“Cafeteria” Organizer: How I Approach Planning

In late December, I saved an article to read, and I keep “snoozing” it every so often. (A relatively new feature in Gmail which I welcomed at first, but now I feel that I’m using it with wild abandon.) I’m halfway through the first month of 2021, so I figured it was time to stop snoozing and do something. Which, at times, seems like a metaphor for my life….

This article, by Gretchen Rubin, is about creating a list of things you want to accomplish in a year, rather than making resolutions. I really think it’s splitting hairs to call it that, but hey, you do you.

You could choose to do it based on the calendar year – 21 things in 2021, as this article suggests. Or use your age – 35 things for 35! 42 thing for 42! I will not go there because that would give me a list as long as my arm. Plus, I took her quiz and I’m a Questioner, so I’d be skeptical about why this makes sense for me (see “splitting hairs” line, above).

I’m already kind of doing this with my annual and monthly Brain Dumps, which provide fodder for my setting goals, organizing my time, and making so many to-do lists.

I said that my word this year was going to be Systems, and I suppose that this kind of a list would be a sort of a system, but it’s not one that would work for me. I have to identify Systems that work for me. (People tell me, “You’re so organized!” but really, I have to force organization upon myself or nothing would get done.)

Acuity works for me. Square works for me. Weight Watchers works for me. My Google calendars (and most other Google products) work for me. I’d like to set up a specific mailing list but I have to figure out which one will best suit me and that’s making my head explode right now.

Last year I bought a fancy planner that had a bunch of pages for organizing my thoughts, doing project management, etc., but that is not a system that works for me.  It just annoyed me, after awhile, but since I’d paid $50 for this planner, I figured I had to use it.

Just give me a legal pad for my to-do list, a dry erase board for my quarterly planning, and notebooks to write down my brain dumps and organize my thoughts, and I’m fine. I will create Systems that work for me. It’s like the old phrase, “Cafeteria Catholic.” Take from the dogma what works for you, leave the rest behind. I guess I’m a Cafeteria Organizer.  If I see an idea in a planner that I like, I’ll use it.  But bullet journals aren’t for me.

How are you going to organize your 2021? What works for you? What doesn’t? Is the thought of organizing anathema to you? How do you get things done? Tell me in the comments. 😀


From now through January 31, I’m offering a 15% discount on Vocal Discovery Sessions (new students only).
If you’d like to check that out, more information can be found here. Or contact me and ask me anything!

Join the Resistance (at least singing-wise)

No, this is not a political statement. Unless you want it to be. That’s up to you.

But with all that’s going on right now, I was thinking about the term “resistance” and how it can be interpreted:

Negatively, as Seth Godin says in The Practice, referring to Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. He specifies the negative elements as:

  • Focusing obsessively on bad outcomes to distract you from what you have to do
  • Undermining our confidence while simultaneously pushing us to seek it

Positively, as in the definition of resistance training

“a form of physical activity that is designed to improve muscular fitness by exercising a muscle or a muscle group against external resistance.”

Reasons we do resistance training are to develop:

  1. Strength
  2. Power
  3. Hypertrophy
  4. Endurance

While this usually pertains to getting a six-pack or a great set of guns, it also applies to the development of your singing voice. The resistance that occurs in the application of appoggioAs singers, we are working to create strength and power in the form of resonance, and endurance in the form of breath management.

As far as hypertrophy, be aware that if you put some serious effort into vocal training, you are going to get a larger rib cage. I had a concert gown for my grad school recital in 1994 that I wanted to wear for a competition in 1998. I took the gown with me to Savannah, and discovered when I put it on that I could zip it with no problem until I got to my ribs. And then it would not go. I had to find a seamstress in town to let it out at the seams an inch so that I could get into it. (Joke was on me because I didn’t make it to the final round….)

