I will survive (I did survive)….

Once I was afraid, I was petrified….

And that once was this past Thursday at about 3:10pm EDT, somewhere in Indiana. As I was traveling westbound on I70, I suddenly became aware of a red and white panel looming at my driver’s side. It was a CVS truck who was changing lanes on top of my MINI Cooper. I honked… I think. I might just have screamed obscenities, I’m not sure which. Whatever it was, it caught the driver’s attention in time for him to avoid crushing me, but he did make contact with my driver’s side door, and more seriously, caught his wheel into my wheel well, tore off the cover, and left a big wheel imprint on my car with a HOLE in the body.

I’m okay. I managed to get control of my car and not hit the guardrail or go over the bridge. I didn’t start crying till later, when traffic went down to one lane and I was crawling along at 3 miles per hour with a semi in front and in back. Then I got hysterical. And fortunately, the driver behind me saw that and backed off.

It was a very bad day.  I’ve heard of “wait for the bus,” but this is ridiculous. (Somatic Voicework™the LoVetri Method inside joke)
But I, remarkably, survived. And will live to sing another day, and teach another day, and be grateful another day.
And I hope all you find something or someone to be grateful for.

Seminar Summary and Doing Better

Yesterday I attended Jeannie LoVetri’s seminar. It was the closing event at the 2013 Contemporary Commercial Music Institute Somatic Voicework™ the LoVetri Method program at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia.

Since I am certified in all 3 levels of the program, I attended a post-certification program on Speaking and Singing with the Same Voice, taught by Joan Melton. I’ve already discussed how wonderful this was. I had not attended Jeannie’s seminar before, and decided to do it this year – honestly, for political/networking reasons. And as the final day of the post-certification program ended, I was pretty much ready to go home and was regretting having signed up for another day’s work.

The seminar’s direction was decided by each participant. Jeannie asked, “What do you want to know?” and we all made our requests. Some people wanted to be warmed up by Jeannie, some wanted to discuss working on the high belt mix, some wanted to know how much chest was too much, one person wanted to know how to teach a rock scream, and I wanted to see SVW™ principles implemented with male voices. We did all these things, and I gained tons from it.

But we started out with a brief lecture by Jeannie and this is what I took away from it (somewhat paraphrased):

Like 12-step, it’s one day at a time. There are some days that you don’t do it (practice, sing, exercise, stay sober/straight), and you acknowledge that you didn’t do it and you try to do better. It’s a reflection on the state of your life, not your voice. You don’t have a bad voice – you’re just not working on it. 

So I acknowledge that after about 2 months of eating pretty healthfully and staying away from fast food, I didn’t do it last night (curse you, Wendy’s). And I will try to do better.

And my house and studio are not fully functional yet. I acknowledge that I have to spend some time in getting it to where it needs to be so that I can teach here in the fall. And I will try to do better.

And I have a beautiful voice and I haven’t been working on it. And I will try to do better.


Day 3 – It was a SCREAM! (Quite literally)

  • Session III Techniques for extended voice use, phrasing for speaking and
    singing, and opportunities for individual performance coaching
In the morning, we started out with yoga poses and making sounds. It was terrific. Then we spent some time laughing, crying, calling and screaming. All of which were done to find the physical response to the different sounds and to find healthy ways to do things that you have to do on stage when you need to. There’s not always time to go into Method Acting to conjure up the right mood for a good laugh, a good cry, or screaming your brains out. You have to know how to do it when the director asks for it and when the role calls for it. And be able to repeat it as needed.

In the afternoon, we discussed the prior day’s master class with Broadway music director David Chase. Joan gave us a comprehensive list of things we (and our students) need to know:

Rules for auditions:
  1. Be not only on time, but a little ahead of time. CALL if you’ll even be two minutes late! Respect one another’s time. The theater is a team. Communication and promptness is essential.
  2. Never go into a rehearsal (or any official activity) with gum in your mouth. 
  3. The way you take notes is important. Don’t make excuses. Take responsibility.
  4. Respect the articulation required for different styles. Musical theater requires greater attention to consonants. 
  5. Do your research – who is your character singing to? Where is he/she from?
  6. Be easy to get along with.
  7. The decision is often made within the first 30 seconds of entering the room BEFORE YOU EVEN SING. How you enter the room, look at the pianist, look at the panel, relate to the pianist… you can blow it before you even sing.
  8. How you react to suggestions in an audition plays a large part in whether or not you will get cast.
  9. Have your slate prepared: “I am X and I’ll be singing Y.” Be flexible enough to go with the format established by the house/panel for whom you are singing.

