Avoiding FOBO

I can hear you know: “FOBO? Christine, don’t you mean FOMO?”

Nope.

Today I was puppy-walking and listening to a new podcast called Money Girl (which I may or may not listen to again because the host has a  wicked case of vocal fry that makes my skin crawl – not to be confused with VocalFri). The guest was Patrick McGinniss, who created the term FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out.

I’ve heard of FOMO. I’ve heard of JOMO (the joy of missing out). They’ve become part of the contemporary lexicon, especially in podcasts and blogs. People are cautioned to avoid taking on too many projects out of FOMO and focus on the important things, thus embracing JOMO.

But toward the end of the interview, McGinniss mentioned that he had created another term at the same time he created FOMO, which he thought would gain even more traction: FOBO.

Fear of Better Options.

Rather than doing too many things, the victim of FOBO is paralyzed by too many choices and does none of them, out of fear that they’re going to make the wrong choice. What if they pick something now and something better comes down the pike? They’re waiting for a better option. One that may never come.

In other words, I overthink, therefore I am.

Make decisions. Take risks. Take a class in something you need to learn but don’t consider yourself very good at. Audition for a show (when we can do that again). Sing online for, oh, I don’t know, an internationally renowned conductor giving a masterclass – like this one:

Richard Carsey Insta post

And after you’ve sung for Richard (or before), maybe cut your hair. Dye your hair. If you don’t like it, don’t worry, it’ll grow back/out/you can get a wig.

#FOBOBegone #AchievementUnlocked

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.)

Why SHOULD we sing – when there’s nowhere to sing? (Part 2 of 2)

Yesterday, I wrote about the findings of medical professionals regarding singing and the safety about doing it publicly. You can read that here. Apparently, singers and loud talkers are considered “super-spreaders.” Guilty and guilty. And feeling kind of judged about it.

Like I said, I found this terribly depressing. Everything had been going so well. I was singing as much as I wanted to and where I wanted to. My studio was growing and my students were all making tremendous progress, and many of them were finding more and more performing opportunities that were satisfied and motivating.

Why should we sing at all, when there’s nowhere to sing?

The English composer William Byrd published a songbook in 1588 that was considered the first great collection of English songs, Psalms, Sonnets and Songs. Not only have the song settings survived the test of time, his forward to the book has also inspired many singers. I have it hanging on my divider as my students enter my studio – or at least when they did (and will again).
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Feel free to print this out and hang it where you can see it: Reasons to sing – Byrd

This is our time to polish our technique, to learn new things, to take some risks, to sing for fun, to sing some old songs, to sing new songs. And we can do it without having to rush from work/school, rush to rehearsal, come home and stay up late getting homework done, or laundry, or prepping for the next day’s events. We have the luxury of time.

We can practice the right way, mindfully and with intention, instead of just ripping off a few lip trills to get the voice moving and then launching into a song. (Note: Once we’re back in the studio, we probably will never do any more high-spit factor vocalises again.)

Performing will look different for awhile. It may be online. It may be outside (and I just had an idea about that). It may be in the living room with your families, like in the old days. It may be live, it may be pre-recorded. But it will go on because we need to sing. I need to sing, you need to sing, we all need to sing. It’s like ice cream (I scream, you scream….)

And when we can perform for an audience (and we will), that audience will be craving music and theater. They’ll want it so bad and –

WE WILL BE READY!

Who’s with me!

 

We breathe to live – we breathe to sing – but can we do it together? (Part 1 of 2)

This the hardest and probably the most important (at least to me) blogpost I’ve ever written.

About a year ago, when I cleaned up my website, I changed my mission statement a bit and put the original in a blogpost so that I wouldn’t lose it because it was some important information. The part that comes to mind right now is in the penultimate paragraph:

We breathe to live. We breathe to sing. We balance our breath energy in order to create a beautiful tone.

Our bodies need breath to function and we inhale to provide that energy source. We speak and we sing on the exhalation of breath. For singing, we control and balance the exhalation.

We balance that breath energy in order to maximize:

  1. how long we can sing before having to refresh the breath;
  2. how clearly and evenly we can sing on that breath;
  3. how softly or loudly we can sing, and make that choice depending on what the composer asks for and our personal interpretation.

The latter is what a lot of people refer to as projection, although I prefer to use the term resonance.

But right now, studies are showing that breath projection is a factor in the spreading of COVID-19. A few weeks ago, I attended a webinar on the topic sponsored by National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), Chorus America, Barbershop Harmony Society, and Performing Arts Medical Association (PAMA), which featured presentations by Dr. Donald Milton, a bio-aerosol specialist at the University of Maryland, and Dr. Lucinda Halstead, an otolaryngologist at the University of South Carolina and the incoming president of PAMA. The webinar is available on YouTube and you can watch it here.

A terrific summary of the findings can be found in a blogpost written by tenor Zach Finkelstein in his blog The Middleclass Artist. Please read this for more detail, but to summarize the summary, I’m just going to come out and say that:

There is no safe place for us to sing together right now. Not in a choir, not in a show, not in the studio. Dr. Halstead has estimated 18-24 months before the combination of an effective vaccine and treatment regimen will make it safe again. Others have said that’s out there and that it should be sooner. I hope the latter view is the correct one.

But in the meanwhile, I intend to continue with online lessons through the summer and consider reopening the studio for in-person lessons on September 1. I will continue to monitor the situation – my husband is an ER doc, so I have a scientific source right at my elbow. If things improve, it might be sooner. If we have another surge, it will be later.

I have to tell you that this information upset me greatly because I love working with my students in person and preparing them for performances. I also love performing, and the thought of not doing it in front of a live audience is anathema to me.

As I mentioned in my last blogpost, I intended this post to be a look at the situation as we know it today and talk about why we should sing, even when there’s nowhere we can sing. I did the first part in this post. I have a lot on my mind about the second part and I will be writing that tomorrow.

In the meantime… 55281FC2-24DB-44C8-9198-317BA071344A

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 😀