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Pressing Pause

I am in need of a well-deserved vacation.

On March 4, 2020, I had a chat in FB Messenger with a friend and she asked what I was up to. I told her I was a little overwhelmed because, at that point, I had the following on my plate:

  1. Five more performances of Don Giovanni with WNO at the KenCen;
  2. A world premiere performance of a song cycle I had commissioned Garth Baxter to compose for me, based on poems by Irish poets, to be done in a house concert by an area impresario;
  3. Writing a cabaret show for several of my students to be performed at Germano’s Piattini on March 29;
  4. Holy Week;
  5. Leaving for the UK to visit my best friend and her husband, who were stationed at the U.S. Embassy there.

She said, “Wow! That’s a lot! But it sounds like a fun lot!” and I agreed.

Well. I think you know what happened then.

So this is what became of that:

  • There were three more performances of DG before the KenCen closed (although AGMA negotiated for us to be paid for one of them, we lost payment for two);
  • The house concert was cancelled (although I am recording two of the songs in a project scheduled for June 3);
  • Germano’s has closed permanently (really upset about that);
  • No Holy Week services were held with singers (this cost me nearly $1000 in income);
  • No trip to the UK at that time

BUT

I’m going this weekend! My friends are there for another two months and then they’re returning back to the DC area, but we’re staying with them and, for two weeks, we get to explore London and Oxford and whatever else my husband has planned.

Because I just sat back and said, “You know what – plan whatever – I will go along gladly with whatever you want to do as long as I don’t have to make any decisions.” (Hopefully he hasn’t scheduled bungee jumping from the Tower of London or anything like that.)

There will be many decisions to make when I return. I will be in the throes of preparing for our June 5 studio showcase, for which I’ve already assigned music and created rehearsal tracks. I will be preparing for the recording of the two Irish songs. I will be organizing a program for two of my graduating seniors to be done in late July/early August. I may be hosting a house concert in August (artist TBD).

But for now, I’m going to press pause. For the next two weeks, I’ll be re-posting some things (which I may tweak over the weekend before I leave to go with more of the style and format that I’ve developed since moving to WordPress).

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I haven’t forgotten about the summer lesson offerings;
those will be dropped before I leave. If you’re interested, contact me at christine@mezzoidvoicestudio.com.
I will answer emails as time permits.

Personal NOT-Victories

In last Thursday’s blogpost, I wrote about some of my personal victories. But what about the times when I did not emerge from the stage victorious? What if I felt as though I was a failure?

Failure is such an awful word, so instead of recounting my “personal failures,” I’d like to recount some of my personal NOT-victories. One in particular is a doozy.

As it turns out, I talked about this about ten years ago in a blogpost that I called, “Worst Things That Ever Happened to Me As a Performer.”

To save you a click, I’ll reprise those here with my added comments on them from a ten-years later perspective.

  1. When I walked up my skirt and fell into the first violinist’s music stand (see previous article on performance anxiety).
    My favorite story, and you really have to click on the link to get the full impact. A different impact than I made with the music stand.
  2. When I pierced my finger with a spindle during a production of Flying Dutchman at Washington Opera.
    That could’ve been a lot worse.

  3. When I was thrown off someone’s back while on tour with Pirates of Penzance and crashed into the stage, dislocating my knee and, as I found out much later, cracking my coccyx. (Didn’t know that until I lost weight and no longer had padding on it.)
    Again, could’ve been a lot worse. But it was one of the many things that contributed to my massive knee arthritis.

  4. When I came home from a Friday luncheon and decided to take a nap, only to sleep through a wedding I was supposed to sing that day – although I woke up deathly ill and wound up being so sick I couldn’t sing or teach for two full weeks.
    Boy, I lost a lot of money then, and again in the subsequent never-ending Bronchitis of 2018! But at that time, I had just quit my day job to focus full-time on singing, and it almost felt like the world telling me, “See? You should’ve stayed a legal secretary.” Upper respiratory infections are NO JOKE.

