Normalcy, Quirkiness and Authenticity

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As an artist, I have long considered myself as not being “normal.” Not being satisfied with the status quo, not being a person who has a “normal” job or a “normal” life. I’ve thought of myself as eccentric, quirky, and maybe a little weird. And I’ve been okay with that. Mostly.

But I was giving this some thought this morning as I was waking up and I was thinking that being weird for weird’s sake is just as gross as Amy Poehler’s character in Mean Girls:

Cool Mom meme

Hint: If you have to tell people you’re cool, you’re not. If you have to tell people you’re weird, don’t worry – they already know, and probably not in the way you mean. Both are examples of trying too hard.

If you are making music and your interpretation is different from the standard interpretation and it feels organic to you, then it is authentic and it’s okay.

If you are making music and you decide you’re going to be cutting edge for the sake of being cutting edge so you can get a rise out of someone, it might not be.

Rebellion to prompt an emotional response in order to effect change is good.

Rebellion to prompt an emotional response or provoke outrage without any kind of lasting effect or change is a tantrum. You’re just puking out your emotions and leaving them there for someone else to clean up. (How’s that for an image?)

Going back to my previous blogpost and Alan Alda’s wonderful line, “Unless I’m willing to be changed by you, I’m probably not listening” — if you are taking action without regard for what the outcome will be, then it’s not a process, it’s just a drive-by.

You don’t have to be “quirky” to get things done and feel things deeply. You have what people consider to be a normal life and still be an artist. You can be eccentric and still have your shallow, superficial moments (I do, more often than I want to admit).

As an artist, as a person, as a teacher, the most important thing I can be, for myself, for my family, for my students, is authentic.

[I wrote this on Tuesday and saw this post by Seth Godin one day later.]

World Listening Day – July 18

“Unless I’m willing to be changed by you,
I’m probably not really listening.” — Alan Alda

I went to a singing teachers conference last week and learned more about listening than singing.

One session I attended was called “Children Will Listen” and covered the topic of teaching children between the ages of 5-12, a demographic I don’t usually work with, at least not before the age of 11. That title comes from the song of the same name from Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece, Into the Woods.

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see
And learn

The point of this session was that children are going to sing anyway, so we might as well know their anatomy and development so that we can help them do it as healthfully and appropriately as we can.

Another session that dealt with listening was “The Curse of Knowledge,” which was about how we forget what it’s like to be a beginner, and sometimes talk over our students’ heads in language and with concepts that they aren’t ready to grasp. I was guilty of that very early in my teaching. Everyone would get all the information I had to give them in the very first lesson. And their heads would explode.

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I think I’m better at it now, but there’s always more information I can take in.

I talked a little about these both in my previous blogpost, I Learned Something Today.

And then, I happened upon a site that told me that next Saturday, July 18, is World Listening Day. I’d heard about World Voice Day before (and I intend for us to celebrate it next year as a studio), but this was new to me. This is a day that was created to honor the birthday of Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer, who founded a movement called acoustic ecology.

Next Saturday, spend some time doing some active listening.

  • Listen to the sounds of nature when you go on a walk. What do you hear?
  • Listen to music. Not while you’re doing housework, or talking to someone in the house, but just on your own. What do you hear? What instruments? What rhythms? Especially if it’s a live performance, what do you hear besides the music being played? Do you hear people breathing? Coughing? Feet tapping? Chairs creaking?
  • Listen to others. What are they saying? What are you learning from them? Are they listening to you?

Are you really listening or are you just waiting for your turn to speak?

Are you willing to be changed by what you are hearing?

I learned something today…

The phrase, “I learned something today,” is one that is associated with the incredibly and self-consciously earnest sitcoms of the 1990s where there were always very special episodes. As soon as you heard that there was going to be a very special episode of a TV show, you knew that someone was about to learn a valuable lesson. And that there’d be a lot of hugging.

Two shows responded to that in completely different ways. Larry David, creator of the show Seinfeld, said that the show’s mantra was “no hugging, no learning.”

South Park, on the other hand, embraced the absurdity of finding meaning no matter how ridiculous the premise of the episode, and nearly episode ended with, “You know, I learned something today.”

Have you learned Something from South Park? : southpark

They might still do that. I haven’t watched the show for a number of years (is it still on?).

This week I finished up the NATS Virtual National Conference and attended quite a few live and pre-recorded sessions (and still have a few more pre-recorded sessions I want to attend). Some things I learned included (title of the session in parentheses):

  • The infant’s vocal tract is primarily designed for suckling and attracting attention. An infant’s soft palate overlaps the epiglottis in order to make suckling more efficient. (Children will listen)
  • Maggie Wheeler, who played Janice on Friends (a show which also was an exception to the earnestness of most 90s sitcoms), is now a singer/songwriter and very woke choral director. (NATS Singalong)
  • There are a bunch of new technologies in the hopper to facilitate more immediate playing and singing together (Solutions for teaching: From a distance)
  • Some excellent new vocalises (Teaching musical theater voice: Cis-gendered female)
  • Trans-men seem to have an easier time with vocal transition (Voice masculinization and voice feminization: Vocalises for trans and gender expansive singers)
  • The arts accounts for 2% of the US gross national product (GNP), more than either construction or tourism (Training music majors for a 21st century “mosaic career”)
  • The primary difference between golden age and contemporary belt is not range, but tessitura – which I kinda knew – plus a lot of new repertoire (Teaching contemporary musical theatre)
  • Different mouth shapes and vocalises (Country singing 101)
  • Laryngeal massage can be a very beneficial part of vocal health but avoid massaging the carotid artery or you will black out (Voice and hearing health: Anatomy & physiology of the singing voice)
    and my favorite —
  • My favorite childhood actor, Alan Alda, wrote a book about communication called If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?, in which he says, “Unless I’m willing to be changed by you, I’m probably not really listening.” (Lifting the curse of knowledge in vocal pedagogy)

I also learned about a lot of new technology that I’m going to have to get for the studio to facilitate the dual modality of teaching online and in person. And that technology is going to have a learning curve of its own.

My dad once asked me on the phone, when I told him I had just come home from a class, “Class? When ya gone stop learning?”

My answer, then and now: NEVER.