“Sing into the mask.” I can still hear my voice teacher from years ago announcing this vocal concept during a lesson as I sang exercises to help place my voice into those front cavities of the face and upper front palate. Sounds technological, I know, but when ‘singing into the mask’ is effectively achieved, it creates a beautiful seamless tone that ultimately stirs great emotion in the listening audience. I find this experimentation with my own vocal color, timbre, and character to be exciting and humbling, as these singing moments incite a certain state of vulnerability.
It seems in this Age of Corona, I’m singing into a new kind of mask, the one that I along with millions of others are wearing on our faces to protect humanity from this swirling pandemic. Breathing into a mask, talking into a mask, and well…singing into a mask are the new normal. Though masks cover one of our key communicating mechanisms, it seems to me that we have been given a gift to speak with our eyes and reaffirm a level of openness, receptivity, and surrender to the people around us. It happened to me just the other day as I was taking a walk through a neighborhood while reading a great book. As I quickly turned a corner, I was met by a woman with a walker who had just finished inching her way across the street from the corner grocery store. She had three bags of groceries hanging on each side of the walker, clearly giving her a dual challenge at hand. She was slouched over the walker, dragging her feet, and I noticed her eyes as she stopped to adjust her mask. She seemed very tired. I continued to walk. I stopped myself about ten paces ahead and decided to turn around. I approached the woman, using the necessary social distancing measures that New York mandated, and asked if she needed some help with her groceries. I explained to her that I could grab a cart from around the corner. She looked up hesitant to accept the help. “I don’t want to inconvenience you,” she said. I assured her it was no trouble at all and so I ran to fetch the cart and returned in a dash. By the time I came back she had traveled only a couple more feet down the block from where she first began. She introduced herself as Maria, quite a match name for the book I was holding in my hand entitled, “St. Joseph.” After the introduction and refreshing conversation along the flower filled sidewalk, we approached her home around the corner. She was so grateful for the help.
We parted and I continued to casually stroll along the sidewalk in the warm sunshine. Had I not seen her eyes would I have known her greatest need in that moment? Indeed, it’s interesting to observe how a simple mask could reveal more than it covers.