The Art of Being Musical

Being musical extends beyond music; it's a prescription for life.

Posted Nov 12, 2012

My husband and I joined a gym a while back. Actually, John joined the gym and essentially added my name to the membership; I was content to walk in the park and stretch now and again.

So when the woman handling our registration swore that I’d start scheduling my life around certain classes, I told her she was crazy. 

Six months later, however, I realize she was right. 

And the class I now schedule my life around (or at least try to)? Zumba.

To say that I am a fan is a profound understatement. I catch myself laughing and hooting, smiling like a loon in the mirror, and sometimes becoming so moved by the music and movement that tears spring to my eyes. I even occasionally catch John pausing in his own workout, a smile playing across his lips as he watches his wacky wife having a beyond-marvelous time. 

I’ve recently been having a similar experience with the cello. After a lifetime as a vocalist, I began playing about four months ago and have been awed by what a gift it has been to experience music in this new way.

And it is entirely new. Wrapping myself around this external creature and using my hands to create sound—to say nothing of being able to see the instrument!—makes me giddy. I’ve developed muscles in my arms, side body, and even in my legs, some of which I never knew existed. Every movement feels like floating or flying, every sound is a revelation.

Given my tendency toward happiness, the experiential similarities between Zumba and the cello might seem personal. Yet there’s something else at play; an objective and shared process that allows for such joy to emerge: 

A commitment to being musical.

Let me explain what I mean by "being musical." Commonly referred to, of course, in the musical sense, it implies far more than notes and rhythm. "Being musical" suggests artfulness and surrender, being creative, engaging with heart. 

In rehearsals and recording sessions, "can you be a bit more musical?" is met with a universal understanding of what is being asked: to stop thinking so damn much, to stop being so darn technical, and to just play.

The principle extends well beyond the realm of harmony and melody. Being musical means to give your all, to create in every moment, whatever you find yourself engaged in. To allow everything to be a work of art; every relationship to be a thing of beauty.   

When we do, concepts related to better or worse, good or bad, and right or wrong are absent. In Zumba, there is no thought to my appearance. With the cello, no concern about being a beginner.  There is only the experience of full engagement and aliveness; of dancing with my whole heart. Of playing with my whole soul. 

And perhaps it is because of this approach that my playing—and my dancing—usually end up being rather lovely.

How do we go about being musical? The first step is to give ourselves the gift of believing that we have the right to be musical. That we are—each of us—equals in the eyes of creation and creativity alike. And our lives are a commensurate reflection of the extent to which we do or don’t believe in the parallel notions of musicality and the right to share in its magical world.

How often do we—as dancers say—"mark" life, dispassionately going through the motions? How often do each of us try to master our methods and become good enough at something we want to do before we start really doing it?

There is a famous saying: “Dance as if no one is watching. Sing as if no one can hear.” But I say:  Dance with abandon. Sing at the top of your lungs. Stop thinking about how you look or sound.  Instead, be musical in everything you do, sharing your heart and self as if your life depends on it.  Because—in very real and important ways—it does. 

Jennifer Hamady is a voice coach and counselor specializing in emotional issues that interfere with self-expression. Click here to learn more about her book: The Art of Singing: Discovering and Developing Your True Voice, heralded as a breakthrough in the psychology of personal and musical performance.

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