Building Skills Versus Cramming

I was listening to my dear friend/teacher Nicholas Perna’s podcast Vocal Fri the other day, and there was a discussion on Functional Voice Training Vs. Task Based Voice Training. Which I’m going to interpret, for these purposes, as:

Building Skills Versus Cramming

That’s not entirely how it was intended in the podcast; for example, they talked about developing overall technical skills versus finding the quick and dirty way to hit a specific note in a specific style.

The former involves building blocks and developing an understanding of how your voice works so that you can call upon it to produce consistent results whenever you need it. It involves practice, self-examination, and the stuff that isn’t always that much fun.

The latter is instant gratification. Give me the tools, give me the song, gimme gimme that thing called…

One of the reasons I left my church job was because the director didn’t work with us on building repertoire and the skills required for that repertoire. Instead, we crammed.

(The ultimate reason was that they refused to comply with my medical accommodation but that’s another story.)

  • We crammed for Sunday Mass, sometimes not knowing what we were singing till that morning.
  • We crammed for Lessons & Carols 2022, getting the music only ten days in advance and having to add extra rehearsals to … you guessed it …. CRAM it into our voices.
  • The choir sang on a concert this past March 31 for which they were given the music on March 23. And that music was also our Holy Week 2023 repertoire. We had no idea what we were singing for Holy Week – which began on April 2 – until then.


I can’t work like that. I want to work on repertoire for a performance in a slow, steady manner, where I master the piece and get it into my voice, into my bones, so that I know how it’s going to go. And I know how the conductor is going to interpret it, where their cutoffs are going to be, what the tempo is going to be, because we’ve worked it together. And as a section leader, I know that I am making music with my volunteer colleagues, not dragging them along for the ride and hoping they keep up.

(And yes, it’s a performance even in church because you are presenting it to the congregation in a performance setting. They are listening and you are singing. There’s a difference between performing and being performative, which I’ll talk about another time.)

As a performer I don’t want to cram.

And as a teacher, I don’t like having my students cram by having to “teach to the test” or to the task/audition/event. (At least not all the time.)

I’ve talked about this recently, in the blogpost Blaze a Trail from February 2022.

I find that some of my students haven’t wanted to put in the steady work – they wanted the quick fix, the flashy song that will get them the role, the spot in the dream school, the applause, and the accolades.

We all want that. We want to succeed, to be appreciated, to advance.

But if you don’t have the tools, you’re just cramming to make it work long enough to get ‘er done and then you have to cram again to get something else done.

You aren’t building skills.

Functional Voice Training requires you to be in it for the long haul. As Dr. Perna says, it “only works if your students practice.”

He also said, “Your students have to want to change If they don’t, you’re just going to bang your head against the wall.”

Which reminds me of this Mark Twain quote:

Upper left hand corner - cartoon of a blue haired woman explaining something center - a pink cartoon pig singing into a microphone on a purple and teal background with music notes behind it. 
Upper RH caption: Never attempt to teach a pig to sing
Lower LH caption: It wastes your time and it annoys the pig
RH corner Mezzoid Voice Studio logo
attributed to Mark Twain (among others)

I will add that if they don’t want to change, rather than telling you they don’t want to change or what it is they actually do want, they might just … leave. Suddenly and unexpectedly. And that is surprising and sometimes painful.

(Not that any of my students – past or present – are pigs, of course. And I saw this saying on a mug in the home studio of my Peabody teacher, Marianna Busching – and was chagrined to find out from her that I was the one who gave it to her – I don’t remember that at all!)

My expectations are that my students want to get better over time. That they want to conquer their vocal demons so that they can be consistent and be able to know what’s going to come out and how they need to approach new pieces without having to reinvent the wheel every time.

They have to learn to strengthen their registers, both high and low.

They have to find the balance in their breath, their alignment, their articulation, their phonation, and their resonance (and not every style requires those to be approached the same way, I know this).

And those things take effort. There are quick fixes that you can use from time to time, but first you need to


If you want to do the work and build the skills, why don’t you find out how to work with me? I have a few openings
for dedicated students who want to get better,
find their voices, and use them to communicate with me
about their needs, not only as singers but as human beings.

