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.

Tuneful Tuesday Week 10: I Can Sing A Song

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?

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Grow

“We can’t grow when we are only ever comfortable. We need the discomfort. We need the pebble in our shoe. We need the thorn in our side sometimes. We need to see what mental anguish is pacifying us to stay locked away. Just out of reach of our potential. Just shy of our greatness. Just comfortable enough not to ask questions. Sometimes we need to stretch ourselves. We have to feel the growing pains. But that’s also the signal that we are using muscles that are just aching to be of use.” -Chani Nicholas

It has been a rough week to say the least. Between a rainy 8 hour pilgrimage to Los Angeles for an intensive audition prep 2-hour lesson with my voice teacher, a crazy teaching schedule that had me in my voice studio until 9pm every night, and scrambling to carve out my own practice time, this week has left me mentally, emotionally, and physically worn out. To top it off, I have my first big audition of the season tomorrow with Opera Santa Barbara. The week leading up to any audition is always a roller coaster of excitement, anticipation, fear, and self-loathing. I start the week feeling ready to tackle anything. My voice feels powerful. I feel prepared. Everything is smiles and sunshine when I think about my upcoming audition. 

But then, two days later, the negative self-talk kicks in. “I’ll never be good enough. Why am I wasting my time and money to audition? What if I make a fool of myself? Why should I even bother?” I become so worn out by all this crippling self-doubt that I try to come up with excuses as to why I shouldn’t go. My brain tells my body to start feeling sick to get out of the audition and my body listens. Suddenly, I’m feeling depressed, fearful, and, to top it all, sick. To make matters worse, I see all this coming. I know it’s going to happen. I know what to do to break the bad cycle I get myself into. But, my insecurities about auditioning are still stronger than the meditative, peaceful mind I have worked so hard to cultivate–old habits die hard, you know. This just leaves me feeling powerless and guilty that I couldn’t stop the negative sprial. I think become angry with myself for letting these insecurities affect me. Angry, confused, sad, and scared, my life is thrown into complete upheaval because of a few minutes of singing. 

Even during those moments when I want to give up and stay at home hiding under my bed, I know deep down that I am going to that audition tomorrow. I will step into that room, smile at the nice people behind the table who mean me no harm, breath, and sing. As much as I hate auditions, I know that they can lead to performing-which is what I love. I know that the stress and trials that audition put me through are worth more than just the act of stepping out on that stage and singing. They teach me to deal with my own insecurities, to understand my own imperfections, to address my competitive nature, and to learn to love myself even when I fail. It’s a long, hard path we singers have to take; but, it is in the discomfort that we grow. 

 
#basicyogamix challenge day 20: wheel pose. Today I will open my heart to my judges. I will conquer my fears and insecurities and do my best, for that is all I can do. 

Unleash the Beast

The Napa Music Festival has officially come to a close. The singers and staff have been sent home. The facilities have been locked up. The songs have been sung. The stage makeup and costumes have been put away. After a good night’s sleep and a healthy home-cooked meal, it’s time to reflect back on the past 24 days. This summer was a whirlwind of performing, learning, and growing. Being sleep-deprived and in hyper-drive the entire time, it’s difficult to recognize the progress you are making along the way. But when you return home and suddenly the pieces fall into place, you realize how much you have changed in such a short period of time. 

My voice has grown by leaps and bounds throughout the course of this festival. The instructors have helped me to unlock new depth and power in my voice. They’ve unleashed the beast, let it out of its cage, and officially changed my fach to lyrico spinto. My baby dramatic soprano voice is getting stronger, fuller, and more comfortable. While, yes, there are physical technique changes being made to release tension and bring my full voice out, the biggest change is psychological. It has been a long struggle vocally to get to where I am today. During my 4 years of undergraduate training I was forced to conform into the tiny soubrette voice they assumed I should be. This turned me into a nervous wreck of trying to be something I wasn’t. I didn’t have enough understanding of technique, my voice, or my body to realize the harm I was doing to myself and my idea of who I was. It’s taken another 6 years to find my vocal support, let go of the tension I created while trying to restrain my voice, and find freedom once again. 

