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Hitting the Right Chord: How Music Programs Boost STEM

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Technology) Education has become a major focus for schools, often to the detriment of a school’s music program (although somehow the athletic department always manages to keep their funding).

As I’ve written recently, March is Music in Our Schools Month. But what if your school doesn’t have a solid music program? How can you argue for the place of music in our schools as an enhancement to STEM education, and, in fact, worthy in and of itself?

In the fall of 2019,  I wrote an article for the Roland Park News in their Fall 2019 issue about this topic. Specifically, I focused on the benefits of taking private music lessons as a supplement to a STEM education, with an analysis of the components of STEM and how they can be addressed in music education. This chart appears in the article, but since I don’t like the way they laid it out in relation to the text, I’m reprinting it here:

Components of a STEM Education Complementary Components of Music Education
Development of critical thinking

Music analysis/technical development

Involve real world skills

Discipline/focus (practice); collaboration (in ensembles); leadership; creativity; kinesthetic awareness

Include design development

Songwriting; instrument building; audio engineering; recital programming

Include hands-on activities Inherent in the study of music
Teacher serves as facilitator, not lecturer

Teacher provides tools/technique for student implementation (also see “I’m here to inspire and facilitate“)

Ideally evaluated through a product rather than in writing

Performances: recitals, concerts

Mickey Hart, the drummer for the Grateful Dead, has become a huge proponent of the movement to make a STEM education a STEAM education. Although he was, by his own admission, a poor student in the STEM fields, he has come to realize that music and STEM are not only complementary, but intertwined.

In his article, “There’s a Fire on the Mountain,” Hart expresses the opinion that:

The arts are a necessity for insight: the arts make us human.The energy that you acquire from art and music turns inspiration into invention. This allows an inventor to dream up something never envisioned before and creates new industries and good-paying jobs.

(The title of this article comes from the Grateful Dead song of the same name, the studio version of which I’m including here – I chose the studio version because the live versions are over 10 minutes long, and while I appreciate the inspiration and invention involved in those performances, I figured a shorter version might be more welcomed. But feel free to pull up one of the other ones when you have time.)


While I am all about private music lessons as an important part of a young person’s overall development (because, let’s be honest, I’m a private music teacher and it’s in my best interest), I am also a passionate supporter of the role of the arts, particularly music, in our educational system. Hopefully, the current administration will continue to value that role and support arts education. Music programs/arts programs should be integral part of a STEM education.

(“Hitting the Right Chord” was the editor’s choice, but I kinda like it)

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If you are equally passionate about the arts in education, contact the U.S. Department of Education or the Education Department in your state. Feel free to share this article and any other information you find to support this cause.

Teacher, Coach, or Mentor?

Teacher, Coach, or Mentor? What do you need? And what is the difference?

I defined the differences between the services offered by voice teachers and vocal coaches in a previous blogpost (which was actually the content of a page I decided to keep as a link instead of separate page). I’d like to go a little further on this, because coaching has become a huge element of the business world, and mentorship is also becoming very popular.

So what are the differences? Are there areas of intersection between the three positions (at least in teaching singing)?

  • A teacher teaches technique, using a combination of vocal exercises and repertoire selected based on the singer’s level of ability (in the moment and with an eye to the future). A good teacher knows that vocal technique evolves and that one size (or song) doesn’t fit all.
  • A coach works on repertoire on which the singer is preparing for a specific purpose (performance or audition) which may or may not have been assigned them by a teacher. A coach focuses on specific aspects, whether it’s musicianship or interpretation, but does not work on vocal technique.
  • The idea of having a singing mentor is relatively new. Based on the definition of mentorship in the business world, the mentor looks at all the work the singer (or teacher) has done up to this point and helps them to create a path forward in their career development. The joint statement by NATS and AATS (American Academy of Teachers of Singing) on “Advancing the Culture of Mentoring in our Profession” describes it this way:

Broadly defined, a mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor.

I believe that the roles of teacher and coach overlap less in the academic world, particularly in classical music. In the private studio, especially when working with the budding pre-professional or avocational singer who wants to perform, a teacher needs to be a coach as well. (At least this teacher needs to be a coach as well.) I want my students to be able to inhabit their texts and find their own interpretations, confident in the fact that their technique is solid (or on its way to being solid) and won’t get in the way of what they have to say.

Mentorship has been an important element of my professional life.

