“Tools, not Rules”

I follow a fashion blogger whose site is called une femme d’un certain âge and recently, she had her colors and style done and it turned out she was wearing all the wrong colors and styles for her “type.” (I have to admit that the company who did her analysis was right – her clothes are much more flattering than they were before, and I thought she looked good before.) Someone asked her if that means she’s thrown everything out, even some of her favorite things, and she said, in today’s blog: “No. I still believe in ‘tools, not rules.'”

That phrase resonated with me. There are so many rules that we think we have to follow as singers. We have to avoid certain foods, we have to stand a certain way, align ourselves just so, sing only one kind of repertoire or one kind of style, and never do anything that might be considered “wrong.”

Yeah. Right.

What we work in lessons is collecting a series of tools that you can use for learning and performing your music. For example, we work on having a silent inhalation and a balanced onset, and releasing into the breath, rather than gasping for air or sighing at the end of a phrase. And for the most part, those tools are the rules.

Except when they’re not.

What if your character is upset? Would they have a clean onset? Would they have a balanced release? Would they be standing with their head balanced upon their spine and thinking of their feet as tripods with their weight evenly distributed between the big and little toes and the heel?

What if breathy was better, just for a particular phrase? What if a hard release was better, just to convey an emotion? What if the head was thrown back to the sky, just for that one line?

You can’t do it all the time, but sometimes, you have to break the rules.

“From Shrill to Potato-y”: How I Got Back on the Chiaroscuro Trail

“From Shrill to Potato-y”: How I Got Back on the Chiaroscuro Trail

Nearly 8 years ago, I gave my first classical recital in a long time. I was in Milwaukee and teaching at Carroll University in Waukesha, and I had the opportunity to do a recital. So I prepared a full program, hired a fabulous pianist, and started taking lessons with Connie Haas again, after not having had regular lessons (or really done any year-round singing) for over 10 years.

During my lessons, Connie was telling me that my resonance was not as balanced as it could be. And I wasn’t really buying it, because that had never been an issue for me during the time I was at Peabody and singing in the DC metropolitan area. I knew that the recital was coming harder for me than it would have earlier, but I attributed that to my not having done one for a long time.

When the recital was over, I wasn’t pleased. I had hired the late, great sound engineer Daniel Gnader to record it, but didn’t listen to it until over 3 months later, on January 1, 2012. I listened to it with the idea that I would be able to pull something from it for a demo recording.

I was not pleased. (This is putting it mildly. I was weeping copious tears.) And then my friend Carolina got online and asked how I was, and I said, “I just listened to my recital from September and I sound like poop.” (I didn’t say poop.) She said, “Oh, come on, it can’t be that bad. Send me a clip.” I sent her one. She didn’t think it was bad. I sent her another. She said, “Oh. On that one, you run the gamut from shrill to potato-y.” I asked if by “potato-y,” she meant as though I was singing with a large serving of potatoes in my mouth. She confirmed that was, in fact, what she meant.

This meant that Connie had been right all along. My resonance was out of balance. At times my sound was too bright. At other times, it was too dark. Because I had not had an ear and someone to guide me back on the Chiaroscuro Trail (which sounds like the coolest trail in a national park), I had been too cocky to accept it. And I had not been practicing regularly.

I went back to Connie and told her I was ready to work and fix it. And I did.

I needed someone to tell me the truth about where my singing was at that point. Connie did. Carolina did. And, finally, my own ears did. So I had to do something about it.

fullsizeoutput_1d9b

I won’t say that “You run the gamut from shrill to potato-y” was necessarily positive, but it sure was specific. I didn’t feel like Carolina was telling me that I sucked, but that I needed to address a resonance issue that had arisen. Connie gave me the next step – work on being mindful of where my tongue was and of the shape of my vocal tract. Work on the awareness of the tone quality and what it felt like when the sound was right.

Awareness, mindfulness, and acceptance are all things you need to have as a singer.

As a teacher, I will tell you honestly what you do well and what you need to work on. I will give you the tools to expand upon your strengths. I will not tear you down, but I will tell you what your next step should be, whether we’re going to have to focus on breath, resonance, articulation, or registration, or some combination thereof.

Your job, as a student, will be to accept and implement those steps, and to be aware of what it feels like when you’re doing the work and what it feels like when you’re not.

