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.

The Power of Yet

As both a vocal instructor and a yoga instructor, I hear “I can’t do it” on a daily basis. The excuses run the gamut: from “I’m not flexible enough” to “I’m not strong enough” to “my allergies are affecting me today” to “I’ll never have those high notes” to “I can’t lose weight.” Henry Ford once say “Whether you think you can or think you can’t–you’re right.” I see this being played out on a daily basis in my own life as well as my students’ lives.
During my undergraduate studies, one of the teachers made a comment that my voice couldn’t possibly be so dark and large because I was petite physically. This statement buried deep into my psyche to the degree that I began to falsify my voice trying to make it lighter and more delicate to “match” my body type. The lack of support and physical tension needed to create this major modification tied me into knots as I kept telling myself I couldn’t possibly have a naturally dark and deep singing voice. It took years of mental and physical work to break me of this ideology and, to be honest, as my voice continues to become larger and darker, I still hear that little voice inside my head saying “you can’t possibly be a dramatic soprano. You’re 5’2″!” It’s remarkable what can go wrong and how much you can set yourself back when you tell yourself you can’t.
When I attended my yoga teacher training, the director of the program, Jennifer Yarro, opened my eyes to how often we all use those fateful words “I can’t.” These two words carry so much power. Thankfully, rather than try to instantly change my habitual way of thinking, she offered me one suggestion… Add the word “yet” to “I can’t” and suddenly it is not a terminal sentence. I can’t get into a free handstand on the floor yet, but I can go into a handstand at the wall. I can’t sing this coloratura line at this tempo yet, but I can work on it slowly and methodically at a snail’s pace. “Yet” is now one of my favorite words. You are still being realistic. You aren’t trying to go from having no vocal ability to singing at the Met in a week. You aren’t trying to go from being a couch potato to running a marathon in a day. You are still assessing your strengths and weaknesses; but, you are not saying that you will never succeed in what you cannot do this instant. You are giving yourself the opportunity to aspire for something greater and take steps towards producing that goal. This is just another way you can keep yourself from being locked into a mental box. We all form these ideas and images of who we are and what we can and cannot achieve. But maybe who you are today is not who you will be a week from now. Maybe what you look like today will be different than a year from now. Maybe your ability today will be different a month from now. Life changes, bodies change, physiques change: shouldn’t we keep the possibility open that these changes could occur for the better? Why force yourself to stay in one place and not take steps towards empowerment just because of those two stupid words: “I can’t”?
Maybe it’s too early to say “I can.” But it’s never too early to say “I can’t yet.”

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#bestrongin2015 challenge day 3: Uttplutith, flying lotus. Today I make steps towards this flying posture with a little help from my language dictionaries in the vocal studio. Each day is a new day to make progress and move towards our goals: one step at a time. There is no “I can’t.” There is only “I can’t do the full pose yet, but I can do part of the pose.”

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If I had a million dollars…

Sometimes the best way to figure out what you are meant to do in this world is to ask yourself what you would do if you had a million dollars. If money was no option, how would you live your life? When I asked myself this question I came up with the following answers: I would start my own music school where the community could take lessons, put on productions, and house a small chamber opera company. If I had a million dollars, I would travel the world, working with the best teachers, coaches, and conductors to refine my voice. I would give myself at least a year free of work to practice my craft, audition, and perform without worrying about being able to pay rent or buy groceries. Lastly, if I had a million dollars, I would complete my 500 hour yoga certification and open a yoga studio in conjunction with the music school to teach yoga for performing artists.

Upon retrospect, even without the million dollars, I am working towards each of these goals on a daily basis. While it may take many more years of working and raising funds, I am doing what I love, making progress, and attempting to leave a positive mark on the world and the lives around me. It’s exhausting, it’s overwhelming at times, but when I can look at my life right now and realize that things wouldn’t be all that different, even if there were a million dollars in my bank account, then I must be doing something right. So, now the question you’ve all been waiting for: what would you do with a million dollars?

