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….

If you’re going to make a mistake, make a BIG one

I read a blogpost the other day by a musician and psychologist named Noa Kageyama (aka “The Bulletproof Musician”) about the idea that making deliberate mistakes can teach you a lot. Kageyama’s focus, generally, is on being very deliberate and mindful in your practice. So I was doing some thinking when I posted this on my studio FB page:

What would happen if…

You did that wrong again, but make it really wrong, on purpose?
You gave yourself permission to do it wrong? Would you do it wrong?

While “practice makes perfect” is less true than “practice makes permanent,” being mindful and making deliberate choices is much better than being on autopilot.

****

What would happen if you:

  1. Sang a note deliberately flat?
  2. Sang a note deliberately sharp?
  3. Sang the wrong rhythm – on purpose?
  4. Sang the wrong interval – on purpose?
How would it feel in your body to sing flat/sharp/just plain wrong? And how does it feel when you do it right?
You have to know what WRONG is so you can find RIGHT. If you’re going to make a mistake, make it big and make it deliberate so you can figure out just what wrong is and what is wrong.

Experiment with this – if you have a phrase where you are always flat, sing it REALLY flat on purpose. What’s going on? Is your tongue in a weird place? Is the registration off? Your balance breath pressure less than optimal (or if sharp, more than optimal)? How can you adjust these things in your own body? 

What would happen – if?

Vulnerability and pretending not to care

From the twitter feed of Xstrology (online astrologer):

Gemini will pretend that they don’t care at the times they are most vulnerable.

I’m a Gemini. I’m the quintessential Gemini – I talk a lot, I’m constantly doing 6 million and 12 things at once, I love change, I’m versatile – and on the downside, I find it difficult to stick to one thing at a time, I’m often indecisive, and sometimes I give the impression of being somewhat shallow.

And I often – too often – pretend that I don’t care at the times I am most vulnerable.

In my personal life, this can result in my making jokes at inopportune times – I recall going to an emergency room for unexplained abdominal pain and making stupid jokes so that I wouldn’t show that I was terrified. Consequently, the doctor didn’t take me very seriously and thought I was wasting her time.

When my feelings are hurt or if I’m angry or frustrated, it’s very easy for me to cry. But if I cry, then people might be uncomfortable or think I’m overreacting – so I make jokes or laugh. My husband says that he can always tell when I’m about to cry, because I start smiling really broadly. My speech becomes choppy and my movements a bit more abrupt.

And if I’m in a relationship that is coming to an end – whether it be romantic or a friendship – my defense is to become flippant, to become somewhat distant, and sometimes, I’m afraid, to be a little mean. As though I were saying, “Yeah, well, you didn’t mean anything to me either, so go already. I won’t miss you.”

And in performing, specifically auditioning – for, after all, this blog is supposed to be about singing – I have found that I have occasionally done the same thing, especially with companies for whom I’ve auditioned in the past but who have not hired me, for whatever misguided reason. I don’t get mean, per se, but I give off the attitude of, “Whatever. I don’t really care. It’s not like you’re going to hire me anyway.”

Consequently, my audition is unengaged and unengaging. And just like driving away someone I cared about because I was afraid of being rejected and thereby bringing the relationship to the end I expected, I fulfill the expectation that, in fact, they’re not going to hire me.

What I need to do – and what all of us, as performers, need to do – is to stop making the audition about myself and about getting the gig. I need to make it about giving a performance that is genuine and authentic. It may or may not get me hired, but I have no control over that. I can control my performance, I can control how I relate to people, I can control my preparation.

As I mentioned in my blogpost on vulnerability and oversharing, vulnerability is “the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, [and] of love.” (Dr. Brené Brown)

Yes, allowing yourself to be vulnerable and then not hired (or dumped) can bring about the feelings of shame and fear and unworthiness, but being open to the possibilities and presenting yourself as open and genuine and accepting might just allow you to find that joy, that creativity, possibly belonging, and hopefully love. However you define love.

Which is a whole ‘nother topic altogether.

Last night’s performance

Last night Ryan and I performed “Oh, to be a movie star” for the 2nd time, this time at the Times Cinema. We were freaking out a few days before because ticket sales were going extremely slowly. And then I decided that at the very least, this was an opportunity for us to perform the show again and get a (hopefully) decent video that we can use for future marketing of the show.

Sales picked up at the last minute and we wound up with a small but enthusiastic crowd, and the show went very well. Although we did not make enough to pay for the rent, the rent was reduced because the Times Cinema was very impressed by the entertainment value and quality of our show and offered to reduce the balance owed in exchange for a performance commitment in the future. How could we say no to that? So we wound up losing only about $25 and I can live with that. We made a profit last time and didn’t expect to. And we had a great time with the nigh-private showing of Singin‘ in the Rain afterwards. What a brilliant movie that is.

Next time I think we should consider doing a matinee and marketing it to some of the nicer retirement communities in the area – San Camillo, Hart Park Square. The Times Cinema has said that they would make a greater commitment to marketing future shows. Perhaps we have a cabaret home – and perhaps this is just the beginning!