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.)

World Voice Day in a Time of Silence

world_voice_day_2020_poster_s_rgb-294x434Every year, World Voice Day seems to coincide with something that prevents me from celebrating it. Last year, it was during Holy Week. The year before, I was teaching all day at Howard Community College. And the year before that it was Easter Sunday.

And this year, we have a pandemic. And all performances are on hold. Lessons, master classes, conferences, and workshops have moved online. So sometimes we have to ask ourselves:

  • If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, did it make a sound?
  • If a singer sings a song and no one is there to hear it, is s/he really a singer? What does it matter?

The latter is a question I’ve asked myself in the last few weeks, since this all began. What’s the point of singing, if there’s no one to hear it? What is the point of teaching singing, if there’s nowhere for them to perform?

I love working with performers and helping them prepare for performing. Our studio cabaret was coming up on Mother’s Day (moved to September 13). Our studio recital was scheduled for June 7 (I’m going to be cancelling it or moving it online – still TBD).

What is the point? Why should we go on?

Our voices are with us all the time. Sometimes out loud, sometimes just in our heads. Sometimes we get to use them where others can hear them. Sometimes we just talk to ourselves and make plans for the future.

We still have our voices, even if performing is on hold right now. We might not be using them the way we want, but we should still continue to focus on our voices during this time so that we can use them when they can be heard again.

Because we will all have something to say once this is over. Next year, we’re going to do something big for World Voice Day. And we need to be ready.

Focus on your voice. You’re going to need it like never before.

*******

That was supposed to be the end of this blogpost, but while I was writing, I was watching The Good Fight on TV, and the cast and crew of the show was talking about how we are all still connected and it touched me so much that I had to put it here. Not all the singing is beautiful (not everyone in the cast is Christine Baranski and Audra McDonald) but all of it is heartfelt. And all of it matters.

 

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.

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.