As a singer, my teacher Marianna Busching was my voice teacher from 1987-1996. She was a mentor for me and the reason why I wound up completely throwing my life (and first marriage) into an upheaval to go to graduate school at Peabody. She didn’t TELL me to leave him and go to Peabody – but her encouragement (and the fact that she was there, and if I wanted to get regular time with her, I’d better follow her) told me that I could do it.

Alan Nathan, who died nearly two years ago, was the most significant person I ever worked with in the professional world. He was the Washington Opera chorusmaster, and although I had done a few small bits under his predecessor, the late Stephen Crout, Alan chose me to be the mezzo soloist for the Kennedy Center Open House for two years in a row, cast me in several solo bits in the chorus, gave me the supporting role of The Woman in Red in the world premiere of Dream of Valentino (although, honestly, I got that part because the girl originally cast was two inches too tall), put me in the most interesting and selective shows (not necessarily the largest), and basically changed my life. I’ll write more about Alan another time.

Backstage at Cunning Little Vixen (I was blonde then)

Professionally, as a teacher, my experience with the NATS Intern Program with George Shirley as my master teacher, and the late Shirley Emmons, the late Paul Kiesgen, and Carol Webber as the other master teachers counts as the turning point in my life when I knew that this was my real calling.

My membership in NATS has also opened doors for me to work with other mentors regarding my identity as a businessperson, including Michelle Markwart Deveaux in the Speakeasy Cooperative and Sara Campbell of the Savvy Music Studio (also a SECO member). The latter two are examples of how a mentor doesn’t have to be someone older than you – which is good, because that pool is shrinking rapidly. 😀

Marianna was my teacher and mentor. Alan was a coach and mentor. George, Michelle, Sara, and others have served as mentors in other areas.

All of them are/were people who I trusted with my vocal and career development. And I’m so glad that I did.

While I identify as a voice teacher, I have no problem with people referring to me as a vocal coach, because sometimes I am.

And I would be honored by anyone who might consider me to be or to have been their mentor. It is a responsibility that I do not take lightly.

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If you are interested in working with me, whether as a teacher or a coach
(I won’t presume to offer myself as a mentor, at least not right off the bat),
why not set up an Ask Me Anything or a Vocal Discovery Session?

 

I stand with Ukraine

Today’s post isn’t about music. It’s about what’s going on in Ukraine.

(Well, there will be music at the end, but I didn’t know that when I started writing.)

My parents were from Eastern Europe. My mother was from Estonia, one of the three Baltic countries that were occupied by the Soviet Union from 1940-1991. In fact, she escaped from Estonia during the second occupation of 1944 (there was a brief period where the Nazis were in charge) and fled to …. Germany.

I asked why Germany and not SWEDEN, to where a lot of Estonians had fled. Her answer was, “That’s the way the boat was going.”

Makes sense. I guess.

My dad was from Slovenia, which has a rather confusing history, but it was part of Yugoslavia beginning in 1918 and lasting until 1989. He had been held in an Italian prison camp until after the war was over, and went to Germany, where he met my mom in a DP camp.

That’s displaced persons. Displaced persons are defined as:

third-country national or stateless person who has had to leave their country or region of origin, or has been evacuated, particularly in response to an appeal by international organisations, and is unable to return in safe and durable conditions because of the situation prevailing in that country …. in particular:
(i) a person who has fled areas of armed conflict or endemic violence;
(ii) a person at serious risk of, or who has been the victim of, systematic or generalised violations of their human rights.

What it comes right down to is that my parents were refugees.

I know very little about my parents’ wartime experiences. They didn’t want to talk about them. I knew that my grandmother was raped and murdered by Communist soldiers and that my father found her dead. I didn’t know the circumstances under which this happened and how he found her until after he had died. It’s very graphic and horrific – let’s just say they guaranteed that she couldn’t run away. Or put up any kind of struggle.

(This explains why I wasn’t allowed to wear red as a child, when all I wanted was to wear a red plaid jumper on my first day of first grade. “What are you, a Communist?” “No, Daddy, I’m six.”)

So what does my family history have to do with Ukraine?

The people in Ukraine are fighting for their own sovereignty. Like the Estonians and the Slovenians and so many others, they fought hard for their independence, and gained it in 1991 when the Soviet Union fell.

Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe, after Russia.

If Putin can overcome Ukraine, what about the other countries?

What about the tiny little Baltic countries?

What about Poland? Or the Czech Republic?

