Where Troubles Melt Like Lemondrops

Growing up I wanted to be Judy Garland. That voice. That style. That passion. Her voice and her stage presence were mesmerizing. I wanted her life so badly. I wanted to be a star. I wanted to be important. I wanted everyone to instantly hush when I opened my mouth. As I grew older, I realized the cost such vocal and charismatic gifts can take on your body, life, and psyche. Poor Judy’s personal life and health were at the mercy of her stardom. The exhaustion of constant performances, guest appearances, roles, and rehearsals literally broke her. Her debilitating struggle towards the illusive perfection, first in her voice and later in her body, forced her to waste away. Depression and anxiety plagued her and she lived in a never-ending state of fear and worry. 

During my college years, I followed in Judy’s footsteps. I spent hours upon hours in the practice rooms repeating note after note trying to force myself to “get it right” until I was hoarse. I ran from studying to class to practicing to work to the gym in an attempt to be everything and do everything. I spent countless nights sitting on the floor of the practice rooms or in my bed with tears falling down my cheeks because I wasn’t “good enough”. My health declined; I was constantly ill; and I always had a stomachache from my endless anxiety. And yet, I kept pushing. For many years, I lost the joy of singing. And still, I wanted to be a performer. I wanted to sing. I wanted to be adored and live a glamorous life. 

When yoga entered my life, it was a true game changer: not only for my body and mind but also for my voice. I learned not to push so hard and to just let myself be. I learned to find joy again in my life and in my voice. I learned to be at peace with where I am and not play the comparison game. I learned that my identity is more than just my voice and my worth is more than how many “likes” I can get on my YouTube videos. My life has changed drastically; but, I often find myself reverting back. There are moments when I feel that I’m not living up to my potential–that I should be performing, practicing, and doing more. I see the number of likes on other singers videos or recordings; I see the amazing performances and opportunities others are getting and that evil little guy jealousy rears his ugly head. In those moments, I have to breathe deeply and remember that fame is not everything. I am making a difference in my tiny, yet musical, town. I am living a life filled with music, yoga, singing, and teaching amazing students the power of this combination daily. My life is so much happier now that I’ve found a balance. Yes, I’d love to perform more and to find more opportunities; but, for now, easing off and giving myself space to “play” with my voice again and recreate that childlike joy is where I need to be. Judy Garland, I love you and you were an amazing singer, actress, and perfectionist; but, I wouldn’t trade lives with you. I’m doing a pretty good job being me, imperfectly. 

Tuneful Tuesday Week 26: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” 

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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.

Perfection is Elusive

The beginning of any rehearsal process, be it a song, an aria, or a full-staged production, is bound the be fraught with mistakes. A flubbed line here, a missed entrance there, a unrecognized cue, a struggling tempo–these are the marks of a true rehearsal process. So often we berate ourselves for our imperfections. We wonder why we weren’t perfectly prepared from day 1. We wait with bated breath for that fateful day when a director or teacher will have no corrections or notes for us. They will instead beam at you and say “perfect” and you will be ready to perform after just one rehearsal. But, let’s face it, how boring would that be? If someone doesn’t have corrections for me, I ask for them. I fish for critiques until I get something I can work on. Frankly, no matter how strong your technique, acting skills, languages, and musical nuances are there is always room for improvement. Even the strongest, most established “stars” in any craft continue to practice, study, and strive for more. If they don’t, I fear for their longevity and creative growth. 

This yearn for the elusive perfection is what makes artists so fascinating, powerful, and world-changing; but it can also lead to devastation, self-loathing, and debilitating stress. If we don’t come to terms with the fact that perfection is an impossible goal, we lose sight of the journey and become obsessed with an end result that will never come. But if we shift our perspective and recognize that the goal is to constantly learn, grow, and improve upon ourselves, we can find joy along the way. Without looking towards an end result looming in the far off distance, we are freed to enjoy the process wherever it may take us and be pleasantly surprised by the benchmarks along the way. 

It’s not practice makes perfect. It’s practice makes possible. So get out there and expand your possibilities.  

#yogagivesbackchallenge day 22: peacock prep. This is one of those poses which I am still struggling to comprehend mentally, let alone physically. While my peacock is far from perfect, I accept where I am and revel in the fact that my wrists are opening, my arms are strengthening, and my core is growing. Sometimes we have to enjoy the journey and let go of the end result.  

Behind the Curtain

 As artists and performers we need to branch out and learn more facets of our craft. So often, young singers fresh out of undergraduate programs believe that they will either be in the spotlight on stage or quit singing altogether. But in the real world of performing, things are not so black and white. While I, too, wanted to always be center stage singing my heart out, I’ve worn many other behind-the-scenes hats. I’ve directed, assisted the director, assisted the conductor, choreographed, worked the light board, assisted with costume design, worked as stage manager, a stage hand, and as prop master, I’ve climbed up in the rafters to adjust spotlights then climbed back down just in time to perform in the next number, and I am continuing my tradition of running supertitles for Opera San Luis Obispo this evening.  

