It’s amazing how seven hours driving in a car, despite remaining fairly motionless throughout the duration, can leave one so utterly exhausted!

I re-discovered that fact yesterday driving to and from Moorhead, Minnesota, for an audition with David Hamilton and Fargo-Moorhead Opera. The distance is not so great from the Twin Cities that it couldn’t be done in a day, but it dismissed the possibility of doing much of anything else. The trip was a good exercise in pacing the body and time management, with frequent stops to simply stretch and move my body, preparing it for singing. More importantly though, it inspired me to give more consideration on how I treat myself before a performance.

The past few years have given me the opportunity to introduce opera to school children ranging in ages from 6 to 18 through Minnesota Opera’s education department. We have talked about opera’s history, its development, its elements, its familiarity (Hooray for Bugs Bunny Cartoons!), and usually finished with a performance to demonstrate first-hand the power of the human voice. The look of wonder on their faces always made me smile. When asked if they had questions for us, usually someone would ask, “How do you do that?” It’s a simple question and straight to the point. The easy answer is practice, which is the common answer for just about everything else in the world. But simply saying “practice” isn’t terribly helpful as an answer. So instead, I gave them a metaphor.

Imagine the gymnasts you see at the Olympics. Think about, in particular, the amazing abilities they have with their bodies: the way they move, their balance, the height of their jumps and the ease with which it seems they maneuver their bodies. They are a wonder! And yet we watch videos of them practicing - of them stumbling, rising, and trying again – and know that, although something in them may have given them a disposition to these abilities, it is through their practice that they were able to accomplish such unbelievable feats in front of our eyes.

That, I tell the children, is what opera singers are. We are vocal gymnasts. We have the ability to do things with our voices that most people cannot, and yet we are humans, just like them, with similar builds and tools in our bodies. I don’t believe any gymnast would step out of a car after a few hours of driving and be expected to perform at their peak ability. Nor do I believe that a simple warm-up session, without an already established continual practice beforehand, could prepare the body to offer its fullest capabilities at a moment’s notice.

It is the practice that makes us what we are in any profession, and everyone’s practice is different. The past few years here in Minnesota have helped me to realize what I need to do as a singer, as a partner, and as a human being. All of them demand a practice. So for my audition yesterday, even with a three-and-a-half hour drive, I made sure to do what is demanded of my body: to stop and stretch, to sit and breathe, to smile often, to warm-up, and to sing. And it was a wonderful audition.

Today is a new day, and I continue my practice.