Tuneful Tuesday/Thursday Week 31: The Saga of Jenny 

I’m posting my Tuneful Tuesday early this week in honor of my birthday—because all I really want to do for my birthday is sing. 
I’ve always loved the irony of this piece by Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weill; but I’ve never actually had the opportunity to sing it. I figured my birthday was a great opportunity to remember not to make your mind up about how your life is going to go. You never know what the world has in store for you. I never thought I’d be filling my days singing, teaching yoga, and running my own private vocal and piano studio; but I love the variety, intensity, and joy with which I live my life. Growing up, I made many plans. Some fell through; some were achieved; all helped me to evolve as a person. But, some of the best things in my life happened when I let go of my plans and just went where fate led me. As the character Tracy Lord says in The Philadelphia Story, “the time to make up your mind about people is never”… and that includes making up your mind about yourself.

(To see the video, click the blog title link at the top of the email.) 

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Jai Ganesh

Yogic chanting is a profound and sacred act. It is a chance for me to let go of the need to perform–the need to prove myself vocally–and to just enjoy the bliss of letting loose my soul through song. 

During my Junior year at USC, my artist roommate dragged me along to her yoga studio in Hollywood in the hopes of alleviating my vocal stress-induced anxiety attacks. At the end of that first candlelight evening yoga class, we were asked to join our voices in the sound of an OM. I opened my mouth, inhaled, and let out a sound that reverberated around room and shook me to my core. I honestly did not know that I could produce such a sound. It was such a change from the thin and strangled sound that I was producing in my voice lessons. Free from tension, free from the need to “try,” my voice bellowed like an uncaged beast. As all the other voices in the class faded away, my own continued on as I could not stop the amazing sensation of freedom in my voice. As my breath finally ran out, two giant tears rolled down my cheeks. I felt such gratitude for this brief glimpse into vocal and physical freedom. Though, at that time, I was unable to replicate this freedom in the practice room or in my lessons due to my uncontrollable perfectionism, I knew that freedom was possible and that yoga studio became my sanctuary from the stresses of a vocal arts degree. 

Years later during my immersive yoga teacher training program at Frog Lotus Yoga, I rekindled my love affair with yogic chant. After our daily meditation sessions, we would join together to sing a chant, taught by the head instructor. It was 6AM and there we were croaking through the daily chant, many of my fellow yogis very out of tune. Even with the pitchy singing and early morning voices, there was so much joy in our chants. We felt connected, free, and easy. We sang love. I created a special kinship to this particular chant “Jai Ganesh” as it praises the remover of obstacles who often puts obstacles in our path to force us to make changes in our lives. This reminds us that every hardship is a blessing which we can learn and grow from. By reframing our major life challenges (failed auditions, memory slips, vocal troubles, and the like) as opportunities to learn and make changes, we lessen the toll such experiences have on our psyche. Everything happens for a reason, but it is up to each of us to find that reason and learn from it. 

Tuneful Tuesday Week 27: Jai Ganesh

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” 

Fitness Friday Week 1: core strength and stabilization 

Greetings singers! I am starting a new Yoga for Singers challenge which I am calling #fitnessfriday Every Friday I will post a short video sharing and detailing an exercise specifically linked to what singers need most: core strength, coordination, release of shoulder and neck tension, and positive posture habits. Won’t you join me? 


Week 1: core strength and stabilization 

Singers need strong posture through the ribcage and a flexible yet empowered core. This simple and focused movement will help you to get there. 

To start, you’ll need a slick floor and a thick blanket or towel. If you only have carpeting available to you, grab some furniture sliders. Place a block or large book between your calves to strengthen your inner thighs and place your hands on the blanket behind you creating soft “claws” with the finger tips. Make sure the fingers are pointing towards your torso. As you inhale, lift up your chest, broadening through the collarbone. As you exhale, roll your shoulder blades down your back. Then begin by inhaling and sliding the blanket away from your hips keeping your back and arms straight. Exhale to return the blanket closer to your hips keeping your back straight and your abdominal wall hugging in. Repeat several times as able, making sure to keep integrity through your practice. 

Feel free to send me questions or videos and invite your singer friends to join! 

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.

Mindfulness

“True meditation is about being fully present with everything that is–including discomfort and challenges. It is not an escape from life.” ~ Craig Hamilton

Whether it’s a difficult yoga pose, a vocal technique you are trying to build, or a life challenge you are attempting to overcome, mindfulness will help to bring it about. Singing, and life for that matter, is not always sunshine and rainbows. For every 3 minutes of stage time, there are hundreds of hours spent in the practice rooms. For every physical posture, there is a slow progression towards strength and flexibility. It’s difficult. It’s uncomfortable. It’s even frustrating at times. But, if we gave up at the first sign of strife, we would never achieve anything. Mindfulness is the key to whatever you are working towards. If you are not completely focused, how can you make the neccessary changes to succeed? 

