Break the freaking rules.

on . Posted in Singing

Rule #1:  You have to be doing "big stuff" all the time.Romanov poor musician.svg.hi

Rule #1 broken:  No, you don't. You need to be doing the real stuff--engaging with people, doing the best you can do on any given day. That's it.

We don't *always* need to be doing the big concerts, having the "big career," which by the way, doesn't exist in the same form it did even 10 years ago. It's changed.

New Rule:  Make your best art as often as is appropriate for you.

 

Rule #2:  You have to suffer to make art.

Rule #2 broken:  Nobody actually likes a martyr. So quit beating yourself up for following rule #1 and taking crappy opportunities because you "need the money" or "maybe it'll lead to something else." You know what comes from low pay? More low pay. And more bills. And a reputation that you'll put up with a lot of crap. Don't contribute to the Wal-Mart economy of music and start requesting an appropriate fee. (Notice I didn't say "high fee." I said appropriate.)

New rule:  Figure out

How to Write a Last-Minute Application

on . Posted in Singing

To accomplish this major feat, you need to know a few things. Because learning this shouldn’t take longer than the actual application, here it is short, sweet, and to the point.

1.    Decide if it’s really worth it.
Sit down, and for five minutes think about what this application could lead to—what are the possibilities? If it’s worth a lot later, then it’s definitely worth a few hours of intense work right now. If you don’t care very much, then don’t do it. You’ll only be annoyed with yourself later if you simply think you “should.”

2.    Write a list of everything that needs to be done AND a second list of what needs to go in the envelope. Use brightly colored paper, as chances are everything else will be on white paper.

To keep things organized, you can keep this checklist paper-clipped to the “completed” materials until it goes in the mail. Make sure you this paper gets tossed when you’re done so it isn’t in the envelope when you mail it off!

3.    Find out where the closest post office is and how late they are open.
If you won’t make it during regular business hours, find a post office that is open late.  Find this out now if you have applications coming up.

4.    Drop everything.
This really means everything. There is no cooking dinner while you’re doing this, no talking to your best friend via Skype. It’s PB&J, a phone on silent mode, and sign out of Facebook, Skype, and whatever else floats your boat. This is not boat-floating pleasure time, it’s hard-core crunch time for you to show what you’re made of.

5.    Keep it simple.
Your best bet, whether it be the cover letter, updating your resume, or other additional materials is to keep it simple. No bells, no whistles. Rely on the good, solid work you’ve already accomplished.

And speaking of updating your resume, this is not the time to do a major overhaul. Make it work the way it is, and when you’re done with this application, go back and do the major overhaul right away. That way, you’ll have it easier  the next time you do an application at the last minute. You know this last-minute thing will surely happen again, so just do it. You will thank yourself for it later.

6.    Get any 3rd-party materials, like recommendation letters, ASAP. Call in favors.

Also, make good on the favors you owe others when they need last-minute help. People remember this and they remember it well. Being reliable in the favor department makes you memorable to good people.

Exception:   when disorganized Darla needs materials from you for an application for the 5th Friday in a row and you have a hot date:  say no. Good fences, good neighbors. ‘Nuff said.

7.    Trust that you will get it finished on time. Having faith that you will get it done makes it so much easier--and it will be stellar!


When you’ve heard back, whether your application is accepted or not, be sure to say thank you to the people that helped you. It does matter that you say thank you; people have spent their valuable time helping you and they deserve to be recognized for it.

Intuition 3: Shielding. What's Woo-Woo and What (Actually) Works

on . Posted in Singing

Shielding is the second part of the esoteric practices grounding & shielding. Shielding is usually presented as a visualization exercise that's meant to protect you from anything ever. Perhaps something like this:1234405721566117915kablam Happy Heart.svg.hi

Imagine your aura (the energetic substance surrounding your body) as a bubble extending 6 feet above you, 6 feet below you, 6 feet in every direction. It's only your energy, your energy is clear, and no one else's energy affects your aura.

That's all well and good, but when you really need to protect yourself, you need more than a visualization exercise--you need boundaries and you need to assert them. Which can be hard if you're not clear on what those are and how it feels to have healthy boundaries and how it feels to assert one's self.

Musicians are incredibly sensitive people. We pick up on subtle body language cues, can sense someone else's entry into a piece of music without even being able to see them. We are feelers. As singers, not only are we incredibly sensitive people, but whatever we do, however we feel, and what we're thinking is reflected in our voices. Singers have got the double-whammy of feeling.