Or all the countries that were swallowed up by the Soviet Union that gained their independence only a little over 20 years ago, after 70+ years of Soviet dominance?

What about the Russian people who are not being informed of what’s going on? Who are threatened with imprisonment for using the word “war” instead of “peacekeeping mission?” Who are being thrown into jail for protesting what’s going on?

I stand with Ukraine.

Not THE Ukraine, because that’s a region in the Soviet Union. Ukraine is a country, a sovereign country.

Flag against sky. estonian flag stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images
And so is Estonia
Slovenia flag: its meaning, history and design – Lonely Planet
And so is Slovenia

Can’t we all just – let it go? (I had to make it about music SOMEHOW.)

 

 

I invite you to …

In the last year or so, I have noticed that a lot of teachers of various disciplines use the phrase, “I invite you to,” rather than “do this.”

The first time I noticed this was when I took Peter Jacobson’s Total Vocal Freedom Alexander Technique course last year. The faculty would invite us to be aware of a variety of sensations and experiences, rather than tell us, “You should feel this way.”  And most recently, I’ve noticed that Adriene Mishler of Yoga with Adriene (which I’m in my third month of doing regularly – while not everything I set out to do when I established my plans for FOCUS in 2022 have stuck, that one has). Adriene invites us to be aware of sensations, good and bad (her motto – and the name of her subscription group – is “Find What Feels Good”),

And I’ve even used it myself – it felt foreign at first, but I’ve been gradually introducing it in my instructions as well as in a few past blogposts. Perhaps you’ve noticed. But why invite? Why not just tell people what they’re supposed to do?

The definition of “invite,” according to Merriam-Webster, is as follows:

1ato request the presence or participation of: invited us to dinner
bto request formally
cto urge politely WELCOME: invite comments
2ato increase the likelihood of: invite trouble
bto offer an incentive or inducement to ENTICE

I think that in the context that teachers are using the term, we are hoping to get people to be present and to participate; to increase the likelihood of something happening; and to entice them, all in the service of awareness and curiosity.

Or as Adriene put it in a recent newsletter:  

I invite you to get curious…

Maybe I’ve been saying this all along, but in a different way. Maybe “I invite you to ….” is simply another way of saying:

What would happen if…?

Both phrases are intended to allow you to explore a new path or perhaps experience an old path in a new way. We all experience things differently. Recently, I asked someone what she felt when she sang a phrase, and she described it to me as feeling a “purplish-gray.” I’ve heard of chromesthesia before, but no one had ever mentioned it in the studio before. And now I’d like to know more about it and how I can help this student find a color experience that serves her and the song.

Colors assigned by Scriabin to various tones of the scale

There was an anecdote in a pedagogy book I read years ago about a master clinician who didn’t know what to do with a young singer and asked her, “What color were you thinking of when you sang that?” The singer said, “Um… I don’t think I was thinking of any color,” and the clinician said, “Why don’t you sing it again and think of blue?” and the singer sang it again, face knotted in concentration while visualizing blue, and the teacher said, “There! That was better. Okay, who’s next?”

It could be that the teacher actually didn’t know what she was talking about. Or maybe thinking in color was something that worked for her. Whatever it was didn’t seem to be particularly helpful to the student singer or the observers. While the teacher was inviting the singer to see what would happen if they visualized a specific color, that probably should not have been the only tool in the teacher’s toolbox. And she should have clarified what improved as a result of “thinking blue.” Maybe it wasn’t that at all, but something else that happened while she was thinking blue. Or maybe just that the singer was less nervous the second time around. Or was distracted from her nerves by “thinking blue.”

But what she did offer was an invitation to explore, to find what feels good (and what doesn’t), to be curious about the process and trust the outcome will benefit from this curiosity and awareness.

I extend my students (and my readers) an ongoing invitation
to explore and to find out what would happen …. if?

What would happen … if?

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If you are curious and what to explore all the possibilities of where your voice can take you (onstage or off), I invite you to
contact me and find out how we can work together.
Live and in living color (or online – but still in color)

 

 

 

Be a GOAT

Several years ago, videos of goats screaming like people hit the internet and became an obsession. People shared the videos of the goats just plain screaming, or cross-cut them into videos of people singing opera or missing a high note in “Let it go” in Times Square on New Year’s Eve (you know who you are, Adele Dazeem).

Those were simpler times.

