Hyperextending Metaphysical Muscles

Metaphysics

Hyperextending our Metaphysical Muscles

I’ve taken up jogging – for real this time. I’ve downloaded the obligatory app and I am currently completing week 6 of 9. I plan on participating in our town’s Run4Trees 10K race in July, so would seem I am enjoying it much more than I thought I would. After I forced myself to do my jog even in the snow, I think perhaps we could say I’m hooked. This post, however is not entirely about jogging!

Not really the sporty type, I am typically a rather cerebral sort of person. In fact, it had been an ongoing point of contention for my voice teachers and coaches for many years: I’m just too “in my head” and not enough “in the body”. When I am asked about my hobbies (since singing is my profession, “making music” is definitely not in that category), I usually answer that I am a voracious reader. While that is true, perhaps my real hobby is actively thinking – because I love being in my head! That said, all this new physicality with running has created a new perspective for some thoughts I’ve been circling around for some time.

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For us medical lay(wo)men, suffice it to say that muscles move in two ways: lengthen and shorten. Eccentric contraction is when the muscle is extended under tension. The opposite movement is concentric contraction, when the muscle shortens and become “fatter”. I propose that our mental/emotional “muscles” work in the same way.

Take the popular idea of New Year’s Resolutions. Every year especially around this time, the media is abound with self-help material. The stores advertise much more around exercise and self-care products, we make resolutions that “this year will be different”. I admit that I do this too! I truly love new beginnings, and though I don’t participate in extreme sports (other than the skydiving when I was in my 20s) I am an adrenaline junkie. When things are new, they are exciting, and that really pumps my blood! So at this time of year (or at any time for that matter) we make our plans to get in shape, to read more, to love more, to be more and that feels great. Our heart and souls are in this new project and we know it will be amazing. We make a huge effort and eccentrically contract (extend) our metaphysical muscles.

Everyone is different, but I would wager that much of the time, somewhere along the way our plans get derailed. It’s happened to me over and over again. Perhaps we just ran out of steam, or we weren’t really committed to the goals we set in the first place, or our method just didn’t stick. At these times, we just let it go and move on. But what about the times when we are committed? We truly want to change or improve in the way we set out to – so committed, in fact, that we take on too much at once? You might say that we’ve hyperextended our metaphysical muscles.

Many of us have certainly experienced the unpleasantness of the hyperextension of a muscle and the following muscle strain. The symptoms of muscle strain include pain, weakness, a limited range of movement, a “knotted-up” feeling.  The notion of pushing your limits is one I definitely get behind, and I have my small private moments of pride when I am doing just that. So when I say the following, it is not to say that we shouldn’t try to go outside our comfort zone, because I believe this is GOOD.

The problem is that inevitably, when we take on more than we can manage, when we stretch too far beyond our current capacity, we’ve hyperextended.  It all becomes too much. Every day was busy before, but now there is such a flurry of ideas and to-dos that we get lost in the storm. We seem to tread water ok for a while, the adrenaline rush keeps us going. And then it happens: almost like a reflex, our metaphysical muscle heads in the opposite direction of this over-stretch and we feel a sense of concentric contraction, a “folding-in” on ourselves, a recoiling. We can imagine our center, our essence, becoming something like those little pill bugs we called “roly-polies” as kids.

roly poly

To avoid the pain, we escape into a Netflix binge. To ignore the weakness and limited range of movement we feel, we do other seemingly easier things; get caught up in all the “busy-ness” of our lives. We don’t like the “knotted-up” feeling and take it out on those around us. We are extremely uncomfortable, both by the hyperextension and by the recoil. Being lost in this storm is worse than how our lives were before because we feel very deeply about the changes we are trying to implement and we believe in their benefit – making for a perfect recipe of self-loathing. We pile on the negative self-talk. Our mood is dark. We tell ourselves that “that’s life” or “it was pretty impossible anyway”. The notion of failure looms ever-present for a while, until we get over it (or don’t).

But what if we didn’t attach so much meaning to the concentric contraction we’ve just experienced? What if we just looked at this situation as a simple hyperextended muscle and went about treating it, instead of berating ourselves over another failure to follow through?  Let’s look at treating our “muscle” strain:

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REST is absolutely essential. Have we been burning the candle at both ends? We want to work out, so we get up earlier in the morning to fit it in. But we also have been staying up late – not for the TV series we like, but to put our finances in order, take an online course or to spend more time with our partner. Sleeping only four hours a night is not a sustainable lifestyle folks! We really must make sure to get at least six (7.5 hours is my go-to number).