 From the crows nest above the stage, amongst the cables and dials, I frantically flip through the pages of my score trying to keep up with the rapid dialogue and lyrics. Technical difficulties add troubles and adrenaline to the mix, but, just like a singer on stage, we learn to make do, make it work, and keep the show going. The more you work behind the scenes, the more understanding and grateful you are to those who are hiding behind the curtain. The men and women dressed all in black who move about the stage under the cover of dark, who adjust the lights, repair ripped costumes, and even keep the supertitles up on the screen, they deserve just as much praise as the leading diva. Without them, the show wouldn’t go on. These jobs lack the glory, but not the pressure. So, the next time you’re asking a stage hand for a favor, being given a cue by a stage manager, or being dressed by your costumer, do so humbly and with gratitude. You never know what they are going through and you never know when you might be filling their shoes. 

#detoxyobody challenge day 12: noose pose. Sometimes I need a twist in the dark during intermission to keep my cortisol levels down.  

 

Finding Your Path

Throughout the course of the day we are all faced with countless choices: What should I eat? Which route should I take to work? Should I sleep in or wake up early to do my yoga before a hectic day? Should I practice my music and do research or should I listen to my body and rest? These choices may seem insignificant at the time they are made, yet these little decisions can have a drastic impact on the course of our lives. They literally create the path that your life continues on. What if you chose to eat a home-cooked vegetable stir-fry rather than running through the nearest drive-through? What if you took your “vacation time” to work on advancing towards your dreams? What if you listened to you body when it needed rest and gave it that time to revitalize?

As I reach the end of my 12 days of vocal and yoga training, I know that my money and time were well spent. Each day I became stronger both vocally and physically while finding the opportunity to spend some much needed “me” time. I gained confidence and understanding of myself and this path that I am on. When, on a regular basis, I am spending 9+ hours each day teaching, it’s so nice to give someone else the control and be guided instead. It’s so freeing to be able to focus on and push myself in the voice and yoga studio rather than always putting my students progress and health first. As my training time reaches it’s end, I am excited to return to my students to share my knowledge and help them move forward; but, I am so glad that I took this time for myself. I feel like I can give so much more to them when I have given to myself first. The small choices we make daily and even yearly will shape the rest of our lives. I know I made the right choice for me this summer. Now, what choices are you going to make today to help you move towards your own goals?

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Weight a minute

The other day I was looking back on some photographs from my childhood. A pudgy, over-weight, bordering on obese child, it wouldn’t be hard to picture me growing up into the stereotypical “Ain’t over till the fat lady sings” opera singer. By the age of 15, my weight had grown exponentially into the obese territory and I decided I was tired of being the last one to complete the mile in PE. After fruitlessly fighting with nutritionists for years, I suddenly decided that fast food was no longer for me. I decided I didn’t need soda and that herbal tea would do just fine. I decided that I would start running several days a week (or at least trying to) and I joined a gym. With diligence and determination, by the age of 16, I had lost 75 pounds and was completely within the healthy weight range for my height. More importantly, I was happier, healthier, more energetic, and I found a new sense of self-worth. Now, 9 years later, I’m in the greatest shape of my life. A gluten-free, vegan yoga instructor, my “junk food” doesn’t get much worse than jamba juice. A self-proclaimed health nut, I am currently on day 8 of a 14 day yogi detox diet where I eat the same bowl of veggies, mung beans, rice, and herbs for all meals. This super-intense diet has not only changed my point of view on the importance of paying attention to what we put into our bodies, but it also has allowed me to let go of the emotional attachment I have put on food for my entire life. If you told all of this to the 9-year old Marissa, she would have laughed and rolled her eyes, and yet, I am forever grateful to myself for changing my life path all those years ago.
Weight has always been a major issue with opera singers. The cliche “Ain’t Over till the fat lady sings,” while a stereotype, is based on past realities. Look at photos of famous singers from the past and they are often times quite larger than their non-singing counterparts. Part of it is due to the effects of constant travel and eating out, part of it is due to the large frame that is often required to produce the necessary operatic sound, and part of it is due to the stereotype which drew a certain body type to the art form. However, today that is no longer the case. In this increasingly visually stimulated world, singers are becoming more and more aware of their visual presence on stage. Not only that, but staging is becoming more and more demanding on the singer as they are asked to sing suspended from the air or while jumping and dancing about (without getting winded, of course.) There is no longer room in this art form for the classic “park and bark” singer. Unfortunately, the pendulum often swings too far in the opposite direction as singers and audience members alike drag themselves through juice diets, cookie diets, grapefruit diets, anorexia, bulimia, and so on. These “diets” (if you can even call them that) only leave you exhausted, cranky, and ill. It was Daniel Chidiac who said “Losing weight is an activity that drives us mad; thriving to be healthy and fit is a lifestyle that lasts forever.” So, instead of reaching for that cookie and then telling yourself “it’s ok. I’ll just not eat anything else for the rest of the day,” reconsider. Food is fuel: for your body and your mind. Use the premium grade and your tank will last longer.

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Khitchari, the Ayurvedic dish I have been eating for 3 meals a day. This pot of food is all I will be eating for the next 4-5 days.