Why I Moved (I’m Not Done Yet)

Last week, I wrote about Why I Quit. When my husband read that title, he blanched, thinking that I was announcing that I was quitting teaching (without telling him first).

Not quite.

As I said last week, that wasn’t the intended focus when I sat down to write. What I wanted to talk about was why I moved from Milwaukee ten years ago, and whether or not those reasons still stand up today.

This past weekend, I hosted my studio’s 25th anniversary party at a local restaurant, The Gourmet at Kenilworth (fantastic if you haven’t been there). I suspected that I would have a low turnout from my private students, so I decided to expand it and make it into a NATS chapter fundraiser. The restaurant agreed to give back 10% of the cost of food/drink purchases to the chapter – I’m guessing we’ll be getting about $100. They have a baby grand piano in okay shape and I brought a mic and monitor and we had an open mic.

It was largely the Christine-and-Kay-Megan Show because we sang the most, but others sang too, some of whom were former or on-and-off students, and some were friends from the NATS board and Baltimore theater community. And we had the wonderful Michael Tan at the piano, who also sang. One of my students posted pics on Instagram and wrote that it was a “live karaoke,” which I think is a great way to describe it.

None of my current younger students or their families came, and I have to say I’m very disappointed.

But it was a wonderful afternoon, and I sang and I was so happy to sing songs I love for people who wanted to hear me. One of my friends commented,  in response to some pics on Instagram,

“You are in your element!”


And I was. I really, really was. And it made me remember why I moved here in 2013. It wasn’t to teach. I was already doing that. It was to sing.

That was something I reminded myself of when my studio enrollment wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be this year, and I got somewhat despondent. But then I reminded myself of the things I’ve done this year as a performer, and it was more than I’ve done since before the pandemic that didn’t entirely involve church.

  • January 2023 – recorded “Resting” by Garth Baxter, a piece for marimba, B-flat clarinet, and mezzo, the video of which was submitted along with the music for publication:
  • May 2023: Premiered Garth’s Music’s Path: Six Songs of Irish Poets with pianist Michael Sheppard
  • July 2023: Re-recorded 4 of those songs to reflect changes by the composer (again, w/Michael S.)
  • July 2023: Helped a friend with a self-tape by doing off-camera readings (she got the part) and now I want to explore voiceover work!)
  • August 2023: Performed the Irish songs again at Edenwald Retirement Community, again with Michael S. (also, Resting was published)
  • September 2023: See above – which made me want to write a cabaret show, and I’m working on it now to submit for consideration to Edenwald and other nicer retirement communities. The theme of it is also the topic of the book I intend to write, which I want to get on ASAP.
  • In addition to the 16 gigs I did this summer, I’m still subbing and cantoring around town, and I just started rehearsals for the High Holidays at Har Sinai Oheb Shalom Congregation (HSOSC), where I’ve been singing since 2014.

I moved here because I wanted to sing. And I still have something to offer.

I still want to teach. I still have something to offer there. But my current mantra is –

I’m not done yet

As a singer or a teacher.


Whether you’d like to work with me as a teacher or a singer,  I have a few openings in my schedule. Find out how here!

Why I quit

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…….. It has been 9 months (almost) since my last confession blogpost.

Cartoon in the upper left corner of a blue haired woman with hands in prayer, picture of a confessional with the words

How appropriate that I used the penitential terminology of my upbringing, because in May, I quit my church job of 8 years at the Cathedral of Mary our Queen. (Note: This is not what I was going to write about but that opening line kind of pushed me in that direction.)

I didn’t quit because of issues with the institution (although, admittedly, I do have some of those) or with most of the music I was singing. I loved the job. I loved the space. I loved the convenience of it – it was across the street from my house! I could literally see the the place from every room in the front of my house.

In fact, I got the job after my first shower in our new house, in June 2015. I was standing in the shower and I saw the spires of the Cathedral as I was rinsing shampoo out of my hair. I thought, “Hey, I’ve subbed there. Perhaps I should send the director my new address.” So I did. Within an hour, I had a new job.

And I was really happy there up till the pandemic. And once we (eventually) returned to singing in 2021, I was happy again. I was a regular cantor and soloist in addition to my position as alto section leader. I loved the people with whom I sang, and we made good music.