This summer, I felt like I finally had my vocal technique in order, but a final step remained… I needed to trust that my voice was big, powerful, loud, and resonant. This year, the amazing teachers I worked with gave me the permission and support to take the plunge into this new adventure. Even with all the performing, all the stage training, and all the acting experience, the greatest thing I take from this festival is the belief that I no longer need to apologize for my volume, my strength, and my power. The beast is free. Watch out world. 

 
#backtobackbends day 28: wild thing. 

Interconnected Bliss

  Yesterday I had the pleasure of performing an obscure one-woman opera entitled “The Italian Lesson” by Lee Hoiby from a monologue by Ruth Draper. I have a love/hate relationship with performing. The day of a performance I go into major adrenaline mode. I run through my life in a flutter of intensity that no amount of yoga or meditation can subside. I find my mind racing through the same entrances, melodies, and text over and over in a last-minute struggle to create a flawless performance. A bevy of activity, I move through the day in hyper-drive. But, then, just moments before the performance, I lay on the floor, close my eyes, and just breathe. I smile and remember the joy that delving into each character brings. I get up on that stage and find my place amongst the notes, rhythms, and musicality and just ride the beautiful wave of song. I am home in that moment of performance and I love it. This is why I spend hours, and months really, drilling the music, refining my technique, planning staging, and researching characters and backgrounds– for these few moments of interconnected bliss. 

  
#backtobackbends day 9: supine hero’s pose. 

The Show Must Go On…

…except for when it doesn’t. 

During today’s tech run-through of Tales of Hoffman, I was in a stage fight that went wrong. New traffic patterns had to occur now that we were on the actual stage which we weren’t aware of and I was collided into by a fellow cast mate who was running across the stage. With the wind knocked out of me, an injured shoulder, and a majorly bumped head, I faltered for a moment before they called a 5-minute break to allow me to catch my breath. Unfortunately, dropping my character made me realize how much pain I was in and I instantly burst into tears on the stage. Embarrassed, I struggled to pull myself together so that we could fix the staging issues. Which we did. It was a learning process for all of us and these things happen to even the most experienced performer. This was nothing compared to the time when my foot was stomped on during a performance and I had to finish out the scene as I felt blood pooling in my shoe. At least this time it was a rehearsal! That’s show biz for you!

 But, with an injured shoulder and a massive headache, my primary concern was the aria concert I was scheduled to sing in that evening. I could stumble myself through the the remainder of the staging rehearsal, but I was worried about my ability to perform well in concert when my body was still in shock. As we broke for lunch, I began to head to the practice rooms to check in on my voice for the concert, but the music director caught me and checked in. Explaining to her my concerns about the concert, tears began to well up in my eyes once again as she told me I should back out of the performance. Deep down, I knew she was right; but I am not one to cancel at the last minute. A mixture of guilt, frustration, and sadness (and, let’s face it, trauma) began to surge inside of me as I grappled with contacting the festival director. But then I took a breath, let those feelings subside, and reminded myself that my health and well-being are more important that one single aria performance. 

In the end, it all worked out and I moved my aria performance to a later date. Sometimes we have to weigh the costs verses the benefits and let go of small performances in favor of general health and longevity for the larger productions. The show must go on, but sometimes it has to go on without you.  That doesn’t make you any less of a performer. It just makes you human. 

 #backtobackbends challenge day 4: revolved warrior. Even in moments where I feel weak and fragile, I find my strength in my mental and physical yoga practice. 

Each Note is a Blessing

 The life of an opera singer is not for the faint of heart. The hours are long and intensive. Living away from home for long periods of time takes its toll on the body, the mind, and the spirit. This art form forces you to delve deep into your soul and unearth long-buried emotions and experiences. You go for days without rest or break. You are expected to have complete focus, strength, and endurance at all times. If we get wrapped up in the intensity of this fast-paced life, we can become completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of what is expected of us. 

But, when we take a step back from the feelings of exhaustion, aggravation, and drama, we can realize what a gift it is simply to be able to sing. Each time we open our mouths to utter our imperfect notes is a blessing. Each time we get up on the stage with the spotlight shimmering in our eyes, we must be grateful. Lots of people wish to be standing on that stage, creating these beautiful tones, and fulfilling their dreams. For many, that dream will never come true. So, let us have gratitude–even in our moments of fatigue and stress. We are so lucky to do what we do.  #backtobackbends challenge day 3: bound side-angle pose.