Curiously Stronger Performing

It is my passion to help people perform to their highest level.

To interpret music in a way that realizes the intent of the composer and lyricist while still maintaining a connection to the artist performing it.

To re-create old material to have a fresher feeling and to be able to play with it.

If you want to know more about how do this, please contact me about performing in or auditing an upcoming session of my Curiously Stronger Performing series (next session: 2/12/2020). I’d also be happy to discuss any questions you might have about private lessons, either in person or online.

F5053769-5964-4162-9930-6B1FADF00B6A

What if I had just stayed “comfortable”?

If I never did anything new, I’d still be:

  1. Working at Fleet Mortgage Corp. as a customer service rep
  2. Living in Waukesha in a townhouse I didn’t really want to buy in the first place with my first husband
  3. Singing in the Florentine Opera chorus
  4. Dreaming of doing more with my life

I wouldn’t have:

  1. Moved to DC in the first place
  2. Sung with Washington Opera
  3. Moved to Baltimore to go to Peabody (which involved leaving my first husband)
  4. Met and married my second husband
  5. Moved back to Milwaukee (there are some quibbles about that but…)
  6. Sung in Chicago with Lyric and other groups
  7. Become a voice teacher
  8. Started my blog
  9. Run a 5K (twice)
  10. Started singing cabaret
  11. Moved back to Baltimore
  12. Sung in New York
  13. Opened Mezzoid Voice Studio
  14. Started the Curiously Stronger Performing series of workshops
  15. Met an incredible number of phenomenal friends, colleagues, and students (and students who became colleagues, colleagues who became friends, etc.)

I would have been:

  1. Unhappy
  2. Unfulfilled
  3. Incurious

I am now:

  1. Happy
  2. Fulfilled but looking for more ways to branch out
  3. Still curious

    644AD12D-4F3B-433D-AA24-D70CD48ABCA2

    What are you afraid to try?

"Exquisite Vividness"

"Exquisite Vividness"

Awhile back, my daily calm meditation focused on “vividness.” This made me think of the line in the Boito version of Faust (Mefistofele) :

“Stay – for you are beautiful”

Faust sells his soul to the devil, but his “safe word” is “Stay – for you are beautiful.” (I’m watching Killing Eve as I write this, so “safe word” is in my lexicon). His deal is, “I’ll go to hell with you unless I find the most perfect and wonderful moment that transcends everything I’ve ever done – and when that moment comes, I’ll go to heaven.” And when the Mefistofele is about to collect on his deal, because nothing has satisfied Faust, really, the heavenly host appears and it’s so incredibly perfect that Faust cries out, “Stay, for you are beautiful!”

It’s a moment of exquisite vividness, which, in this meditation was a quote from the mindfulness guru, Jon Kabat-Zinn:

Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives.
It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment.

When we sing, when we perform, we transcend the moment but we are simultaneously aware of the moment. We are “in the zone” but we know what is happening and we embrace it.

This was the moment where Faust experienced his “exquisite vividness” (as did I, when I sang in the chorus of this production at WNO in 1996). Have you experienced yours? Wake up – it’s there.

Who takes voice lessons?

My mother never understood how I had so many students. She would say, “So many people want to be professional singers?” and I’d say, “No, mom, some want to be professional performers, but some just want to get into the musical at school, or into a special ensemble in choir, or some just want to be better.” That blew her mind. She couldn’t understand why anyone would spend money on something if they weren’t planning to make money at it. (And why they’d give it to ME, of all people.)

But my mother issues are a whole ‘nother story. And ones only hinted at in this blog.

This summer, I read Seth Godin’s This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See.  In the chapter, “In search of ‘better,'” he creates an X-Y graph showing elements that people care about. From a business perspective, one element might be convenience, and another one price. What kind of clients fall within these parameters? Who is willing to pay for both? Who wants one but doesn’t care so much about the other?

I decided that, from a voice teacher’s perspective, my parameters would be technique and performance. What kind of client/student wants to be a better singer, but doesn’t really want to perform? What kind doesn’t really care about developing strong technique, but just wants to be able to perform with a band or at open mic? Who wants to understand technique better so they can help their classroom students, but doesn’t really want to perform themselves? Who wants to perform at the highest possible level of ability? This is what I came up with, based on the students I’ve worked with over 20 years:

Types of Voice Students (click here for bigger version)Image 9-19-19 at 9.44 AM

By “professional performer,” I mean opera/musical theater, because that’s what I do. CCM performer means contemporary commercial music such as rock, pop, jazz. And please don’t feel that I’m judging any kind of singing here – except maybe “shower.”

This doesn’t mean that students are forever relegated to these arbitrary quadrants. The “always wanted to sing” dabbler might start out not wanting to perform (and, in fact, be terrified of doing so), but then dip their toe into karaoke, and maybe later, community theater. Or start out in the church choir, and then decide to try auditioning for a symphonic chorus. A community theater ensemble singer might go for a lead role – and get it!

