Success – is it a TRICK?

My choir director at the Cathedral of Mary our Queen is a new daddy, and he’s been reading a lot about parenting. He just read about an author who has written a book called How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Resultsand the author boils her methods down to the acronym TRICK, which stands for:

  • Trust
  • Respect
  • Independence
  • Collaboration
  • Kindness

He believes that this applies not only to the raising of children to be independent adults, but for teachers with their students (and choir directors for their choristers, which is why we got this lecture). The author believes that this method will allow students to become independent and creative, and that is a higher gauge of what success is than just money. (Which is a good thing in our line of work.)

I’m a big believer that our studio is a community, and one in which we need to support and nurture each other and ourselves. That’s why I ask that we all support each other and collaborate rather than compete with each other. Trust each other, trust yourself, trust me. Respect each other, respect yourself, and respect me. We can work together and we can work on our own. And be kind to yourself, be kind to each other and, above all, be kind to me. 🙂

Not all tricks are magic. Some are just common sense and decency.

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

The Performing Teacher/Teaching Artist

The biggest reason I moved back to the east coast from Milwaukee was because I was not performing at all. Or hardly at all.

On the up side, this allowed/forced me to focus on developing my teaching/business skills, and I discovered that I’m really good at this. But performing was important to me, both because I am a performer, and I’m really happy on stage, and also because I think it makes me a better teacher.

This was reinforced in an article by Brian Manternach, a tenor on the voice faculty of the University of Utah’s Theater Department, and also a former resident of Milwaukee. (I think I might have judged him at NATS at one time….) This article appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of the Journal of Singing, and is titled “The Value of Performing.”

I’d like to summarize his points (in bold and italics) about why performing informs and benefits our teaching, and draw some conclusions of my own.

  • Teachers who perform may be better able to demonstrate the techniques they are encouraging their students to build. I know a lot of teachers who don’t demonstrate, just because they don’t want to encourage imitation. And I get that. If you are 14, you shouldn’t sound like someone who is… older. But if I can show you just what chiaroscuro is supposed to sound like, I will! I will also show you what it shouldn’t sound like. (There will be another blog in a few days about imitations/accents/funny voices and how this can help you find things out about your voice.)
  • Teachers who perform must maintain a regimen of vocalization that keeps their own instruments flexible, pliable, and healthyI “joke” that during the last  or so years I was in Milwaukee, I became really good at singing in E major. Because that’s where I started a lot of exercises. Whether it was a descending 5 note scale starting on B4 or an arpeggio coming down from E5, I’d demonstrate that, my students would sing it going down, and then I’d go to the same spot and go up. (It wasn’t a very funny joke.) I had no reason to practice. I intended to, but I had so many students (30 at home, 10 at colleges, plus teaching classes at Carroll) that I just didn’t have time. And it showed when I gave a recital in September 2011 at Carroll and realized that I did not sound – or feel – like myself. I had to work with Connie Haas to find the singer I had been and would be again.
  • Teachers who perform have the ability to thoroughly learn new repertoire. Again, I had no reason to learn anything. I had worked with a pianist in the early 2000s who introduced me to a lot of pieces that were wildly out of my comfort zone. Sometimes, they were exhilarating. But he took ill, and retired from performing. And my cabaret pianist was in high demand and became too busy to work on shows with me. I had a few opportunities through the MacDowell Club, a performing group, but they were few and far between.
  • Teachers who perform can empathize with their students who experience music performance anxiety (MPA). Boy, can I relate to this. I had terrible MPA (a new term for me). And because I didn’t have performance opportunities, I didn’t have the opportunity to conquer it. Each performance I did had so much riding on it. There wasn’t necessarily a “next time.”
  • Teachers who perform can bring first hand knowledge of age related voice changes to their studios. wish I didn’t have this … but I do. I’ve done pretty well so far, except for one 3 month period that coincided with a particularly bad bout of bronchitis.
  • Teachers who perform have additional opportunities to network and build relationships with other musicians. To a certain extent, I’ve gotten this from a lot of other sources:
    • NATS
    • Social media (performance/teacher FB pages)
    • Speakeasy Cooperative

But there’s a special bond between people who make music together. They inspire each other to do better, to take it to the next level.

Teachers who don’t perform aren’t lesser teachers than teachers who do. But, for me, I need to have both. Right now, I feel like I have a good balance of teaching and performing. Perhaps later, I’ll change the ratio (or have it changed for me).

I consider myself a teaching artist, and even when the day comes that I perform less, I will still consider myself that.

Playing with Weekly Practice Forms

Playing with Weekly Practice Forms

I’m exploring options for how to submit a record of your practice without having reams of paper to keep track of (I really hate paper). I’m hoping to do a Practice Challenge for fall, culminating in a prize to be given out before the holiday break (probably at the recital – date/place TBD). But how to keep track?

There’s Nancy Bos’ excellent practice journal, which many of you have (as do I), and I recommend it highly. But that means you’d either have to:

  1. Turn in your book to me, which means you wouldn’t have it to work with unless I gave it back to you right away, and then that’d mean I’d have to go write down what you did to keep track of things (paper!);
  2. Copy your sheets and give them to me (paper!);
  3. Copy them and scan them and email them to me (no paper, and convenient for me, less so for you).

In my searches, I found JotForm, a free platform to create fillable forms. I was trying to create a form that included entries for each day you practice. At first, I came up with a form that you could submit, but it only was one day at a time, and I figured that that would be hard to come up with (and trying to do a separate page for each day was NOT intuitive – then again, it’s a free platform).

So I came up with this form, which seemed much easier. It’s a variation on a form I created for my Milwaukee students about 7 years ago – I found it when I was cleaning out files. (I don’t even remember doing this, and I suspect that people didn’t comply, because, well…. paper!)

It doesn’t have everything that I want, and maybe I’ll figure out something later this summer, but for now, I think it’s going to work. You’re still going to need to keep something separate for yourself to keep a record of your daily practice (whether it’s Nancy Bos’ book or your own method), but give it a try!

 

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.