These are a few of my favorite goat videos:

And relating to singing:

(Stick around till the end for the final 3 chords – it’s hilarious)

I recently read that, while making the movie Don’t Look Up, Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Gad kept calling Meryl Streep the GOAT. Meryl, being even older than I am, thought they were calling her an old goat, and took it with pretty good humor; they had to tell her that GOAT meant

GREATEST OF ALL TIME

But really, if they’d been calling her an actual goat, would it have been so bad? Think about the attributes of goats:

  • Curious and inquisitive
  • Mischievous
  • Independent 
  • Agile
  • Will eat anything they can put in their mouths 

Sheep, on the other hand, tend to be docile, stay in their flocks, are playful but cautious, aren’t as agile, and graze on whatever is on the ground in front of them.

The term “separating the sheep from the goats” refers to separating that which is superior from the inferior. It comes from the biblical reference in Matthew 25:31-33

All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left”

Consequently, we think sheep are more valued than goats. But as performers, do we really want to be sheep? (I’ve been to buffets provided for singers, and trust me, we’re more like goats.)

There is value in caution, in being calm and part of a group, but, in general, I believe that:

In a world full of sheep –
Be a goat!

Logo of "Ask Chrissie"; text: In a world full of (sheep pic), Be a (goat pic)
New motto: Cleanliness is next to goatliness

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If you’re looking for a place where curiosity, mischievousness, independence and agility are welcomed – nay, encouraged – AND eating whatever you can fit in your mouth is A-OK as well – why not sign up for a complementary
“Ask Me Anything” or a “Vocal Discovery” session today.
Online or in-person (if vaccinated)

Music in Our Schools Month

The celebration of Black History Month is over, although Black history continues to flourish and enhance society (check out my studio FB page for the 28 artists to whom I paid tribute during February). Now it is March, and it is Music in Our Schools Month! (AKA MIOSM)

Not everyone knows this, but my undergrad degree is music education, unless you have read one of my very early blogposts. While I didn’t really want to teach classroom music, I was talked into it by an advisor who had no idea what kind of training a performer and voice teacher needed (and neither did I, for that matter), so she told me I had to be a music education major. The whole story of that misbegotten advice can be found here, in the aforementioned early blogpost.

However, while I don’t feel that i was suited to be a classroom K-8 music teacher, I respect and admire classroom music teachers tremendously. They are why I went into music in the first place. And I’m hoping to use this blog over the next month to profile the teachers who formed my life’s work – and me.

This year’s MIOSM theme is

Heart - Music The Sound of my heart

 

This is the 37th year of MIOSM – when I was an undergrad, I was president of the SMENC (Student Music Educators National Conference) Chapter at my school. At that time, there was only a Music In Our Schools Week. It was a very special week for me. (MENC is now known as NAfME, National Association for Music Education).

And while music education, particularly at the public schools, has been decimated by budget cuts and a focus on STEM (a subject on which I will write later this month, and on which I’ve written before for publication), it still provides an opportunity for young people to find their voices – whether that is through actual voice training or learning to play an instrument.

Unlike the private training that I offer, classroom music offers the opportunity to make music together daily (or at least weekly) with others. Singing in a choir, playing in a band or orchestra, collaborating with each other and learning to listen to each other and create something special.

It is my hope that I can find some way to give back for MIOSM to celebrate the music education I received in my K-12 years, in my undergraduate years, and in my graduate school years. Next year, I’m going to think about this much earlier so that I can find a way to collaborate with the schools in the area (whether it’s through Mezzoid Voice Studio or through my role as programming chair for MDDC NATS).

In what ways did music education affect your life?
Who are the teachers you remember the most?
How is music the sound of your heart:

Drop a comment and let me know. Shout them out! Remember them on your socials and reach out to them if they’re still around!

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Congratulations to Nick Johnson and Kay-Megan Washington for their first place wins in their MDDC NATS categories, and to Juliet Jones (2nd place) and Sasha Kostakis (honors).
Nick, Juliet, and Sasha all will be competing at the Mid-Atlantic Regionals (and we’ll see what happens after that!)

Qualities of a Good Adjudicator

I just finished adjudicating several categories for the MDDC NATS auditions and the first thing I had to do was watch a video called

Adjudication 101: A MUST Watch

(And they weren’t kidding. You had to watch it in order to proceed.)

it’s an unlisted video so I won’t/can’t share it here, but I think it’s okay if I write down my takeaways from it, because I think that these are things that apply to being a good adjudicator, a good teacher, a good friend, and basically a good human being.