  1. Gestures – they must seem organic and natural (again, depending on the style – there may be some stylistic stock gestures). Some people had the same gesture happening over and over and over…. and it meant nothing.
  2. Movement should not be done for its own stake. Emotion is a response to action. 
  3. Tell a story. An actor needs to want something. What do you want??? And make it immediate and specific.
  4. It’s not what the actor feels; it’s what the audience feels as a result of what the actor does.
  5. Don’t settle into the character too quickly. Find the flexibility to be able to go with what the moment brings. (Or what they ask for – “Night and Day” as a serial killer? OK!*)
  6. Phrasing – find the operative words and phrases
  7. Cuts didn’t show anything. There should be a beginning, a middle and an end. 
  8. Commit to what you’re saying.The words can’t be a vehicle for your great sound. It has to be more than just that.
  9. The actor who listens on stage is the most interesting actor on stage. Not necessarily the one who is speaking.
I am so glad I did this post-certification workshop and Jeanie’s seminar the next day (today) – which I’ll write about tomorrow.
*David Chase DID ask a young man singing “Night and Day” to try it as a serial killer. It was weird – but it was effective. When the guy sang it straight the first time, it was not particularly impressive. When he sang it the second time, it had an edge to it – and I suddenly visualized him as Jud in Oklahoma! Now, I can’t recommend someone should go in with that song in that style – but it might be an interesting exercise when you’re working through various interpretations!

Day 2 – Talkin’ Shakespeare

So today’s class covered:

  • Session II New information and experiential work connecting the technical trainings of actors, singers and dancers
Specifically, we began the day with Ashtanga-based yoga with sound. 


I have done yoga before, including a particularly annoying experience with Bikram yoga (there was a Groupon, and I don’t mind heat) where the teacher made me feel totally uncomfortable because certain physical limitations (knees) kept me from being able to reach back and touch my heels while leaning backwards. I had pretty much decided that I simply couldn’t do and didn’t enjoy yoga.

Till today. As I mentioned yesterday, the experience of moving while making random sounds was incredibly liberating vocally. Sopranos who have never been comfortable in their lower registers suddenly found Mother Earth. Mezzos who have had issues getting through the upper passaggio (that would include me) were able to access whistle register pitches with no limitation. 

Today I experienced ease getting into poses that have been impossible for me before (although I still cannot reach my heels, but it didn’t matter). Doing specific yoga poses while yelping and whooping and whimpering like a puppy felt organic in all aspects.

After our morning break, we watched a DVD of scientific research done by Dr. Melton showing the activation of the abdominal muscles in a variety of classical and non-classical styles. Again, IT WAS SO COOL. 

And in the afternoon, Dr. Melton passed out three Shakespearean sonnets and we discussed iambic pentameter, standard American practice for performing Shakespeare, and phrasing. Like yesterday, we stood in a circle and read the sonnets, although this time not playing and deconstructing the text, but rather going for the appropriate diction, shaping of the phrases, and using the language to convey the humanity of the characters.
When my love swears she is made of truth,
I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutored youth
Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue;
On both sides thus is simple truth suppressed.
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O love’s best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love loves not t’have years told;
    Therefore I lie with her, and she with me,
    And in our faults by lies we flattered be.

— Sonnet #138, William Shakespeare

(Did I mention that it was SO COOL?)

Personal Best (this time around)

I am in Winchester, VA, right now, where I am taking a post-certification course in Somatic Voicework™ the LoVetri Method. This is a vocal pedagogy program for contemporary commercial music, and the subject of my post-cert course is Speaking and Singing with the Same Voice. 

Today I decided, after two weeks off from running (it’s been hot, I had a hand injury, I’ve been catching up on sleep, blah blah blah) that it was time. I’d made it to week 8 of c25K and hadn’t noticed any particular increase in my speed. I was still moving at around 15 minutes/mile, which is honestly not much faster than I can walk. It was discouraging.

I woke up early and it was actually under 80 degrees, so I thought that today was the day to get back into it. I elected NOT to use the c25k app, just cardiotrainer to keep track of my pace/time/distance. I walked 3 minutes (basically from the hotel to the campus across the street) and then ran another 27 minutes, stopping to walk only for a few minutes to try to figure out how to get Spotify to play music (it didn’t work). 

I ran 2.5 miles in 30 minutes. This is huge for me. I actually ran significantly faster than I walked. I’m not sure why.

I’m starting to gain perspective on why this is The Year I Ran Redux. There are some changes going on in my life – partly due to relocating, but some other things on the horizon. I’m feeling good about this, and I think I can start thinking about another 5K somewhere down the road.