This past weekend I put on a Vocal Boot Camp, and to make it seem like an actual bootcamp, I decided to try a sort of interval training in the way of vocalizing, where we alternated breath management exercises with exercises for resonance, articulation, and phonation. I’ve been exploring this with my students over the past week – my caveat is, that like physical exercise, these must be done with good form rather than plowing through them for the sake of getting them done. But it’s been an interesting perspective, and I plan to include them on my next Warm-up Wednesday on IGTV and YouTube.

Which resistance are you experiencing? The positive of improving your vocal and physical fitness or the negative that’s keeping you from doing so?


Want to introduce vocal strength training into your regime? Mezzoid Voice Studio has a few spots open.
I’ll be offering a 15% discount on Vocal Discovery Sessions through the end of January.
More details on that in Saturday’s post or you can contact me for more information.

Technique takes work so it can SEEM natural

Technique is the unnatural approach to a problem that, with practice, becomes second-nature. Technique is the non-obvious solution that amateurs and hard-working beginners rarely stumble upon on their own. — Seth Godin

I have had students who came in with so much natural ability and innate talent that I thought for sure that this would be the student who would go into performing and had an excellent change to make it.

And then they didn’t.

Sometimes they didn’t because they found a new passion and didn’t really want to pursue a professional performing career. And that’s fine.

Sometimes they didn’t because circumstances came up, or they didn’t have the support they needed, and they had to change course. And that’s fine, too.

And occasionally, they didn’t because they were used to being the best one in the room, the big fish in the little pond, and they didn’t think they needed to work at it. And when the bond grew bigger and other fish started being noticed, suddenly they weren’t as interested as pursuing it because to stay ahead or even to stay relevant, they had to put in more work than they expected. So their goals changed, and sometimes that was fine and they were okay with it. And sometimes, it wasn’t and they weren’t.

According to Seth Godin, Natural technique doesn’t exist. I agree with this 100%..

  • Natural ability exists.
    • I have a good sense of pitch
  • Innate talent exists.
    • I learn music quickly
    • I have a pleasing vocal quality.

But it takes “commitment to a practice” to develop the technique to become consistent and to hold your own as the pond gets bigger. Being “a natural” will only get you so far before you either have to buckle down and commit to working on your technique – or decide that it’s not for you, after all. And decide if that’s fine and you’re okay with it.

Notice Godin didn’t say “commitment to practice.” He said “to practice.” That is different. “A practice” is a routine that you establish. It is a noun. “To practice” is a verb – it’s something you do. In the UK, they’re spelled differently – “practise” [v] vs “practice” [n]. I suspect there will be another blogpost about this down the road….

What does your practice consist of? What are the steps you need to take on a regular basis to develop your technique to achieve what you want to achieve?


If part of your practice is going to involve voice lessons, I do have a few openings available.
Contact me to talk about it or set up a Vocal Discovery Session, if you want to plunge right in.

Vocal Boot Camp

This afternoon, I gave my first Vocal Boot Camp (online). 9 people attended (I had room for 10), and we spent the first hour and a half going through the elements of vocal technique (BRAAP™), along with some handy dandy slides I made on Canva – here’s one:

We did some vocal exercises during the presentation, as well as observations about how things work. Then we did a sort of interval training, where we alternated about a minute of breath management vocalises between resonance, articulation, and phonation exercises, each set about 1-2 minutes in length (we did alignment early on). That was the first time I had done something like that – and I’m not sure it’s something I want to do all the time, because it really isn’t mindful practicing; but it was an interesting experiment and one that might be valuable, particularly if you’re in a hurry to practice before a gig and want to cover all the bases.

Following that, we took a break, and then we applied the concepts discussed to repertoire. Specifically, we did the Star-Spangled Banner. Why, you ask, did I choose that piece?

  1. It has a range of an octave and a half, so there will be register transitions, and everyone will have a different spot where that’s going to happen.
  2. It has a lot of words and we could explore how best to maintain vowel integrity while also sounding attractive (e.g., “RED GLARE”).
  3. Everyone knows it!
  4. I had accompaniment tracks, both orchestral (Ab and A) and piano (Bb). (I’m rather surprised it’s not on Appcompanist.)
  5. This is a week where I felt like we need to remind ourselves about our country’s ability to stay strong no matter what happens.
  6. It came to me in the shower, where all my ideas are sourced.