Putting ICE on your strained muscle is beneficial when it first occurs. Metaphorically speaking, we can apply this wisdom to our emotional reaction. Apply it to that (incorrect) perception of failure to achieve what we’d set out to do. Put that emotional reaction on ice: quash any guilt-ridden self-talk and treat the situation with a cool head. We should remember that this is a temporary situation, with a pragmatic solution.

Compression is recommended to alleviate swelling: so let’s really have a look at all that we were trying to accomplish when we hyperextended. It is probably the case that our hopes and motivations swelled and we mistakenly thought the daily program must and could do so as well. Perhaps it would be better to confine those day-to-day tasks to the utmost essential to propel us toward our goals. And if in the paring down we find we cannot possibly accomplish all our goals? I love to “cycle through” my different areas of focus. There is always more I want to do than I have the time for in any given day, week or month. So we may also find that compressing these areas of focus into various periods of time, rather than all at once will reduce our swollen “muscles”. Focus on Project 1 for a month, then Project 2 the three weeks following, then back to Project 1 again for two weeks, for example. In doing so we may find that after a year we’ve completed all four original projects not at the same time but in the same time anyway!

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Our hyperextended metaphysical muscle should also be elevated as much as possible. We must find ways to raise our motivation levels again after the rest, ice, and newly compressed scheduling. After the derailment of our originally-planned amazing life-changes, we should give ourselves the grace to forgive our overzealousness and its capitulation to our limitations. Let’s begin the preparations for the continuation of our journey by elevating our perception of our capabilities. We took a pretty bad fall when we strained that muscle, now we must begin to exercise enough confidence in ourselves that we get up again. Sign up for a daily motivational email, listen to a podcast that lifts you up, revisit the reasons you wanted to make the changes to begin with. Often this revisiting of reasons is in and of itself enough to elevate our morale once more!

Now, it is recommended that we don’t rest too long. Muscles that aren’t in use atrophy and we began this process because we wanted to grow, not the reverse! It is now time to stretch a bit and warm up. Pick up one element of the plan and walk with it for a week. We’ll find it’s not so difficult, then when we’re ready, we can pick up the next element and keep walking. After that, we can take that metaphysical muscle for a jog – but only with the two “weights” we’ve been walking with already.

We should trust in ourselves that we’ve taken very good care of our hyperextended muscle and that it is truly on the mend. The best part of this entire experience, is that after we’ve hyperextended, recoiled, and rehabilitated our psychological/emotional muscles we find that they are stronger and more flexible now than they were in the first place. Hopefully after living through this process once (maybe twice..) we’ll be able to recognize the warning signs before we let that hyperextension happen again. We’ll warm up with a more realistic assessment of what is possible before we set out on that new journey, and we’ll increase the number of these journeys in general to stay better in shape. Most importantly, however, is that if we ever hyperextend again, we’ll know it when we see it. And with this knowledge we’ll be more prepared to treat ourselves with better bedside manner than we have in the past!

There is nothing wrong with pushing your limits, in fact I even recommend it. We just need to take it step by step to achieve a higher level of metaphysical fitness, and repeat the gentle stretch over and over to stay in shape and avoid too much injury!

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The Shape of my Soul

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In October 2020 I went for an audition in Gothenburg, Sweden (time for that in another post). The cheaper air ticket gave me an extra day in in the city than what I'd needed for the audition, so I had time to walk around a bit. In my travels of the town center, I came across a little shop that intrigued me from the window:

“House of Ellen – Nice Things”. This is a view from inside the shop, but you can imagine what caught my eye from outside. I spent about 20 minutes inside the shop. I knew that I couldn’t be buying a lot (another lockdown was already looming, but I just HAD to get a little notebook), so I didn’t want to spend too much time browsing. The lovely woman who was in the shop that day I am sure wouldn't have minded, but it felt rude somehow. I tell you now though, that I could have easily spent two hours in there! Full disclosure: my favorite kind of stores are stationery/office supply stores and my favorite time of year was always school supply shopping time (TOTAL nerd, right?!) And this little shop was filled with notebooks and postcards and writing stationery and pens and coffee cups and coasters and and and… the prints on everything were designs that I absolutely ADORED.  I walked around this little shop and finally discovered the name of the aesthetic that I have always been drawn to, felt at home in, identified with:
                                    Art Nouveau.

https://houseofellen.se/
https://houseofellen.se/
Alphonse Mucha - Dance from "The Arts" (1898)
Alphonse Mucha - Dance from "The Arts" (1898)
Gustav Klimt-The Expectation, Tree of Life, (1905-1909)
Gustav Klimt-The Expectation, Tree of Life, (1905-1909)

A succinct summary of the movement as given by Wikipedia:

“Art Nouveau is an international style of art, architecture, and applied art, especially the decorative arts, known in different languages by different names: Jugendstil in German, Stile Liberty in Italian, Modernisme català in Catalan, etc. In English it is also known as the Modern Style (British Art Nouveau style). The style was most popular between 1890 and 1910. It was a reaction against the academic art, eclecticism and historicism of 19th century architecture and decoration. It was often inspired by natural forms such as the sinuous curves of plants and flowers. Other characteristics of Art Nouveau were a sense of dynamism and movement, often given by asymmetry or whiplash lines, and the use of modern materials, particularly iron, glass, ceramics and later concrete, to create unusual forms and larger open spaces.

