What’s Next? – It’s BIG

The other day I wrote a blog called A Year In Review about all the things that happened that were studio-related since about this time a year ago. Today I’m going to write about the things that I see on the horizon. This is what I’ve got planned for 2019-2020:

  • Write articles for the Roland Park News about music/arts related activities in the North Baltimore area (first one due August 1)
  • Start taking credit cards both online (Acuity) and in the studio (Square)
  • Organize a December holiday recital (date/place TBD) and a June studio showcase (6/7 at Springwell)
  • Start using Mailchimp to coordinate studio communications
  • Offer an online lesson option for people who live further away or for days when you just can’t get here and you want a lesson
  • Monthly (or more) Facebook Lives on various areas of technique
  • Offering master classes/workshops outside the studio
  • Hoping to get one of my former students now working in the professional MT world to come in and do a master class (if I can get them between gigs)
  • Going to the NATS National Conference in Knoxville, TN next June, possibly as a presenter (fingers crossed)
  • Continue working on using Appcompanist to its full potential for myself and in the studio
  • Work on increasing my knowledge of more recent musicals (I was up on them all when I was in Milwaukee because I had so many students that I couldn’t help but be up on them – less so now)
  • Coordinate a studio cabaret show at Germano’s Piattini in Little Italy (3/30)
  • Create a video library of vocalises based on BRAAP (breath/resonance/articulation/alignment/phonation) that will be included in studio membership and available for an extra fee to non-studio members
  • Switch to a tuition-based system and have studio packages for students based on their needs and availability and my own performing (and life) schedule

This last one is a big one. Rather than paying per lesson or for four at a time, as I have been doing, I am going to go toward a full-year (September-June) program and offer packages that allow for flexibility while still allowing continuity. There will be payment options offered that will allow you to choose what works for your circumstances.  This will go into effect on September 3, when the fall semester starts.

I will be sending out specifics to my current students by July 3 at the latest, and the package options will be shown on the website.

A Year in Review (I know, it’s only June)

This has been an exciting year, filled with lots of opportunities and development for both my students and myself.

Things that I’ve done for the studio this year:

  • June 2018: Attended the NATS Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada and learned a ton of stuff!
  • June 2018: Bought an iPad Pro and downloaded ForScore to better access sheet music
  • July 2018: Subscribed to Appcompanist, an accompanying software that allows you to adjust thousands of professionally recorded accompaniments to the tempo and range of the performer, rather than make the performer fit the dictates of the recorded accompaniment.
  • July 2018: Joined the Speakeasy Cooperative, an international organization of independent voice teachers, where we share ideas about how best to serve our students and ourselves as professionals.
  • July-August 2018: Tweaked my website!
  • August 2018: Redesigned my vocal exercises
  • August 2018: Created a logo (see above)
  • September 2018: Studio policies!
  • November 2018: Upgraded to MusicNotesPlus in order to allow greater flexibility to change keys as needed for individual student needs (as well as my own)
  • January 2019: Became a sole proprietorship in the state of Maryland as Mezzoid Voice Studio
  • January 2019: Studio swag!!
  • February 2019: Started using Acuity as a scheduling software so that students can schedule their lessons at times that work with both our schedules.
  • March 2019: Subscribed to musicaltheatresongs.com, a searchable database of songs past and present.
  • December 2018/June 2019: Organized and presented the first two studio recitals, the first a holiday program at Bykota Senior Center and the second a studio showcase at Springwell Senior Living!
  • May 2019: Quit HCC to focus on the private studio
    May 2019: Attended my first Voice Foundation in Philadelphia and learned more stuff!
  • June 2019: Moved my blog, “Why I Sing” from Blogger to mezzoid.wordpress.com, where it looks a ton more professional.
  • Reorganized the studio to include toys (TOYS!) and other things to serve my students better
  • June 2019: Created an interactive studio practice log for my students to keep track of their practicing! (Have you tried it yet?)

What’s next on the horizon? LOTS.

More info coming soon.

Performance Success Profile, Take Two

After cleaning out files the other day, I discovered a performance success survey that I took in 2002. This was a bad time for me, performance-wise. Although I should’ve been at the top of my game, vocally, I was having a lot of performance anxiety that was really holding me back. And my scores on the survey reflected the areas where I was having the most difficulty. I posted about this the other day.

My primary issues back then were focus, and, to a lesser extent, self-confidence.