I was very pleased with how it went, and it seemed to get an excellent reception from the participants. I’m hoping to do it again, perhaps next year to kick off 2022, or perhaps for another audience in the next few months.

I have a few ideas for other workshops and courses over the next few months, and I’ll be announcing them as soon as I get all the info together!

Stay tuned!


What do you think of HIIT-type vocalizing? Would you be interested in a type of warm-up regime like that?
If so, please contact me and we can talk about setting up either a boot camp for your group or to set up your own lessons.

What shall be our legacy? What will our children say?

Honestly, I try not to talk politics on my blog (I have Facebook for that), but if you read between the lines, you know what I believe.

Yesterday was something.

And I really don’t know what to say about it.

So I’m going to share my favorite patriotic song, American Anthem by Gene Scheer. This piece was composed for mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves to sing with the Marine Band back in 1998 at the Smithsonian Institute for President Bill Clinton. She sang it at the 9/11 memorial ceremony at the National Cathedral and, most recently, at the funeral of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Denyce is on the faculty at Peabody Conservatory and she and I were in Rigoletto together at Washington Opera back in 1991. She was making her debut there as Maddalena, and I was doing my first comprimario role as Countess Ceprano. I subsequently sang in the chorus when she sang the title roles of Carmen and Samson et Dalila (hint: she wasn’t Samson).

This is not the first time I’m sharing this. I actually wrote about this back on the 4th of July, 2020. When I shared it then, along with a recording by Nathan Gunn, I was feeling positive and patriotic. Today I’m trying to find that again, and hopefully, we all will, very soon.

So here is a recording of Denyce Graves singing this in 2016 at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC. Laura Ward is at the piano. If you want to read the text, it’s in the 7/4 post as well. But there’s one line that resonates with me today:

What shall be our legacy? What will our children say?


Things Change, Jo….

As we examine our goals in 2021, it’s important to see how things have evolved from when you set them in the first place. Both within yourself and in the world.

The goals I set in early 2020 included:

  1. expanding the Curiously Strong Performing series at Roland Park Community Center beyond just my studio
  2. writing cabaret shows for year-round performances at a variety of venues
  3. setting up a caroling group of my own that focused on classical singers singing carols that match their outfits (no jazzy Jingle Bells while wearing Dickens costumes!)
  4. attending the NATS National conference
  5. traveling to the UK to visit my best friend

Well, I did do #1 and #4 – but online. And actually, that was easier. Less travel involved, fewer expenses.  As far as #2, #3, and #5 – those will happen.

We’re in a pandemic and performing is on hold. Going places is off the table, at least assuming you’re not a selfish and delusional excuse for a human being (yeah, that’s a little salty, but when you’re married to someone on the front lines of the pandemic, you get a little salty).

One of my former students, who was easily one of my best singers, has decided to stop pursuing a performing career. At least for now. She needs to find what she loves about performing again, and that means taking a step back. And the reality is that she needs to pay her bills, and performing cannot do that for her right now.

When something that you love gets to be a chore and an aggravation (or someone – see my first marriage), it may be time to re-evaluate what part it has in your life. Has it served its usefulness? Have you served it as well as you are able to at this point in your life? Are you walking away completely or leaving the door open for a future re-entry? (And if not, that’s fine too.)

Being able to pivot is an important skill, whether it’s to change goals, careers, or just to get the heck out of Dodge if something isn’t working for you.