My director left in July 2021 and was replaced by someone who had a very different attitude (from both their predecessor and me) toward the music of the church and the role of the section leaders as professional musicians.

I gave the job another two years, and then I realized that I could no longer continue in a position that was no longer serving me in either a spiritual or professional sense. This was a hard realization (did I mention that the job is across the street from my house??) but I decided that I didn’t like feeling angry all the time. So, when I came back from vacation in May, I gave my note effective immediately (Note: I was off the next week for my Irish song concert and there were only two weeks left in the choir season after that, so really, I gave two weeks notice).

The good news is that, by the end of the week after I quit, I had picked up multiple cantor/subbing gigs for the summer, effective with the following Sunday. This past Saturday, I sang my 16th gig of the summer.  They’re not across the street, but they are providing me with more musical and professional satisfaction than I’ve had since July 2021. And hopefully, they will continue to do so.

In my last blogpost, I wrote about my word of the year being Tessitura, specifically about how I was defining it as find where and how I wanted to live.

To be honest, I was already contemplating this decision at that point, as hinted at in this quote:

I may have to explore some options and decide what’s not for me.

There are many things I want to do, as outlined in that new year’s post. And some of those things mean that I need some more time to myself, and not tie myself to a regular Thursday night/Sunday morning commitment. Specifically, I’m going to start writing again. More here, and the book(s) that I talked about in Tessitura. (Yes, plural, because the idea for a novel came to me.) I am also going to do some weekend things with my husband that I couldn’t do because of having a regular church gig, to which I’m looking forward!

In the last year or so, many of my posts were about things I thought I should write about. Going forward, I’m going to get back to the idea of “Why I….” and re-find my why. I think it may have changed a bit.

In fact, today’s blogpost was supposed to be just that: Why I moved here. Because I’ve done some examining about that and there are some things I want to say.

Good to be back and I promise it won’t be another 8 months before I write again.

If you would like to find your why – and your voice – I have a few spots open for 2023-2024. Check out how to work with me

My Word for 2023 – Tessitura

I’ve given some thought about the guiding word for 2023 and I’ve come up with one.


Here’s the definition of tessitura, via Wikipedia:

In music, tessitura (Italian: [tessiˈtuːra], pl. tessiture, “texture”; English: /tɛsɪˈtjrə/) is the most acceptable and comfortable vocal range for a given singer or less frequently, musical instrument, the range in which a given type of voice presents its best-sounding (or characteristic) timbre. This broad definition is often interpreted to refer specifically to the pitch range that most frequently occurs within a given part of a musical piece. 

But I particularly like this phrase within the definition, which gives you an idea of why I chose it:

However, the tessitura of a part or voice is not decided by the extremes of its range, but rather by the share of this total range which is most used. Hence, it is referred to as the “heart” of a range.

I often refer to it as where a song lives. Or, when discussing a voice type, where your voice most wants to live (you could also refer to this as fach, which I’ve discussed before).

2022 was rough for me in so many ways. I’ve had to examine what’s important to me, as a person, a singer, a teacher, a colleague, a friend, a wife, and as a puppy/kitty mama.

I am coming to terms with where and how I want to live and where the heart of my existence is. I’ve lived at the extremes in the past, trying to do it all (or nothing at all, which was kind of what was going on at the height of the pandemic), and I want to find where the sweet spot is for me.

I may have to explore some options and decide what’s not for me. Some things I’ve done recently and are coming up include:

  • Yesterday I gave a presentation on vocal technique for Towson High School. It went really well, I think. I haven’t felt such a high as a teacher since I left Milwaukee (close at the last studio showcase in June – that was pretty special). I’d like to do more of that.
  • This weekend I am doing a recording of a new piece by composer Garth Baxter for vibraphone, Bb clarinet, and mezzo (that’d be me). I got the music last week, and I’m really excited about it. This is something new for me. Depending on how it goes this weekend, I would welcome more of this kind of work.
  • My WNO audition is on January 21 – I have my pieces picked out, and as soon as I’m done with the recording session, I will put more time on those (I already know them – it’s just a question of reworking it)
  • I have a house concert scheduled for May 21 at Paul Cassedy’s house in Baltimore (private event). This will feature the songs from Music’s Path, which I recorded recently for Garth’s CD Ask Of Me What the Birds Sang,