I went to take the test again. The website has been tweaked a bit – it had been dongreene.com, after the author of the book Performance Success. It is now winningonstage.com, “dedicated to performing artists striving for excellence.” There are a variety of tools dedicated to achieving this goal, and the quiz that I took all those years ago was on there, linked to the book. So I took the test again. I paid for it this time (maybe I could’ve found the code in the book and gotten it for free, but I figured I could afford the $19). I wanted to see if I’ve improved.

I’m not sure if the test was exactly the same as it was back then, but I took it and I’m pleased to say that I scored much better than back then. My high scores (70+) were in:

  1. Determination (81)
  2. Mental Outlook (70)
  3. Emotional Approach (80)
  4. Resilience (81)

I didn’t really have any low scores (low was below 20-44). The areas that were in the mid-range were:

  1. Poise (68)
  2. Controlling Attention (63)
  3. Concentration (56)

The latter two are still related to focus. Controlling attention is a question of mental quiet. While I could focus on an object and not get distracted, that little nagging voice (which has an accent – I can’t imagine why) still wants to say, “You’re not doing this right. Oops, that was wrong.” As far as concentrating, my presence and intensity of focus were much higher but the duration of focus (SQUIRREL!) was less so. Probably because of said nagging voice.

Is this because I’m a Gemini? Do I have adult ADHD? What can I do about this? According to the profile, I should go back and review pp. 79-85 in Performance Success.

And I probably will, later today. But first….

What If You Were Your Own Teacher….

I just read the phrase, “as if they were their own teacher” on a FB page of independent teachers, in regards to how a student would do self-evaluation, including:

  • Finding three things they did well
  • Finding a couple of things they’d like to fix
  • Figuring out how to fix them
This was based on the idea of submitting a video to a teacher in the event that you were unable to make your lesson that week. The teacher would then review the practice video and give his/her own observations and suggestions. I thought this was a really great option. I’m thinking of making this an option in the fall.
So here’s a challenge for you this summer:

  • Video your practice session (you can use your phone) as if it were a lesson. Include:
    • Vocalises
    • Repertoire
      • Do each song all the way through without stopping
      • Stop and address the issues you need to address
  • Watch the session – either afterwards, or stop after vocalises
  • Evaluate it
    • Were your vocalises varied enough? 
    • Did you vocalize long enough?
    • Were the things you stopped and addressed the things you should have stopped and addressed? Did you leave anything out?
    • What did you do well? (There must have been something.)
    • What do you need to address the next time you practice? How are you going to address this? When?
    • Is there anything you noticed that you need to ask me about?
I’m going to try to do this too. Let’s see what happens.

Going through my files, Part 2: Personal Qualities that Affect Performance

In my performance anxiety folder, mentioned in my previous article, I also found an artist’s profile. Apparently, I completed a questionnaire that was associated with a book called Performance Success by performance psychologist Don Greene, who has worked with artists all over the world, including at the Juilliard School, LA Opera, and the Olympic Training Center. While I still have the book, I do not remember taking this test at all. But I did. (I suspect it must have been free because I was a serious cheapskate in 2002. It’s not free anymore.)

Here’s a summary of how I scored:
Strengths:
  • Risking Success
  • Ability to Recover 
  • Commitment 
  • Will to Succeed
  • Ability to Risk
Mid-Range Scores: 
  • Ability to Fight (confrontation)
  • Intrinsic Motivation
  • Expectancy
  • Insular Focus
  • Self-Confidence
Areas for Improvement: [note it doesn’t say “weaknesses”]
  • Mental Quiet 
  • Duration of Focus
  • Object of Focus
  • Presence of Focus [are we noticing a theme here?]
  • Performance under Pressure
The overall analysis of these items was that I had terrific energy, commitment, and that I was passionate and perseverant. (Aw, shucks.)
BUT
I needed to work on my concentration (monkey mind!), my intensity, and poise. And that I overthought while performing instead of being in the moment. And that I worried about other people’s opinions of me.
YEP.
I think this has changed. I hope it has changed. I don’t think I could’ve done some of the things I’ve done in growing and sustaining a successful studio if my focusing skills hadn’t improved.
Maybe I should spend the $19 to take the test again and see if it has. What do you think? Should I do it?

I think I should. 

I’ll let you know if I do and if anything has changed in 17 years….

Going Through My Files, Part 1: Golden Rules for Conquering Performance Anxiety

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I found myself grappling with performance anxiety that really impacted both how I auditioned and how I performed. I found that I didn’t have too much trouble if I were performing a role, but I did auditioning for one (which made it hard to get the role), and in performing in recital or concert. No matter how much preparation I put in, I would get up on stage and I would shake, I would hyperventilate, my mouth would get dry (once my lip adhered to my upper teeth while holding a high note, which looked weird, and then suddenly released, which made it sound weird), and my voice would suffer the consequences. As a result, I didn’t pursue a lot of auditions, and didn’t do a lot of performing in what should have been a peak time for me as a performer.

