The present of presence
Tuesday, December 13, 2011 at 10:28 AM
Ann Timmons

Taking a break from ordering Christmas gifts online yesterday, I decided I should go through accumulated flagged e-mails. And I finally read a Washington Post article about Barbara Cook, the 84-year-old legendary singer who was one of this year's recipients of The Kennedy Center Honors: http://wapo.st/tp3bDx

My husband sent me this link, knowing I would be interested in the insights this incredible artist shares about vocal training and her approach to singing. What I didn't expect (though I should have, now that I reflect upon seeing her years ago in a small club room in NYC and recently onstage at the Kennedy Center), is that her primary focus seems to be on being present. Peter Marks starts this wonderful portrait of Ms. Cook by explaining her fascination with Hugh Jackman on stage: “Here’s the thing: What I try to tell students in master classes is what we want is them. It’s so hard to believe that what the world wants is the intrinsic you on the stage. And that’s what Hugh Jackman’s got, in spades. He’s incredibly present.

Later, she describes her own journey from Broadway leading lady, to has-been, to star of clubs and concert halls. Of course she has an incredibly well-trained, strong voice. And it is so beautiful it shimmers. But what really elevates her as an artist is her willingness to be open with the audience. She has been around long enough to strip all the artifice away; she invites the listener into her heart: "When you allow people to really, really see your humanity in its most profound form, it touches that humanity in them. In that critical way, we find we’re not so alone in the world.”

When you are being yourself, your best self, people can tell. They respond. They connect. It sounds so easy. But nothing is harder. For all of us, whenever, however we try to communicate, it takes thought and preparation. But if we lay the groundwork, trust what we're doing, and actually come prepared for give-and-take, we discover something rare and wonderful to share with others. We have that kind of courage to let go and just Be. Present.

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