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