of the singer herself.  As Harshaw noted, “When you teach voice, you teach the person. You enter their mind, because it is all mental.”

So unsurprisingly, in my lessons I usually come away with something more than better vocal technique.  Often what I learn can be easily applied to life in general, and more often than not, to spiritual matters.  This week, my teacher spoke about the necessity of making paradigm shifts.  A paradigm is a set way of thinking and acting.  It is a pattern.  I might even go so far as to say that it is more than the way we currently operate and is also our idea of how we ought to operate, like preset guidelines as to how we are going to act.  There are good paradigms and bad ones.  Faulty paradigms essentially operate as false information that leads you to act wrongly.   They are patterns of thought and behavior that produce negative results.  The problem is, often we don’t know that it’s our paradigm that’s the problem or how to fix it.

For me, my faulty paradigm was an elaborate ritual I created before I would sing the first note.  It would involve deep breathing, an attempt to raise the palate, open the throat, breathe through the nose and finally sing.  I concentrated very hard during this ritual to make sure that the sound that was produced was the best it could be.  The only issue was that it just didn’t work all that well.  And it seemed like the more I concentrated and focused on this ritual, the less success I had.  That’s because what I thought I was doing to help myself sing better was actually the opposite of what I needed to do!  My own intense concentration and commitment to excellence meant little when the pattern itself was wrong.   Again, it wasn’t about intensity of effort—but rather I had to adopt an entirely new way of thinking.  I had to accept that what I thought was the right way was wrong and that if I wanted to sing excellently I would have to throw away my old ritual and all the ideas associated with it.

I’ve found that in life in general, as well as in singing, the willingness to adapt a new paradigm is vital to progress.  On Esprit, I often post about not being afraid of change and of being willing to move on when it is time.  It’s not that I do not value consistency, as I do believe it to be an important character trait.  But it’s equally important to discern when the current “order of things” is not producing good fruit in our lives.   And there are usually two reasons people don’t make the necessary changes:  1) we are stubborn and simply don’t like to change, or 2) we externalize the issue and find the cause of the problem to be something outside of ourselves.  Pride, or too much self-loyalty, may lead us to resist changing our pattern of thinking and behaving because we’ll not like to admit that we actually didn’t have it right before.  We might simply be the type that is comfortable with the status quo and finds change in general difficult.  Or, whenever we encounter difficulties we might decide that it must be the circumstances that are the problem, or that the people around us need to change, or that the challenge is simply too great.

Whatever our reasons for resisting a paradigm shift, they will equally hinder our progress in life.  I sang better than I’ve ever sung before at that last lesson because I embraced a new order of things.  And because of that, I grew more confident in taking on new and different vocal challenges.  We’ll know that the change we’ve made is a good one when we see what better results it produces.  But before then, we have to get to the place where we know that something needs to change.  We may not know how or exactly what needs fixing, but we know we need different results than we’re currently getting.  Getting to this point is actually a great thing, because that’s when we can find help.  We will often be dependent on the wisdom and experience of others who have gone before us to show us how to get to a better place.  I wholeheartedly advocate doing whatever is necessary to make progress–at least when you know your end goal is good.  It’s definitely worth it.