Danny C, one of my favorite students, wrote this story about some singing that he and I did together. Enjoy!
“Singing can heal.”
That’s what Daisy said to me when I sat down on a plump meditation cushion on the floor of her apartment. I crossed and uncrossed my legs, unsure of how to sit, until she finally chirped, “Just get comfortable.” Taking in the candles and bright fabrics and Buddhist sculptures that dotted the floor around me, I felt like I was in a very unique space: half meditation hall and half fort made out of blankets.
It turns out that meditation and play are exactly how Daisy described singing to me. She would often remind me to remain present to my voice and the sensations in my body, gently nudging me to hear the sound of my own voice without judgement. In those moments I felt a deep peace and immersion, the same as I do when I sit Zazen, go for a long run, or really get into a place of flow with my painting. Out of that sense of focus came an incredible joy, and Daisy not only encouraged it, she framed it in ways that helped me learn even more. In particular, she would have me improvise with her, singing my own invented responses to little phrases she would sing. This back and forth exchange always made me giggle and allowed me to immediately practice what I had just learned in the more formal first half of class.
These were also the moments where I felt most humbled and awed by Daisy herself. As she let herself go, I heard her sing the most incredible and tender notes, and more than once would feel so moved that I couldn’t think of anything to sing at all.
We all want teachers who know what they are doing. Who are credible and talented. I have heard her sing in professional contexts, but never really understood just how good she is until I saw her sing with such warmth and fullness. It looked effortless, but of course the whole point is that it isn’t. Her years of classical training and her arduous daily practice are what allow her to be such a “natural.” In breaking that lifelong process into manageable baby steps, and meeting me where I was, she inspired me to actually learn. That humility and generosity are what make her not just a great singer, but a great teacher as well.
For weeks we focused on resonance, a fundamental that i had no idea even existed. I expected to be learning how to hit notes. Instead she taught me to hear them and snake through the in-between notes in scales. Because I am an artist, she printed out diagrams and had them hanging in her wonderfully quirky room, which now was a kind of artistic haven for us both. She would point out aspects of the pictures, helping me visualize what my throat and vocal chords were doing when I began to feel them vibrate in new and strange ways. Yes, I was changing, and my voice got better, and my singing became more respectful and sincere. But also important was the fact that this change was deeply supportive and affirming. Daisy is someone so firm and capable that she can also be compassionate and playful. She’s a rock on a zafu, and with her holding space, your voice can trill and squeak and slowly slowly sink deep into the pockets of notes.
If that sounds New Agey and weird, I can only say I thought the same thing when Daisy said the voice can heal. I went into class thinking about how as a gay man, I have always hated my voice. To see it as effeminate and lacking power. I wanted to learn to sound butch. And If I couldn’t do that, I wanted at least to sound like Beyoncé! I have always felt that I needed to be whipped into shape, and that eventually I could get rid of my voice and create something more socially acceptable and strong.
And then, on our second class together, something strange happened. I sang a note with resonance and I felt it vibrate in my nose. I stayed open, kept a sense of ease in my throat and let it grow louder. My eyes widened as I heard it echo in the room and resonate there as well. i kept my mouth open, feeling like I had channeled something more than created it. I listened and what I heard was full and lush and warm.
The whole time, Daisy sat across from me with a knowing smile. I closed my mouth and she just said, “There it is! You found your voice.”
If you want to sing like Beyoncé, go anywhere. But If you want to sing in your own voice, go to Daisy.