In a podcast I heard lately, my business coach, Michelle Markwart Deveaux, talked about viewing goals in the midst of the pandemic. These are from my notes from that pdocast:

  • Are those goals still attainable?
  • Do they still exist?
  • Am I still trying to get my clients/students to achieve the same goals or have they evolved during the pandemic?
    And lastly —
  • Use the creative skills that got you to where you were to get you to the next place

In Little Women,  Jo March has a hard time accepting change in those around her. In the musical, she asks Meg why they can’t remain together, and Meg tells her, “I’ve changed – you’ve changed.” In Mark Adamo’s operatic version of it, Meg sings a gorgeous aria called, “Things Change, Jo.”  Here’s a beautiful version of it, as well as a link to the lyrics (although her diction is quite good):

My 2021 Word

It’s been trendy for a number of years to set an intention for the upcoming year with a single word as the guiding principle. It’s not nearly as specific as “I’m going to lose 15 pounds,” or “I’m going to stop drinking.” That’s probably the appeal. you can define it however you want. Ideally, that word can encompass specific goals, but it doesn’t really have to if you don’t want it to.

I want it to.

In 2016, my word was Organization with a side of Marketing.

In 2019, my word was Release, and in 2020 my word was Recreate. I wrote about how well I had done the former and how I intended to do the latter in this post, but I had no idea at that time just how I would be re-creating things, based on what happened just two months later. (Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of personal recreation involved, since we didn’t going anywhere.)

My word in 2021 is:

The idea of “Systems” can be interpreted as organization, and it kind of is, but it’s more specific. I’m going to take advantage of systems that I’ve had access to and not used to their full capacity in order to run my business and life more efficiently. Whether those systems are dry erase wall calendars, digital calendars with built-in reminders, accounting software, or mailing lists to keep people informed of blogposts, courses, workshops, etc., I want to put them in place so that I don’t have to re-invent (or re-create) the wheel every time I have a new project.

it’s not very sexy or woo-woo, but it’s practical.

So what is your word/phrase/guiding principle for 2021? Other than, “GOOD RIDDANCE 2020”? Drop me a comment and let’s start a discussion.


If you are interested in exploring curiously strong singing in 2021, contact me or sign up for my Vocal Boot Camp next Saturday. Two spots left!

What Worked in 2020

Last year at this time, I felt very positive about the year going forward. I had gone through a year-by-year decade review and felt very proud of the changes I’d made and things I’d achieved. I expected even more good things to happen in 2021. Some of the things that I was expecting to do for the studio (and myself) included:

  • Exploring a variety of performance opportunities
  • How to audition effectively
  • How to communicate in languages you might not understand
  • How to create personal musical theater through cabaret
  • How to re-create a piece that you might be tired of or that you might consider old-fashioned

We were on our way to doing those through the Curiously Strong Performing™ series that I had started at Roland Park Community Center, and we were supposed to do a student cabaret at Germano’s Piattini at the end of March. I was going to premiere some pieces by Irish poets that I had commissioned at a house concert on March 15. I was going to write a new Christmas cabaret to be done in December 2020 at a variety of venues.

But then…. you know what happened. Everything stopped on March 14 and lessons moved online.

But what did we accomplish?

  1. We figured out how to use technology (and are still figuring out new ways to make things work)
  2. We went beyond our own communities to work with other singers and master clinicians with national and international reputations
  3. We started doing regular studio classes where we thought outside the box (no pun intended) and looked how we could tweak interpretations to make songs fresh
  4. We learned to self-tape – and some people are really good at working with the camera
  5. We have had the time to learn new skills related to our craft, if not necessarily of the craft

For myself and MVS, the latter has included redoing my website, doing a studio photoshoot (and writing an article about it for an independent voice teachers magazine), increasing my presence on Instagram and YouTube with Warm-up Wednesdays, Singing in the Mask, and my 25 Days of Caroling medley, taking belt lessons of my own, writing more regularly, hosting masterclasses and workshops, and teaching courses, including the very successful musical theater history & performance course, From Tin Pan Alley to Today. I also brought on actor Matt Bender as an associate to coach monologues, which he will continue to do in 2021.

And I have more plans, including a Vocal Boot Camp next Saturday, January 9, from 12-3 pm. If you would like to register, today is the last day of the early bird discount (Code EARLYBIRD2021), and you can register here. We will also continue to do studio classes at no charge for current MVS students.