Vocal Play and Deconstructing

Today was day 1 of my first post-certification course after taking Level III of Somatic Voicework™ the LoVetri Method in 2011. The course I chose to take was SPEAKING AND SINGING WITH THE SAME VOICE, taught by Joan Melton. Joan is a powerhouse – she is a pianist, a composer, a vocal coach, a voice scientist, an author, and an all-around force of nature. Everyone who has taken her course has raved about it, so I decided that I was going to do it. Even though I can ill afford it right now, with only two students through the end of July and my private studio not starting up till after Labor Day, I decided I could ill afford NOT to do it.

It’s a three day workshop, and this is what we covered today.

  • Session I Foundational aspects of technique: Alignment, Breath Management, Range, Resonance, Articulation, and Connection, or the Acting dimension, as outlined in One Voice (Waveland 2012)
We launched right in to making sounds and movements coordinate. These were not necessarily pretty sounds or pretty movements – they just were. They were functional exercises to tap into how the breath works, how to explore range, how to find where sounds live in your mouth (a passion of mine), and feeling how those are manifested in the body. 
In the afternoon, we did an exercise that I found eye-opening. We took a poem and all of us were asked to walk around and speak the poem, all simultaneously, while walking around and exploring the important words and stresses in the poem. Then we came back and got in a circle. Each person took two lines of the poem and read them, exploring ways of interpreting the words and the text in a manner that didn’t necessarily have to be “poetic” or even related to what the person before you had done. After that, we did it again, but this time with just one line.
We took words and deconstructed them, making sounds on each phoneme and physicalizing them, and then putting them together as a word, not necessarily interpreting the word but reveling in its individual sounds.
And it made me re-think a project I did in 2000. I sang on a program called Variety 2000: The Soul Turned Inside Out. Three hours of expressionism and surrealism. It included film, instrumental music, theater, vocal music, and adult puppet theater (!!!). The piece I sang was Yehuda Yannay’s “Incantations,” with a text by W.H. Auden.
The poem, from his collection The Age of Anxiety, was:

Lights are moving

on domed hills
Where little monks 
Get up in the dark.

Though wild volcanoes
Growl in their sleep
at a green world 
Inside their cloisters,

They sit, translating
A vision into
The vulgar lingo
Of armed cities

Where brides arrive
Through great doors
And robbers’ bones
Dangle from gallows.
Yannay had completely deconstructed the text. The first line was set as follows (approximating here):

“Lights … a … a a a a a aaaaa …. aare ….mooooooooooooooooo …. ooo…. ooo … ving” (interspersed with atonal punctuation from the piano). The remainder of the first stanza was set similarly.

The 2nd and 3rd stanzas were completely deconstructed and put into boxes on a page. Wherever your eye fell, that’s what you sang. Sometimes it was with your hand over your mouth, or humming in the middle of a syllable, or yelling or whispering, or just being silent (the pianist had a similar page, requiring her to play inside the piano with mallets, fingers, slamming the keys). This is referred to as aleatory or chance music.
And then the final stanza was set similarly to the first. 
I got great reviews for this piece! (I was paid pretty well for it, too.) But I did not like the piece. I did not like that the poem had been shredded and the text serving Yannay’s composition, rather than his composing serving the text. It was not something I had ever experienced, and until today, not something that I ever wanted to re-experience.
But now I want to go back and play with it. And find a way of interpreting it that might be personally rewarding for me (and hopefully an audience) instead of just fiscally and professionally rewarding. I’ll need to find a pianist who wants to deconstruct and play with me as well (which I don’t think will be a problem).
If you’d like to see what we did today, here’s a video of Joan Melton in action in a similar workshop at the University of Michigan in 2010. 
I’ll cover Day 2 tomorrow!

I’ve been mossified…

For the last few weeks, motivation has been missing from my life as far as getting my new residence in order, especially my new studio. Consequently, I have not been marketing myself as a teacher. Or a singer.

I blame some of it on this wrist injury, which I am pleased to announce will not require hand surgery. And part of it is just sloth. Which is not like me. I’m usually pretty engaged and hands on. But it’s happened a few times before, and usually it precedes a period of intense productivity.

I feel like “if a rolling stone gathers no moss,” I am but a large unwieldy boulder festooned with mossy growth.

Which sounds kind of gross and slimy, but then I found this picture and realized that moss isn’t all that bad.

In fact, moss has a lot of uses, as I discovered. (You might call this research further procrastination and a distraction from the tasks I really need to accomplish, but bear with me for a moment.)

