Fitness Friday Week 15: Chair Yoga

Enjoy this short seated sequence pre-performance, post-travel, or anytime you need a quick break from the stresses of life.

(Click the link to view the video.)

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Fitness Friday Week 3: Loving Kindness Meditation

This week we’ll be taking a break from our core work and focusing on the mental aspect of being a singer. No one said being a performer would be easy. We have to be at the top of our game at all times. We have to be 100% focused, even when someone coughs or opens up a candy wrapper during the performance. There are no do-overs in the world of  performance artist and everything we do is constantly judged. Anxiety attacks abound in this line of work as we never get a break from the stressors of attempting to achieve the illusive perfection. Every one of us has become overwhelmed by it all at one point or another. It’s human nature to buckle under all of that pressure. However, as singers, problems arise when fear, anxiety, or even just excited adrenaline get in the way of your ability to perform your best.

 Luckily, this meditation practice can help you to become grounded, focused, and calm. The real beauty of this practice is, once you ingrain the pattern into your memory, you can do this meditation anywhere. I always do it in the “green room” before a performance and none of the other perfomers have any idea I am meditating. When I have to sit on stage in full view of the audience and then get up and sing, I’ll also practice this with my eyes open. This focused breath helps keep me from worrying or running through my lyrics for the millionth time and getting myself into a nervous dither. I adore the simplicity and focus of this meditation and that it reminds us to breath deeply, something many of us forget to do when nervous and adrenaline rear their heads. 

I hope this practice helps you. Try it the next time you feel flustered and still need to sing. As always, feel free to send me any questions you may have! 

(Open on blog to see video link)

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” 

Competition 

Look in the mirror…that’s your competition. 

As I struggle to prepare a long list of opera scenes, a role, a one-woman musical monologue, 6 arias, 6 cabaret pieces, and sightreading of contemporary composers’ works for an upcoming month-long music festival, I’m reminded that I’m both my own best friend and my own worst enemy. I look in the mirror and see panic staring back at me. After 2.5 months of injury and illness, I’m feeling underprepared and underqualified. It’s been such a challenge just to sing one note lately that the long list of works to prepare is daunting…to say the least. Guilt, Fear, and their good friend Stress pop their heads into my practice room and set up camp around my piano–waving their hands wildly in front of my face until the scores I am looking over transform into a collection of blurred lines and black smudges. After a few moments of this, I stop, take a breath, and look again. 

After glancing back at the mirror I see a glimmer of hope. The face of determination furrows her brow and begins to talk some sense into my rattled brain. Before every performance, every music festival, every major lesson or coaching, every jury, and every audition I have performed, I have struggled with these same feelings. Yes, I’ve been thrown quite a curve ball this year with emotional and physical trauma, but the reactions are the same. Yesterday I was complaining to a friend about the vocal difficulties I have been facing and she asked me one mind-blowing question: “so, are you going to back out of the festival?”

Mouth agape, I stared at her with shock and horror. Back out of the festival? I’ve been preparing for this all year. I’ve been planning music, researching characters, learning scenes and arias, and working every spare moment to fulfill my performance goals. Quit? Never. Yes, it would have been nice to feel solid in my voice going into these long days of singing and rehearsals; but, even if I had been able to practice these past few months, I still probably wouldn’t feel fully prepared. You see, the only one I am in competition with is myself. And, unfortunately, that person in the mirror…. she keeps getting better. So, I guess I’ll just have to get back to work and strive to beat out the competition: one note at a time. 

  #yogagivesbackchallenge day 13: wheel pose. 
“Tonight, this strange interior gesture of friendship—the lending of a hand from me to myself when nobody else is around to offer solace—reminds me of something that happened to me once in New York City. I walked into an office building one afternoon in a hurry, dashed into the waiting elevator. As I rushed in, I caught an unexpected glance of myself in a security mirror’s reflection. In that moment, my brain did an odd thing—it fired off this split-second message: “Hey! You know her! That’s a friend of yours!” And I actually ran forward toward my own reflection with a smile, ready to welcome that girl whose name I had lost but whose face was so familiar. In a flash instant of course, I realized my mistake and laughed in embarrassment at my almost doglike confusion over how a mirror works. But for some reason that incident comes to mind again tonight when I need comforting and I find myself writing this comforting reminder at the bottom of the page.

Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you recognized yourself as a FRIEND…” -Elizabeth Gilbert 

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

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