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Sharing not Proving

The week before an impending concert is always rife with stress, anxiety, fear, doubt, worry, the whole gamut. This stress usually manifests itself in restless nights, exhaustion, a feeling of being overwhelmed with my life, and, worst of all for a singer, vocal health issues. I can’t remember a major concert performance that wasn’t preceded by allergy problems or the threat of losing my voice. With my upcoming aria concert this Saturday, I’m finding myself going through the same “symptoms”; but, perhaps for the first time ever, I am trying to look into their cause. Why is it that I can practice on a daily basis with complete vocal health and freedom, but a few days before a concert even my speaking voice becomes labored? Why is it that my normal 10-12 hour workdays are usually fine, but the week before a concert I feel like I’m a zombie walking through my day? Why does my relatively calm inner monologue change to a negative, panic-stricken, worrier? Why do I have no fear or anxiety while teaching or taking voice lessons or yoga classes (which is, in essence, a form of performing) but when it comes to an “official” performance I have to go through these painful steps of preparation?
The answer I’ve realized is that I feel I have to prove something when I sing. My performance life has been a tumultuous one to say the least. Always the underdog, the last to be cast, the “fill-in” girl, the cover, the understudy, I was the one they’d lean on in the time of need, assured that I’d be prepared, but I was seldom their first choice. I entered USC as an undeclared major, not having passed the audition to get in as an official voice major. Taking the initiative, I begged my way into “music major only” courses so that I could audition again and not be a full year behind. I auditioned again for the major after the first semester and, after having gone to the trouble to take all of the freshman courses, how could they not let me in? Unfortunately, this set me up for 4 years of having to prove my worth as a singer. I was being judged every time I sang as the instructors constantly asked themselves if they made the right decision letting me in to this high profile school. The pressure was crippling to one who is already so hard on herself. While I made some vocal progress in my undergrad and grad school training, it really wasn’t until I removed myself from the demanding, scrambling nature of formal education that I began to move forward as an artist.
Conversely, my teaching career started easily, quickly, and naturally. We were required to take a vocal pedagogy class as part of our undergrad degree at USC. A “throw away” class for most of the singers, I took great pride in taking a fellow chorister under my wing for free weekly voice lessons. I poured everything into sharing my training, readings, and knowledge with her. We still keep in touch to this day. Her glowing review still blesses the voice lesson page on my website. When I moved on to grad school, teaching followed me. A high school student asked me for lessons, then a few of her friends wanted lessons as well, then a few more. Towards the end I had difficulty fitting them in with my course load. A few even did skype lessons for awhile once I returned to CA. While both performing and teaching involved music and the same focused, deliberate thinking, with teaching I had nothing to prove. I never felt like I had to show the student all I knew, because that’s not what the lessons are about. Lessons are for sharing, experimenting, being open to new possibilities. If the student isn’t comfortable with my style or what we are doing, then I did my best and I tried to offer what I could. My approach to teaching is so holistic, that it surprises me how different my mental and physical approach is to performing. Yes, it’s a “cut-throat” career where you are constantly “being judged” and one “bad performance” could cost you your livelihood…. I’ve heard the speech a million times and unfortunately it seems to have sunk in. But, does worrying about all of these things really help? Sure, if you’re not working hard, if you’re not preparing, if you’re not always giving it your all, then yes, you need to remember this. But, if you are always doing the best you can do at any given moment, throw those other thoughts and pressures out the window. What if we approached our performances with the goal simply to share? Not to prove; just to share. If someone doesn’t like it, oh well. Maybe they came to the wrong show. Maybe they had a bad experience with this type of music in the past. Maybe their judgements have nothing at all to do with you and more to do with the bad day they had yesterday. Even more, what if we approached auditions with the goal to share? How different would your mental focus be if you simply wanted to entertain the judges? (Hmmm…. Let’s call them high- ranking audience members instead.) If we start with a wanting to share, then we leave breathing room for mishaps, an openness for new ideas, and an ease that comes with being where you are and giving what you have.
So, come Saturday, I pledge to work towards sharing rather than proving. It doesn’t matter who is in the audience: it doesn’t matter if there is no audience at all. I don’t need to prove to myself or anyone else that I am worthy to call myself an opera singer……… because I already am.
How can you share rather than prove in your life?

Come share with me at:
Blooming: Dramatic Arias from a Budding Opera Singer
Saturday September 28th 7pm
United Methodist Church
San Luis Obispo
$20 suggested donation (pay what you can or just come share)

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Surrendering to Silence

They say that silence is golden, but I’ve always thought of it as more of a dingy, opaque, dull grey color. A communicator by vocation in both the vocal and yoga realm, a constant stream of words and notes come fluttering out of my mouth starting at 8:30am and ending at 10pm. I live surrounded by noises…. most of them made by me. However, that ever-present jumble of syllables keeps you chained to your thoughts and wants and needs and does not make room for that which cannot be expressed verbally. Sometimes we must shut down, turn off, and stop the clutter of utterances to actually listen whole-heartedly, whether it be to the person speaking, to your own ideas, to your body, or to the world. Sometimes we have to simply bask in the idea that life can go on without us telling it to.

Today, I am being forced into vocal rest… Perhaps my least favorite thing to do. In my excitement to begin this new phase in my vocal training, I over-sang yesterday causing my voice to be raspy and hoarse… I canceled my planned yoga class; I canceled my personal vocal practice. Tonight I have a date with my steamer and my tea kettle to try and get my voice back to health for the remainder of my two week stay. How often do we do this in our lives as well? We become so excited about learning something new or the prospects of growth that we push too hard, we dig too deep, and then when we hit rock we give up, too exhausted and broken to continue on. How many fad diets have been too severe to sustain for long? How many intense physical workouts have you begun in earnest only to quit after a few weeks? How many times have you tried to quit things, habits, and mental hurdles cold turkey giving up a few days later because your attachment was too intense to give up completely? How many New Years resolutions have you forgotten about come February? It seems that the things that stick are the things that you ease into, providing time to reflect, heal, and continue on: moving forward at what can seem like a snails pace is still moving forward.

So, today I’m pausing to give thanks for this silent message, to slow down, to take care of my voice and my body, and to enjoy the sound of silence.

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AVOID LOUD NOISES!!!!!!