I looked for help on what was then this growing source, the Internet. One article that seemed to resonate with me was by composer/guitarist David Leisner. You can read the full article here, but I summarized the 6 rules on notecards that I apparently kept handy for me to refer to in the event I did have a performance or audition. I found 3 or 4 of them in a folder marked “performance anxiety.” I also put each rule into my own words so that it would mean something to me. Here are the rules – Mr. Leisner’s words are in bold, my “translation” in italics below:

  1. You have practiced to the best of your ability.
    Trust your autopilot (aka your TECHNIQUE) to work!
  2. Do not judge what just happened or will happen.
    No “what was that?” thinking!
  3. Don’t second-guess audience reaction.
    Please yourself only!
  4. Be in the music, in the moment.
    Be on stage, not in the audience; be in the GIVING mode, not the receiving one!
  5. Single out one aspect of your playing that is #1 priority (before going on stage)
    You can’t address everything. What do you want to focus on? Breath? Expression?
  6. Enjoy! Let your excitement for the music be present!
    You perform because you have a passion to perform. Nothing else matters.
I don’t suffer from this anxiety anymore. I have an idea of what ended it, but it’s personal (I actually do keep some things to myself). But finding this yesterday reminded me of what I went through and what other people still go through.
I’m going to write another blog about some other information I found in that folder, and about other resources that I had and that I still have.

Is this an issue for you? How do you deal with it? How can I help you? Just ask. I’ve been there.

Mission Statement about Curiously Stronger Singing

I just tightened up my website a bit (www.mezzoid.com) and am moving some text from there to here because I don’t want to lose it. It’s my raison d’etre, my mission statement, my philosophy, whatever you want to call it.

I am a firm believer that singing is the coordination of natural functions in a way to ensure a sound that is natural, free, attractive, and feels really terrific.

Singers are vocal athletes. The best athletes are not only strong, they are flexible and they are aligned so they can perform with ease. They are in command of their bodies – which are their instruments. In this way, singers are closer to athletes than any other musician. Our instrument is not external to us, it is not something we can put in a case and stuff in a closet. We carry it with us everywhere we go. We are curiously stronger.

We breathe to live. We breathe to sing. We balance our breath energy in order to create a beautiful tone. It’s all about balance, in our bodies and in our spirits. And that’s what I’m here to help you find. Balance.

Golden age musicals – why you should bother

I hear this way too often from people:

“Why should I sing golden age music? It’s so old-fashioned! I don’t know any of it.”
  • Technique. Today’s musicals tend to be very text-driven, and aren’t necessarily vehicles for mastering things like legato and breath management. (And that doesn’t make them less than, just different.)
  • Revivals are big nowadays. Two revivals were nominated this season – Kiss Me, Kate and Oklahoma (see below). 
  • Sometimes it’s right for the audience where you’ll be performing. A retirement community will appreciate a Rodgers & Hammerstein song more than they will something from Pasek & Paul. Usually.
  • Because choosing repertoire is one of my superpowers. If I’m picking it for you, it’ll be right for you. Trust my judgment.
    AND
  • History. Most of all, history.
Oklahoma won the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical. It’s supposed to be fantastic, and I want to see it. And I don’t even like the show. However, the way they’re looking at it is more contemporary – the accompaniment is a band, rather than a full orchestra, the casting is diverse, and the direction takes it to a darker place than most traditional productions.

In undergrad, I wrote a paper about the characters of Curly in Oklahoma and Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro and how groundbreaking both of them were for their times. Frank Rich pretty much wrote the same thing in this article:

“At its birth, the show was to its America what Hamilton has been to ours: both an unexpected record-smashing box-office phenomenon and a reassuring portrait of our past that lifted up theatergoers at a time of great anxiety about the country’s future. Its Broadway opening took place less than 16 months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when America was shipping its sons off to war and still digging out of the Great Depression. Like Hamilton, too, Oklahoma! was deemed artistically revolutionary for its time. A self-styled “musical drama” rather than a musical comedy, it dispensed with the usual leggy chorus line and leveraged its songs to advance character and plot.”
There is a vast history of American musical theater, going back before Oklahoma! Knowing about it makes you a more well-rounded singer. 
And again – trust my judgment.

We GOT this! (Showcase Recap)

Just wanted to dash off a few words about the recital (reworded from emails I sent out yesterday to the studio).