  5. When I drooled on someone’s head on stage. I was in Rosina at the Skylight, playing Pilar, the slutty landlady, and at one point, the soprano ties a scarf in my mouth and leads me across the stage to a blindfolded man singing a love song (he’s singing to the soprano, but I think he’s singing to me). Well, the scarf hit my tongue in just the right way to make me salivate. So I’m sucking back this mouthful of drool the whole time, trying frantically to keep it in my mouth – and just as I get on top of the baritone – I failed. Fortunately, he was wigged (and still blindfolded) and wasn’t aware of it. I was totally humiliated!!
    Although honestly, Pilar probably would drool on someone in the throes of passion. She was not a tidy woman.

  6. When I had violent abdominal cramps while wearing spandex in A Cudahy Carolers Christmas and wound up going up on a line and breaking character for the first and only time in my life.
    That sounds hilarious but….

This one hurts the most and is the most personal,
and I think it is why it was my last stage performance in Milwaukee.
Possibly TMI ahead.

It wasn’t just cramps. I wasn’t just in violent pain. I had some serious digestive issues. And there was one bathroom and it was located backstage. There was another in the lobby, but it only had one toilet, so the audience literally had to come backstage during intermission to use the bathroom. The other alternative was to run out the backstage door into the cold night air in what was a sketchy neighborhood and run around the block to get to the lobby. In costume.

The only time you could flush the backstage toilet during the show was during a laugh line or thunderous applause. By this point in the run (no pun intended), I knew where those moments were, so during the first act, it wasn’t a problem.

The second act was a farce and there was literally NO time to go the bathroom. (Especially when you didn’t know just how long it was going to take …. ) Entrances and exits were lightning quick. I was in such agony and I barely had a moment to catch my breath, I had serious brain fog, I’d actually lost my balance and swayed backwards during the first act finale, and that’s when it happened, right toward the end of the second act:

I walked out on stage and said a line and it was like I was disembodied, watching myself say the line, and I thought, “That was wrong,” so I said it again. And this time, I did say it wrong. So I actually stomped my foot and said it a third time. I watched myself do it in horror. So did the rest of my cast. And the director was in the audience that night because we were doing a photo shoot the next day and she wanted to see which scenes she wanted to capture. She was not pleased with me.

I had no idea why I had done this. I had 20 years of performing experience in my life up to that point, and I had never done anything even remotely like this. Just a few shows earlier, I had my thumb pop out of joint right before my entrance and managed to go on, deliver lines, sing an entire song, and then go off stage and pop my thumb back into place (the joys of being double jointed!).

In my first role, as Princess Margaret in The Student Prince, I literally got kicked in the head during my song by dancers trying to avoid broken glass on the stage and kept singing.

But this was the first and only time I allowed something to affect me to the point where it was not just a mere distraction but resulted in a totally unprofessional action. And I was too embarrassed to explain anything other than mutter an apology and something about having cramps. I didn’t want to tell them that it was more than that.

(I’m still using euphemisms – perhaps this is just too personal – but I’m not comfortable using anything else in this case.) But the result was that:

I’m pretty convinced that the director thought I was drunk. 

Of course, I was not. And honestly, it wasn’t the kind of show where I was being challenged to sing complex arias in a foreign language and needed my wits about me.

I was singing Christmas parodies with dirty lyrics. I could have had wine or beer with dinner and it would have no effect on the technique required to perform this show. I’m not denigrating the show – but we’re not talking about Shakespeare or Mozart here. If I could sing “Wanda’s Glamourland” with a dislocated thumb, surely I could sing it after having a beer.

But I had had nothing to drink before the show. And I was not drunk. But – if I were watching myself from the director’s perspective, I would say, “That woman is drunk.”

No, that woman really has to go to the bathroom and she can’t.

And I didn’t have the guts (again, no pun intended) to tell anyone that. I thought it was a personal failure for me to not be in control of my body, and it was a professional failure for me to respond the way I did. I wasn’t even able to tell anyone what was happening until a few years later. And then it sounded like an excuse to me.

So maybe she thought I was drunk (again, nope).  Maybe she thought I was a bad actor (nope). Maybe she thought I was nuts (perhaps, but that wasn’t why)..