In this video, Dr. Mark McQuade, NATS National Coordinator of Competitions and Auditions, outlines 5 points that should be present in comment sheets and in scoring auditionees. These are:

  1. Encouraging
  2. Truthful
  3. Specific
  4. Tactful
  5. Legible

(The last one might not apply to anything other than adjudicator, but it’s still a good quality to have.)

As a teacher, I try hard to embody the top four. I’ve always said that I think that anyone walks into my studio is capable of going to Broadway or the Met until they prove otherwise (and that proof might be that they simply don’t WANT that for themselves, not that they can’t do it). So I think I have the encouragement part down.

(This is the opposite of how I approach other drivers on the road when going to DC – I assume they’re all morons until they prove me wrong).

I try to be truthful as far as the place that a student is in at this point in time, what I see them being capable of, and the difficulties that lie ahead in the event they decide to pursue a performing career.

I am pretty sure that the direction I give them is specific in terms of their technical development as well as the choices that they should make acting wise (giving them the freedom to expand upon that as needed).

Tactfulness – well, there’s something that I’m not sure I’ve mastered. I’m better than I used to be, but – I blurt, therefore I am. I am blunt, often to a fault. I think I’m less blunt in adjudicating strangers than I am with my own students. At least I am now.

My students are all being judged, probably as we speak, by people who have also been required to watch this video. I’m sure that they will all take these takeaways to heart in their judging. And will give them fantastic feedback which will (hopefully) reinforce the specific, encouraging, and truthful advice that I have given them – and maybe point out a few things that I might not have seen or in a way that I had not thought of. In a tactful and legible manner.

(One good thing about virtual lessons is that we’re all typing our comments instead of handwriting them, so they’re more likely to be legible!)

Whether you’re an adjudicator, a teacher, or do something else, I think these qualities are worth implementing into your own life – job-wise or relationship wise.

Next week I’ll let you know how everyone did.  😀

 

The Alchemy of Singing

Today’s blogpost is inspired by the great Annie Lennox, one of my favorite performers of all times. She wrote an article for The Guardian entitled, “Why Everyone Should Sing.” And since this blogpost is titled Why I Sing (and you can go back and check out my very first post explaining that right here),  – I think it’s very appropriate source material on which to base today’s post.

The very first words of her article are: 

I love singing. I love the fact that there’s no external instrument that I have to master, that the voice is within me, the voice is me. And through my voice, I have the opportunity to express whatever I feel. 

I have said in the past that singing is so personal; our voices are unique and even if we’re imitating someone else, we still sound different. It’s why we take it so personally when someone doesn’t like our singing; because “the voice is me.” 

In a piano competition, assuming everyone is at the same level of technical ability, all the performers are playing the same instrument. It’s what they do with it that determines who the winner will be. What is the difference in phrasing? In interpretation? 

In a vocal competition, assuming the same technical factors exist, all the singers could be singing the same song. But it’s going to sound different in each voice, because it is their own voice. They are not playing an external instrument. The winner could be the singer with the best voice – but maybe not.

Hopefully, the winner of a competition, no matter what instrument they’re using, will be the one who has something to say. And that’s something else Ms. Lennox says:

Singing a song is one thing, but expressing a song is another – it’s deep. That’s why you don’t have to be the best singer technically, as long as you can convince people of your emotional authenticity. Performing isn’t just about the voice – there’s a magic to it, an alchemic quality. All the separate elements add up to something else that’s really powerful. It’s that something that I’m interested in. [bolding mine]

Her reference to magic and alchemy struck me and inspired the title of this blogpost. What is alchemy?

According to Merriam-Webster:

  1. a medieval chemical science and speculative philosophy aiming to achieve the transmutation of the base metals into gold, the discovery of a universal cure for disease, and the discovery of a means of indefinitely prolonging life
  2. a power or process that changes or transforms something in a mysterious or impressive way


She probably means the latter, but I think the former definition is exotic and exciting. The implication that, as performers, we are combining some kind of chemicals with speculative philosophy (which is defined as “being marked by questioning curiosity”) in order to convert that which is ordinary into something precious – that is thrilling to me.

graphic of blue haired woman holding a potitio in her hands; with music notes and alchemic symbols around her

If your singing is emotionally authentic, you are an alchemist, creating magic and transforming the ordinary into the sublime. You are combining the elements of vocal technique (breath, resonance, registration, alignment, articulation, and phonation) – which, by themselves, are basic – with the idea of “What would happen if” in order to create something new and exciting to your audience.


