Letter from the Director
by Renée Tillotson
When I sprinted out of my first, last and only piano recital in a flood of tears and locked myself in the car, huddling on the floor and refusing to look at my teacher, that was the end of my piano playing. Even though he had announced me as his best student, I loathed playing alone in front of people. I was crying so hard through my performance, I couldn’t read the musical notes and kept going back, starting over and getting lost until I finally just grabbed my music and ran off the stage. That was in sixth grade, and I’ve never touched a keyboard since that day.
Several years ago my Nia student Eunice DeMello told me she really wanted to give me voice lessons. I thought, well, that will be good for me. We use our voices a lot for sounding in different ways while teaching Nia, and I thought learning how to carry a tune would be helpful for Christmas caroling with friends and singing around the campfire. So I showed up for my first lesson.
Wasn’t I surprised to learn that we weren’t singing show tunes or pop music! No, Eunice is a classical voice teacher who teaches operatic singing – and I don’t even LIKE opera. It probably reminds me too much of classical piano! Oh well, I had told Eunice I would give it a try, so I stayed. Every week for a couple months, I came to Eunice’s home studio for my private lessons. Though I sang a bit off key and couldn’t hit the high notes, Eunice was very encouraging, and I actually enjoyed the feeling of the sound traveling through the resonator cavities in my head, in my throat and chest.
Then at one lesson Eunice told me she was putting my name on the program of her upcoming recital. Thud, I could feel my heart hit the pit of my stomach. A recital? Oh please, no! I was just here to take private lessons. Eunice patiently explained that ALL of her students sang in her recitals; it was part of being in her school.
Oh Lord, what was I going to do? Well, I decided that it had been over 40 years since that first disaster, that I was a big girl now, and that this would be good for me to overcome a hurdle that had tripped me up a long time ago. I began practicing whenever I was driving. Otherwise, there was no place private to sing at home or work, so my car was my singing sanctuary. Only Eunice ever heard me sing.
The day of the recital arrives. I’m nervous as all get-out. When it’s my turn, I force my feet to take me up to the stage and face the big audience for my aria. Eunice begins playing accompaniment, and I start doing something like singing, something like screeching. My knees are knocking so hard that my whole body is shaking. I kind of remember the melody, but the Italian words fly out of my head. Keep going, I tell myself. I’m not going to leave this stage until I finish. But I have no words. So I just start singing the tune in gibberish – sort of mama mia Italian gibberish – still trembling violently. Finally I reach the end of the song and walk off the stage, my head still high. Whew!
Unbelievably, I actually continued my voice lessons after that recital. Bad as it was, I felt quite a sense of victory at having survived the experience. I went on to enroll in our Sanskrit mantra chanting class and in Kumu Malia’s oli chanting class – which I never would have braved previously. I added more vocal toning to my Nia classes.
This May I let Eunice put my name on the recital program again – after two years of avoiding recitals for very plausible reasons. I talked about my remaining recital anxiety at one of our staff meetings. Staff member Elise reminded me that I’ve had all this training in meditative techniques – such as in Jerry Punzal’s Tai Chi class. Wasn’t I putting that training into use to combat my nervousness? Good point.
Maybe you will like hearing that at this year’s singing recital, I actually remembered all but a few tiny phrases of my Italian aria. Also, my knee quivering didn’t start until halfway through the song. And the best part was, I had worn a long, full skirt, so people couldn’t SEE that my legs going all wobbly! Eunice and my fellow students gave me rave reviews for the passion in my singing – maybe that’s just another name for channeled nervous energy.
Anyway, it felt pretty good.
And who knows? I may someday tickle the ivories again.
Renée Tillotson, Director, founded Still & Moving Center to share mindful movement arts from around the globe. Her inspiration comes from the Joy and moving meditation she experiences in the practice of Nia, and from the lifelong learning she’s gained at the Institute of World Culture in Santa Barbara, California. Engaged in a life-long spiritual quest, Renée assembles the Still & Moving Center Almanac each year, filled with inspirational quotes by everyone from the Dalai Lama to Dolly Parton. Still & Moving Center aspires to serve the community, support the Earth and its creatures, and always be filled with laughter and friendship!