I like to call the final recital of the year a studio showcase rather than a recital because recitals imply prim and proper stand-in-one-place and sing and that sounds boring to me. (In opera, that kind of performing is called “park and bark.”) Sometimes there’s a need for that – prepping for a competition, college auditions, things like that – but generally, I prefer a more active kind of performance, both as a performer and an audience member.

This past Sunday was our studio showcase at Springwell Senior Living in Mount Washington, and it was very successful. We had a lovely turnout from both studio family and friends and the residents at Springwell. Performers sang with energy and commitment, dedication to their text and were excellent collaborators in their ensemble pieces. Studio community is something that is very important to me – having my students all support each other and work together are elements that, in my opinion, set our studio apart from other studios.

I can’t tell you how pleased I was with everyone. No one looked uncomfortable, scared, or as though they didn’t want to be there. There were some really heartfelt and moving moments, a lot of dang funny ones, and a really great sense of camaraderie and a feeling of “we’re all in this together and we GOT this.”

Things I learned –

  • I have to work with my students on bowing. I keep saying this. I kept saying it in Milwaukee too. Someone remind me.
  • I need to check the lighting as it’s going to be once they adjust the lights for the performance. The spot I designated as the edge of the “stage” was a little too far forward and put the performers in shadow.
  • If you specify “booklet” when you upload your programs to the Staples website, it comes out much smaller than the standard 8-1/2×11″ paper per page. A little hard to read for a senior living center audience. Oops. Perhaps next time I’ll call upon people to help me print those out (like maybe 10 copies per participant) to help defray the cost and make it more legible. (I was running low on ink in my own printer and figured outsourcing it would be better…)

Next year I’d like to have a holiday recital in December and a final showcase in June. I’ll be looking for places to do them – ideally, I’d like to find a place where we can rehearse in the space the day before for the June performance. I’ve also spoken to Cyd Wolf at Germano’s about doing a studio cabaret, to which we would charge a small admission fee per attendee (I’m thinking $5) and where they could eat excellent food while enjoying the studio performances.

So many possibilities – we can do it! WE GOT THIS!!

My take on studio recitals (subtitle: Hi, ho! Come to the Fair/Recital!)

I recently took a course on organizing my studio (not that I haven’t been running my own studio for 20 years, but hey, you can always do things better). One of the exercises that I did was to identify my strengths. This popped up when I was looking for past studio recital programs to use as a template. It was called “Mighty-ness.” I thought, in view of the fact that the studio recital is this Sunday, that this was a good way of describing why I do what I do. (The prompts are in bold, my responses following.)
***
I’m often complimented on the way I handle studio recitals. I’m really good at programming music that is entertaining as well educational, that the student is comfortable with (but still challenged by), and at putting performers in an order where no one feels like, “Oh, I have to follow her? NOOOOOOO.” I don’t put people in order from least-to-best, either, because, well, that’s tedious for people to have to sit through and it makes the people early or middle in the program feel like, “Heyyyyyyy,” because it’s obvious that you’re saving the best for last. (It’s very validating for those at the end of the program, however.) I program based on the music that’s being performed – if there’s a great opening song, that’s the opening song, regardless of who is performing it, my most beginning student or my most advanced. I’m good at creating variety and interest, and finding some kind of theme to link things together (or at least to come up with a title that works).
My studio recitals have been smooth, and my expectations are clear so that students know what they have to prepare and how they have to present it. Whether they’re your typical assembly line park & bark recital or a semi-staged ensemble recital, the order is clear, and there’s never a gap of “Oh, whose turn is it now… um… I’m not ready…”

The things I find easy that others find difficult are: 

  1. Choosing repertoire
  2. Programming (see above – and below)
  3. Directing
  4. Diagnosing vocal issues and
  5. Prescribing solutions
  6. Creating exercises off the top of my head
  7. Finding really cool and obscure pieces – especially American song
  8. Justifying just about anything that I do [including using this to promote the studio recital]

I’m super good at programming! Whether it’s my own cabaret show, a recital or a studio recital, I am really good at picking repertoire and putting together entertaining and moving programs. I’ve had people say, “You could charge money for this!” after my studio showcases (ah, but then I’d really have to get the rights to things I do!). I try to use the idea of cabaret as “personal musical theater” (from a master class) by Amanda McBroom to govern the studio recitals I’ve done. I want people to love to share their songs, not just perform like show ponies.


****  

So that was my “mighty-ness.” And hopefully, you’ll agree with me after this Sunday’s (June 9!) recital, “Come to the Fair!” at Springwell Senior Living Center in the chapel at 3pm!