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.

Isn’t it great that there are so many things we do not know yet?

True confession. I’ve been getting a bit hard on myself this week. When you’re in a lesson paying someone to tell you (nicely) all the things you are doing wrong, it can be easy to slip into the mental state of “I can’t do this! Why don’t I already know this? Why can’t I get it right? There is just too much for me to learn. I’ll never get it all.” This, of course, spirals out of control quite quickly if not kept in check.

Years ago during a summer program I attended, there was one participant who was never planning on being an opera singer. She had a great day job making good money, working a regular 9-5 job. She had been taking voice lessons for several years and just decided to take a music vacation. For fun. Because music was not her source of income and she simply wanted to learn more about singing. While most of the attendees knew much more about singing, acting, technique, and languages than her, she was not daunted. On the contrary, she was absolutely fascinated by everything, especially the things she didn’t know. And, she was very vocal about her excitement. We have recordings of her “oooooooo”s and “ohhhhhhhhh”s and “wow”s. Her childlike fascination with anything related to singing and performing has always stuck with me. What I approach as deficits in my technique, languages, etc, she would approach as beautiful areas of potential growth: giving you the ability to be fascinated by the wealth of knowledge out there available for our mental consumption. So, here’s to bringing this new child-like approach to my training these three weeks. Every correction will be a chance to grow, to learn something new, to move forward into new discoveries.

Thank you Gloria Grev for giving me these memories and having that fascination for learning and life. 🙂

The Natural Talent vs. the Underdog

Yesterday I walked into my voice lesson, prepared to tackle another hour of intense focus, concentration, and muscle/breath coordination, and I sat in on the tail end of the lesson before mine. There was this tiny, adorable high schooler singing scales while her mom and dad looked on. Then Juliana asked her to sing the song she wrote that won her the recording contract……… WHAT!!!!!!!!!????????????? This tiny high schooler has a contract with a major label? WHAT!? So, the girl sat down at the piano and sang this amazing, lyrical, interesting, and beautifully melodic original pop song á la Sarah Barilles. I couldn’t believe it. My jaw literally hit the floor. In one so young, she truly had a natural talent. This was her path. This was her music. This was what she was meant to do. It was a beautiful and humbling experience.

Things have never come that naturally to me. The constant underdog, I’ve struggled, fought, and climbed my way to the top by my pinkies. I’ve never been told that I’m going to be a star or “make it big”. I’ve always been the “wild card.” I’ve never even dreamed of having a recording contract, having never been the “talent” in the school. But, I was the worker bee. You tell me to do something and I will find a way to do it. If I had a talent, it would be tenacity. No matter how many people tell me I am not going to make it. No matter how many times I want to give up. No matter how many times I get frustrated and want to curl up into the fetal position rather than say the same French schwa vowel one more time, I show up. I put in the work. I stay present with where I am and where I need to go. I continue to move forward. Yes, I may have a lot further to travel than someone who is a natural with languages and was born with amazing vocal tone, but the point is that I keep progressing. I keep clawing my way to the top, slowly but surely getting closer and closer. And I’m not going to stop until I make it. No matter how many times I have to repeat that darn French schwa!

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One day I’ll make it to the top of that mountain!

Things come into focus

Hello, my name is Marissa Bloom and I am an overachiever.

Phew. It feels good to get that off my chest!

When I was planning for my three weeks of intensive vocal study in LA, I initially thought, “wonderful! That’s only 2 hours of lessons a day; so, during the rest of the time, I can learn German, watch videos of operas, brush up my piano-playing skills, and take daily yoga classes/workshop training!” That sounds possible. Right?

Wrong.

If we spread ourselves thin over so many areas, ideas, and (something that I am really guilty of) occupations, how can we expect to excel in any one of them? Being present is a major part of the yogic lifestyle and so is listening to your body. What I didn’t realize is that sometimes being present doesn’t mean just being in the moment: the exact second you are in. Sometimes it also means being with whatever your current focus in life is and staying in that zone. My yoga teacher training was so effective last August due partly to the fact that I did not even think about practicing a song, working on my languages, or training my voice. I was in the yoga zone: cultivating a greater awareness over my body, which later had a drastic impact on the development of my voice… but only when I was mentally ready to sing again. “To every there is a season and a time to every purpose.” So, instead of attending an all-night kirtan (yoga chant) event last night that I was so excited to go to, I went home, I worked on my languages, I listened to my lesson recordings, and I went to bed. In the words of Sister Act, “You will sleep and you will sing. Those will be your tasks while you are within these walls.” ………..Well, and maybe just a few yoga classes……..

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