Sphagum moss is a component in peat, which is a fuel. It is also used for its healing properties, to grow things in, in smoking malt for whiskey (!), to put out fires, as insulation, and for crop improvement (i.e., fertilizer). Spanish moss is used as decoration.

Moss is a sign of fecundity. What is fecundity? It is

1. The quality or power of producing abundantly; fruitfulness or fertility.
2. Productive or creative power: fecundity of the mind.

So, rather than disparaging myself for nesting or being slothful, I prefer to think of myself as fueling up for what I have to do, for healing myself (both the hand injury and other things we don’t need to get into right now), to grow, possibly to put out fires (see “things we don’t need to get into right now”), and to fertilize, so that I will produce abundantly and creatively.
And besides, while I always thought “a rolling stone gathers no moss” meant that someone who kept moving did not stagnate, the actual original meaning of the phrase was that a person in constant motion lacks roots and consequently does not cultivate new ideas, new experiences, new culture, new responsibilities.
I’m embracing all those things. Maybe not right now, but I will. 

(As soon as Mercury moves out of retrograde, which I think is tomorrow.) 

Vulnerability and pretending not to care

From the twitter feed of Xstrology (online astrologer):

Gemini will pretend that they don’t care at the times they are most vulnerable.

I’m a Gemini. I’m the quintessential Gemini – I talk a lot, I’m constantly doing 6 million and 12 things at once, I love change, I’m versatile – and on the downside, I find it difficult to stick to one thing at a time, I’m often indecisive, and sometimes I give the impression of being somewhat shallow.

And I often – too often – pretend that I don’t care at the times I am most vulnerable.

In my personal life, this can result in my making jokes at inopportune times – I recall going to an emergency room for unexplained abdominal pain and making stupid jokes so that I wouldn’t show that I was terrified. Consequently, the doctor didn’t take me very seriously and thought I was wasting her time.

When my feelings are hurt or if I’m angry or frustrated, it’s very easy for me to cry. But if I cry, then people might be uncomfortable or think I’m overreacting – so I make jokes or laugh. My husband says that he can always tell when I’m about to cry, because I start smiling really broadly. My speech becomes choppy and my movements a bit more abrupt.

And if I’m in a relationship that is coming to an end – whether it be romantic or a friendship – my defense is to become flippant, to become somewhat distant, and sometimes, I’m afraid, to be a little mean. As though I were saying, “Yeah, well, you didn’t mean anything to me either, so go already. I won’t miss you.”

And in performing, specifically auditioning – for, after all, this blog is supposed to be about singing – I have found that I have occasionally done the same thing, especially with companies for whom I’ve auditioned in the past but who have not hired me, for whatever misguided reason. I don’t get mean, per se, but I give off the attitude of, “Whatever. I don’t really care. It’s not like you’re going to hire me anyway.”

Consequently, my audition is unengaged and unengaging. And just like driving away someone I cared about because I was afraid of being rejected and thereby bringing the relationship to the end I expected, I fulfill the expectation that, in fact, they’re not going to hire me.

What I need to do – and what all of us, as performers, need to do – is to stop making the audition about myself and about getting the gig. I need to make it about giving a performance that is genuine and authentic. It may or may not get me hired, but I have no control over that. I can control my performance, I can control how I relate to people, I can control my preparation.

As I mentioned in my blogpost on vulnerability and oversharing, vulnerability is “the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, [and] of love.” (Dr. Brené Brown)

Yes, allowing yourself to be vulnerable and then not hired (or dumped) can bring about the feelings of shame and fear and unworthiness, but being open to the possibilities and presenting yourself as open and genuine and accepting might just allow you to find that joy, that creativity, possibly belonging, and hopefully love. However you define love.

Which is a whole ‘nother topic altogether.

Vulnerability vs. Oversharing – Part 1

NOTE:  This was originally published in July 2013. In reviewing it, it’s ridiculously long, so I’m re-doing it in two parts…

Recently, I’ve been watching videos by psychologist Brené Brown on the topic of vulnerability. She has done extensive research on the advantages and disadvantages of making yourself vulnerable and allowing yourself to be authentic as a person.

What I love that Dr. Brown says about vulnerability is that it is “the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, [and] of love.” And also thinking about how people “surrender and walk into it.”

Most of the times when we think about not being vulnerable in a performance, we think of being stiff and unexpressive. But there’s another way that’s even more egregious (in my opinion). And that is oversharing in performance.

I’ve been accused of oversharing – in my Facebook posts, in my personal interactions with people – and sometimes, my accusers are right. I  have given out too much information (hereafter TMI), thinking that I had nothing to hide (but in retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have told the world a few things).

