Things Change, Jo….

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

The goals I set in early 2020 included:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My 2021 Word

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

I want it to.

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

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

My word in 2021 is:

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

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

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

******************

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

What Worked in 2020

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

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

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

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

But what did we accomplish?

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

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

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

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

*************************

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

The Winding Way Down to 2021

Heck of a year, ain’a?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Your Freaking Superpower?

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

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

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

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

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

***************

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

The “Should-less” Day

I recently completed The Creative’s Workshop and have hung around a bit after the 100 days to follow up with some of the other people in the course and check in on their projects and insights. The other day, one of the other participants wrote about having a “should-less” day. She got that term from the Oscar-winning actress, Ellen Burstyn, who said, in an interview with WNYC host Anna Sale on her podcast, Death, Sex, & Money:

I have what I call should-less days. Today is a day where there’s nothing I should do. So I only do what I want to do. And if it’s nap in the afternoon or watch TV and eat ice cream, I get to do it. I had that kind of day yesterday.

Should-less days, I recommend them. Because what I figured out, is we have wiring, I have wiring in my brain that calls me lazy if I’m not doing something. God, you’re so lazy. … And that wiring is there. I haven’t been able to get rid of it.

But what I can do is I can put in another wiring. I can put in should-less days. So when that voice goes off and says, You’re being lazy, I turn to the other wiring in my brain that says, No, this is a should-less day, and I’m doing what I want.

Death, Sex, & Money – October 4 2017

I don’t have a lot of should-less days. Especially at this time of year. There are always a ton of things I should do:

  1. Practice
  2. Write a blogpost (which I realized at 8pm on Saturday…. I should’ve done it earlier)
  3. Studio marketing
  4. Studio communications
  5. Did I mention practice?
  6. Social media updates
  7. Prepare for some class or workshop that I’m planning
  8. Walk the dog
  9. Work out
  10. Oh, yeah, practice

There’s one week of lessons left before the end of the calendar year. And I have a lot of “shoulds” planned for my two weeks off. But there will be at least one day – or at least a morning – that I intend to be totally should-less. I don’t know if I ought to schedule it because then it’d become a should.

How do you feel about should-less days? Is the idea of one appealing or is it like eating an extra-value meal – great going down but you feel awful later?

*************************

If you’d like to explore voice lessons in the New Year, contact MVS to set up a Vocal Discovery Session. But only if you want to, not because you feel like you should. 🙂

Getting a Handle on Performance Anxiety

“It’s not about getting rid of the butterflies in your stomach, it’s getting them to fly in formation.” Sean Critchfield (via Amanda Kaiser)

I have struggled with performance anxiety in my life and I’ve written about it quite a bit (which you can search for – some of it a bit more personal than I think I would get now). It has manifested in a variety of ways:

  • legs shaking
  • unable to get a solid breath
  • phlegm
  • mental fog
  • dryness

Once I dried up so much as a result of it that I went for a high note and my upper lip stuck to the top of my front teeth – and then suddenly released while I was holding it. I had butterflies, all right, and they were not flying in formation. They had taken control of my body. They were evil butterflies. They might have been mutants.

It’s not an issue for me anymore, probably because I’m more comfortable with who I am as a performance and a person. But from about 1999-2008, yikes.

One of the many blogs I wrote on performance anxiety was very specific, and it’s worth a look. Check out Golden Rules for Conquering Performance Anxiety from June 2012. Do you agree with these ideas? How do you deal with performance anxiety? Is it something that you have dealt with? Once? More than once? Every time you get up in front of anyone? Do you wonder why on earth you do it but yet you keep doing it? (I’ll talk about that another time.)

If you have some opinions on the subject, please share them in the comments!

***********************

If one of the things that would make you feel more confident about your performing is having a solid foothold on vocal technique, try the MVS Vocal Boot Camp on 1/9/2021.

$40 Early Bird price with EARLYBIRD2021 before 1/1/2021. Contact me for more information or go to https://MezzoidLessonTimes.as.me/MVSVocalBootCamp to register

Structuring Your Practice Time

Last week, I addressed my five points of vocal technique that I use for starting out beginners in my studio, which is reduced to the handy-dandy acronym, BRAAP™. Students who work with me receive vocalise sheets that they can draw from to set up their practice time. This is just to get them started, because I don’t do the same exercises with everyone. Or, at least, I don’t necessarily do them the same way with everyone.

If it works better for you to do an exercise on an /u/ vowel tha an /a/, we might do it that way (at least as a gateway for /a/, because, let’s face it, you’re going to have to sing that vowel). If an exercise designed to work through your passaggio gives you fits if it’s done top-down, we’ll flip it the other way (and vice versa). And I make up all kinds of exercises on the spot for people – some of which I actually remember when I see them the next time.

In a lesson, we generally spend about 10-20 minutes on vocalizing, depending on what you have to work on that day. I always start out with alignment and then move into SOVTEs (lip trills, tongue trills, etc.), and then move from there into other components of technique. Even though the vocalise sheets are set up based on one specific component, we don’t do that in lessons. A resonance exercise might be followed with an articulation exercise, back to breath work, into a registration exercise, then some work on releases, depending on what I hear.

