In two days I leave to teach a Yoga For Singers courses and perform with the Redwoods Opera Workshop. It is such a blessing to learn from and be inspired by an amazing faculty and to work with such talented singers each summer. Unfortunately, the program always begins just a few days after my voice studio has its end of the year recital performance, so my own personal practice and memorization time is always severely limited…… that’s why this crazy dance party is absolutely necessary.
I actually learned this technique from a yogi who was working on perfecting her dristi “focus” in balance postures. She would perform the poses while her friends ran around trying to distract her. The point is, if she could maintain her focus through that, she could handle anything. I started taking this idea into my own vocal practice when attempting to memorize quickly. I would stare at myself in the mirror acting as ridiculous as possible and constantly trying to distract myself. If I can keep the words in my head while dancing around the room, then those words are going to be seriously locked in there. It sounds nuts, but it works! It gets me out of “thinking” mode and into muscle memory mode, which is where the real memorization happens. Plus, it’s fun to dance around like no one is watching…. well, except you are watching. Ah well. Enjoy my ridiculousness and try it yourself. It’s fun!
A big thank you to this video of the Watch Duet I found on YouTube to sing along with. In the middle the Rosalinda makes a few sounds which are interesting…… but that way you could hear how the two parts of the duet go together.
This Sunday my vocal studio has their annual recital. 25 of my students, of various ages, styles, and levels, will take the stage to share their progress and their love of music with the community. As their instructor, I am both excited and nervous for them. Performing is such an intense experience. When you’re successful, it can lift you up and make you realize you have a strength and courage that you never thought possible. However, if you’re performance is not as successful as you’d like, it can break you down, make you feel inadequate, and make it difficult to keep the drive to move forward. This week, I am doing everything in my power to prepare my students both technically and emotionally so that they’ll enjoy the process and continue to love singing. In honor of their performance, here’s a silly song I wrote to help my youngest students remember the meanings of various musical terms. Can you figure them all out?
Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.” -Earl Nightingale
This past year, I’ve been debating putting my vocal aspirations on hold. My vocal journey has been a long, difficult struggle filled with tears, frustration, and exhaustion. After all this time, I thought that since I haven’t “made it” as a singer, maybe it wasn’t worth it to continue pouring thousands of dollars and hours of practice into my voice. So many artists find themselves in this situation time after time. We put such high standards on ourselves. Our dreams and aspirations seem beyond our achievement and the pressure becomes too much to bear. It’s in these times that I stop and reflect on my connection to music and its place in my life.
This year, though, I was forced to take a break from my vocal career through a more than two-month hiatus due to injury and illness. All that time away from the art form which I had poured my heart and soul into for most of my life made me realize how much I missed that aspect of myself. Without being able to sing, I lacked my emotional releas. I missed that catharsis, that challenge, that creative outlet. Without singing, I did not feel like myself.
As I slowly pull my body and my voice back together, I return to singing with a new understanding of exactly WHY I am doing this. I don’t need to “make it” in order to consider myself a singer. I need to sing to feel like myself again. I need to sing because, through all the frustration, the tears, and the fear, I find that I enjoy it. It is such a freeing realization that I don’t need more from my voice than to enjoy the act of singing. So, here’s to my dreams and the time it takes to achieve them.
Anyone who has ever driven in Los Angeles knows that the number one thing you need to succeed in getting from point A to point B is confidence. With the 405 in shambles, cars cutting you off at every moment, and sudden stops and starts, if you don’t have the confidence to change lanes exactly when a spot opens up, you’ll never get where you are going. It takes confidence to simply leave the house each morning knowing that traffic might be bad, that it might be stressful, or that the vast expanse of freeway traffic is more dangerous that we’d like to admit. However, you leave the house each day knowing that where you need to go is important and is far more productive and beneficial than staying at home all day whining about how the traffic keeps you from living your life. (Yes, I’ve spent far too much time on the freeways these past few days.) Something my vocal coach, Rakefet Hak, said today sparked this idea of confidence and how it can either make or break us. We were rehearsing “Chi il bel sogno” from La Rondine and there is this beautiful reoccurring refrain consisting of pianissimo floating high G’s and A’s and even a C (for you non-music types, it’s high and quiet). On top of that technical difficulty, the orchestra/piano is barely playing anything at that point so you are vocally exposed and any mistake you make will definitely be noticed. Consequently, I tend to approach this melody tentatively with great caution and fear– often times with an inner monologue screaming at me “Don’t screw this up! Quiet… NOOOOO Quieter! That was too loud. Trying softening your breath. Well, that sucks but at least it’s quieter. Maybe you should sort of lightly tap the note then grow into it for support…… STOP! THAT WAS ALL WRONG!”
Something like that.
I love how sweet and gentle my mind is.