And sometimes, I’m just being honest and it’s their problem that they can’t handle my honesty. I hope.

So what’s the difference? When do you cross the line from opening up to others and being vulnerable into oversharing? I’ve been thinking about this as far as how it relates to performing. I strive to be an authentic performer, and to teach my students to find authenticity in their performances.

I think the difference is intent. Vulnerability is a real expression of your feelings, telling a story, telling the truth.  It is an attempt to connect with your listener or your viewer and evoke a response that is also genuine. It is not an attempt to impress but to express. It is an attempt to resonate with your listener or viewer.

Oversharing is selfish. It is an attempt to evoke a response – of admiration, of pity, of concern, of outrage. You are putting something out there that is one-sided, not really looking for a dialogue or gaining an understanding, but just spewing it out to the world and damn the consequences. It may be truthful, but it’s not authentic. It is projecting rather than resonating. And as singers, we want to think about resonating, both in terms of tone quality and in terms of our performances.

Perhaps oversharing is the other side of the coin of being afraid to be vulnerable. It’s a way of overcompensating.

In Part 2 of this blog, I’ll give examples of how this applies in performances that I have seen. 


Only the names have been changed …

“The story you’re about to watch is true, only the names have been changed to protect the innocent….”
That line used to open the old TV show, Dragnet. It’s been running through my head lately as I’ve contemplated how to start myself anew in Baltimore, after 17 years (!!!) in Milwaukee.
When I left Milwaukee the first time, I was married to my first husband, and went by the name of Christine Thomas. I loved that name. If I’m honest with myself, marrying Whatshisname Thomas had a lot to do with the fact that I hated my birth name, Christine Bojic. It was a name that was said with a sneer when I was a fat, awkward child and preteen, and was associated with a very painful part of my childhood. I dreamt of being a writer and taking on a pen name, something French sounding like Michelle Monteau. (I also liked alliteration.) There was no question that when I married, I would take my husband’s name – at least as long as it wasn’t worse than “Bojic.” (There are a few names that are – Anthony Weiner, for one.)
I was Christine Thomas for a long time and when we divorced, there was no question of my taking back my birth name. I had 1000 headshots that said, “Christine Thomas, Mezzo-Soprano” across the bottom of them. What was I supposed to do???? Besides, I had already done roles in Milwaukee and Washington as Christine Thomas. That’s how people knew me. And it was a great professional name. It was strong and confident sounding, and not more than a little WASP-y sounding, which for this Estonian/Slovenian First Generation American was extremely appealing.
And besides, a lot of people kept their first husband’s names when they made their careers. Susan Sarandon was married to Chris Sarandon briefly in the 70s. Demi Moore, married to musician Freddy Moore. And since I never intended to remarry, it was okay.
But I did remarry, much to my surprise. And I wasn’t sure if it was okay to keep using my first husband’s name if I was married to someone else. Bill said he didn’t mind, but I didn’t know. Then I ran into my ex-sister-in-law’s best friend, who informed me that Whosis was back living in Wisconsin with his parents. And that he wasn’t doing very well. 
At that point, the decision was made for me. If I’d kept his name, he would probably see it as a sign that I wanted him back. And with him in the same metropolitan area? No thank you.
Most of you know that my performing career pretty much dried up in 2004, after doing the second production of A Cudahy Caroler’s Christmas. Those two seasons, playing Wanda Kazlakowski, mark the only stage work I did as Christine O’Meally. I did some concert work, but not a lot. All my major credits were as Christine Thomas. And that is how people know me.
A couple of years after my remarriage, I ran into someone who said, “Chris – you’re still here? I thought you’d moved!” And I always wondered – did my name change work against me? Did people stop seeing Christine Thomas in print and wrote me off as having left the area? 
So after talking it over with my husband, I’ve decided to reclaim Christine Thomas as my professional name – as a performer. As a teacher, I’m probably better known as Christine O’Meally, and a lot of people know me by that name because of my membership in NATS, as a Somatic Voicework™ teacher, and as an active contributor to national and international vocal discussion groups. So I’m going to hyphenate for teaching purposes –  at least for now – and be Christine Thomas-O’Meally.
This does not mean a change in my marital status. I am still legally Christine O’Meally and will probably stay that way unless I find it causes financial confusion. 
I’m really excited about reclaiming the identity that I had during the time that I identified myself as primarily a performing artist. I feel like I’m taking back my power (if not my innocence.)
What’s in a name? Everything. 

Christine Thomas

I’m gonna like the way that looks.