    as well as other songs by Irish poets that I was supposed to sing in a concert in March 2020 (I think we know why that didn’t happen). My pianist for the recording was Andrew Stewart; my pianist for the concert will be Michael Sheppard.
  • I’m going to be an adjudicator for the Maryland Thespians Festival next Friday, January 13, at UMd-College Park. I loved adjudicating at WSMA, and I’m looking forward to this. Hopefully, this might lead to more adjudicating (other than NATS).
  • I’m teaching myself Portuguese on Duolingo in anticipation for a vacation in April and May, and I think I’m doing pretty well – better than I expected. Perhaps more language learning is in my future! (Or maybe I’ll learn some music in Portuguese….???)
  • I’m coordinating an event for MDDC NATS for World Voice Day, April 16.

Things I’m interested in doing more of:

  • Voice acting. I’ve wanted to do this for years. My main concern is where I can do it where I don’t have street and dog noise. (I asked for a soundbooth for Christmas but all I got was this Apple Watch – which I’ve asked for for the last three years, so that’s more than okay.)
  • Cooking – I look back at my FB posts from about 2008-2012 and I was cooking a lot more than I have been in recent years. I just got a subscription to the New York Times Cooking section and I’m being a little adventurous.
  • Cabaret – but where, now that Germano’s is gone?
  • More content on YouTube and … maybe … gulp … on TikTok?
  • Directing – I may be sending out a proposal to a local company tomorrow. (If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.)
  • And lastly – I’m writing a book. I started out wanting to be a writer, before singing grabbed me, and perhaps it’s time to live that dream again.

What will be my sweet spot? What will be my heart? What will be my ….

Say it with me….

Oh, and BTW, I’m considering changing the title of this blog to tessitura. I haven’t decided just yet if I’ll change the URL or just the title – so stay tuned!

Help Someone Find Their Voice (or your own) in 2023

Have you always wanted to take voice lessons? Or do you have a child, sibling, or really close friend who has always wanted to try a voice lesson?

This year,  Mezzoid Voice Studio is offering a gift certificate that you can buy for a loved one (which also be yourself, because self-care is a good thing) at Happy Holidays 2022!

Who is a good candidate for an MVS voice lesson gift certificate?

  • Someone who has sung in the past – in choir, in school, in community theater, professionally- or even in the shower!
  • Someone preparing for an audition!
  • Someone who will use it in the next 6 months because I’m planning to do some things in the summer (hopefully this summer will be better than last summer)
  • Someone who isn’t afraid of making weird noises – nay, embraces weird noises! (Lately in the studio, we’ve been beeping like trucks backing up.)

Who is NOT a good candidate?

  • Someone who has never expressed any interest in singing
  • Someone who already has a teacher with whom they’re happy (I don’t poach students)
  • Someone who won’t use it (no refunds!)
  • Someone who resists change and growth (which is the point of making funny noises)

If you or your recipient falls into the first group, then you should purchase a gift card at Happy Holidays 2022!

A 50-minute drop-in lesson is $95. At that lesson, we’ll find out what the singer already does well and can build upon, what areas they might want to develop some more, and look at possible songs to work on in the future, if they wish to continue. We’ll do this through vocal explorations in vocal exercises (possibly including beeping!) and in a song of their choice.

Through December 31, use the code HAPPYHOLIDAYS
to get $15 off your registration!

The studio is technically closed through January 8; however, if you are auditioning for something before I reopen on January 9 (Thanks, Towson HS for scheduling Mean Girls auditions during my break), I will find a spot for you! If you’re not already working with me, use the certificate above,
or, if you’re looking for a longer commitment,
find out how to work with me.

Make it RAIN

There was an article a while back on getting good quality sleep using a mindfulness tactic with the acronym RAIN.

The steps involved make up the acronym. They are:

  • RECOGNIZE Recognize the stress that’s coming up.
  • ACCEPT/ALLOW Don’t try to push it away.
  • INVESTIGATE Be curious. Ask: What is going on in my body right now? Do you feel tightness in your chest? Do you feel tension in your neck?
  • NOTE Note the experience. Stay in the present movement until the sensation completely subsides.