All I can say is that I never got another stage gig in Milwaukee again in the subsequent 9 years I stayed there. Because that lack of professionalism, no matter what the trigger, bit me in the butt. Word travels fast, and I’m pretty sure that incident was the turning point in my Milwaukee performing career. I did not have a “second act” there.

But I have it here. And it hasn’t ended yet.  I just moved to a different stage – in location, and in my life.

Look at so-called “failures” as not-victories; they could be the result of clumsiness, or bad positioning, or illness. They could result from a lack of focus or technique, but they all are opportunities for growth, if you recognize the lessons you can learn from them.

When something happens that might be considered a failure, remember that it doesn’t mean that you are a failure. Something happened. Let it go and get up again. Whether it’s from a literally spill on the stage or from a bad line reading, get up.

z

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Do you have an amusing (or horrifying) story to tell about a performing experience of yours? How did you overcome it? Tell me in the comments!

Personal Victories

I was reviewing my blog notes for inspiration, and came across some things that I had written up for the Singer’s Journey course I took in 2021. I’ve drawn from these before, most recently in What’s on Your Life Playlist?, in which I looked at music that influenced my life.

Today I want to talk about a couple of the personal victories I’ve had in my life (so far) that completely changed the direction of my life.

  1. When I moved to DC the first time, my ex-husband talked me up to people he worked with as being this great opera singer. I had done a few operas but my vocal technique was in terrible shape. I had studied with a teacher in Wisconsin who wasn’t the right fit for me and I was just not singing well. Well, someone he spoke to knew someone at Washington Opera and they called ME to invite me to do an audition. I didn’t know what to do! Do I turn it down? Maybe I’m not as bad as I think? I had a lesson set up the day before my audition with a new teacher (Marianna Busching) but I really only had one aria that was even semi-passable.Well, I was as bad as I thought. I got through to the end and Martin Feinstein (the then-artistic director) got up and left. Ed Purrington (the managing director) spoke to me and said, “There’s a voice in there, but you need a good teacher.” I told him that I’d just started working with someone (again, literally the day before the audition), and he said she was a good choice and he looked forward to hearing me again.

    A year later, I auditioned again and got into the chorus of La Forza del Destino. During the initial rehearsals, they held auditions for a chorus bit. I auditioned – not knowing it paid extra, just thought it be fun to do, and figuring I didn’t have a chance – and got it! I wound up singing with them for 7 seasons, doing the big shows, the smaller ones that were a little more musically demanding, chorus bits, solo bits, and finally a supporting role in the world premiere of Dream of Valentino. (And now I’m singing with them again!)

  2. After moving back to MKE (and thinking all that DC/Baltimore work and the Peabody MM (also the result of studying with Marianna in the first place) would result in my being Mezzo Queen of the Midwest), I found myself doing a fraction of the work I’d done in the preceding nine years out east. I was supposed to do Augusta in a production of The Ballad of Baby Doe and the performance fell through. [That’s another story – it was actually much more convoluted than just that.] On the day I found out about it falling through, I realized it was the deadline for the NATS Intern Program. I quickly pulled together materials and sent them off just in time to make the deadline. Again, I didn’t think I had a chance – they only chose 12 people, and I was a private teacher, and most of the people they chose at that time were college-affiliated. About 2 weeks later, I received a letter inviting me to participate. It was the best thing I ever did at that point. I had the chance to learn from great teachers and to prove to myself that I was good at this!!

What are the personal victories that you’ve had that have changed your life’s trajectory? How did they come about? Did you seek them out or were you in the right place at the right time? Tell me about them in the comments!

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I’ll be dropping my summer offerings next weekend before I leave for vacation. If there’s something you’re interested in learning about, contact me and I’ll be in touch.

Professionalism: Standing Out Vs. Sticking Out

Whether you are singing in a school or community theater production, going to audition for a college program, or singing in a church or community choir, the thing that will set you apart is an attitude of professionalism.

