Did you have a grapefruit this week?

Grapefruit blogpost

My husband is somewhat hard of hearing. It comes from spending his 20s in rock bands and his 30s doing woodworking projects, both without benefit of hearing protection.

So when I said to him last week, “Online lessons are going so much better than I expected. Yesterday I had three people who had breakthroughs!”

He said, “They had grapefruits??”

Much mirth ensued.

I told that story to one of my students (who had been one of the breakers-through) at her next lesson and she said that now she wanted a grapefruit.

I have found that the advantages to online lessons include:

  • I can’t play for my students on vocalises, so they need to become more independent. Consequently, we can hear where there are intonation and registration issues that otherwise might be covered up by the piano.
  • Since I can’t play for them on repertoire, they need to sing a cappella or with an accompaniment track. I have to listen to them, during which I take notes – almost like I’m adjudicating a competition. I miss less because I’m not playing the piano and splitting my focus between them and the accompaniment. Something cool I’ve been doing is to type my observations directly into the chat while the student is singing, so that they’re there for them when they finish. If the student records their lesson, that chat is there for them to review afterwards.
  • I can look at them really closely in a way that would be frowned upon in an in-person way. I can get up to the camera and say, “What are you doing with your tongue?” and look directly into their mouths (without any fear of bio-aerosol droplet virus transmission or experiencing halitosis – on either side). Again, if I’m playing the piano, I might not notice that someone’s jaw is not releasing back and down, but rather is coming forward, but if I’m not, I can (which was the first “grapefruit” of that day).

This time has been one of experimenting with what works, and, in doing so, experiencing some growth that we might not have expected. And maybe finding a grapefruit or two.

(And yes, I am married to Emily Litella.)

Online Lessons – Choices Abound!

In the last few weeks, as I’ve made the transition to online lessons, about 1/3 of my students have come along with me and scheduled lessons. They’ve either downloaded an accompaniment app or have a prerecorded track on their end. They’ve downloaded Zoom, made sure their audio set up is in place, and made appointments on Acuity.

A few other people have contacted me to tell me that their lives are twice as busy as a result of this pandemic and they’re going to have put lessons on hold for the time being.

But quite a few people have simply… disappeared. They haven’t responded to emails and they haven’t scheduled any lessons. And I get it because this might be the most important thing in my life – it’s what I do for a living and it’s my passion – but it’s just one of many things my students do. What are the fears?

  1. It’s gonna be weird.
    Yep. It will, at first. And maybe at second. It won’t be like an in-person lesson.
  2. I don’t want to sing in front of my siblings/parents.
    Well, you can ask them to go for a walk for an hour. People can still walk outside (and that way no one will be streaming and your connection will be better).
  3. I don’t have a place to do it. 
    You won’t need a piano. You can really go anywhere (although if you go into your bedroom, it’d be best if you leave the door ajar, for propriety’s sake). I have one person singing in the basement, just because she’s right by the router.
  4. I’m freaking out and I’m not in a good place about this. Can we just wait until we can do it in person?
    That is an option. I’ve had a few bad days myself. I’m going to extend my studio calendar for two weeks, and hopefully we’ll be back in person by May. But I think it would be a really good thing to keep on track with lessons.

If you really, really don’t think you can do online lessons for whatever reason, here are some options:

  1. Make a video of yourself. Send it to me, either via email or the new Marco Polo app, which I have just downloaded onto my iPad. This allows you to record a video and send it to me. If I’m around, I can watch it right away. If I’m not, I can watch it when I get to it, and record my thoughts and comments and send it back to you.
  2. Active Listening: According to Full Voice Music educator Nikki Loney, “Active listening is when you listen to music carefully and give it your full attention.” I can assign some videos of various singers for you to watch and you can watch them and analyze the entire piece, from accompaniment, to rhythm, to harmonies, to vocal choices, to lyrics. We can focus on one or we can focus on more. We can focus on lyrics. What do the words mean? Are there any words that are new for you?
  3.  Take a break, and hopefully we’ll get back into the studio again in May and get the rest of your lessons in before the end of the semester.

This was written specifically for my students so that my email about the subject won’t be ridiculously long, but if you’re a voice teacher or a voice student, you’re probably dealing with the same things.

TL:DR – There are so many choices – what will be yours?

Appcompanist for Android is AVAILABLE!

From my friend, fellow voice teacher and music director/studio pianist Michael Tan, on the studio FB page this morning:

FYI: The free prerelease version of Appcompanist for Android is now live on the Google Play Store! (Just search Appcompanist) [The rest is Appcompanist’s blurb]

The free prerelease version includes access to all 550+ Vocal Exercises and 50 Sample Songs chosen by NATS from their list of most auditioned repertoire (all found in Playlists). The purpose of this prerelease version is to at least rush something into the hands of teachers and singers who have been forced to transition to online lessons, distance learning, and practice in isolation. As a prerelease version, you may experience some instability and technical issues, but our testing has found it to work well enough to be a help at this time. We would appreciate it if you would report any bugs or problems you encounter to info@appcompanist.com so we can work those fixes it into our ongoing development. We are working hard to make the subscription version with the full library of 5,000+ titles available by May.

Please feel free to visit our website www.appcompanist.com for information and helpful tutorial videos to make the most of this great learning and rehearsal tool. Keep in mind, however, that not all of the features highlighted in the videos from the Apple version will be immediately available in Android. We will keep working to get every great feature into the hands of our Android users as soon as possible.

