The word “pleasure” brings with it so many connotations that it is not one of those terms you can casually drop into a conversation. Here in Italy, it’s used more than the word “and”. And as tempting as that sounds, it makes it incredibly difficult for someone trying to work to actually get work done.
I have always prided myself on my work ethic with my music. It takes me longer to learn it without good piano skills, so I start earlier. And while I am famous for my procrastination, I have to say, that only applied to work in school…and I did always get it done.
When I moved here, I had visions of myself practicing music for hours on end every day in one of those villas where there is constantly natural light streaming in and I’d be wearing a flowy gown and singing out over the fields. On a more realistic note I thought I would be having having regular piano and voice lessons, learning one opera after the other. No. That did not happen.
This time around I am looking for work and doing the work at the jobs I already have and also enjoying a surprisingly ample social life. So where does the music all fit in? That was the reason I moved here in the first place: to learn the language and learn the music. It seems as though those two things, my very reasons for being here in the first place have been put on the back burner. Or so I thought…
In my mind, you have to be at school to learn the language and you have to be in a practice room or working with a coach to learn the music. But I’m finding that those are the places that are just the jumping off point. While I am in fact at a language school here, I have learned infinitely more by speaking with friends or simply walking around and starting conversations with strangers. The friends will hold your hand and give you a break if you’re wrong, but when you talk to people you’ve just met, you have to get it right. They don’t know your personality or in my case, your frantic hand gestures that make up for a missing word.
I want to be fluent. Plain and simple. I want to know this language inside and out. It’s funny how when I knew the language less, I thought I knew it more. The more I learn, it seems the less I know which is incredibly frustrating, but also exciting because I still have so much time to get it right.
For singing, it’s so much more. Every time I watch the people here conversing, using their bodies and accenting certain words, I am learning my music. The emotional highs and lows, I take them with me now and embrace them, acknowledging either the pain or elation and I’m learning my music with these feelings.
I was so afraid that when I thought I wasn’t practicing enough every day that I was failing. I thought that if I did not go over all of my upcoming pieces or didn’t vocalize for enough time that I was going to just fall on my face and fail. I felt like I was spending so much time NOT doing music that I would never improve. But after being back for almost two months, I feel like the experiences I have had in this short time could easily carry me. When I sing now, I sing from another place that I hadn’t sung from before. From a pleasure center. Everyone who just gave me a look…you’re only half right.
On one of my first nights back, still suffering from jetlag, I got to see a really dear friend of mine who I met last year here during the opera program. Her Italian “family” and friends whisked us up into the mountains for her “last supper”. Within ten minutes we were singing- or rather screaming- “La Traviata” and speeding through the winding streets. Then the music abruptly stopped as her friend from the back paused the iPod. He was so filled with joy and this guy (who is not a musician in the slightest) proceeded to recite the chorus part to the famous drinking song, “Libiamo”. He said, “This is our culture. We find pleasure in this, in our music, our love, our sex, our wine, our food. Everything is about joy. You must have pleasure here!” He was so passionate about what he was saying that I didn’t even let my jetlag bother me for the rest of the night and I kept thinking about what he had said. Or rather, what Verdi said with this piece of music. The chorus sings:
Godiamo, la tazza e il cantico
la notte abbella e il riso;
in questo paradiso ne sopra
il nuovo dì.
Which translates to:
Be happy… wine and song
and laughter beautify the night;
let the new day find us in this paradise.
The verb, “godere” is kind of like that illusive word “pleasure”, it carries with it a few different interpretations that can range from “enjoy your day” to “enjoy what’s happening sexually”. You can imagine the confusion this can cause. Happy accidents? But the bottom line is it’s all about finding pleasure in everything you do.
Practicing my music in such a strict way was not pleasurable. Singing and emoting is pleasurable and I am finding, more productive. When you can open yourself up to this way and not whip yourself for singing a wrong note or wrong word, you can just focus on connecting with the music and connecting with people.
Last week, two wonderful friends from school held a party at their house one evening. These two sisters, or as they lovingly were dubbed “The Spicy Spanish Sisters” were here for a few months studying Italian like all of us and had became a core part of our group. And they knew how to have fun. Finding the beauty and the friendships in everything and everyone, this party they held was so filled with love (and copious amounts of wine, Spanish specialties and chocolate) that you literally could not be stressed or perturbed in any way, but just give yourself over to the pleasure of their company.
As a parting party, they told me I did not need to bring anything, not even the obligatory bottle of wine you instinctively carry with you to every party. They just asked that I sing.
Maybe it was the glass of white wine or the warmth of the apartment, but when I sang for all the people at the party, I was so calm and happy to be sharing what I found my pleasure in with them. And I enjoyed every second of it. Even when I got towards the end and forgot some of the words thus forcing me to make up my own language (I might mention one of the people at attendance at this party is Italian and a published expert on opera), it was fine! I did not break a sweat so no one else did either. And what could be better than a night with your friends from all over the world, wine, and opera?
This similar instance happened a week later at an American style BBQ at a friend’s villa. The sun had finally come out after months of cold rain, and we all gathered on her gorgeous property to spend time together and enjoy each other’s company.
At the language school I go to, there are people that come from all over the world and usually are only here for a few weeks, but this time around we were lucky enough to have “The Spicy Spanish Sisters” and “The Australian Couple” and of course, the token Swiss who were here for a few months. I now group my friends by their nationalities…that isn’t racist, right?
But all of these people were together on this gorgeous Spring day on top of about 15 others that are family and friends. We cooked outside, fed each other different specialties, learned to salsa, had an impromptu Hannah Moss opera concert by request of our illustrious host, spoke every language, had a kickline to 80’s music, and listened to a friend play guitar until the sun went down.
These are the days that make me a better singer. When I can watch people from every culture converse with each other and fully communicate even with a language barrier. It is something that feeds my soul and gives me pleasure. These kinds of moments of such extreme contentment. The extreme moments I think are when we learn the most and remember the most. They are like muscle memory. In my last post, “Home” about being (you guessed it) home, that extreme feeling of loss of faith and sadness. I would not have changed that. As terrible as it was, I use that now. Or one of my nights when I got back here and planned to be in bed by 11 pm only to find myself running through the pouring rain in the streets at 6 am with someone who I never would have expected. That extreme exhaustion mixed with extreme excitement is something I will never forget.
It’s a balance. It’s easy to write about all the fun I’m having here, because I am having fun! But intermingled with the apperativi nights and stolen kisses under the magnolia trees, I am trying my best to stay afloat. Trying to earn money doing a bunch of odd jobs, getting up early for intensive language classes, and plunking out notes for all the music I still need to learn.
I always thought it had to be one or the other: you could work really hard all the time and just focus on that and yes, you would be a really great musician, but you’d be an empty musician. But you also cannot be gallivanting around the city staying out until 6 am every morning. As fun as that can be every so often.
I’m finding the balance…slowly. I am trying to slow myself down and not be worried about what needs to happen in 6 months or where I need to be when and if I’m not there, I’ve made a huge mistake. I talked about living in the present in my last post and how difficult that is. When there is so much you want to achieve and so many people you want to move, it seems like the time we are given is never enough. But it is. It’s just enough. I can honestly say that I have done a really good job living in the present these past two months. And I’ve done a lot of living because of that. Finding pleasure within and outside of the walls (even when it rains nonstop for WEEKS). The friends: old and new, the language, the coffee, the sex, the sun (finally), and the music of course. It all gives me such pleasure. And I cannot wait to use that when I sing…unless it’s ANY of the soprano roles because we are all so tortured and usually go mad or die. But at least my “Lucia di Lammermoor” will die happy…if only on the inside.