Singers often feel very vulnerable. And frequently we are dealing with a double-standard:  we're part of the performing ensemble, however we ARE the instrument. We're up front, letting it all hang out, looking as fabulous as possible in the process, and we are completely exposed. We are part of the group, yes, however if we mess anything up, we have nothing to 'blame it on' but ourselves.

This is where grounding and shielding come in very handy. (Check out grounding here if you haven't yet.) Grounding helps keep you centered and clear in your mind; shielding helps you protect your center and stay clear on your goals. Now that's a winning combination!

5 Steps to practice self-protection and assertiveness (a/k/a Shielding)

1. Find tools that assist you in steering your own ship.

muscular-penguin-hiIf it's helpful to visualize your aura as extending, impenetrable, fortified by steel and, if need be, protected by 6-inch, razor sharp tentacles that would injure anyone who tried to tread on your boundaries.

That's an esoteric way of saying "See yourself as strong, unshakable, with a solid, core belief that you are valuable and you are skilled; if anyone tries to tell you otherwise, you will stand up for yourself in whatever way is appropriate to the situation."

If you are strong and protect yourself well with exercise, keep it up! If it takes needlepoint, knitting, or meditation, do it. Find what works for you and keep it up!

2. Control only what you can control. Leave the rest.

There's nothing worse than feeling like you're completely out of control...of everything...so find what you're in charge of. You're in charge of your business--learning your part, researching the music, making sure you're on-time, having your performance clothing ready to go.

You can't control that cello player who plays all wonky, the giant wasp flying around the conductor's head, or the guy in the 3rd row on the left who forgot to turn off his cell phone. Again.

If you can do something about it directly, do something. If not, learn to push right on through it until you can get away from it.

3. Know when to separate yourself from negativity & gossip.

rumor-button-hiWhen you feel negative and it's not your natural state of being, it's time to do some centering and strengthening. Nay-sayers are tough to deal with, most especially ones that say gigantic negative things with a smile on their faces. If you feel positive, or even neutral, feel it. But separate yourself from others' negativity. It's theirs, so leave them to deal with it. (More to this in #4.)

Gossip will destroy relationships faster than you can say "You know what I heard?!" Participating in gossip is talking about other people behind their back, spreading information that you know isn't true or that you don't have the right to tell about other people; it's unhealthy because it creates a triangulation between you, the person with whom you are speaking, and the person you are speaking about. To put it in plant terms:  leaves of 3, let it be. Nobody likes poison ivy. So if you're gossiping, you're the poison, Ivy.

So while you can't control the fact that everyone's gossiping about the conductor doing you-know-what with you-know-who, you can choose not to spread the rumor and you can choose to change the conversation.

Remember that sometimes we all fall into the gossip trap. We are human, afterall. We do it without even noticing it. If this happens, get centered and strengthen yourself so you can steer clear of it and move on.

4. Your new mantra:  "Not my circus, not my monkeys!"

Drama. It's for the theater, the opera stage, the concert stage, the rehearsal space and nowhere else. Use this mantra as often as needed....and then 5 more times.

Because it's not your circus, nor are they your monkeys.

5. Carry compassion with you.

John Watson said it best:

Be kind; everyone is fighting a hard battle.

 

You will probably never know the battles that others face every day. And you may never know what keeps them going.

There's this guy in my neighborhood, for instance, whom I was most certain I would pelt with old shoes if I lived next to him. He mows his lawn for hours on end, all exact rows lined up perfectly, then gets out the leaf-blower and blows the grass clippings off the decorative rock around the trees. And there are a lot of decorative rocks.

One night as I was walking past I thought bitterly, "If I lived next to him, I'd sell my house and move! He makes so much noise! On the nicest evening of the week!" Then it occurred to me that for a lot of people, they have one activity that they hang on, it's their weekly salvation. And for this guy, it might be taking pride in his lawn. Perhaps his job his horrible and the only thing that helps him in summer is creating a beautiful lawn and being outside.

I could be TOTALLY WRONG, but that thought certainly gave me peace.

Speaking of peace, it's important to carry compassion for yourself. Carry compassion for times when you haven't asserted yourself, for the times when you've gossiped, for times you've gotten into other peoples' circus'. (Circi? ;) )

Compassion is beauty and strength in one.

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What helps keep you strong and assertive? We'd love to hear your thoughts below.

