Friday, April 1, 2011

Singing classically

So many good things are happening like the speed of light around here, it is hard to process it all. An unbelievable development - my classical singing voice is back. This is a LOOOOOONG story and I'm thinking about writing a book about the journey, but here I am, back studying and working on my beloved Schubert Lieder.

I haven't worked as a classical musician in over 6 years, I haven't missed it. I've been busy exploring other avenues of music, for a while I was toying with writing and performing my own cabaret show, but then I got into creating a whole new musical way to communicate which Camp MMW really helped foster. Camp was an empowering place, we created on the spot using our instincts and not putting judgement on what we were doing, we just did. The rhythmic exploration and challenges continue to inspire me. I was "FREE" to create, and that freedom makes me powerful.

Yesterday I had my first vocal coaching in about 6 years. For those who don't know, a vocal coach is a pianist/coach that a singer works with to fine tune diction issues, phrasing, etc. It isn't a voice lesson. The classical singing world is filled with coaches/conductors/voice teachers that we work with, we are always paying for someone's expertise. I started to think about how this is a terrible cycle for a singer. Firstly, we don't have that many chances to perform, so whenever we can make music, we do. In a coaching, we are getting nit-picked, that's what we are paying for, so there we are, trying to make music and getting criticized. That is the cycle. The same happens with voice teachers, conductors, you name it. Singers are put in a lesser position and this stays with us. We are taught that we never know enough, that we're never experts, and thus, we're never fully empowered.

I've known and watched many singers over the years, some are able to brush all of this off and continue on, many remain like deer in the headlights, feeling overwhelmed. Because we are American, many of us don't speak the languages we sing, so first disadvantage. We take diction courses out the wazoo, learning the rules of phonetic language, and boy, does this get anal. French alone has more rules than any other, and the phonetic language is not how the real language is spoken. Then take into account that where the note is on the staff may affect where we need to place the note in our voices, so we modify the vowel/consonant positions. Traps are everywhere! How can you be free when you are worrying about traps?

And what gets lost here - the love of the music. Singers look wooden, empty, tense, often unhappy. Instrumentalists never have to deal with this issue, they just play the music and there they are. With all the mind work/concerns, singers can seem frozen and not in their bodies at all, which is ironic since the act of singing is very physical.

I really hate this aspect of classical singing. Hate. I have to feel passionate and connected to what I'm singing, otherwise, how can I touch the listener? When I am powerful and free, there is no limit to what I can do. When you are in the moment, there is no judgement, you are a conduit. This is not the emphasis of the traditional American classical vocal world.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Remembering Mr. Davis

Just a quick blog - my godfather, Mr Davis, passed away on Friday, he was 83 and not in the best of health. While his life was one of service, he also had a complex personal life. I hadn't talked with him in 25 years, he did write me a beautiful letter for my wedding. I knew him as "Mr Davis," and while I was aware that he did some work with Martin Luther King when he was younger, I didn't really have any idea. He was always kind to me and I remember him fondly. Keeping his family in my thoughts and remembering his involvement in my younger life.

Obituary for Jim Davis

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Yoga learning adventures

I've talked about "Learning" very early on in my blog, I am fascinated by how people (including myself) process information. Read "Learning" In that blog entry, I mostly focused on my experiences in the music, acting, and performing world, but I find this theme is all around us, all of the time. Yesterday, I was assisting a level I yoga class with my beloved yoga mentor, Jill Cahn. As an assistant in a yoga class, I do things Jill asks me to do. She'll make an adjustment on a student and then ask me to make similar adjustments on students, I'll give extra blankets or props to those who need them, I follow Jill around and watch her make adjustments and clarify points for students. Sometimes I just walk around the room observing. Since it is a morning class, there are a good amount of seniors and a handful of moms as well as others, there were about 20 students yesterday. I'm always fascinated that Jill will give an instruction, and everyone interprets it differently, even when she demonstrates! For instance, the last piece of triangle pose, raising the arm and hand overhead - arms are all over the place, hands are all over the place, and students are completely unaware of where their arms or hands are. When I'm a student in her class, I don't notice things like that because I'm focusing on myself, so observing her classes is invaluable. I constantly see that the brain and the body process at different times.

What does THAT mean? Here's an example - we're given the instruction, "make sure your feet are parallel." My brain says, "oh, ok," maybe I adjust my feet, maybe they are parallel already, but my brain is ready for the next instruction immediately. However, my feet, on closer inspection, aren't really parallel, maybe my heels need to go wider to be fully parallel, or my toes are gripping, but my brain thinks, "NEXT!" My brain assumes that my body is fine, let's move on. The body, however, is processing the information in its own time, my brain and body are not working at the same pace. This is one of the powers of yoga practice - we are training our minds and bodies to work together with grace and ease, it is not just exercise. This training puts us in our parasympathetic nervous system, the place where we are in comfort and peace, mind and body, and not pulled in to the fight or flight sympathetic nervous system where many people reside. It is the journey of a lifetime.