One major objective of Art Nouveau was to break down the traditional distinction between fine arts (especially painting and sculpture) and applied arts. It was most widely used in interior design, graphic arts, furniture, glass art, textiles, ceramics, jewellery and metal work. The style responded to leading 19-century theoreticians, such as French architect Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (1814–1879) and British art critic John Ruskin (1819–1900). In Britain, it was influenced by William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement. German architects and designers sought a spiritually uplifting Gesamtkunstwerk ("total work of art") that would unify the architecture, furnishings, and art in the interior in a common style, to uplift and inspire the residents.”

For many years I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that I lived before in another time. I’ve always had an affinity and particular love for the music from around 1880 – 1920. And I have always loved the work of Monet and Gustav Klimt. In classical music, we call this period the “Late Romantic” period, but romanticism wasn't the only scent in the air. It was a particularly exciting and tumultuous time all around the world. Electricity, elevators, hot air balloons, the World’s Fair in Paris with the Eifel Tower, the Italian unification movement (and nationalist movements in so many places), The Great War, the Industrial Revolution, women’s suffrage, the list goes on.

The excitement, the buzz, the feel and look of this time conjures a strange sense of nostalgia in me – a nostalgia for something I’ve never witnessed. Nonetheless, there it is, and when I look back to the artists, the writers, the musical repertoire I have been drawn to over and over again, the years from around 1880-1920 loom large on my list. Debussy, Gounod, Verdi, Respighi, Richard Strauss, Wolf; Nietzsche, Oscar Wilde, The Great Gatsby; Monet, Van Gogh, Klimt, Alphonse Mucha, even lamps by Tiffany’s.

The color palatte, the nature, sensuality, and the use of these naturally occurring lines in design - Art Nouveau, well, it leaves me breathless. I just love the hues, the whirling forms and the idea that art can be in everything. I feel this aesthetic also present in so much of the music from this time, with composers choosing texts about or in nature (which in and of itself wasn’t new), but also often preferring a rich texture in orchestration, the creation of an thick ambiance that swirls around you, enveloping you. The lushness, the decadence, the sensuality of the sounds, the utter whimsy of the poetry. It’s as if these artists, composers, authors have found a way to paint with color and sound and words what my soul looks like. I cannot overstate the impact this music, these designs, this poetry has on me.

 

Interior of Hôtel Tassel by Victor Horta (1892–1893)
Interior of Hôtel Tassel by Victor Horta (1892–1893)
Sarah Bernhardt as Cleopatra (1891)
Sarah Bernhardt as Cleopatra (1891)
A. Mucha - Clair de Lune (1902)
A. Mucha - Clair de Lune (1902)

Back in 2012, I put together a vocal recital called Whimsy, that we performed several times in many cities in Turkey. With programming it is always my intention that a through-line exists to tie all the pieces on the entire program together. Without knowing about Art Nouveau at the time, I programmed a set of pieces that very obviously embodies the aesthetic. We had a lot of fun with that program and I am so very happy to announce that a new, revised Whimsy will be returning to the stage in Munich this summer! This time I am collaborating with pianist Mikhail Berlin - and it is bound to be a wonderful concert. Works by Satie, Respighi, Grieg and more, we're getting prepared to swathe you in the sound of Art Nouveau; whisk you away to lush forests, sumptuous moments and opulent dreamscapes. It won't matter in what time zone you currently live, Whimsy will be accessible. You can sign up for the mailing list here to be sure I can reach you with all the details once they become available.

Thanks for reading!

Sending love and light,

Musically yours,

Angela

The Coolest Project

Virtual Opera's Inaugural Production -
Ravel's L'Enfant et les sortilèges:
one of the coolest projects I've been a part of

At the beginning of the summer I got wind of, completely by accident, a project based out of the UK. This group, called Virtual Opera would be putting up Ravel’s one-act opera L’enfant et les sortilèges in the autumn, and everything would be conducted online. An announcement of this sort, was for me, was like a ray of sunshine after months of rain. My interest was piqued, along with a hundred questions as to HOW this could work. I applied and received an audition date and time. At that point what struck me the most was how positive and accommodating the project organizers were. We auditioned from whatever space we had available, online. No accompanist was required, though we could have one. If we wanted to sing karaoke-style we could, and they even made back-tracks available if we wished to sing something from the opera itself, but again, not required. I ended up singing one of my staple arias, a cappella.

