“We believe that everyone who has a body is an athlete.” Nike executive Phil Knight
I never think of myself as an athletic person, but that’s an attitude that has to change. When I reflect on the life of any performer, it’s clear that our body is our meal ticket. We depend on our body the way a professional athlete depends on theirs. This seems especially true of the Olympian singers, the operatic singers.
Opera singers are supposed to create music that is at the height nuance, so naturally we live in fear of the common cold virus. And much like (other) professional sports people, singers become superstitious. They swear by the latest unsubstantiated remedy for illness. They have lucky scarves and other totems against disease. [I don’t look like a pro athlete, but I sure stress out like one.]
How do you stay brave when your body is your instrument and a small illness can undermine your craft? [Plenty of dancers will commiserate with this. Hi, dancers!]
I was seriously under the weather when we returned from vacation on the Riviera a few months ago. What should have been a glorious suntanned return to regular life and daily singing disintegrated into wheezing, sneezing, and an ear infection that lasted for weeks.
I started to think how things would change if I lost my ability to sing. I thought about Julie Andrews and the botched surgery that clipped her wings [Although now she lets scientists play with her voicebox. So that’s fun.]
What do you do when your body is your instrument?
A few months ago I was in a show and I broke my foot. The doctor told me I was crazy to go through with the show, but he’s a doctor and not a performer and so he doesn’t know how these things work. There’s no time off for illness.
I remember one show where I had glandular fever and I had to sing three a cappella solos. I was chugging cough syrup backstage and coughing into a pillow so the audience wouldn’t hear me hacking up a lung. The glands in my neck were so swollen I couldn’t turn my head.
What do you do when your body experiences the normal ups and downs of life but you have to go on stage and perform as though it is functioning perfectly well? [You smile. You breathe. You go on with the show.]
I go to the gym every day. I walk at least an hour a day in addition to the gym. When I’m in rehearsals, I engage every conceivable muscle. I’ll play through an injury and perform under pressure.
But if someone ever asked me if I’m athletic I’d say no.