As a teacher, who do you want to work with? I have to be honest – I prefer working with people who want to perform and who want to develop their technique to the highest extent possible. That’s my “ideal client.” I have friends who enjoy working with adults who have no intention of performing and who do not want to work with high-strung high school students with tons of rehearsal conflicts (in other words, my people). Knowing who you click with might mean that you don’t market yourself as “all ages, all styles,” because that might not be the best way you can serve yourself and your client. It’s not for me. But some people are happy to serve all markets, and good for them!

As a student, where do you fall? Does your teacher recognize what’s important to you? Are they helping you get to where you want to be? Are they pushing you hard enough or too hard? Are you their ideal client? Are they your ideal teacher?

Don’t Memorize The Words – Tell The Story

I follow Marketer Extraordinaire Seth Godin’s daily blog. The biggest thing about Seth Godin is that he doesn’t talk about selling your product, he talks about telling your story. Consequently, a lot of his blogs, even though most people would think they were intended for someone in a traditional (non-artsy) business, relate to us as performers. A recent one was called “Awkward Memorization,” and I’ve attached it here.

A few lines that stood out for me:

Watch a great performance and you’ll see no artifacts of memorization. Instead, you will see someone speaking from the heart.

This is what it means to know something by heart.

And:

Don’t memorize your talk. Memorize your stories.

Are you working on a song for an audition? What’s the story? Is there more than one story? Identify your story or stories. Where does one finish and the other one start? Tell us the stories.

Singing a string of words is rote memorization and it’s boring. Sing from the heart. Be vulnerable. Be authentic. Tell your stories.

This Small Room

 

When I was growing up, I lived in a small 3 bedroom ranch house. We had one bathroom, two good sized bedrooms (although neither was particularly large) and a third bedroom which we called the small room.

Until I went to college, I had one of the bigger bedrooms and my sister (who was 8 years younger) had the small room. I commuted to college the first year and then moved to the dorms for my second and third year, coming home most weekends to work, since school was only five miles down the road.

One day during summer break, I came home from going to the Wisconsin State Fair with my friends to find that my sister had moved into my room and that all my things had been put into the small room. I wasn’t informed this would be happening, even though I still had three more weeks before school started, and as much as I protested, I was relegated to the small room for the remainder of the time I would be a resident of that house. Even when I moved back home for my senior year of college. With my stuff crammed into a small dresser that wasn’t mine, my clothes crammed into a too-small closet, and my body up against a wall in a too-small bed.

And for much of my life, I felt contained by my surroundings. I felt that I was too much for my space, for those I grew up with, and even for my family.

Once, long after I’d moved out, I had learned a new aria and was eager to sing it for my mother. After I finished it, she said, “I don’t know. Maybe it’s too loud for this small room.

She didn’t like opera. But I don’t think any room would have been big enough for her to enjoy my singing.

So many of us feel or have felt constrained by rooms that have been too small, whether it’s the actual physical space or the room in our heads, whether it’s through our own perception or that of another person. I haven’t felt that way for a long time now, thank goodness. And if you feel that way ….

Blow off the doors. Knock down the walls.

Performance Success Profile, Take Two

After cleaning out files the other day, I discovered a performance success survey that I took in 2002. This was a bad time for me, performance-wise. Although I should’ve been at the top of my game, vocally, I was having a lot of performance anxiety that was really holding me back. And my scores on the survey reflected the areas where I was having the most difficulty. I posted about this the other day.

My primary issues back then were focus, and, to a lesser extent, self-confidence.

I went to take the test again. The website has been tweaked a bit – it had been dongreene.com, after the author of the book Performance Success. It is now winningonstage.com, “dedicated to performing artists striving for excellence.” There are a variety of tools dedicated to achieving this goal, and the quiz that I took all those years ago was on there, linked to the book. So I took the test again. I paid for it this time (maybe I could’ve found the code in the book and gotten it for free, but I figured I could afford the $19). I wanted to see if I’ve improved.

I’m not sure if the test was exactly the same as it was back then, but I took it and I’m pleased to say that I scored much better than back then. My high scores (70+) were in:

  1. Determination (81)
  2. Mental Outlook (70)
  3. Emotional Approach (80)
  4. Resilience (81)

I didn’t really have any low scores (low was below 20-44). The areas that were in the mid-range were:

  1. Poise (68)
  2. Controlling Attention (63)
  3. Concentration (56)

The latter two are still related to focus. Controlling attention is a question of mental quiet. While I could focus on an object and not get distracted, that little nagging voice (which has an accent – I can’t imagine why) still wants to say, “You’re not doing this right. Oops, that was wrong.” As far as concentrating, my presence and intensity of focus were much higher but the duration of focus (SQUIRREL!) was less so. Probably because of said nagging voice.

Is this because I’m a Gemini? Do I have adult ADHD? What can I do about this? According to the profile, I should go back and review pp. 79-85 in Performance Success.

And I probably will, later today. But first….