I’ve written before about being a good colleague, and that’s a large part of it. Show respect for them and for what they bring to the table, and don’t make it all about you. Especially if they don’t know you yet. Listen. Behave in an exemplary manner and don’t make excuses.

About a month and a half ago, someone posted a question in the NEW New Classical Singer’s Forum on FB (I forget what happened to the original “New Classical Singer’s Forum”):

If you are an opera singer that is successfully and consistently getting roles, what are you doing to get them? Can you dig all the way back into college for me and go step by step with how you got from being a college kid who wanted to sing opera to being a professional opera singer that consistently gets work?

There were many intelligent responses, but I was particularly impressed with one from soprano and voice teacher Davida Kagen of Washington State. Ms. Kagen has had an impressive opera career and teaching studio for a number of years.  (And in a picture on her website from her days at the Zurich Opera Studio, she is sitting next to my cousin-by-marriage, Susan Pombo-Ball!) With Ms. Kagen’s permission, I am posting her response here (bolding mine):

  • Study hard
  • Know your stuff
  • Be a very good actor, along with being an adequate musician
  • Be courageous
  • Trust yourself
  • Develop a thick skin
  • Take the craft seriously, but, not yourself too much
  • Always be ready for anything
  • Be in the right place at the right time
  • Be good enough to attract a sponsor, an agent for representation
  • Be prepared, on time, a great colleague who people love to work with

[These are] just a few of the qualities that get you noticed. Having a beautiful voice is only a very small part of it, but that helps as well.

With the exception of being an actor/musician, these all correspond to things you need to succeed in any other profession. Check out another blogpost I just read about the Six Traits of Professionalism. Really, it’s the same thing.

I would like to add

  • Don’t show off/draw attention to yourself*
  • Don’t apologize (unless you’ve actually hurt someone) or make excuses – particularly in advance of what you’re about to do
  • Be a generous colleague but don’t offer unsolicited/unwelcome advice/suggestions!

*I know this seems incongruous to being a performer,
but there’s a difference between standing out and sticking out

Performing is a team activity, whether or not you are a principal artist or in the chorus. In order to work well with others, you must show respect to them for their time, their ability, as well as being the best artist/human being you can be.

  • You may get hired once for your beautiful voice, but if you don’t back it up with the professionalism required, you won’t get hired back
  • You might not even get hired/accepted to a program if you don’t behave professionally in the audition – to everyone you meet, not just the audition panel. EVERYONE COUNTS.

You stand out by being the most professional: “Look at the work.”
You stick out by being the least professional: “Look at ME!”
Which will you choose?

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If you’re ready to choose a professional attitude toward your vocal development (even if being a professional performer is not necessarily on your radar), find out how to work with me
and stay tuned for summer lesson options!

Wishful Thinking: Seeds for Action

Wishful thinking is defined as:

: an attitude or belief that something you want to happen will happen even though it is not likely or possible

Brittanica Dictionary

You could also call these fantasies, delusions, magical thinking, pipe dreams. Nonbelievers would also call prayers a form of wishful thinking.

A lot of songs are written about making wishes, some of which are more likely than others:

There is a phrase, “Be careful what you wish for – you might get it!” The idea behind this is that you might find out that it’s really not what you want or not all that it’s cracked up to be, or that it leads to more headaches than it’s worth. That’s what Tzeitel is trying to tell her sisters in Matchmaker (one of the songs in our upcoming studio showcase!). And it’s definitely the case for all the wishers in Into the Woods – Cinderella gets her Prince (meh); The Baker and his Wife get their child but parenthood is hard; The Witch gets beauty but loses her powers; Rapunzel gains her freedom but loses her mind (and, ultimately, her life).

Seth Godin has another interpretation of that phrase:

Wishes are wonderful. But they are seeds for action. You have to take steps to implement them.  And if your wish involves a successful career in the performing arts (whether that’s being a star or working regularly as a chorister, in small roles with big companies or big roles with small companies – i.e., my performing career), there are steps you need to take. Steps that involve study, and spending money, and giving up things because you have a gig, or rehearsal.

And there’s always the possibility that, no matter how much work you put into making your wish come true – it won’t.