Let me just say here that after all of the lockdowns and performance cancellations we’d experienced by that time, this audition was so. much. FUN.  Performers (in any field) must have an audience. And at the beginning of this pandemic, we performers did the best we could; practicing in our bathrooms and basements and living rooms, some even putting it up online to share. But to have an audience in real time is another thing entirely - even if it is an audience of 2 or 3 on an audition panel. It was such a relief to have back this modus of expression. It was the most fun I had had in quite (what had felt like) a vey long time. You know the picture of the stereotypical opera singer with her mouth open about a mile – that Is I think exactly how it feels when the music comes out of you. And while singers cannot claim to own the market, we do make up a particular niche for expression as the sound is made with our own bodies and include poetic text. I don’t remember ever before having quite this sensation of the music POURING out of me – it had just been bottled for so long, there was no possibility of letting it trickle out slowly!

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So, I was invited to participate in the process as a chorus member and of course I agreed. How could we pass up the opportunity to SING in times like these? Even besides this, though, I am fairly certain I would have accepted this engagement even in the best of times because it is SO COOL!
We had online rehearsals with the conductor and with a diction coach. We were all there together in real time. Granted, technology has not yet caught up to our desire for full ensemble rehearsing with no time delay, so we were muted and everyone rehearsed alone, but together, at the same time. Even with the (weaknesses, d-word, deficiencies?) it was a lovely process. Everyone involved was really just so committed to putting together something amazing, in spite of the difficulties faced. And this, my friends, is one of the reasons art exists in the first place. It was a friendly, safe, creative atmosphere that I know I needed. After the many months of (dare I say it) depression-cum-vocal silence in my corner of the world it was a joy to be involved in a project that openly acknowledged that we might need some counselling (and made a therapist available to us if we needed one). It was a joy to be a part of a group of people who were ready to tirelessly support each other in any way they could, but with a creative purpose that I am sure will produce an amazing result – more about that in a minute…

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Then came the hard part – the recording! We were instructed and supported in every way possible, but in the end, we had to set it up (with whatever equipment we had available) and push the red record button.  It sounds easy, but in all honesty was SO difficult, and for the same reason that I had so much fun in the audition. Even movie actors have all the crew around when they are filming a scene, but we were all alone, making crazy faces and emoting the sorrow, the anger, the confusion, the forgiveness of the scenes to a silent and rather unforgiving lens and microphone! It was difficult, but incredibly interesting to see what I could do with the task given me. And this has always been one of the primary requirements for me to want to spend time on anything – it has to be interesting! We were asked to keep our hair out of the face as they would be digitally cutting around our heads to put them inside our "costumes". That worked for me, because the hair salons were closed anyway! So I made my recordings as well as requested extra video footage for non-singing scenes and sent them off. The majority of my work for the project ended, but for the tech crew it was just beginning. We have received several updates since September and I can promise you all that this production will be amazing! So without further ado, here are the details:

"Opening night" is online Mon 16 November 2020, 8pm BST,
only a few days away!

The London Philharmonic Orchestra and the VOpera Tribe perform Ravel's "L'Enfant et les sortilèges"
in an operatic "film", a real collaboration with a fantastic team!

Don't miss the premiere on LPO's YouTube Channel

And if you'd like to donate to this amazing project, please DO! You can get those details

Premiere in Moscow

Moscow conservatory plays symphony for Gallipoli

The Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory has premiered the “Symphony No. 2 Gallipoli- The 57th Infantry Regiment,” a work by Turkish composer Can Atilla. The orchestra conducted by Burak Tüzün hosted soprano Angela Ahıskal and cellist Serdar Rasul as soloist at the event in Moscow on May 27.

 

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/moscow-conservatory-plays-symphony-for-gallipoli-143778

2019 Moscow

New CD Release!

 

Angela Ahıskal sings the inspired words of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and Anzac poet John Le Gay Brereton – part of C. Atilla’s Symphony No. 2 ‘Gallipoli – The 57th Regiment’. Available on the NAXOS label.

 

“American soprano Angela Ahiskal comes into play in the third movement and finale. Again this seems to be her sole outing on record and I’d like to hear more of her too: in the poem Within my heart I hear the cry she makes me think of some of the best interpreters of Samuel Barber’s Knoxville – another work with 1915 as its referent..”

Brian Wilson  – MusicWeb International