Think of it this way, says Cynthia Blum, opera singer and massage practitioner. Music and massage: both nourish the soul.
"Massage is voiceless singing," she says, kneading the muscles of husband Michael with a Swedish technique, "and singing is massage for the intellect." She has been absorbing anatomy, physiology and massage techniques to complete an 18-month course at the Potomac Massage Therapy Institute near Washington, D.C.
"Both are communication," she continues. "The aesthetic aspects and the energies of massage and singing -- that primary contact -- are the same. What I do with music and words is not unlike what you get when a person is touching you."
"I've always sung," she says. "I don't remember learning to read music. I just could. It wasn't a struggle; it just came."
Cynthia was invited to sing with her church choir at age 7. A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University in 1976, she continues to sing professionally for synagogues, churches and as mezzo soprano in the chorus of the Washington Opera. In December, she'll begin rehearsals for "The Pearl Fishers" by Bizet, then Janacek's "Cunning Little Vixen" in January.
She offers free concerts to elementary schools, saying, "We need to reach the children, instead of worrying about finding money for it."
Similar brief exposure to classical music started her own career. "When I was 12, I knew I would sing opera. It was something I knew existed. I knew it was what I would do."
Growing up north of Pittsburgh in Evans City, Pa., a town similar to Manchester, only Cynthia was musical in the family of eight. Grandmother lived with them. Her mother taught kindergarten. Her father was a diamond setter who ran the family "House of Kraus" jewelry business.
"We weren't farmers," she says, although they raised pigs, sheep, ducks and plenty of vegetables.
Piano, begun at age 7, remains vital. When she was newly wedded to Michael Blum, their first purchase was a piano. "His grandmother sent us the money. Then we went around getting jobs to pay her back. It was that important."
Struggling to pay for her musical career wasn't new. The summer before college she joined Charlie Boa's Circus as a cook.
Then she met "Charlie" -- a 7 1/2 -foot boa constrictor. Cynthia became Miss Serpentina the snake charmer. Their act opened in Thurmont and went across three states in three months.
Travel was cramped in buses converted to sleep eight. "On the bottom bunk, you couldn't even sit up," she said. She preferred sleeping on the "canvas truck."
In college and "basically on my own," she worked all "the typical music student jobs" -- singing, working in dormitories. The best one was as an artist's model.
"I could be dumpy and they didn't care. And it gave me time to think," she said. While she was motionless in the art studio, she could mentally practice her music.
The summer she sold encyclopedias door to door, she met future husband Michael, who was selling them, too. He was an economics student at University of Maryland Baltimore County. "I was smitten," she says. She gave her senior recital a week before the wedding and moved to Maryland.
Later, she encouraged her parents to retire to Westminster and they did.
Opera, being staged, requires acting skills. She first learned the benefits of massage "in theater class. We began with a 10-minute massage to relax to bring us together as a group."
She's sitting now at the table where children Erik, 7 1/2 , and Sarah, 10, are snacking on Michael's soup of tofu, seaweed and sprouts.
She and Michael chose to go vegetarian at a family gathering on Dec. 25, 1977.
"I remember that day," she says, hands covering her face. "We didn't eat the turkey and committed sin. We were young, and not too subtle."
It was a 30-day trial. They wanted to lose weight and feel more energetic. It became their lifestyle.
"I was a big change," she says, nodding her head. "There had been days when I could polish off two T-bones at a time." She has been an active member of the Maryland Organic Food and Farming Association; a board member of the Vegetarian Resource Group in Baltimore, helping to publish their Vegetarian Journal; member of Baltimore Homeopathic Group; and has organized The Potluck Co-op, her own food collective, for 12 years.
Even BT and Walter, the family dogs, thrive on Cynthia's vegetarian dinners and homeopathic remedies.
Six years ago, the family Blum moved to 46 acres in Snydersburg to farm organically.
With children attending Manchester and now Hampstead Elementary schools, it was natural to become a school volunteer. She works with Jeanne Hull, who now teaches the Extended Enrichment Program at Manchester and Spring Garden Elementary schools.
Laughing, she said, "I do the great work. I cut circles."
And adds, "I'm behind the scenes, making things not supplied. I volunteer for Jeanne no matter where she is."
What she's seen is that the program produces new ideas for presenting material to all students. "A lot of what was experimental years ago is standard today. It gets filtered into the classroom."
A milestone is coming up.
"I'm preparing for the big 4-0," she says, leaning back in her chair. "But without the gloom and doom. I have a certain sense of coming together." The study of massage has been a link, she says. "There is a flow . . . vegetarian, organic, massage. They're not too far off. It's a natural organic sense of living. I'd rather pay for a massage than a bottle of tranquilizers."