That’s when this can happen.:

There are no genies or fairy godmothers to make our wishes come true,  and no matter how many pennies we throw in a wishing well, making your wishes come true requires hard work on your part. And sacrifice. And change.

Are you willing to put in the work and effect the change that you need to fulfill your dreams? And if you do, are you willing to accept the outcome either way? And if that outcome turns out to be not what you want – whether you reach the goal or not – what will be your next step? (And don’t say “wishful drinking” – that doesn’t solve anything.)

genie

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If you’re ready to do the work to make your wishes come true, find out how to work with me!
Summer lesson registration opens April 23.

You are NOT the weakest link!

There was a TV show on about 20 years ago called The Weakest Link. It was a winner-take-all game show that was a cross between Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Survivor. The host back then was a British woman, Anne Robinson, who insulted the contestants by sneering at their wrong answers and questioning their intelligence. She was known as “The Queen of Mean, ” especially for her dismissive catchphrase, “You are the weakest link! Goodbye!”

Since I don’t have broadcast TV, I just found out yesterday that this terrible, humiliating, and ugly show has been rebooted, with Jane Lynch as the host. And she is using the same catchphrase.

Jane Lynch,
WHY???

The reason I am writing about this is that I caught myself using this term the other day in talking about how working with people who are more advanced than you, and how it can bring out the best in you. I said to this young girl, “because no one wants to be the weakest link.” And then I realized what a crappy thing that was to say to her, to myself, to anyone.

The definition of “weakest link,” according to the Collins English Dictionary, is:

the person who is making the least contribution to the collective achievement of a group

As I said in the blogpost I linked above, that term might have come out my mother’s own mouth when I was growing up. It was implied by actual quotes like these:

  • She sings higher than you so she must be better
  • Everyone was better than you
  • The camera did close-ups of everyone but you because your hair sat on top of your head like a hat (admittedly, that was a bad perm)

Consequently, I have worried my whole life of not being good enough. Of sticking out for the wrong reasons. You might call it imposter syndrome, feeling like a fraud, being afraid of being found out, of people seeing my acting or singing as the equivalent of a bad perm – just sitting there, calling attention to itself by its own inadequacy.

Yeah, that’s garbage. And it has held me back in the past, and I’m not about to let it hold anyone back anymore.

Our studio showcase is coming up on June 5 – I’m calling it “If we only have love” – and, as I did in Milwaukee, I’m putting together people who I think will work together well, will sound good together, and will learn from each other. Some people will be at a relatively advanced stage of their vocal development, and some will be in the beginning of their vocal journey. The point of combining people is to introduce the newer ones to performing with the help of more seasoned performers. It’s to build community, which is paramount to me.

No matter what your stage of development is, you have something to offer a group and something to learn from it.

Yes, work with good people so you can strive to achieve a higher level of performance. But don’t ever think of yourself as being the “weakest link” in the ensemble, and don’t let anyone else even hint that you could be. Not me, not a colleague, and definitely not Jane Lynch.

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Summer lessons begin June 20. Stay tuned for the full schedule and offerings!

Voice lessons and physical therapy

This morning I was reading a blogpost by Seth Godin about The Physical Therapy Metaphor and I was thinking about how much studying voice and physical therapy have in common.

I’m not talking about voice therapy in the event someone is dealing with a vocal injury; I’m talking about the process and goal of voice lessons and how similar it is to physical therapy. (Full disclosure: I have done both, many, many times.)

Godin outlines the following characteristics of physical therapy (and I’m adding my own comments below each in bold italics):

  • It’s self-produced. Even though we work with a professional, it’s done BY us, not TO us.
    YOU are your instrument. The sound comes from you.
  • It’s gradual. No one gets better after one session
    It takes weeks, months, sometimes years to fully develop the vocal instrument. Sometimes something can click right away and all of a sudden it’s easier, but usually, that’s not the case (although I have seen it happen, usually by suggesting a simple tweak in alignment or approach to breath management)
  • It puts our own resources to work to create the change we seek
    You have to practice and implement the things in your lesson on your own; just like in PT, there’s homework
  • It’s simple. There’s no magic involved, just directed, persistent effort based on science and testing
    So much this. Knowing your body and how it works and figuring out how to achieve a consistent result by doing the right things for you.
  • It takes effort. If you want something easy, you’re in the wrong place.
    Did I mention practice? Singing is easy, in that you have the instrument with you 24/7, but singing is hard because you have to coordinate everything so that you can produce sound consistently. You have to be aware of what’s happening in your body so that you can reproduce it when you want to.

