Go with the flow

I’ve been doing some thinking about the concept of flow. Yesterday and today, I spent a great deal of time working on tax prep, and at one point, I realized I had forgotten to eat.

That is something incomprehensible to me. I can function just fine on lack of sleep, but if I don’t get fed on a pretty regular basis, I’m not pleasant to be around.

Do you get hangry? | FAO

But I was in the groove, in the zone, focused, all these words which basically means I was in a state of flow. This happens to me sometimes when I’m writing, when I’m practicing. in performance, and when I’m teaching.

What is flow? It’s

  • not being on autopilot
  • not being passive or relaxed and letting things come to you
  • in performance, being so in character that you literally forget where you are and who you are (there is one very embarrassing story about just that circumstance that I will save for another day)
  • a state of intense concentration

But it’s more than that. Achievement of flow involves an alignment of a variety of elements:

  • Concentration
  • Challenge
  • Skill
  • A sense of something beyond self (which is why I forget I’m hungry).

To find out more about the idea of flow, here’s a great site with a lot of links to other articles about flow: What is Flow?

Have you experienced flow? Tell me about your experience in the comments!

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As a result of my recent accident I’ve decided to postpone my February Group Voice Class for Adults till May.
If you’re interested in participating or in finding out more about voice lessons, feel free to contact me 
(I’m feeling much better, but I’m still taking it easy for the time being.)

 

 

Changing My Story

Today’s post was supposed to be about the word “multivocal,” which was a Word of the Day that popped up into my email a month or so ago. I’m not sure what I was going to write about, but it would’ve been something important, I’m sure.

And then Monday happened.

I sang a funeral in the morning and then came home and helped my husband put away stuff in the TV room (basement). We had put new floors in and had had to empty out our wine fridge to be able to move it for the flooring guys. Since I’d noticed a few discrepancies when I would check the inventory, I thought we should do a thorough overview of what exactly we had. When we were done, I had found some changes that needed to be made, so, while my lunch was heating up, I ran upstairs to get my laptop so I could access the database before I started teaching in an hour and a half.

I walked into the office and I tripped up on the rug. It was a trip from which you can’t recover – I flew through the air and landed, chin first, on the back of my desk chair. There was blood everywhere. I was spitting out blood (and hoping there wouldn’t be teeth coming out with it), and it was gushing out of my mouth and chin. And it turned out, my right index finger had been gashed open as well (no idea how that happened). I have stitches in my chin, in my mouth right at the juncture of my lip and gum, and in my index finger.

Oh, and I broke my right kneecap. Which didn’t even hurt at the time.

No teaching this week. I’m resting, eating soft foods, and I’m just generally cranky. I’m really not in a lot of pain, except my lower lip looks like shredded meat and I seem to be in a perpetual pout.

Well, it’s no wonder that I’m pouting. I’m angry that I’m so clumsy.

Wait.

I also started Alexander Technique training via Total Vocal Freedom and today, something was said that made me re-think my definition of myself as being “so clumsy.” Which is a term used about me by myself and others as far back as I can remember.

Alexander Technique is about wholeness and awareness. It is about addressing use, rather than specifically intervening in order to address function. And use of your body informs your function.

Today one of the teachers said that the story you tell yourself informs your use, which then informs your function.

As a singer, this could mean:

  • “I can’t sing high notes” (story)
  • When I approach a high note, my larynx rises and cuts me off (story)
  • “I can’t sing high notes” (function)

You might also call this a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

I realized my story is: “I am a clumsy person” (i.e., “I trip, therefore I am”). My use of my body is less than mindful, which means that I trip on rugs, my feet, dogs, air. My function is then affected because I am not using my body mindfully and I injure myself (in this particular case, having to slurp soup because my mouth is compromised).

I need to change my story. Here’s the new one.

  • I am a mindful person (story)
  • I enter rooms aware of my surroundings (use)
  • I remain upright (function)

“The Alexander Technique is a way of learning to move mindfully through life.” I’m ready to adopt this way of learning and stop falling downThe Alexander technique | SOUNDSORY | SOUNDSORY

What is your story? How is it informing your use? How is that, in turn, informing your function? Tell me about it in the comments.

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I’ll be back in the studio on Monday (hopefully less swollen!) and I have a few openings if you’d like to talk about
telling your story, and using your voice and body more efficiently in order to function effortlessly and efficiently.
Contact me here if you have any questions.

Why we do hip flexor stretches

I have to be honest. Since we went online, I haven’t done much with my students about hip flexor exercises. Or any kind of stretching, for that matter.

And when we were in-person, I did hip flexor stretches because I had injured my own hip flexor, and they were prescribed by my physical therapist. Since the only way I could guarantee I would do them regularly was to incorporate them into my pre-lesson stretches, I decided to do that. So I did and I kept doing it.

Besides, they were good for us as singers, because singers tend to lock through that area. My teacher in Milwaukee, Connie Haas, told me once, “You’re very flat in the front,” and I said, “Oh, thank you!”

It wasn’t a compliment. I was flat because I was locking my lip flexor (as well as my knees).

But I’ve found that there’s more to it – there’s a direct connection between the diaphragm, the primary muscle of breathing, and the psoas, the primary muscle of walking. Stretching our hip flexors and freeing the psoas allows us to have more mobility in the diaphragm. You can read about it here.

I’m doing a lot more thinking about this because today I’m starting teacher training in Total Vocal Freedom, which will focus on learning about Alexander Technique and body mapping, and how these concepts can be applied to vocal training. I’ve been considering this for quite some time, and I’m really excited to be starting this!