When I first began singing, I had no idea what I was doing. Teachers kept telling me to do things and to not do things…. Often times they conflicted with one another, which made me even more confused. As a people-pleaser and a Type-A personality, I tried desperately to do everything they wanted without paying attention to how my body was feeling. In the struggle to make my voice a certain way, I wore it down. At the end of my lessons and practice sessions I would be hoarse and my throat would feel as if someone had strangled me. Being the naive young girl I was, I thought, “it must be that I’m building vocal strength! I’m doing everything they asked of me, so I must be doing it right.” But, I was so wrong. I wasn’t being present on how I was creating the voice they were asking for. Rather than using my breath in a healthy fashion and releasing tension, I was punching at my diaphragm and squeezing my larynx. Over the course of 6 years of study, my voice slowly deteriorated under that much pressure and falsification of vocal tone. After college, I finally realized that something must be wrong. By incorporating the awarness I had cultivated in my yoga practice, I began to focus not on the output of sound, but instead on what it felt like to sing. I became in tune with the subtlest sensations of tensions vs. release. It took years to break the deepset habit and muscle memory, but I’m slowly finding my true voice. I am no longer concerned about the sound that comes out. The beauty is in the feeling. Once we are aware of what is going on inside the body, we can make instantaneous adjustments in the heat of the moment rather than waiting for corrections and always relying on an outside source to give critiques. Being mindful freed up my voice and made me self-reliant. 

You could say that, in this way, my yoga practice saved my voice. I learned so much about my body, my mind, and my attitude towards practicing. I learned to take responsibility for my actions. Rather than panicking about the difficulty of a vocal passage or a challenging posture, I learned to be present, be strong, and lean into the discomfort. If we never were uncomfortable, we would never change. It is said that the moment you want out of a pose is precisely the moment that you are finally in it. Likewise, when you don’t feel like practicing or working on your music, you really should: for the good of your music and the good of your soul. So, settle, get comfortable in the uncomfortable, and learn to be present in whatever your yoga practice, your voice, or your life throws at you.



#journeytohandstand challenge day 6: handstand push-up. When I saw this challenge posture I thought, “you’ve got to be kidding me.” But I tried it. I breathed. I focused. And I survived. What new challenges can you be present in today?

Quality Over Quantity

“Understanding without practice is better than practice without understanding. Understanding with practice is better than understanding without practice. Residing in your true nature is better than understanding or practice.” ~ Upanishads
This ancient yogic wisdom seems tailor-made for musicians. During my undergraduate degree, I was struggling to catch up with the rest of my class. I entered into USC as an undeclared major. I auditioned for the music education degree, but they decided that year to get rid of the degree and turn it into a master’s program. I had a big decision to make, either I enter as a general music major or spend a semester undeclared and audition halfway through the year for the much more competitive vocal arts degree. At the time, I wanted to be a choir director, not a general music teacher, so I took a leap of faith. I entered as undeclared,vbegged music teachers to let me into their classes, and struggled to keep up with the other students, some who had attended arts high schools. A small girl from a small town, I didn’t even know what opera was. I made it into the vocal arts degree, but I was far behind the other voice majors and had a lot of work to do.
In my attempts to catch up with the other students, I would spend hours in the practice rooms. I’d go over the same few bars over and over until my voice was hoarse. I’d sing through my pieces and run through vocal exercises long past my allotted practice time. I felt that if I worked just a bit harder, I would make enough progress to prove my worth. The problem was, I was not practicing for myself. I was practicing for an unattainable goal of making my voice like everyone else’s. I was practicing to make my teachers happy, not to make myself happy. The more I practiced, the more I would become frustrated and the more I would dig myself into a hole-adding more and more tension to my body and my voice. I’d leave each practice session physically and emotionally drained. Clearly, I did not understand the true reason why I was practicing as I was not residing in my true nature or my voice. After 6 years of study at the undergraduate and graduate level, my voice ended up more of a mess then when I started my college degree.
After taking some time off from singing, doing some major introspection and mental work, and entering into the wonderful world of yoga and meditation, I realized that it wasn’t the length of practice time I did daily that mattered, it was the quality of practice. Being completely present in my body and focused in my mind, I can achieve in minutes what used to take hours. By keeping my cool, giving my voice a rest, and making myself stop singing when I feel frustrated or frazzled, I keep myself from vocal harm and from creating bad habits. Though I now only have an hour or two daily to spend on practicing, during the little time I have, I turn off all electronic devices, devote myself solely to the work ahead, set realistic goals for each practice session, and focus all of my attention on achieving these goals. I now understand why I am practicing and I reside in my true nature. I now know what my voice can do and how to move forward, each and every day. They say practice makes perfect… but it’s the quality of practice that makes perfect, not quantity.

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Whether on the yoga mat, in the practice room, or on a meditation cushion, it is not the amount of time you spend practicing, but how present you are that makes the greatest impact.