This is NOT Seth Godin’s observation, but mine: Both voice lessons and PT involve getting out of your comfort zone in order to see growth – but gradually so that you can avoid injury (aka the danger zone)

One thing that’s different, as you can see from this graphic – voice lessons are much less hands-on (even when they’re not virtual, as they were when I did this photoshoot with Sasha, shown above).

This wasn’t always the case. There used to be a lot more touching – teachers would put their hands on their students’ ribs or bellies to see if there was expansion, adjust their alignment – and that just doesn’t happen any more. I actually was never that comfortable with touching other people – I was more comfortable letting them put their hands on my ribs (from the back) to feel what I was doing, but I haven’t done that in years and I don’t intend to do so. We do some stretching and aligning at the beginning of lessons, but don’t worry, I’m not going to come over and manually stretch your hip flexors for you. Not even if you ask.

I know several teachers who are very vocal about the idea that you need to be able to touch your students in order to know what they were doing, but do you? Do you really?

I think not.

Physical therapy, on the other hand, often involves direct physical touch, whether through massage, joint or muscle manipulation.

And you can do this yourself, through self-massage!

In this video, Ian Harvey (aka “Massage Sloth” – no, I don’t know why he calls himself that), demonstrates self-massage techniques for singers, specifically for those who are having issues with tightness.. He even does a little singing while he’s doing it. Check it out!

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I’ll be announcing summer lesson availability and some group programs in a few weeks, so follow the blog to stay tuned!

Happy World Piano Day!

Happy World Piano Day!

On this day, the 88th day of the year (one day for each key on the piano – except the Imperial Bösendorfer, which has 97, and certain digital keyboards, which have fewer), we celebrate the instrument that has given us so much joy, whether as a solo instrument, or for us singers, as a collaborative partner.

And since this is a singer’s blog, I’d like to focus on the latter. Over the last two years, when we haven’t been able to perform in a live setting,  the accompaniment app called Appcompanist has been a godsend. And it’s not going away, even though live performing is coming back. because it’s so handy. to use for practice So thank you to Darin Adams for developing this program, and thank you to his team of worldwide pianists for creating the thousands and thousands of tracks available to us as singers.

Thank you to the LIVE collaborative pianists/accompanists that play the auditions, play the recitals, and do the journeyman work that does not always get them the recognition or respect that they deserve. (I knew a choral director once who told the pianist, “Oh, just go back there and wiggle your fingers.”) Ben Moore wrote about this in the song, “Content to be behind me:”

People often remind me to mention the one who is slaving away at the keys.
But such decorous gestures are quite overdone,
Share the glory? Oh please!
I assure you that he’s
Content to be behind me, content there in the rear,
Content to feed my ev’ry need and never ever interfere.
For he has no ambition, he shed those long ago,
He’ll never claim applause or fame and that is why I love him so.
–Ben Moore

I have worked with many fine pianists over the years, and I’d like to name them here (in no particular order except how they pop into my head):

  • Alan Nathan
  • Robert Muckenfuss
  • John Komasa
  • Michelle Hayes Hynson
  • Patricia Kasprzak Sweger
  • Milton Peckarsky
  • David Sytkowski
  • Paula Foley Tillen
  • Diane Kachelmeier
  • Richard Carsey
  • Michael Sheppard
  • Aaron Thacker
  • Ryan Cappleman
  • Jamie Johns
  • Michael Tan
  • Will Zellhofer
  • Amanda McFall Draheim
  • Rhonda Kwiecien
  • Jim Collins
  • Anne Van Deusen
  • James Norden
  • Elna Hickson
  • Bill O’Meally

Thank you for the service you have given to your singers and other musicians you’ve collaborated. (And if I’ve left anyone out, I’m sorry!)