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If you’d like to know more about Alexander Technique or any other part of vocal training,
please stay tuned for more information about World Voice Weekend this coming April! 

 

What Happens in a Voice Lesson

I decided to put this here because I’m cleaning up my website so that it’s not so wordy (what, me wordy?), but I still feel like this info should be somewhere. So here it is and I’ll link it on the website (this is what you can expect  in MY studio – YMMV in anyone else’s):

  • The Warm Up: A lesson usually starts out with some stretching to get your body ready to sing. Then we start with exercises to get your voice ready to sing. This can take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on where you are in your vocal studies, what you’ve done before your lesson, and what you need on that particular day, both to serve yourself and to serve the song(s) you’re planning to work on.
  • The Repertoire (Songs): Once you’re ready to go, we work on the song(s) you’re preparing. Sometimes the song might be one that you’re going to sing next week; sometimes it’s something you’re working on for a future performance; and sometimes it’s something you might never sing again, but it’s preparing you for something else (kind of like vocal “training wheels”).
  • Digging Deep, Technically: Christine will usually have you sing the song all the way through and note the parts that are working really well, and the parts that need some attention. Then you’ll go back and she will help you to use what’s working to help the parts that aren’t at the same level yet. Working techique can be painstaking and picky – but you’ll wind up being able to count on it when you sing it (or something like it) in front of an audience, whether that’s for an audition, in a theater, or just on karaoke night.
  • Digging Deep, Artistically: Christine will also help you delve into the song and find what the text means, both in context of the song and, if it’s from a show (a musical or an opera), the context of the show. She’ll help you find clues in the music to tell you what the composer wanted. She’ll tell you the history of the time in which it was written and how it influences the style. Again, it’s picky. But it’ll set you apart as a singing artist, not just a singer.

I also took this picture out because, honestly, as much as it amused me, it might make someone else run screaming for the hills. And I don’t want to traumatize anyone. (Plus, as one of my students pointed out, I don’t teach little kids, at least right now, and this picture kind of implies that I do.)

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If you’d like to experience a Mezzoid Voice Studio lesson for yourself, please contact me and we’ll set up a Vocal Discovery Session

In the Beginning was the Word (maybe)

Or was it the music?

It depends on the composer.

Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart agreed that Rodgers would write the music first,  and Hart would fit the words to the music.

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II began with Hammerstein’s lyrics, with Rodgers fitting the music to the lyrics. In that case, yes, the Word[s] was first.

Personally, I prefer Rodgers’ melodies better as part of his collaboration with Hart than I do with Hammerstein. They seem more creative.

(Wow, I’ve committed sacrilege twice in one post and I’m <100 words in.)

When you are working on interpreting a song, what do you work on first? The words or the music? Or do you try to do them all together? What is your process?

In past studio classes, we’ve taken the text of a song and made it into a monologue to see which words stuck out as particularly important. Because a song is, basically, a monologue or a soliloquy set to music. In the hands of a great composer, the music enhances the text and vice versa.

In next week’s studio class, we will be focusing on finding the backstory – what’s behind the text and how it informs your interpretation of the song you’re singing. In other words, how did we come to this (which is one of my favorite songs of the last 20 years)?

If you’re a current MVS member, these are included in your lessons. If you’re not, contact MVS and let me know if you’d like to attend, and I’ll let you know how you can join.

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If you’d like to work on text, whether it’s from a song or a stand-alone monologue, I recommend Matt Bender as an acting coach.
He is one of MVS’ former students, has an MFA in Acting, and is an in-demand coach and adjudicator in the Midwest.
He’s also an affiliate with MVS. Check out Monologues with Matt for more information.

 

A Stroke of … Scenius?

I just came across the term “scenius” a few  months ago in a blogpost – I’m not sure where. I thought it might be Seth Godin, but I didn’t find it.

Scenius is defined as “communal genius” that occurs in scenes rather than genes. It was created by musician Brian Eno and is intended to convey the extreme creativity that is fostered in groups of like-minded people who work together to inspire, facilitate, and create, rather than as something attributable to One Great Genius. More information about the concept may be found here and here.

I am fortunate to have been and to be in several of these kinds of groups.

  • Wisconsin NATS
  • MDDC NATS
  • The Speakeasy Cooperative
  • The Creative’s Workshop
    and of course
  • Mezzoid Voice Studio (both in its Milwaukee and present incarnations)

This past year, I have been inspired to bring on board guests to help serve my students in their development. We’ve had Lissa deGuzman, Richard Carsey, Ryan Cappleman, Amanda Kaiser, and Matt Bender come in and offer people new perspectives on performing. We’ve initiated studio classes to dive further into Curiously Strong Performing, with every participant eager to support and contribute to the greater good of the studio.

And I’m looking forward to an upcoming project for World Voice Day, April 16, which, since it falls on a Friday, I plan to celebrate for the entire weekend, thereby making it:

In addition to a concert already planned for WVD itself (which I’m in the process of organizing), I am planning to host a variety of new and returning experts in voice (classical, musical theater, pop, and acting) in Q&As, workshops, masterclasses, and whatever else I can think of.

More information will be forthcoming as I actually know it because this came to me yesterday. And I’m going to be working with people to flesh this out and, if we’re successful, to repeating this again next year and the year after (when WVD also will fall on a weekend day).

Looking forward to working with my  students and compatriots  scenius to make this a reality.

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If you’re interested in being a part of World Voice Weekend, please contact me and we’ll talk about the possibilities!

“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 things 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. 😀

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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?

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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?

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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!

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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.