It’s not enough simply to master the individual elements and play/sing what’s on the page. It’s the extra step, that curiosity, that exploration, that sets you apart and makes you an artist, an alchemist, maybe even a star (if that’s what you want). It worked for Annie Lennox (the crystal clear vocals didn’t hurt either).

*****
What are the elements of your performer’s potion?
Explore Curiously Strong Singing and Performing with
Mezzoid Voice Studio by booking an
Ask Me Anything or Vocal Discovery Session here.
I’ve always got something brewing!

 

 

Holding vs. Sustaining

There are two words used in singing (especially choral singing) that I think should be stricken from the face of the earth:

  1. HOLD

  2. CUTOFF

We’ll deal with cutoffs another time, but right now I’m going to focus on the word “hold.”

Often, I find that my students have trouble “holding” a note. They run out of air, the note gets driven-sounding or forced, and they wind up squeezing out every last bit of air in an attempt to hold the note. But when they are singing a phrase of moving notes that is of the same duration as the “held” note, they have no problem. Why is this?

The difference is approach. Rather than approaching the single note of longer duration as though it were capable of movement, they are treating it as though it must be tamed and held in place. Often, a singer holding a note is unable to move from that note, even if they tried. What they really need to do is to think about sustaining the note rather than holding it.

Here’s the difference according to WikiDiff:

As verbs the difference between hold and sustain

is that hold is (lb) to grasp or grip while sustain is to maintain, or keep in existence.

In other words:

To hold a note is physical effort.

To sustain a note is to give it life and make it a part of the flow of the song.

Let’s look at this graphic I made up this morning:

pencil gripped questioning log music notes pencil held in writing position holding vs. sustaining

On the left hand side of the graphic, there is a hand gripping a pencil. Hard. Is that an optimal position to actually write anything? And from the little lines above the hand, it appears that there’s some exertion and tension there. How long are you going to be hold that pencil before your hand starts shaking? It’s not like it weighs that much. You’re just using too much effort.

On the right hand side of the graphic, there is a hand elegantly holding a pencil in an efficient and graceful way. That hand will be able to write for awhile.

When you are singing and you have a long note to sustaincheck to see if you can move from it. If you can’t, there’s some kind of tension somewhere. Perhaps it’s your breath and you’re pushing too much.

Are you using vibrato? This should be a natural consequence of the breath flow, not something you’re contriving by jaw or abdominal movement. Even if it’s not stylistic appropriate to have a full operatic vibrato, there should still be some shimmer in the show, some vibrancy, if not vibrato.

Perhaps your articulators aren’t free enough. Can you move your jaw while you’re singing? Or your tongue? (This is something for the privacy of the practice room or studio – it looks funny in public – don’t believe me? Check out Michele Lee singing “I believe in you” at 1:06.)

Some other ways that you can explore keeping the breath flowing in order to sustain and give life to the phrase include:

  • Sing it as a series of staccato notes and see how long you can go. Then, connect the dots and do it as written
  • Sing it while moving back and forth to the neighboring tone or even go up a few notes a back
  • If it’s appropriate, ornament it! Whether you want to call it a riff a la Natalie Weiss or an ornament in Baroque music, or a trill taught by Joyce DiDonato
  • Try physically moving while you’re sustaining the single note – wave a pencil in the air, move your hands through the duration of the note, pretend you’re bowing a string instrument (and dig into the imaginary strings), DANCE!
  • And then try it without any ornamentation or gimmickry but with the idea that I could if I wanted to

And if you really can’t hold it that long, early on, don’t. As Marianna Busching told me, years ago,

People don’t notice how often you breathe or how long you hold a note, but they sure notice if you run out.

Build up stamina. Maybe you can’t maintain it yet, but aim to maintain it a little longer each time.

Look at it this way:

If there’s an interesting line in the accompaniment under your long note, and you can’t maintain your note for its full duration without drawing attention to the fact that you can’t maintain it, find a graceful* way to stop singing. It’s highly unlikely people in the audience will have the score in their laps and call you out on the fact that the note was intended to be 16 beats long and you only sang it for 8. Let the pianist have their moment with the beautiful line that the composer wrote for them.

*The operative word here is “graceful.” Have this in mind even if you can sustain the note because things happen in performance. The room is dry. You have a cold. Phlegm happens. Above all, you have to sing it as though you meant that to happen all along.