Honestly, a good vocalise – and I use good vocalises – encompasses multiple concepts. Breath is always there. Just like it is in our lives.

On Wednesdays, I do a Warmup Wednesday video on IGTV, which I then put on YouTube. Tomorrow I’m going to go over the BRAAP™ checklist that I’ve created for my students to structure their at-home practice time, which I will be giving away as a free download to the first 15 people who ask for it. Not sure what time I’ll be on – probably around 1pm ET.

If you’re interested in getting back to basics in the New Year, I’ll be offering a 3 hour Vocal Bootcamp on January 9 from noon-3. More details to follow!

************************

If you’re looking on how to become a Curiously Strong Singer/Performer in 2021, contact me to find out more about MVS and set up a Vocal Discovery Session.

But when YOU dream….

I often ask brand new students, “So what are your hopes and dreams?” It’s a way of finding out why they’re taking lessons, what their goals are, etc.

Really, I should be asking what their hopes and goals are, because the primary definition of a dream is:

: a series of thoughts, images, or emotions occurring during sleep

Which is what I talked about in my blogpost from this past Thursday.

But usually, when we talk about our dreams, we’re talking about daydreams. We’re talking about the things we want to happen in our lives that seem like they’re not quite real, as though we imagined them – in other words, “an experience of waking life having the characteristics of a dream.”

In that secondary definition, I see words I really like:

  • notable for beauty, excellence, or quality
  • ideal
  • goal or purpose

And my favorite word:

  • VISIONARY

My favorite place in Baltimore is the American Visionary Art Museum, which specializes in the preservation and display of “outsider art” (also known as “self-taught” or “naive” art). Much of the art there seems to come from a dream (and some from nightmares). It’s where I take people when they’ve never been to Baltimore before. Aquarium? Yeah, that’s fine. Let me take you somewhere that embodies Baltimore. They’re always blown away by it.

AVAM, Baltimore, Marylad

A visionary is defined as having or marked by foresight and imagination. (It also defines it as someone impractical or who sees things, but I’m going to go with foresight and imagination, if you don’t mind.)

You may say I’m a dreamer.
But I’m not the only one.

— John Lennon

(Should’ve saved that quote for Tuesday, which will be the 40th anniversary of his murder….)

So what are your hopes, dreams, visions, goals, and ideals? What do you dream when you dream, whether that’s at night or with your eyes wide open?

***************************

Want to explore your hopes & dreams and find your voice? Join MVS and become a Musically Vibrant Singer – or maybe a Magnificent Visionary Soloist – or whatever else you can think of.
Contact me to set up a Vocal Discovery Session!

But when I dream….

I dream of crazy things.

(This blogpost was going to be about achieving your dreams, but that’s not the way it turned out – I’ll talk about that another time.)

Sometimes I have dreams about my students or musical colleagues, as either main or peripheral characters. Sometimes they’re really amusing dreams, sometimes terrifying and post-apocalyptic, sometimes about cultural things (past performances I was, people I admire from stage and screen), and sometimes related to political events (see terrifying and post-apocalyptic). Sometimes I get a great idea or a realization about how to resolve something, and I wake up and write it down. It may not make sense in the morning, but sometimes it does.

My nighttime dreams are varied and their causes can be something I ate before bed, something I saw on TV or read, something I’m concerned about and either have worked through it or am working through it (which could be a relationship or a personal or professional challenge). I’ve read a lot about dream interpretation, and a lot of it resonates with me.

One of my most recent dreams involved seeing someone walking a tightrope and doing tricks on it above a pit with a lion below.

I decided I was going to try it. Although I’m afraid of heights. And lions.

My tightrope was actually a beam and I crawled across it to the middle. There were no tricks or stunts. I just held on for dear life. I was really afraid I would not be able to get down. I contemplated letting myself fall, figuring I’d die in the fall before the lion could get me. Instead I made my way (still crawling) to the other side, where I found a handhold and was able to get onto a ladder and get down.

I’m sure this means that I’ve faced a fear – not overcome it, because I certainly wasn’t about to get back up there, but it was something I got through, the best I could. And lived to tell the tale.

The waking dreams I have as a performer and teacher are much less frightening. They are more about how to give my audiences and my students the best possible experiences they can have. Experiences that may challenge them, but help them to grow and create their own experiences. Hopefully none that involve lions, although there may be metaphorical tightropes involved. And I’ll talk about those kinds of dreams in another post yet to come.

Three things I’ve learned from my dreams.

  1. If you dream about something and wake up thinking that it’s a good idea or has given you some clarity, write it down.
  2. If you dream that there’s an alarm going off somewhere and you can’t find it, no matter how hard you look, it’s probably your phone. You’re oversleeping.
  3. If you dream that you are running through obstacles and trying to find a bathroom, and you finally find one, GET UP AND GO TO THE BATHROOM.
That’s where the title of this blogpost came from 😀

********************************

Do you have dreams about finding your voice and telling your story? Contact me to set up a
Vocal Discovery Session in the New Year.