Tuneful Tuesday Week 11: “Watch Duet” memorization dance party

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.


It always amazes me how much of our lives we spend in autopilot: simply going through the motions of living without actually experiencing it. How many of us zone out while driving, working, and doing the dishes, only to find that time has simply passed us by. Likewise, we are oftentimes completely unaware of our bodies and the habits be procure throughout our time on this Earth. My yoga students and voice students alike are unaware of their tendency towards a turn-out or pigeon-toed stance and how that can affect their bodies and voices. My own experience with my vocal, physical, and emotional habits is a work-in-progress, and probably always will be. What am I doing with my tongue when I sing? How are my knees tracking when I glide into a warrior pose? Many times I catch myself completely unaware of my body or my actions. But, when I can turn off my autopilot and actually tune in to what I am feeling, thinking, and doing, I am much more successful in my ability to change, grow, make progress, and assist others. Whether it is driving to a well-known destination, attending a class, taking a lesson, or working your day job, can you turn off your autopilot and actually focus directly, and solely, on what is in front of you? Can you let all the other clutter go and be contented on staying in the present moment?
If I’ve learned one thing during my years of vocal study both at the collegiate and private level is that it is much easier to start from scratch and create new good habits than to break a bad one. After years of belting out as a child and adding tension to tension, the only way I knew to sing was with force and bad placement. It’s taken years of self-discovery and several teachers to begin to free up my voice and let go of the years of bad muscle memory. (And I really have my current teacher and coach Juliana Gondek and Rakefet Hak to thank for getting me over these last major hurdles. Yay!!!!) How much easier might my progress have been if only I were able to pull myself out of autopilot all those years ago? We’ll never know. However, the more I can focus and remain present while singing and living, the faster I can replace bad habits with good ones. All it takes is getting out of the passenger seat and taking the wheel for awhile. You control your own destiny. Don’t let your destiny control you.


Following the cairn path

Have you ever had that blissful feeling that comes when you know that where you are is exactly where you are supposed to be? Now, this is different than where you WANT to be or where your ego thinks you should be. For instance, I desperately WANT to be ready to sing for ALL the major competitions this fall, but I know that I am not ready for such a big step just yet. But, when you realize that you are on your life path, or your Dharma, as the yogis would say, you find peace. You realize that where you are, right now at this moment, is perfect. And that’s not to say that where you are is where you need to be for the rest of your days. Conversely, where you need to be is a very fluid concept, changing day to day, hour to hour. But, once you find that path, once you get into the groove, things start to fall into place. All things support you and reinforce that path.
This is one of those moments for me.
I made a plan 6 months ago that I was going to study voice intensely with Juliana Gondek and Rakefet Hak in Los Angeles for three weeks in August. After doing the math and calculating how much that would cost me, I went into fundraising mode: singing for local clubs, sending out letters, and putting on one of the most amazing, challenging, and fun one-woman shows of my life. With effort, toil, sweat, and tears, I pulled together the money I needed to make this happen. I’m not saying that being on your life path is easy. In fact, it’s much more difficult than sitting on your couch, watching TV and wondering when you’re life is going to start. But, if you make the effort, if you put yourself out there, you will find your path and the world will help you get there.
So, here we are. 6 months later and I’m almost halfway through my intensive training. Again, effort, toil, sweat, and tears are the name of the game (especially the last two) but I know that where I am and what I am doing is perfect for me… in this place…. at exactly this moment. I am putting in the work, changing my voice, and changing my mind. Yes, I’m still a work-in-progress and always will be. I may not make it to the summit of my upmost dreams this year, (and I’m about 99.9% sure I won’t) but I know I am working towards something. I know I am progressing. And I know that this is where I am meant to be. This is my Dharma. This is Marissa. It’s a beautiful thing to experience. So, I ask you, what’s your Dharma? What dream have you been hiding, fighting, and giving up on? It’s never too late to find that path. Just look for the cairn markers.


Isn’t it great that there are so many things we do not know yet?

True confession. I’ve been getting a bit hard on myself this week. When you’re in a lesson paying someone to tell you (nicely) all the things you are doing wrong, it can be easy to slip into the mental state of “I can’t do this! Why don’t I already know this? Why can’t I get it right? There is just too much for me to learn. I’ll never get it all.” This, of course, spirals out of control quite quickly if not kept in check.

Years ago during a summer program I attended, there was one participant who was never planning on being an opera singer. She had a great day job making good money, working a regular 9-5 job. She had been taking voice lessons for several years and just decided to take a music vacation. For fun. Because music was not her source of income and she simply wanted to learn more about singing. While most of the attendees knew much more about singing, acting, technique, and languages than her, she was not daunted. On the contrary, she was absolutely fascinated by everything, especially the things she didn’t know. And, she was very vocal about her excitement. We have recordings of her “oooooooo”s and “ohhhhhhhhh”s and “wow”s. Her childlike fascination with anything related to singing and performing has always stuck with me. What I approach as deficits in my technique, languages, etc, she would approach as beautiful areas of potential growth: giving you the ability to be fascinated by the wealth of knowledge out there available for our mental consumption. So, here’s to bringing this new child-like approach to my training these three weeks. Every correction will be a chance to grow, to learn something new, to move forward into new discoveries.

Thank you Gloria Grev for giving me these memories and having that fascination for learning and life. 🙂