As far as what didn’t work, we all know that. No need to dwell on it.


If you would like to start something new in 2021, why not consider voice lessons? I have room for 3-5 enthusiastic performers (either pre-professional or serious avocational/professional singers) at Mezzoid Voice Studio. Contact me HERE
if you’d like more information.

The Winding Way Down to 2021

Heck of a year, ain’a?

[Definition of Ain’a: Milwaukee version of the French phrase “ne c’est pas,” meaning, “isn’t it?”
Often includes “hey” at the end for added emphasis]

I don’t have too much to say except I’m looking forward to the beginning of 2021, because it really has to get better, right?

I have a few more lessons to give today and Saturday, and then I’m off from teaching till January 4. I have some church gigs this weekend and on Christmas Eve, but otherwise I’m going to take some time for myself and my family and to organize myself for the upcoming year. And so I’ve decided – just this minute, in fact – that I’m going to take off from posting to the blog until New Year’s Eve.

And I plan to listen to a lot of music, including one of my very favorite contemporary singers, Emma Langford, who I heard in Milwaukee at Milwaukee Irish Fest 2019 and who I hoped to host in a house concert when she did her US tour in 2020. Needless to say, that didn’t happen.

I thought I’d close out this year with her song, “The Winding Way Down to Kells Bay.” It’s more traditional than most of her repertoire, but right now, I think it’s a lovely way to close out the year.

Oh the road stretches out before your feet on the winding way down to Kells Bay
And the Golden sunset’s like no other they say on the winding way down to Kells Bay
Where sorrow’s met with smiling eyes and a great black cloak brushed with stars for a sky
And the old trees lean in there to whisper a tale on the winding way down to Kells Bay

There’s a song in the heart of the people you’ll meet on the winding way down to Kells Bay,
Yes a joke to be shared and a drink to be drank on the winding way down to Kells Bay
And the green Kerry Hills overlooking the sea, and the fuschias are blooming so brightly and sweet
And the ocean could carry our worries away on the winding way down to Kells Bay

On the winding way down, oh the winding way down,
On the winding way down to Kells Bay
Yes the ocean could carry our worries away on the winding way down to Kells Bay

There’s a saint on the hillside i dteach deas beag buí, on the winding way down to Kells Bay
Lean isteach leat a stóirín agus lig do scíth on the winding way down to Kells Bay,
And when the bell rings then we’ll all head away on the winding road down to Kells Bay,
Where the ocean could carry our worries away on the winding way down to Kells Bay,

And the Golden sunset’s like no other, they say, on the winding way down to Kells Bay,
And we’ll stop for the chat, and the auld cupán tae, on the winding way down to Kells Bay.

Yes the ocean could carry our worries away, on the winding way down…

What’s Your Freaking Superpower?

This reminded me of my overwhelm/opportunity post from a week or so ago. What are my weaknesses? And my strengths/superpowers?

  1. Insecurity / Confidence (Yes, they can exist in the same body)
  2. Jealousy / Compersion (the latter is a new word for me)
  3. Scarcity / Abundance

I can trace all the perceived weaknesses I have to my upbringing. Imposter Syndrome was pretty much the predominant factor in being brought up by Eastern European parents of a certain generation, as was fear of not having enough to get by. Jealousy – well, I think that’s pretty much something ingrained into me by my mother, but that’s neither here nor there. At least not today.

What has given me confidence, compersion, and a feeling that abundance is available to me?

My husband, friends, my colleagues, and my career as an artist and teacher, I wish that I’d found them earlier in my performing life, but it’s there now. Not sure if they are, necessarily, my superpowers (I’ve always considered my primary superpower the ability to say, “Hey, do you know who you look like?” but that probably doesn’t count), but I believe that they contribute to them. Another post will focus on what I think my superpowers are as both an artist and teacher and how these strengths may contribute to them. Probably in the New Year!


Looking to find your superpowers as a performer?
Contact MVS to set up a Vocal Discovery Session.