For more on World Piano Day, check out their Facebook page

For a playlist of solo piano pieces especially curated for this day, check this out (unless you’re boycotting Spotify, a choice which I completely respect):

Dig the jazzy sunglasses!

Comfort Zone vs. Danger Zone

People are always saying, “You gotta break out of your comfort zone.” And I believe that is true. Growth comes from trying new things, taking risks, doing what’s outside the box.

A very common graphic that is used in psychology and in personal coaching is one showing the four zones involved in growth.

Source: Unique Thinking
https://uniquethinking.co.uk/getting-out-of-your-comfort-zone/
  • The comfort zone is described as the place where we’re safe, we’re comfortable, we know exactly what we’re doing. Musically, the comfort zone could be described as spending the rest of your life singing the 26 Italian Songs. Or in musical theater, singing only legit OR belt and not developing the rest of your instrument.
  • The fear zone is a place of discomfort, both in terms of knowing that the comfort zone is holding us back and we’re no longer comfortable there, but maybe we’re not quite sure of how to break out of it or what will happen when we do. Maybe it’s deciding to sing lieder, and not being comfortable with German. Or maybe starting to work on finding your belt mix or your head voice. Will you ever get it? Is it worth it? It’s scary!
  • The learning zone is where you’re doing it. You’re figuring it out, you’re starting to feel confident; you’ve GOT this. Or at least, you’re GETTING it, and it’s almost there. You’re taking the necessary steps to get there.
  • The growth zone is where you’ve made it. You’ve mastered the task, and you’re at the next level. And after awhile, that level becomes your comfort zone, and you need to start all over to grow some more!

But what if you skip a step? Or two? Or three? What if you decide to skip straight from the comfort zone to a growth zone that is beyond your capabilities right now? What you’ve been singing “Caro mio ben” and your teacher or coach tells you, “Hey, this sounds good. You’re ready to sing some Wagner.”

If this happens, my friends, RUN FOR THE HILLS. Because you are heading for:

And despite what Kenny Loggins says, the danger zone isn’t a place of growth. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a danger zone is:

an area in which there is a high risk of harm, especially where this risk has been officially identified.
“this is a danger zone where any one of us can step on a landmine”

There are all kinds of landmines, not just ones in battlefields. Some vocal landmines include:

  • Vocal abuse
    • Screaming and yelling
    • Smoking/vaping
    • Coughing and throat clearing
  • Vocal misuse
    • Singing in the wrong fach
    • Speaking too low or too high than your natural pitch
  • Vocal overuse
    • Talking or singing too much without a break
  • Illness and environment
    • Allergies/colds
    • Medication side effects
    • Excessively dry environment, whether climate-related (i.e., Arizona) or room-related (dry hotel rooms, excessive air conditioning, lack of a humidifier)
    • Neurological disorders

Let’s focus on singing right now, specifically singing in the wrong fach or one that’s beyond you right now.

Your technique is a work in progress. I’m all for classical singers learning to belt and belters learning to sing legit. I wish I’d done it earlier, myself.

But it is a process and to leap into what would be considered an elite level of singing, whether it’s singing opera or a high musical theater belt, when you have not mastered coloratura, register changes, or even a rudimentary facility with belt, is a sure journey to the danger zone.

comfort zone sipping steps to danger zone

HIgh belts are all the rage these days. People call it “screlting” – “scream-belting.” It started out as a derivative term and has become an industry term, which many people loathe, including NYC-based composer/teaching artist David Cisco, who is also the founder of the blog ContemporaryMusicTheatre.com. He has written a series of three blogposts about the topic of screlting, entitled “Screlting – or Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” In the second of the blogposts, he writes:

There comes a time when each of us has to stop and say, “I can screlt and have a great career for about 5-10 years, or I can take more responsible roles and have a solid career for over 40 years.