While this pertains to stress and how it relates to getting a good night’s sleep, I think it can be applied to your singing practice as well.

When you are practicing, and you’re having a problem with a particular exercise, song, or phrase, you can

  • RECOGNIZE Recognize the particular issue – “I am having a problem with reaching this high note”
  • ACCEPT/ALLOW Don’t try to push it away – “Oh, I just need to sing it over and over and it’ll work itself out”
  • INVESTIGATE Be curious. Ask: What is going on in my body right now?  – “Is my jaw tight? Is my breath efficient? What is happening in the phrase leading up to the high note?”
  • NOTE Note the experience. Stay in the present.  It may be frustrating, and you might have to move on for a bit to accomplish what you need to accomplish.

And maybe you’ll find the answer by working on another piece that has a similar phrase with which you don’t have a problem. So work on that piece and apply the same technique to that phrase. “I’m not having a problem (recognition) – that’s great (acceptance) – what am I doing right? (investigation) – how can I apply this to the other song?”

So –

Today is the birthday of one of the 20th century’s greatest entertainers, Sammy Davis Jr.  He would have been 97 years old. An accomplished singer, dancer, actor, and drummer, he needs to be remembered and celebrated every day. I find it tragic that he died of complications of throat cancer. He refused a laryngectomy because he didn’t want to lose his voice, and when he finally had his larynx removed, he died.

Here’s a video of him singing a medley of Anthony Newley’s songs with the composer himself. I’m sharing this because:

  1. It’s magnificent – Newley’s performance is incredibly idiosyncratic but riveting
  2. I can’t believe Americans once had a attention span that would allow a 15 minute segment of two people singing

Enjoy it and do a deep dive into Sammy Davis, Jr. (and Anthony Newley). You won’t regret it.

S’wonderful – Ira Gershwin

Today is the 126th anniversary of the birth of lyricist Ira Gershwin (12/6/1896-8/17/1983).

While his brother George had the reputation as the celebrity composer beloved by movie stars and international classical composers alike (although less so by American ones of his era), Ira was the quiet, somewhat shy older brother. George was a notorious commitment-phobe; Ira was married to his wife Leonore for 57 years. George died at 38 of a brain tumor; Ira lived a long life, dying at 86 at his home in Los Angeles.

Ira is the one who wrote the lyrics to George’s music, and, according to biographer Joan Peyser, those lyrics chronicled George’s life.

“Ira would generally be seen at parties standing in the corner and watching George’s every move… Ira wrote in his lyrics what he believed George should have felt about the situations he found himself in.”

–Joan Peyser, The Memory of All That (Simon & Schuster)

And what wonderful lyrics they were!

Stephen Sondheim would disagree with me, and did vociferously in his book Finishing the Hat, where he describes Ira’s writing as “an insatiable need to rhyme,” often at the expense of common sense. He hated one of my favorite lyrics, from “By Strauss” (which I have sung many times):

“Oh give me the free and easy waltz that is Viennese-y”

Personally, I don’t think that rhyme is all that different, in terms of cleverness, from

“Or else we’d be left bereft of F – D – R” (“How I saved Roosevelt,” Assassins)

Ira’s career did not end with George’s death; he continued to write with Jerome Kern, Kurt Weill, and Harold Arlen, mostly for movies. He stopped writing for the stage in 1946, and ended his career with Arlen with A Star is Born in 1954. It’s most well-known song, “The man that got away,” considered one of the top movie songs of all times by the American Film Institute.

Ira outlived his brother by 46 years. George’s music, both instrumental and vocal, will live on forever, played by symphonies and opera companies. Ira’s lyrics will be sung by performers in cabaret and jazz for many years.

Our romance won’t end on a sorrowful note – though by tomorrow you’re gone. The song has ended but as the songwriter wrote – the melody lingers on*

*reference to Irving Berlin’s “the song has ended but the melody lingers on”

On his 100th birthday, Ira was the first lyricist to be recognized at Carnegie Hall in a special tribute performance. While I couldn’t find any videos from that performance, I was able to find a tribute concert held around the same time at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Enjoy!


Who could ask for anything more?