If you choose not to keep Appcompanist, you will still have access to the vocalises. I took the liberty of going through the vocalises curated by them and writing them out, so that you’ll know what to do with them, and am attaching them here: Accompanist_Vocalises.

Some of these are vocalises we do in the studio. Others are new and I might be adding them to the rotation and will introduce them in online lessons in the coming weeks (hopefully not months). I have included suggested vowels/syllables and have written out based on where I probably would start them in your lesson and have included a couple of them going down (mostly).

The vocalises on the app default to C major and go up. You can change that. I prefer to start in E or Eb (for the most part) and go down, and then return to the original note and go up. I’ll make a video of myself doing that, as well as other fancy things you can do in Appcompanist, and post it later.

At the very least, this will allow you to have some vocalises that you can use, in addition to the ones I have posted for my private students on the website (the portal access is being worked on by my webmaster as we speak).

Online lessons – can this work?

YES.

But there are some things we have to know first (well, first of all, that’s a screenshot below, so don’t try to click play on it because it won’t play).FFA15FA0-862A-455B-8268-9632BC759C52You need to have a few things on your end:

  1. We’re using Zoom as the platform. Not only is it really trendy in this weird dystopian life we’re all living right now, there was a study that was just released that shows it to be the best in terms of doing music lessons. FaceTime can also work for people on iOS, but it’s not as authentic in capturing sound.
  2. You need a laptop or a tablet. And ideally, you need an external mic. Whether that is a USB plug-in, like the Blue Snowball mic, or a lightning plug-in if you’re using an iPad, or your earbuds (wired or wireless) with a mic on it, that’s up to you. But your sound quality will be better if you have an external mic of some kind.
  3. It would be ideal if no one else is streaming in the house. Your connection will be better.
  4. I can’t accompany you. There’s too much of a lag. You can use a variety of platforms for accompaniments. I have created an overview of the different platforms for you. I like Appcompanist, and it’s offering a 30 day free trial. It offers you the most creative options for personalizing the music to your individual needs. I’ll be creating another blog/video to explain that further. But there are other options, as well. Check them out and see what works for you. Accompaniment overview
  5. Your accompaniment, whatever the format, needs to be on a separate device from Zoom. And honestly, it doesn’t matter if I can hear it. It matters if you can. I just need to hear you.
  6. Your settings on Zoom should be optimized to allow original sound. This is especially important in vocal music to avoid cutting out. This is available only on the desktop/laptop platform, and is under advanced settings on audio. Zoom settings - Audio Advanced

So, if you didn’t see this video on Facebook (from which the screen shot came), take a look here. This is the video that explains how to set up lessons, for those of you who need to set up lessons. Plus you get to see me dance a little.

Keep Calm and Sing On – But Not This Week

A week ago, my intention for today had been to write that the studio was open every day but Thursday because of the opera. Then the opera was cancelled.

Three days ago, my intention for today had been to write that the studio would be open for in-person lessons for anyone who wanted to come and I’d offer online lessons for anyone who wanted to stay home. Then the national emergency was declared. Schools were closed. My church gig has been cancelled for the foreseeable future.

Today, it is my intention to write that the studio is closed this week. But I’m not taking a break – I am going to prepare for a hopefully short-term transition to online lessons. As I’ve mentioned, we will be using Zoom as the platform. I am going to spend this week doing the following:

  • Preparing my equipment so that I can give you the best possible experience with online lessons.
  • Watching a veritable cr*p-ton of videos on giving you the best possible experience with online lessons.
  • Creating support materials to help you practice on your own more efficiently. These will include videos of vocalises to be put on the studio YouTube channel and in the portal on the website. These will be for studio members only.
  • Delving into all the features that Appcompanist has to offer. There’s so much more I can do with it. As I mentioned, Appcompanist is now offering a 30-day free trial for IOS users (they’ll be rolling out a more limited Android version very shortly, with the full one coming out later).
  • Making a list for Appcompanist of things that I want them to add and mistakes I’ve found (I’ve been meaning to do this for awhile).
  • Looking at other accompaniment options that you can use, including ones mentioned by colleagues, including Pocket Pianist and PianoTrax.
  • Creating some scripts for Zoom classes on various elements, including diction/International Phonetic Alphabet.
  • Jumping on Zoom and inviting people to join me to check out how this thing is going to work (later in the week). Stay tuned for an invite.

People who teach online almost exclusively tell me that there are so many advantages to the online lesson format. We’ll have to be creative and open-minded about it.

I will leave your existing lesson times up on Acuity for 3/23-4/10. I’ll let you know later this week what kind of schedule I will have for online lessons. I may start earlier in the day M-Th.

I anticipate having to do this through April 10. It is highly unlikely that I will be going to England from April 12-26, as planned. I might take a week of that as vacation, since it was already planned. The studio cabaret is being postponed and an official announcement of that will come as soon as Cyd from Germano’s confirms that the date we’ve picked is on.

I will miss you all terribly BUT please stay home as much as you can. Even if you are not ill, and even if the symptoms are mild, it can be spread so easily.

There was a great article in WaPo this morning showing how social distancing can curb the spread of this illness. IT WORKS.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out.

TL:DR No lessons this week 😀

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.