In Jill's level I this session, there is a woman who looks to be in her early 60s but told us she is in her 70s, she is determined to do yoga, the fire is there. However, after so many years of being out of touch with her own body, she is truly all over the place, and she could injure herself because she is so out of touch. I have been doing the poses with her, yesterday we were working triangle pose with the back foot grounding in the wall, I do the pose with her, in front of her, so she can see close up what she needs to do. It is coming little by little, her desire to be in the class and understand is inspiring. There was another student working on the same wall, I adjusted her but she didn't get it, and suddenly I couldn't put into words what I wanted her to do! I could show her clearly, then she put into words what I was doing, I said, "yes," and then she did what I was asking her to do. I felt dyslexic. Here is an example of processing the other way around, one of the reasons teaching yoga for a beginning teacher is difficult - verbalizing what you are doing with clarity. Just like my own yoga practice, verbalizing is another practice. Jill told me that when she started teaching, she wrote out her class plan and spoke all the directions aloud twice, so she would feel comfortable. You would never know after 20 years of teaching that Jill had had such difficulty in the beginning.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A New Year!

Yes, we've been in 2011 for a week now, I've been enjoying the energy of the new year and excited about the possibilities, what will the year hold? I have constant, good feelings. I'm trying to keep myself an open vessel during a quiet week for me - the usual - yoga, reading, time with my pets, cleaning, cooking, singing and listening. This year is going to take me places and I'm centering myself as strongly as I can while I can.

While I'm not necessarily a "resolutions" type person, I've been thinking about the things I want to accomplish. I've been going through cookbooks and trying new recipes which is something I love to do. The "Puppetry and Percussion" project is in the making, I really can't start creating until I have puppets to work with, that will probably be in March. I'm planning on doing some recording, I've been organizing the pieces I want to record, mostly original stuff, stories in my head. I get inspired by things, often when I'm driving and sometimes in the middle of the night, then I rush into my office and write the ideas down on scrap paper. Needless to say, my desk is often covered with little scribbled papers, I've been able to organize them and lessen the clutter a bit.

Then there are the crazy things I've always wanted to do - right now all I can think about is learning how to play the theremin. You know, the unworldly instrument that often accompanies sci-fi flicks? How much fun would that be?!

Leon Theremin demonstrates

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

So it is nearing Christmas

After we put out a few presents, Monty moved them with his nose
to make his place under our Christmas tree.

Well, 2010 has been a very trying year. I can't say I've enjoyed it very much, but I've definitely learned much about myself and others, who is or isn't on my side, what really makes me happy, and that I'm done with snow. I've learned about PET CT scans and a little about a rare cancer called PEComa. I've learned that I recovered physically well from surgery and that there is a lot of love in my life. It has been a year about reassessing my life and honoring what makes me tick.

As I clean my house, wash curtains, bake cookies and stollen, get ready for holiday visitors, there is much to be thankful for. I've spent a lot of the blog this year talking about being thankful, I'm sure I sound like a broken record, but I am. I'm healthy. I'm here. I'm powerful and unique. I have a lot to say and share. You are kind enough to read my blatherings!

2011 will be a break-out year for me. That I know. Many projects are in the works, my creative juices are running rampant, I continue to challenge myself. As long as I continue to practice yoga everyday, life seems to go smoothly. Whenever I stop, I become recalcitrant and unpleasant, so which way is better for me?! I will share my doings as they come and go, but be assured it won't be a typical, run of the mill experience, because I just can't seem to function like "normal" people. My mom always told me I would do one thing in life which has been an albatross for me, I am happiest when I'm doing many different projects at once, such is my creative nature and I must honor that.

Late in 2010, we brought Monty the cairn into our home after losing our beloved Max in October. While Monty and Max are very different, they teach/taught me much about what is really important in life. Monty is a happy soul, so excited to go out for a walk, eat a meal, hang out with us. He doesn't know an enemy, except, perhaps squirrels! He wags his tail at us and looks up at me with big eyes, life is a joyous experience for him. And so should it be for all of us, we have so brief a time here on this earth, why not fill it with happiness, because if we are happy, we share it with the world. That simple.

This year, I've spent a lot of time being "in the moment." I don't have on the radio in the house as much as I used to, I walk the dog with my ears free from a phone or music so I can share the experience with my dog, I'm keeping my ears open. My hearing is so acute and there is much to be heard, and I need to listen, so actively listening has gone beyond listening to music, I'm listening right now. That brings me great joy because I am present. It is a meditation and fills me again, with gratitude.