I’m up to that challenge. I’m confident that all my students, past, present, and future, are as well.

Sumer is i-goin’-out….

And fall is coming in (well, technically not until later in September, but when school starts, summer is over).

Exciting things happening…

  1. Moving to a tuition-based program to allow more flexibility for everyone.
  2. Eliminating 24 hour notice (or even 12 hour notice) if you’re in one of those packages! (Because the flu doesn’t always have the courtesy to hit the day before.)
  3. A new studio portal on the website which will include information only for studio members! Things like: vocal exercise sheets (in case you lost yours); a list of all students having lessons and their times (in case you need to switch with someone); and coming soon, a video library of vocal exercises.
  4. Two studio recitals and a cabaret show!

You might be asking, “But, Christine, how do I find out about all of these things?”

67842323_10114064397481553_3248684048326852608_n

Everything regarding packages and policies was sent out on August 14, right before I left for Milwaukee.

What would also be great is if payment could be made by September 1 so that I can have everything on Acuity and ready to go before we start up on September 3. Payment (or arrangement of payment) guarantees your spot in the stuio. I’m limiting the number of people I’m taking this year in order to provide the best service I can to you with my performing schedule, so if you’ve indicated that you are continuing in the fall, please confirm. If you have changed your mind, please let me know so that I can offer this opportunity to another interested singer!

Please go ahead and register for your preferred package here.

The title of this blog is based on “Sumer is icumen in,” the title of the medieval English round that my husband once taught a bunch of drunk kids on a bus in Ocean City while he was in medical school – and which we sing at our Renaissance parties. I don’t know if there’s an end of summer version, but maybe someone creative can write one.

Enjoy the song – maybe we can do it on our end of the season studio showcase. 😀

“Her voice was broken, so I sing aloud”

I work every day to make her proud
Her voice was broken
So I sing aloud.
—Emma Langford

I went to Milwaukee Irish Fest this year and heard some really top-notch Irish music by a lot of young artists who may be using traditional Irish instruments, but are singing about contemporary and deeply personal themes. The one that impressed me the most was the first person I heard on Friday, singer-songwriter Emma Langford.

Her range and vocal colors reminded me of a young non-smoking Joni Mitchell. Her stage presence is engaging and entertaining. And then she sang a song addressed to her 13 year old self, who had been diagnosed with vocal nodules and was told by her doctor that she had three options:

  1. She could have surgery
  2. She could go on vocal rest for 2 years (accompanied by voice therapy)
  3. She could keep singing and have a career as a Rod Stewart tribute artist (her words, not mine – but don’t they sound like something I’d say? maybe that’s why I like her so much)

She chose option 2. And for two years, she couldn’t do what she loved to do most.

I’ve had bad bouts of bronchitis that affected my voice (and my pocketbook), and the feeling of not wanting to do what I feel I was born to do left me feeling – broken. Not just my voice, but my spirit, my heart.

Emma sang, simply and without accompaniment, to tell that 13 year old girl that everything was going to be all right:

I work every day to make her proud
Her voice was broken
So I sing aloud

I think that 13 year old girl that still lives within her – and in all of us, whether we’ve suffered a vocal injury or some other physical or psychic injury – would be proud of her continuing to sing aloud and beautifully, with no sign of ever having had any damage.

She sings about everything from her own personal struggles with anxiety, to songs about getting her boyfriend back after stupidly breaking up with him (and any songwriter who writes the lyric, “Yeah, dick move on my part,” is golden), to songs about the love between a broken church bell and the ruins of a church (probably the most “Irish” sounding of all the songs).

There are so many songs I could share, but this one is her new single. It’s completely different and comes from her upcoming CD. Enjoy this video and check out her YouTube channel. I think you’ll enjoy it. Wait for her “trumpet” solos. 

So sing aloud and be proud. It’ll be all right.

It’s die-dee-die-dee-time!

Yes, it is time for my semi-annual (sometimes annual) pilgrimage to Milwaukee Irish Fest to dance jigs, drink beer (none of which will be green), listen to Celtic punk and traditional (die-dee-die-dee) music, eat deep-fried food, and celebrate what is not my heritage, but what speaks to me much more than anything in which I was raised.