Consider a change in your attitude toward long notes as being ones that have motion and life, rather than ones you hold up in the air for all to see.

Above all, a long note means something. It’s not there just to challenge you, it’s there to express an emotion. Figure out why it’s so long. And then sustain it, don’t hold it in a death grip.

It’s a matter of balance and release. Two words I use often in my teaching for a variety of technical and emotional applications.

And with that in mind,  we’ll talk about cut-offs another time. Don’t let me forget.

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If you want more ideas about how to sustain healthy singing while meaning something, why not contact Mezzoid Voice Studio to find out how we might work together?

Yoga and Voice Practices

As I mentioned in a recent blogpost, Grit and Creating a Practice, I committed to doing 30 consecutive days of yoga at the beginning of this year, using videos by Adriene Mischler of Yoga with Adriene. And, surprisingly, I’ve kept it up!

While I’ve written before about how cross-training relates to singing (mainly based on a poster I saw outside a Pilates studio), it wasn’t until I actually started doing yoga that I thought about how they really can and should work together.

One of my fellow Speakeasy Cooperative colleagues, Marisa Atha, is also a yoga teacher, and she wrote a blogpost awhile back about 7 Attributes of a Personal Yoga Practice and I was thinking that these all are attributes of a personal singing practice as well.

  1. Grit – I could link this to my previous article, but I did that in the first paragraph. Show up and do the work!
  2. Patience – that’s a hard one for us as singers, especially early on when our technique isn’t solid yet. Especially when we hear recordings of people which may or may not be enhanced by their sound engineer’s skill at autotune or cutting and pasting multiple tracks or just adding more echo to the sound to boost it.
  3. Flexibility – Ms. Atha speaks of this relating to both the body and the mind, and we can relate that to singing. Our voices become more flexible as we work on our technique, in terms of range and ability to move rapidly within that range, and our minds become more flexible as to the possibilities we have ahead of us.
  4. Awareness – This is crucial for us as singers. Too many singers go through the motions without being aware of things they’re doing – like that weird Baltimore approach to /u/ (which comes out as some variation of “ew,” which sounds particularly bad in Latin or Italian). Don’t go on autopilot!
  5. Space  – As Ms. Atha says, “We create space between muscles and joints, but also an openness of mind, heart, and spirit.” As singers, we create space between our back molars, by the elevation of our soft palates (the degree to which is based on the style we’re singing and which needs to happen on the inhalation, not through any weird and artificial kind of manipulations), by opening our mouths the requisite amount needed for the pitch and vowel we’re singing, and by our alignment and freedom in our bodies and how they relate to the space we’re in on stage or in our practice rooms. We also need to create space for ourselves to be open in our “mind, heart, and spirit,” which is necessary to facilitate flexibility and awareness as well.
  6. Balance – if you take lessons from me, you know that I talk about balance a lot. We’re balancing our breath pressure through appoggio/resistance; we’re balancing in terms of alignment, in resonance, in negotiating registration breaks and determining how best to use registration for the style in which we’re singing, and in initiating and ending sound (phonation). There’s also emotional balance. As in yoga, balance is not just about remaining upright, but the energy involved in doing so and in taking yourself through the rest of your life as well. 
    And lastly – 
  7. Grace – Not only looking and sounding graceful/elegant in your performing, but feeling an internal grace and acceptance of where you are in the process. For singing, this also applies to develop a gracefulness of transitioning through your registration, of being comfortable in your body and able to use it as a tool in your interpretation (Will I move here? How will I gesture in a manner that looks intentional and without artifice?)

All of these elements of a yoga practice can – and should – apply to a vocal practice. I invite you to try adopting this mindset the next time you go into a practice room. Find the grace and grit to allow yourself to seek balance, awareness, flexibility, and space. And above all, have patience with yourself.

If that scares you, try this:

And with that in mind, I’m heading downstairs. According to this month’s challenge, called “Blossom,” I’m on tap to do “Yoga Kiss” today, whatever that is.

opera singer, yogi, music notes, logo, Yoga and Voice Practices, How they can work together for you

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Thanks to Marisa Atha for her wonderful article and inspiration
for this post (and to give yoga another try).
If you’re in Northern California and looking for a voice teacher
to enhance your own vocal practice,
check out Marisa’s studio, Three Sparrows Studio.
And if you want to try an online practice, check out her
new yoga studio for women, Mama Yoga!