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!

 

Why I DIDN’T Sing – For Far Too Long

When I lived in Wisconsin, I spent about 8 years in a sort of vocal quarantine. I suddenly found my private studio taking up more of my time and energy, and I chose to stop seeking work in Chicago, where I’d been doing the bulk of my singing, and reduced my performing with professional choral ensembles in Milwaukee and auditioning for local companies.

And my performing work dried up. Some of that was my choice, since I wasn’t actively pursuing gigs the way I had been, and some of it was … not. I was active with the now-defunct MacDowell Club, with which I did some performing of pieces that appealed to me, as well as programming concerts for them (which I discovered I really enjoyed!). I organized recitals for my students and did some singing on them as well. I started writing cabarets, which was fulfilling, albeit poorly attended. As I got busier and busier with the studio, I convinced myself that it was okay that I wasn’t performing that much.

But because I didn’t have regular shows to work towards, I have to admit… I didn’t practice that much. I learned the music I had to do, but I didn’t do the technical work. I didn’t keep up the chops that I had so carefully cultivated during the years before, during, and after my years at Peabody and in my first few years back in Milwaukee. And I became very aware of that when I listened to a recording of a recital I gave, as I described in a blog last year. It was a kick in the pants. I realized that I wasn’t doing any vocal self-care. For the next year that I remained in Milwaukee, I made a concerted effort to get back to where I’d been.

And when I moved back to Baltimore, it paid off! I got work as a singer.  I got work as a teacher. I left the college gigs to focus on my private studio. My studio grew and my performing grew, and I was in a place where I had the perfect balance between singing and teaching. I was practicing regularly. I was even turning down work because I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to keep the balance that I’d come to appreciate. I realized my ideal clients were those who wanted to perform, whether it was at a pre-professional level, professionally, or in community theater, and I was starting to attract those people to the student. I was satisfied. I was content.

And then COVID-19 came. And all the performing was gone. Lessons moved online. Life as I’d come to know it had changed, possibly forever. It’s not comfortable.

What do I do now? What do we all do now?

This blog is called Why I Sing, and the subtitle includes the words “and why you should, too.” In my next post, I’m going to address the immediate future of singing and the path forward, based on the current information from a variety of well-informed sources. I want to talk honestly about why we should sing — even when there’s nowhere to sing.

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?

Feel the Grief and Do it Anyway

Back on March 4, I had a conversation with a friend on how overwhelmed I felt because I had taken on too many projects. In the upcoming weeks, my schedule included:

  1. Six more performances of Don Giovanni at the Kennedy Center in DC;
  2. The world premiere of a concert of music with texts by Irish poets, three songs of which I had commissioned area composer Garth Baxter to write for me, four more songs which he wrote on his own, and five songs by other composers;
  3. Teaching;
  4. Preparing students for their upcoming trip to Columbia, SC for the regional finals at Mid-Atlantic NATS;
  5. A Curiously Stronger Performing workshop on creating a cabaret;
  6. Preparing a studio cabaret at Germano’s featuring music by women composers;
  7. My church job, leading up to Holy Week (Chrism Mass, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, Easter Sunday), with a wedding along the way;
  8. Preparing to go on vacation to the UK on Easter Sunday night.

My friend said, “Good lord, that’s so much! Such cool stuff, though!”

I got as far as three more performances of DG, the workshop, and a week of teaching before the world shut down. NATS went to an online format for the competition (which I submitted on Tuesday); the recital was postponed to June; the Kennedy Center closed; church closed; Germano’s (and other restaurants) closed; and my vacation is cancelled.

And now I’m home, making the transition to online lessons. And the process of trying to make this a valuable experience for my students is more overwhelming – and right now, less satisfying – than the plethora of things I had to do less than a month ago.

A friend of mine shared an article on the reaction we’re having to this new abnormal. It’s by David Kessler, who collaborated with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross on her sequel to her groundbreaking book, On Death and Dying. This one is called On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss. He’s written his own book on the subject, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of GriefSince I recently wrote a blog on the topic of applying the five stages of grief in interpreting a sad song, this piqued my interest.

Back in the early 1990s, a popular self-help book was Feel the Fear … and Do It Anyway by the late Susan Jeffers. It was a very pragmatic book about taking the next step in life, no matter how it might terrify you. It was really helpful for me when I made the decision to completely up-end my life, leave my first marriage, and move to Baltimore for graduate school. I was terrified. And it’s very easy, when you’re frightened, to simply do nothing. I chose to do something. And I’ve chosen to do something over and over again since then.

I’m not frightened now, despite the pandemic. I am grieving for the loss of my performing life, I am grieving for the loss of my upcoming vacation (and the trips I’d planned to take later this spring and summer, which are now up in the air), I am grieving over not seeing in my students in person, where I feel the most in my element. And I just want to go to brunch. Or out with friends for a drink and a bite. I’m also pretty angry, come to think of it.

I am grieving, but I’m going to do it anyway. I’m going to find the meaning of this grief and let it take me to the next level in my virtual teaching and in my planning performances. And maybe I’ll add to that blog about using those stages of grief and finding the meaning.

But not today. Today I think I’m just going to cry.

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.

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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

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    What are you afraid to try?

Making Your Case in Auditions

Seth Godin wrote a blog a few weeks ago about the conventional wisdom of making your case vs. how it actually works. This was from a business/marketing perspective, but when I read this, I thought, “Wow, this could apply to auditioning!” My notes are in brackets.

Conventional wisdom:

Find a large group of people [audition for as many people as possible]

Explain why you’re better. [show off your technique]

Prove that you are the right answer. [sing better than anyone else]

Done. [get cast]

How it actually works:

Earn attention from precisely the right people. [audition for groups for which you’re the ideal candidate]

Gain trust. [be reliable – show up on time, be prepared]

Tell a story. [tell the truth – get into more than just the notes]

Create tension. [find a point of view that no one else has found before]

Relieve the tension by gaining commitment. [again, tell the truth]

Deliver work that’s remarkable. [go the extra mile in your interpretation]

They spread the word. [word of mouth – even if you don’t get the role this time, they might tell someone about you]

***

What would happen if you approach auditions this way, instead of just focusing on getting the part? Try it!