Suspending the Breath – Why I Don’t Teach It

This is a reprint of an August 2017 blogpost – I recently had a rehearsal where a conductor asked us to do this and it’s something that just goes against me. Here’s why (things I’ve added are in bold and brackets):


This morning, the subject of my meditation app involved a lot of focus on the suspension/stillness between inhalation and exhalation. The momentary pause that exists both before the initiation of each. It’s infinitesimal and you really have to be aware to notice it even exists.

I don’t really feel it and I don’t find it all that valuable. [In fact, I find it harmful.]

When I first started studying voice, I was giving vocalises that encouraged finding that suspension. Exercises that consisted of:

Inhale – 2 – 3 – 4
Suspend 2 – 3 – 4
Exhale 2 – 3 – 4

The exercise gradually increased the numbers, cautioning the singer to be aware of maintaining an open glottis rather than shutting down or being rigid during the suspension. I dutifully did this exercise, and then I taught it, when I first started teaching voice. Because that’s what you did. It was a basic vocal exercise that was included in all the pedagogy books.

But I feel as though breath is a continuous process and that to focus on what is a nearly imperceptible stopping of time creates unnecessary tension. In fact, I think that the act of extending the suspension beyond that split second reinforces the idea of “setting the breath,” as opposed to just moving through it.

I have written in the past that my approach to the breath is that of:

Release – Resist
Rather than suspend time, I prefer to think of releasing it and welcoming the next moment.
(The point of the meditation was to be aware of stillness and use it in your life to avoid unnecessary conflict. In that case, it’s a useful concept. But I’m writing a singing blog here….)
When I’m singing, I don’t want to suspend animation, to enter into some kind of momentary vocal hibernation, but to continue to be animated, which is defined as being “full of life.”
So I’ll suspend disbelief (or judgment), I’ll keep people in suspense, I’ll do TRW suspension work at the gym [or at least I did, pre-‘Covid], and I’ll milk a good harmonic suspension for all it’s worth. But when it comes to singing, I’m just going to keep the air flowing.
Even this kind of suspension has a sense of movement
[Because that’s what we sing on – the exhale. We don’t hold our breath while we sing, and in fact, when we do, we wind up tensing everything up. Suspend for a second or two, just to be aware of it? Sure. Suspend for 8 or 12 or even SIXTEEN counts?

So that…

In improvisational comedy, actors are trained to use the prompt “yes, and” in order to accept what their scene partner has given them and expand upon it to take it further. It doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with your scene partner, it just means that you heard what they said. I think it’s somewhat related to the idea of “finding your why,” in a sense. You say, “yes, and” to take things in a new direction. You “find your why” in order to figure out that direction.

I don’t remember where I got this but I had written down a few notes about goal setting that involved the idea of “I do this so that I can do that.”

(If you’re the person from whom I got it, please let me know and I’ll credit you.)

With the new year fast approaching and resolutions/goal setting coming up, I thought this might be an interesting way to look at the steps involved in achieving your goals.

For example, as it relates to continuing education:

  1. I register for pedagogy courses so that I can explore new ways of teaching voice
  2. I explore new ways of teaching voice so that I can serve my students/clients better
  3. I serve my clients better so that they can feel more confident about their singing and performing in the community and so that I get additional clients who want to be just like them
  4. I teach additional clients so that I can make more money
  5. I make more money so that I can take more pedagogy courses

Or as a performer:

  1. I take voice lessons so that I can audition for the opera
  2. I audition for the opera so that I can perform on stage
  3. I perform on stage so that I can make more money
  4. I make more money so that I can take voice lessons (and take more pedagogy courses)

What is my WHY? For that, we probably need to go back to my earliest blogposts and the (current) title of this blog.

I’m thinking of switching up the name of this blog to something that fits me a bit more now than when I first started this back in 2009. Also, if you’re interested in lessons in the new year, find out how to work with me and we’ll see what we can do together!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Not much time to say a lot today – I should be downstairs putting out platters for our Thanksgiving “dinner” (who eats dinner at 2pm?).

It’s been a rough year for me so far – healthwise and somewhat professionally (mostly related to the health issues). But I am thankful for

  • my students, past, present, and future
  • my friends
  • my family
  • the professional connections I have made over the years, who have given me so much joy as an artist and creator

Have a great Thanksgiving weekend!

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