Imagine that you have your own invisible orchestra. It follows you wherever you go, creating a symphonic soundtrack for your life. Which instruments accompany you as you walk down the street, complete a task, or talk to a friend? (Orchestra map courtesy of BillieSilvey.com)
Everyone has a favorite instrument. Before I studied opera, I played the saxophone in my high school jazz band. My sister plays the Celtic harp. My mother loves the sound of the violin. I once had a dog who liked classical piano: he would snuggle up to the stereo speakers whenever a Chopin sonata came on the radio! Which instruments would you choose to play the music of your life?
Opera singers imitate orchestral sounds in the same way that instrumentalists try to capture the sound of the human voice. Some vocal music is very instrumental in style. When I sing a coloratura passage, I deliberately use my voice like a flute or a clarinet. But my voice also has a brassy shine, which is why I love to sing with trumpets, French horns and trombones!
I once got to sing the soprano solo in Mahler’s fourth symphony with the Mozarteum University Symphony Orchestra. Standing on that stage was like riding a wave of sound, with rich colors and textures swirling all around me. It’s a wonderful feeling to float high above the orchestra and then dive down into all that sumptuous sound. Gustav Mahler, of course, was a legendary composer and a brilliant conductor; he knew how to write music for every instrument, including the voice, and his orchestration was perfect.
I would love to conduct my life the way Mahler conducted his orchestra. I’d like my Friday afternoon to have the power and beauty of the Resurrection Symphony! But unlike Gustav, I am NOT a genius when it comes to instrumentation.
Sometimes, in the middle of a conversation, I suddenly realize that I’m using way too much percussion. (Has that ever happened to you? You suddenly notice that you’re intimidating someone, just by being overly enthusiastic?) If I hear myself getting too intense, I cut the bass drum and cue the violins. If I’m complaining too much, I reduce the volume of my oboe. And if I’m getting shrill like an overblown flute, I give the solo line to the cello instead. But if I find myself hiding in the back of the pit, avoiding what needs to be done, then I add back the brass. It’s a good way to keep life in balance.
So if you’re feeling uncomfortable today, see if you can adjust your instrumentation. Be aware of your harmonic impact on other people. Aim for a rich and satisfying blend, what Lisa DuBois calls “the treble and bass of a balanced life.” Orchestrate your to-do list and conduct your conversations. Live a symphonic life!