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?


22 till I’m 30

I’m grateful to be turning 30 because I now have officially given up on Young Artist Program applications… and I couldn’t be be happier with my decision. You can only hit your head against the wall so many times before you finally decide to change direction and find a doorway. I gave myself a good 10 years to “make it big” in opera, but the perfectionism, the intensity of the demands, the constant criticism and the endless stream of “no’s” broke my spirit until I lost all joy in singing. There was so much pressure to be perfect all the time that I forgot to just sing. 

Ironically, I never really wanted to be an opera singer. I wanted to be a jazz or musical theatre singer. But, when you attend the University of Southern California as a Vocal Performance major, you sing opera. That’s when the pressure to prove myself began; it is also when my vocal issues began. The stress, the tension, the trying to make my voice something it wasn’t, these things slowly stripped away MY voice and replaced it with a façade I was trying to create. I carried these vocal problems through grad school and then later into post-grad life when I started to hit the audition circuit. I tore my body, psyche, and voice to shreds with each audition as I grappled with being judged, trying to make my voice fit in with each program’s needs, and attempting to remember and adjust every nuanced detail my teachers, coaches, and commentators had criticized me for in the past. The problem was, my heart wasn’t in my singing any longer. Instead, my mind remained active–going through an endless list of critiques, comments, reminders, and judgments as I sang through each aria. I no longer enjoyed singing but instead felt like I had to sing to prove my worth. Each audition and performance left me feeling deflated, horrible, emotionally spent, and broken. And yet, playing the role of the good struggling artist, I kept applying, auditioning, and getting turned down. I wasn’t what they wanted, but they also weren’t what I wanted. I just wasn’t aware of it at the time. 

This past year has been one of soul-searching and self-evaluation. My body forced me to take almost a full year off from singing due to health issues and that gave me the time to reassess what I really wanted out of my vocal career. I used to want to be the prima donna: to travel the world singing on the biggest stages and lead the romanticized life of a famous singer. But, really, those aspirations were taking me nowhere and I was spending so much time preparing to “fail” auditions that I wasn’t spending any time actually singing–and, in the end, all I really want to do is sing. That’s all I’ve ever wanted, since I was 10 years old belting show tunes to the trees in our backyard. I just want to sing. Anything an everything. 

So, this year I have made the conscious decision to skip the YAP roulette wheel and focus my energies on just singing. I’ve rekindled my love of musical theatre, jazz, and cabaret and joined a group which performs just that. I’m joining forces with two other fabulous musicians for a self-produced holiday concert which will mix musical theatre, pop, and classical pieces. I am currently recording two albums which I will have fun marketing throughout my local community in outreach concerts and community performances. I even sang in a choir again (something I haven’t done in 10 years). The best thing is, I’m starting to love to sing again. I’m catching myself humming little motives at the end of the day or singing aloud in the car–things I haven’t done in many years. 

Of course, I’m sad to make the realization that I am leaving the path that could lead to “stardom.” But, do you really need millions of people to hear you to make a difference in this world? Isn’t it enough to bring joy, to spark change, or to create solace and contemplation in just a handful of people? Does that make you any less of a singer? I don’t think so. I am a opera drop out and proud of it. 

It’s time to kiss those Young Artist Applicaions goodbye. 

30, Flirty, and Thriving

Age is a crazy thing in the opera music business. People lie about their ages constantly in an attempt to appear younger than they are (if their resumes are less than stellar and they need more time to fill it) or to appear older than they are (less likely, but it happens if their resumes have a lot of young artist programs but their voices are still bigger than their ages.) This past month I’ve been asked twice how old I was. Not in an application, but just out of the blue by music professionals. The sad thing is, I found myself hesitating. Do I tell them the truth? Do I say that I’m turning 30 in a month? Or do I stick with the stock answer given to me during a music business course in college–saying you’re 29 for as long as you can get away with it. Of course, I told the truth and no one thought badly of me for nearing the next decade in my life, but the fact that the question even gave me pause is something to think about.

