Sense #5: Taste, and the Hot Cocoa Meditation

Have your cake and sing it too

You can have your cake and sing it too

These past two months we’ve explored singing with all the senses. We started with hearing, perhaps the most obvious one, and the importance of learning to listen with the inner ear, as well as how to love your actual ears. Then, with sight, we talked about using imagery to bring imagination to a song, and similarly, with touch, how to bring life to your voice through movement. We even managed to work in the sense of smell, through some practical aromatherapy for the voice. Now I’ve gone and saved the most challenging sense for last, and that is taste.

Originally I was planning on sharing with you recipes dedicated to great opera singers (Turkey Tetrazzini), and even one crafted by a composer (Tournedos Rossini), but unfortunately the average celebrity’s taste (let alone budget!) does not translate well to the modern home kitchen; that is, unless you regularly buy foie gras, hunt for truffles, or bake a turkey more than once a year.

Instead, let’s consider what taste has to teach us on a simpler, more elemental level.

In a metaphoric sense, one can have a taste for certain kinds of music, just as one might have a taste for Indian curries laden with spices, or a fine French sauce with subtle herbs and peppercorn. And in a literal sense, at least when it comes to singing, the same parts of the body are used for tasting and for singing; nose, mouth, tongue, etc. I even had one professor in college postulate that the reason why singers, specifically opera singers, are of such generous size is that the same oral fixation that draws them to singing draws them to eating. I don’t know if I agree, but I imagine Freud would.

Something I’ve always loved and respected about chefs–or taste artists, if you like–is that no matter how ostentatious, avant-garde or gourmet their creations become, at the end of the day they still have to taste good. Somehow the same rules are not always applied to music. I’ve attended and applauded many an opera or music concert that, while the vision was bold and laudable, and the artists polished and gifted, the concert lacks something in appeal; the music equivalent of chewing on a packet of vitamins.

As singers, the ones who are out on stage, doing all the crazy and embarrassing things (how many times I’ve wished I had an instrument to hide behind!), we have a great opportunity not just to sing the right words and notes, but to up the appeal of our concerts.

And what to great chefs do, when preparing their signature dishes for their dinner guests?

They make sure that they themselves enjoy it first, by tasting the dish as they go. A little more salt here, a bit of rubato there… While taste is a personal matter, chances are, if you enjoy it, then your audience will too.

This week I took it upon myself to come up with an exercise that I could use to remind myself to really enjoy singing. In fact I had to practice it many times to make sure it was just right. Enter, the Hot Cocoa Meditation:

Hot Cocoa Meditation

4 tbsp unsweetened Cocoa powder (OR 100 g / 3 oz dark chocolate bar, broken into squares)
1 tbsp sugar, or to taste
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup boiling water
2 cups milk of any kind
Optional spices, such as cayenne pepper, vanilla extract, instant coffee, or a cinnamon stick
A song (optional if you prefer to improvise your own melody)

Combine the cocoa, sweetener and pinch of salt in a saucepan. Blend in the boiling water. As you mix them, consider all the ingredients that go into making a song. A well-balanced voice, some rich and beautiful poetry, a composer’s vision, all brought to life by the heat and passion of the living, breathing performer. Bring this mixture to an easy boil while you stir for a few minutes. Breathe in the rich, chocolate-y fragrance as it rises in steam, and notice how deep and easy this kind of breathing is. Imagine you are about to drink in the chocolate, and see how naturally your jaw drops down and back. As you begin to sing or hum (still stirring away and totally present with the chocolate!), imagine you are drinking in the sound. Now, mix in the milk and spices, and heat until very hot, but do not boil. Take your time; there is no rushing a good hot chocolate. When it’s ready, serve in a mug and sip it while you sing, and each time you take a sip or taste the chocolate in your mouth, let it be a reminder to enjoy the song and to take pleasure in the sound of your own voice.

Printable recipe: Hot Cocoa Meditation

If you’re wondering now why I’m recommending drinking chocolate with milk–every singer’s worst enemy–while singing, it’s because part of learning how to enjoy something is by worrying less and living more. So live a little, and drink hot chocolate while you sing! In fact, some teachers use the Whip Cream Analogy (imagining your mouth is full of whip cream) to describe the soft, relaxed position of the tongue and cheeks. Why not use real whip cream?

“Happiness. Simple as a glass of chocolate or tortuous as the heart. Bitter. Sweet. Alive.”
― Joanne Harris, Chocolat

“I listened wide-eyed, stupid. Glowing by her voice in the dim light. If chocolate was a sound, it would’ve been Constantine’s voice singing. If singing was a color, it would’ve been the color of that chocolate.”
― Kathryn Stockett, The Help

“My therapist told me the way to achieve true inner peace is to finish what I start. So far today, I have finished 2 bags of M&M’s and a chocolate cake. I feel better already.”
― Dave Barry

“Can I come back and see you sometime?”
“Long as you bring me some chocolate,” Gramma said, and smiled. “I’m partial to chocolate.”
“Gramma, you’re diabetic.”
“I’m old, girl. Gonna die of something. Might as well be chocolate.”
― Rachel Caine, The Dead Girls’ Dance

“The 12-step chocolate program: NEVER BE MORE THAN 12 STEPS AWAY FROM CHOCOLATE!”
― Terry Moore

Check it out…

The fascinating history of chocolate, including the difference between cocoa and hot chocolate and a recipe inspired by the movie Chocolat.

“Breakthrough in Humming” a great SoundSorceress post on singing and the freedom to express pleasure

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