The studio will be closed from 8/14 (that’s today!) through 8/20. I will be teaching next Wednesday and Thursday and the following Monday. Then the studio will close for 8/27-9/2, and we will start back up on 9/3 with the fall semester.

If you are a studio member, please read your email. The studio policies and final packages are going out before I leave today.

Enjoy this video from Milwaukee’s own Tallymoore, which at the time this video was filmed (at 2014’s Milwaukee Irish Fest), included MezzoidMKE alum (and my original cabaret partner) Ryan Cappleman!

Is your child READY for voice lessons?

Is your child READY for voice lessons?

Originally, I had this as “Is your child ready to sing?” but then my business mentor, the great and powerful Michelle Markwardt Deveaux (although she’s more authentic than the Wizard of Oz), pointed out that all children are ready to sing. Whether they’re ready for lessons is another story.

I don’t usually teach students under 11. This is not because I don’t think they’re old enough – it’s just a personal choice. I prefer working on a regular basis with students 11 and up. But I’ve decided, since a lot of my regular students are on vacation this week and the beginning of next, that I have the time to do some mini-lessons and evaluations for kids who might want to start taking lessons in the next year or so.

So what determines being “ready?” What will I be looking for when I work with kids?

  1. I’m going to look for ability to match pitch. Do they hear the pitch? Can they match pitch? Can they sustain the pitch?
  2. What’s their range like? Can they sing high? Can they sing low? How do they move between the two?
  3. Do they have a sense of pulse? Can they keep a beat? Even if they can’t necessarily read rhythms, can they feel a basic sense of time?
  4. Are they musical? This could involve reading music or playing an instrument, or it could just be an innate ability to feel the music.
  5. What’s the tone like? Is it breathy? Is it pressed or pushed? Is it nasal?
  6. Do they want to be there? Are they willing to try different things?

As far as my evaluation, the only thing that would make me say, “No, your child is not ready to take voice lessons” is if the answer to #6 is “No.” (And I probably wouldn’t say it quite that way.) But if they don’t want to be there, I can jump up and down and spit nickels (I had a middle school teacher who used to say that) and it won’t make any difference.

Of course, sometimes #6 might be impacted by shyness, but I can usually tell the difference between that and complete boredom.

If the answer to #3 is “no,” that may be also a hard thing to overcome, but it can be overcome.

How will this evaluation go? What will be involved?

  • 30 minute lesson, to which the student brings a song they already know (musical theater is preferred, but I’ll be happy with other kinds of age-appropriate music).
    • 10-15 minutes spent on exploring the voice through exercises
    • 15-20 minutes spent on singing the song and working through problem areas, building on things that go well.
  • Within 48 hours of the lesson, I will write up an evaluation addressing #s 1-6 above and send it to the parent.
  • If I don’t have any room in my regular schedule this fall (and I’m pretty close to full), I will be happy to add the student to my wait list for when we’re both ready to go.
  • I will keep in touch to let them know of any upcoming performances my students are doing, both in the studio and outside the studio, and invite them to participate if I have any small group classes or events in which they might be interested.

So that’s it! If you’re interested or know someone who is, please feel free to go ahead and check out the website at www.mezzoid.com for more info about me or take the plunge and sign up for your evaluation here.

Right now, I’m only doing this through August 13. If I feel that there’s a need for it, perhaps it’ll continue into the fall semester. We shall see!

Ready to Sing

Seize the day (the hour, the minute, the second – just grab it)

Last night I sang Fräulein Schneider in a (non-professional/private) reading of CABARET. It’s a tad on the low side, but, there’s a role I can do for another, oh, I don’t know, 15 years or so? Again, I say, “Carpe diem.”

Why I sing

I only have 4 weeks left of summer break before school starts. In that time, I have quite a few projects that I want to finish, all of which I’ve enumerated in previous posts. There’s not much time left.
And it makes me think of the passing of time and things I won’t ever get the chance to do, after all. Which is a bit disheartening. It was one of the reasons I moved – I wasn’t performing in Milwaukee, and I knew that my shelf life as an artist was, at that point, limited. La voce is still holding out, and quite well, thankyouverymuch, but the logistics are that there are others coming up and perhaps it’s their turn. I had my turn. Maybe I should have made more of it. Maybe it just was what it had to be at the time.
When I was in my mid-30s…

View original post 263 more words