I wish all of you a holiday season of gratitude and joy, because they go hand in hand. Let's hear it for true friends and fun!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Observation and Thanks

Hans Peter Dettmar, the Hans-meister, November 2010, Baltimore Harbor

Well, I met with my GYN/oncologist yesterday and here's the plan - observation. I'll see him every three months, for the next two years I'll have a CT scan every 6 months, and then for the following five years I'll have a CT scan every year. After that, I'll be considered non-risk. Since the tumor was small (under an inch in diameter), and was totally removed, the prognosis is good. Thank you, see you in three months.

Is that all? After this crazy, over-the-top emotional year I was expecting more confusion and drama. Not to be. We have a plan in place, stop the drama. Sloan Kettering is a non-factor, really. The fact is that the expert at Johns Hopkins had never seen a PEComa nor has anyone at Sloan Kettering. They don't have any new information at this time. So I'm on a new path with this doctor, and since his office is a 6 minute drive from my house, even better.

I came home from the appointment and sat in a chair, the same one in which I called my parents to tell them the news in July. It was 3pm, it was quiet, and I suddenly didn't know how to feel. My husband told me to fix myself a stiff drink, but I didn't, I just sat. So much of my angst from the last year has been lifted, unfortunately angst has been a defining factor in my life for a year. I find myself crying for no reason, I think the release of the emotions I've been quietly carrying are going to come out, and they should. NO ONE should ever have to experience the confusion and mixed messages I've been given since April, just an awful roller coaster ride. Being in survival mode is not fun, trying to make through a day, an hour, a minute, a breath.

So many people have been supportive, some wonderful words shared, my cousin telling me she lit candles at every church while in Europe this summer for me, people putting me on prayer lists, my sister offering to come stay with me if I needed treatment, my parents with their medical constancy, my brother calling my parents every night to see how he could help, friends making me laugh to keep perspective, my pets, but most of all, my husband. It sounds a cliche, but he is truly my best friend and is ALWAYS there for me, always. He never once panicked (at least on the outside!) and helped make my life continue on with a sense of normalcy, even during those dark days of July. Thank God for the Tour de France this year, my yearly July obsession, that gave me plenty more to focus on than all the information overload I was getting, and Hans and I watched the Tour every day for three weeks. Hans Dettmar, you are a great man, a great husband, you make me laugh, and most importantly, you love me. There is no greater blessing in life than to be loved and to love fully in return.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Health/tumor/Sloan Kettering update

So, I've been waiting around for nearly 4 months to hear the results from the tumor panel at Sloan Kettering and no word. A few weeks ago, I met with my physician and said, "hey, I haven't heard anything, what should I do?" She said she'd make some calls. I called her office with the information and didn't hear anything, so I called her last Friday and she hadn't received my information. Do you see where this could be going? At any rate, she called me today and said she called the office of Dr. Sabbatini at Sloan Kettering in New York, and his assistant said they never received my lab work. Now my doctor is trying to find out where my lab work is. I'm seeing my GYN/oncologist on Tuesday, I wanted to have all this ready for him then, but it looks like more uncertainty is in my future on this topic.

What does this tell me? Well, it says that there was no follow-thru on my behalf from my surgeon/GYN, but is it fair to blame her? Her specialty is difficult pregnancies and female health, she sounded so relieved when she called me and left a message back at the end of July that everything was being shipped off to an expert, cancer is not her specialty. Did I drop the ball by not calling and checking on the information? I had seen my new GYN/oncologist once a few days before that, he said to come back in 2 weeks, but once I heard that a tumor panel was happening, I waited to hear the results before meeting with him again.

This whole situation reminds me how so many of us think things will be clearly defined and follow a clear process. I was raised to think that way, both of my parents are very logical, linear thinkers, and there is no deviation. Everything is an equation that is solved. Once I have closure, I move on. However, so much of my life hasn't been like that at all and I spent years trying to force that square-peg thinking into my round-peg reality. This hits me over and over again, so obviously there is a karmic life lesson for me!

So am I upset? Well, it is unsettling, but my physician said, "you're not dying, and this is for me to worry about and fix, not you." Thank you, Dr. Jennifer Gorrelick, you are saying the right thing. It just seems par for the course with this health journey, no one has answers, everyone is flummoxed, there is no clarity. I have to provide my own clarity, that is my responsibility. I eat healthily, I do yoga, take mile long walks, and ride an exercise bike for half an hour, I sleep well, and I am surrounded by love and love in return. I'm trying to fill my life with projects that fascinate me and turn me on. We have a lively and loving new 7 1/2 year old cairn terrier named Monty who makes me laugh. My husband and I are going to see the new Harry Potter movie tonight.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I am thankful for many things this year. Last year at this time, I was overwhelmed and my inner self kept saying "get this out, have the surgery now, do it NOW!" It was pretty constant. I didn't know it was cancer. Those are not the same messages I'm receiving now, right now there is a lot of peace as my body is becoming whole again. I always used to say, "yeah, thanks for my health," but now I am truly grateful. I wish you all that grace. Happy Thanksgiving.

Here's Hans taking Monty for a walk