First of all, why should it matter what my age is? If I look the part, if my voice is in order, if I can honestly portray the role physically, it shouldn’t matter if I am 16 or 60. Different people show their ages at different rates, so shouldn’t we be allowed to be honest about how long we’ve spent on this earth? If they didn’t think I was 30, does it really matter what it says on my birth certificate? It shouldn’t, but unfortunately it does. Ageism is a really problem in the opera world with everyone looking for the next big star…and the younger the better. Many of my colleagues have experienced this ageism firsthand stating that they lost jobs simply because they were in their 40’s and the audition panel wanted “fresh” new faces. It’s disheartening, to be sure, and it does make you sit and wonder if a little white lie is warranted to help you keep your job. 

I, however, have decided to embrace the celebration of my 30th rotation around the sun with a new challenge. Many people have a bucket list of things they want to do before they turn 30. Mine included many things that will be unattainable such as singing on the Met Opera House stage and playing Belle in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway (guess I’ll push these things back to my 40th. 😉) Instead of going for this bucket list approach, I’ve decided to list 30 reasons I am GRATEFUL to be turning 30. Society and the media brainwash us to believe that it all goes downhill once you leave your 20’s, but I beg to differ. I think 30 is going to be fabulous… 

My challenge starts tomorrow. Wish me luck! 

A new year, a new me

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?

I take grow days not vacays

“There are many going afar to marvel at the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the long courses of great rivers, the vastness of the ocean, the movement of the stars, yet they leave themselves unnoticed!” -Saint Augustine.

When I first started telling people about my plan to spend 3 weeks of my summer in LA doing intensive, brain-numbing work with my voice teacher and coach, many sarcastic quips were uttered along the lines of “great vacation. I’d rather go shopping or enjoy the beaches of LA.”
There is, of course, a time and place for resting, for relaxing, for allowing your body and mind to slow down, to calm, and to regroup. There is also a time to explore, experience new things, and get away from the “everyday.” However, we often spend our lives exploring the outside in order to hide from exploring our minds, souls, and selves. We bury our troubles and dreams deep down and look for joy, freedom, acceptance, and success on the outside rather than experiencing it inside. Just as most of us instantly turn on the tv at the end of a grueling workday to get away from reality, we often take vacations in order to get away from ourselves.
So, instead of vacations, I take time each year to completely immerse in something. I take the time to grow, to be introspective, to learn, and to find out exactly who I am. Last year it was an intensive month-long yoga teacher training; this year it is a 3-week opera immersion. Yes, it’s difficult. Yes, it’s nothing like lying on the beach and getting a tan. Yes, some days I just want to call it quits and go relax by the pool. But, I will leave this experience a better person, a better singer, and a better teacher. I will have learned something about myself, my art, and the world around me.
So, the next time you need to use up your vacation time or want to get away from it all, consider something different– something radical. Seek awareness inside rather than satisfaction on the outside. Grow a little. That’s where true joy lies, and what a fascinating journey it is.
Happy trails explorer!


It’s all in the attitude

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a “what-the-hell attitude.” -Julia Child

True in cooking. True in singing. True in life.

As I look toward the final performance of Bon Appetit by Lee Hoiby, I find myself not wanting to let go of this amazing character. I have studied, dreamed of, and mimicked Julia Child for the past 6 months and I’m just not quite ready to say goodbye. This woman was strong. This woman would not take no for an answer. This woman never stopped learning and growing. This woman was able to look ahead to major long-term goals and not get caught up in the tiny details. If only my gluten-free, vegan self could be a bit more like Julia…… Without the aspic, of course.

While Julia Child was nowhere near a Vegetarian, so much about her zest for life, one-pointed focus, and enjoyment of the present is in keeping with yogic tradition. She was a fascinating specimen of a human being, and not just for her height.

So, today in my dress rehearsal, when my brain clicked back to old thought patterns of anxiety, perfectionism, and, yes, even fear of failure, I thought of Julia. Would Julia care if I entered a beat late? Or changed a word? Or even forgot a phrase altogether? No. She’d tell me to pick the phrase up, dust it off on my apron, and continue on. For (insert Julia Child voice here) “who’s to know?”

Now on Saturday, when the concert begins, I’ll enjoy the process, forget about my fear of failure, and be surprised with whatever the result is. What the hell?

See Marissa perform Julia Child and other strong women at Delicate Strength: Women in Music, Saturday June 16th 7:30 PM at First Presbyterian Church in San Luis Obispo. Visit marissabloom.com for more information