Every last molecule of air present in your body must be purged, a degree below asphyxiation, before giving your lungs a sense of cathartic release by letting new air into them.
When you let air in, you’re doing so to produce sound, not to live. You let the air rush back into your lungs, flooding them like a broken dam a town of unsuspecting people. You’re starved for the invisible life-giving stuff, so you let in a bit more, disregarding the risk of over-oxygenation. Light-headedness sets in and the adrenaline makes your extremities numb. You don’t need them. They don’t exist. It’s just you and the breath. You are one with the breath. You are the breath. Breathe.
Something so automatic and unconscious becomes an obsession. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. Hyperawareness forces you to feel every excruciating detail in your breathing.
Singing is violence against your body. Like a martial art, it requires you to possess full control of your body, mind and emotions, fully aware of your surroundings while maintaining a relaxed and meditative state, focusing solely on interpreting the poetry in the melody and in the words.
You have to reengineer your body and repurpose its contents to produce a beautiful sound. Your body becomes an instrument. Not just the parts that form your vocal apparatus–the tongue, lips, throat, nose and voice box–but your whole being. It is a collaboration of your lungs, stomach and diaphragm’s manipulation of breath, passing through your vibrating vocal cords and resonating in every cavity, hard and soft tissue in your body. The song reverberates in your blood–raising the hairs on the back of your neck and the veins on its sides–as the sound is expelled from your mouth with the force and authority that a demon is cast out of the body of a faithful by the violent commands of a weary yet stubborn preacher.
A scurry of notes begin to dart out of the piano, filling your ears and the hall with a resonant ruckus as if the pianist’s hands were each a five-headed hydra. Your mind begins to play tricks on you: will the sound that comes out of my mouth this time be as good as the last time? Will any sound come out? If nothing comes out, will I be able to move and leave the stage or stay frozen in front of all those people? Like a fireman about to rush into a burning building, will my years of training and practice guide me to perform to the best of my ability?
Your stomach is hungry, but not for food. It alternates between states of tension and relaxation, uneasy as if a pack of stray cats inhabited it. Your neck has to be relaxed, your jawbone loose but not gaping wide open and your knees must remain unlocked, as doing otherwise may cause you to faint. Forget fear, fear forgetfulness itself.
When you let the first sound out of your mouth, it feels like it’s the first you’ve ever made. Your tongue begins to thrash erratically, like a person suffering from a bout of epilepsy. The air in your lungs begins to garner power and speed. The sound of your voice must pierce through the room like a Roman soldier impaling a Carthaginian foe with his sword on the battlefield.
The act of singing is like making love; you have to keep the energy going until it’s over, until it’s done. Even though you may be accompanied by a partner, you’re embarking on a journey that is uniquely experienced by you alone. It is emotionally driven and you can’t help but get lost in the beauty of it. It is to be completely engrossed in a moment that will never happen again, at least, not in the same way. It is exhilarating and terrifying, satisfying and depleting. You begin to miss it even before it is finished, even before a full memory of it has been created in your mind. Its pleasures haunt you and once your body is devoid of its wonders, the pain of its loss fills that void.
After the song is over, you can finally relax. Take a deep breath through your nose.
And simply breathe.