If you are a young high-school or early college-aged singer and you want to sing “Vissi d’arte” from Tosca or the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, YOU HAVE TIME. Consider something else first. Want to sing Puccini or Mozart and your teacher thinks you’re ready for the challenge? Maybe start with “O mio babbino caro” or “Un moto di gioia.”

If you are a young singer who wants to sing “Once upon a time” from Brooklyn or “Dead girl walking” from Heathers (the equivalent of Wagner for the beginning classical singer!), and you haven’t done any kind of belting before, ease into it! Start out with “Johnny One Note,” work your way up from there into “A Change in Me,” maybe “Someone like you” or “Astonishing.”

Training wheels, folks. They’re not just for bikes.

In “You don’t have to be out of your comfort zone all the time!,” writer Julia Clavien calls the “danger zone,” at least in terms of exercise, the “snap zone,” the one where you are prone to injury or burnout (she uses the terms  “consolidation and stretch” regarding the positive zones, and her description seems to me to refer to stretch as a combination of the fear and learning zones, and consolidation as the growth zone). The term “snap zone” conjures up a particularly terrifying visual when it comes to vocal folds!

If you have put in the work in the fear/learning/stretch zones, and are in the growth/consolidation zone technique-wise, then by all means, take on that new piece that will challenge you, that will take you outside the box. But do it wisely, and don’t do it for a competition or a performance until you’ve mastered it and can do it healthfully and without fear of “snapping” anything.

And be strong enough to tell people just that.

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Choosing repertoire is my superpower. I assign music for the singer based on where they are in their vocal journey and where I see them heading. I encourage growth, I encourage finding new songs, I encourage people to bring me new songs. I discourage vocal damage. If you’d like to find where you are and where you’re going vocally, and do it in a healthy but FUN way, why contact Mezzoid Voice Studio for an Ask Me Anything or Vocal Discovery Session?

Celebrate World Voice Day with MDDC NATS!

People asked me if I was going to do World Voice Weekend again this year – but, unfortunately, World Voice Day falls on Saturday of Holy Week and it’s spring break for a lot of my students, so we’ll all be too busy.

Instead, I’m working with the Maryland-DC Chapter of NATS (for which I am recording secretary and programming chair – because I just have so much time on my hands) to celebrate World Voice Day by inviting people to participate in an online event leading up to the day itself.

The theme for World Voice Day this year is Lift Your Voice. MDDC NATS is taking that a step further with Lift Your Voice: Celebrating Diversity & Overcoming Adversity.

More information can be found on the website (above), the FB event page, and in this handy-dandy graphic below:

One minute may seem very short to tell your story – but actors have to do it all the time. Whether it’s for college auditions or show auditions, professional or community theater, actors are often limited to 16-32 measures, which roughly comes to 45-90 seconds. Think of American Idol, America’s Got Talent, and The Voice – they’re all limited to 90 seconds.

Why are we doing only 60 seconds? Because that’s the maximum time a video will play for on Instagram Reels or on TikTok. Any more than that and you have to click through to view the whole thing. And – as they say:

Aint Nobody Got Time For That Gifts & Merchandise | Redbubble

Plus you have the written part of the post to explain just why you picked what you picked, and that can be as long as you want.

A panel will review the videos in the week following World Voice Day and the singer whose video tells the story the best will be awarded a prize TBD. (And by TBD, I mean we’re still working on it.)

Perhaps next year, I may do World Voice Weekend again. World Voice Day falls on Sunday, April 16; Easter is the Sunday before. Maybe I’ll do it on my own again (hopefully with a little help to allow me to make it more affordable for everyone) or maybe I’ll collaborate with MDDC NATS.

Stay tuned!

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Speaking of NATS, I am happy to announce that Sasha Kostakis took third place in her section at Mid-Atlantic Regionals. While she did not advance to Nationals, I am proud of her for her accomplishment, and also proud of students Juliet Jones and Nick Johnson, who also made it to Regionals. Congratulations to all!
And since they didn’t advance to nationals, I can share these videos of their virtual auditions without worrying that it’ll compromise them at the next level. Enjoy!