But, today Rakefet called me on it. She heard me scooping into the high notes like I was tip-toeing and trying not to be heard. And then it dawned on me: approaching these high notes is like driving in LA traffic or kicking up into a handstand… You’ll never get there if you are cautious about it. You’ll never get there if you are trying to protect yourself from what you fear might go wrong. If you don’t have faith, trust, and a little bit of pixi dust, either things will go terribly wrong or nothing will happen at all which can be even worse. You have to jump right into the high note with full belief that it will be exactly the way you want it to be. You have to change lanes with conviction, asserting your claim to that space. You have to kick up into a handstand like your life depended on it. You have to let go and just do without that nagging inner monologue holding you back.
So, the next time that inner monologue yelled “Don’t screw this up!” I calmly answered “Of course not” and then banished that voice to the far off recesses of my brain. And, you know what? It worked. I started the high note with courage, hit it right at the center of the pitch, and Rakefet said that was the best thing she ever heard out of me. Apparently I’m far more successful if I don’t set myself up for failure with the expectation that failure might happen. Who knew?
Do you have the confidence to make it through this?
There is something about August; it has always signified a new year for me. Now, I know that January 1st is technically the new year, but I always saw August as the beginning of something new. It was the time for school shopping, getting a new wardrobe, taking huge life steps like moving to Los Angeles for my undergraduate years, and then moving to West Virginia for my master years. Later, August became the month of my major life-overhaul during my yoga teacher training. This year, it was my voice’s turn to be overhauled when I spent August in Los Angeles training to break into the opera world. I find it fascinating how we become caught up in these natural life cycles: a time to grow, a time to change, a time to return to your life renewed, stronger, more confident, and knowing more about yourself. That’s what August is for me. It’s the transition point, the bridge that carries me to some new facet of myself, my career, and my life. At this time last year, I was on a plane returning from my yoga teacher training with no money in my bank account, no jobs lined up, and no idea if I would sing again. I never dreamed that the year would bring me to teaching 9 yoga classes a week, returning and new voice students to my growing private vocal studio, and a new voice teacher in Los Angeles taking me in and giving me a second chance at a vocal career… not to mention the fact that I was able to raise the funds necessary to spend 3 weeks in LA doing major voice training. It’s amazing what the universe can bring us when we open our hearts and take the opportunities presented to us, when we can look our own selves deep in the eyes with tears of gratitude and joy at the people we have become and the obstacles we have overcome. Thank you for a beautiful 2011-2012 year. I can’t wait to see what this next year has in store for me…… I’m thinking there might be singing involved…. but I don’t know. Regardless, bring it on.
It’s time for change…. can you see it on the horizon?
Days go by, one after the other, hour by hour, minute by minute. Often times we become caught up in the net of normalcy, the monotony of everyday life, that we forget to reach out for greatness. Once in awhile, when we are able to break free of our habits, we get a glimpse of this greatness…. If only for a fleeting moment.
Today I caught that glimpse. During my 3 week intensive study, I have made some serious progress, overcome many vocal technique problems and I have begun to glimpse exactly how beautiful, full, and flexible my voice can be. To think that 8 years ago I was entering into USC as an “undeclared” major because I didn’t make it into the vocal department. After being told throughout my vocal life that I’ll never be able to sing coloratura, that I’ll never make it to have a career, that I’ll never be a “legit” opera singer, and to have finally broken past these barriers is an amazing and fulfilling experience. There were so many times I could have given up (in fact, I was told to on several occasions), but I kept clawing my way to the top, and these brief encounters with greatness have proven to me that none of this has been in vain. These glimpses have been really short lived, for suddenly old habits and muscle memory patterns return, but the key is to make the most of these little glimpses: to cherish them, learn from them, and then allow them to grow. Slowly you begin to string them together to create something great.
This is true for singing, but it’s also true of life. Find those moments of greatness, those moment of pure joy, and begin to live for those short-lived times. Soon, you’ll find that those little moments seem to arrive more frequently until they are “moments” no longer. When your entire day, entire month, and entire life is spent present, focused, and connected to your inner greatness, then you have truly found bliss.
So, how can you glimpse your greatness today?
You can find your greatness if you only bother to turn on the light.
…who’s the best voice of them all?
Art is fascinating. It is so subjective. A voice one person might might swoon over makes another person want to put in earplugs. It is impossible to appease everyone and make everyone love you. It is impossible to sound like anyone else (without, of course, the use of an auto-tuner.) It’s also impossible to win them all. You are unique, and so is your voice, your body, your personality and your mind. Learn from the greats in your field, emulate things that work for you, but don’t try to be someone else. Try this little experiment. Go out to a public place, take a seat, and people-watch. Notice those who really stand out from the crowd. Notice those who catch your eye (be it good or bad.) What is it that draws your attention? Is it their unusual clothing? Their interesting stance? Their vivacious energy? Their inner calm? You might notice that the people who force you to stop and take notice are the people who are reveling in being themselves. They’re really living it up, being exactly who they are with no regrets or excuses. It’s better to be yourself perfectly than someone else imperfectly. So, look in that mirror, see yourself as you truly are and revel in it. Be the perfect version of yourself; you’ll find that you’re pretty good at it!