Intuition 2: Grounding. The Woo-Woo & The Practical

on . Posted in Singing

mysterious-cardboard-box-thIn esoteric, "woo-woo" practices there are two common concepts:  grounding and shielding. The opposites are "ungrounded" and "unshielded," or "too open." Because not all of us are real woo-woo, but practical, here is a very practical definition for these concepts, we could call grounding the process of being calm and centered in your body and in your life. And shielding we could call the process of being self-protective and assertive. These are really two ways of being aware of what's going on in you (grounding) and what's going on around you (shielding). Today we're talking about grounding. (Shielding is the next installment.)

Grounding is essential to honing your instincts. If you are calm and centered, you will be able to listen to your gut instincts more clearly. So here's to getting clear and grounded.

Grounding & Being (Un-)Grounded

Ungrounded musicians, singers, and other artists, ungrounded people seem to almost float from place to place, they aren't too organized, they are chaotic. They are uncentered. And let's be honest--this happens to all of us from time to time! We forget our score before rehearsal, we forget to send in a contract, whatever. (Remember not to be hard on yourself, but to see this as a reminder that you need to create a course correction. You've got some business to attend to, so attend to it.)

And you'll also see there are a lot of grounded musicians & singers, artists. They are pretty well organized, their ducks are in a row, and their thoughts and wishes are clear. This also happens to all of us from time to time! When you notice things are flowing like this for you, take note of what you're doing and how you feel. You can correct your course to get back on track during times of ungroundedness.

Most of us are probably somewhere in the middle. Stressful times can lead to feeling scattered or ungrounded, just as having our ducks in a row fuels further proactiveness. We go back and forth.

So without any further ado, here's a run-down of feeling ungrounded/scattered is in woo-woo and in practical terms. See if you identify with any of these. Try not to judge yourself if you feel inclined, but do notice what ideas pop into your head that give you help in course-correcting towards calm and centered (below).

"Ungrounded" - The Woo-Woo "Uncentered" - The Practical

 *  feeling like you're completely up in your head

*  others tell you you're spacey

*  your qi isn't flowing well

*  when you walk, you're not sure what's under your feet

*  your energy is "stuck" or blocked

*  you think everything will just work out...

 *  you haven't noticed much of a connection with your body today

*  regular tasks aren't getting done, like the dishes, garbage, mail

*  bills? those have a due date? Well, shucks...

*  you're forgetful and miss appointments

*  you're not known for follow-through or for taking care of the details

*  you get stuck on one activity for way too long (also a form of perfectionism)

 

Now let's take a look at being well grounded:

"Well Grounded" - The Woo-Woo "Calm & Centered" - The Practical

 *  your qi is flowing well

*  you have no major energy blocks

*  you know you can't wait for everything to happen, you must be a co-creator

*  you feel the earth beneath your feet as you walk and feel well connected to your earth energy

*  your being grounded is having a grounding effect on other people

 *  your regular tasks are accomplished in a reasonable time frame. Dishes washed, mail sorted, etc.

*  you pay your bills on time and your email inbox has only a few emails in it.

*  you're on-time for appointments

*  you're thinking more pro-actively and because of this, your work is flowing more smoothly.

*  you feel connected to your body and notice when you need a break or to change activities

3 Steps to Grounding/Centering

Being grounded/centered is a habit. If you notice you're off-center quite a bit, try one or all of these steps to be more centered & grounded in your body and in your life:

1. Walk.

Walking is good for the soul and for the body. Walking can clear your mind and your body, so walk regularly.

Have you seen these articles making the rounds lately about literary and scientific geniuses of the past centuries who walked regularly? Yes, it's good for you. It worked for them, so let it work for you, too.

2. Give Yourself Some Structure:  Develop Adaptable Routines & Use Check Lists/Mind Maps

The stress, deadlines, and scheduling that musicians go through is like that of almost no other career I've ever seen. Strict routines don't always work for us, however adaptable routines can give us structure while allowing the flexibility we need to have for our careers. So, apart from hygiene, sleeping, and eating rituals, view your schedule as a collection of lego blocks that can be taken apart and rearranged as needed.

checklist-gray-mdUse check lists for repetitive tasks, even the most banal of tasks that must be done. (This can actually speed up the process of getting it done.!) If you're easily distracted or have a lot going on, giving yourself the structure of your routines can be very centering. Most people use a list when they go grocery shopping--because it helps keep them focused on what they want (not what the store wants them to buy).

If you don't use autopay, what about a monthly checklist of each bill you need to pay and what day it's due? Or, if you share household chores with a partner or roommate and they're not getting done, how about a simple checklist of chores that need to be done during the week (or a month) and which cleaning supplies are used for each chore? If time is an issue, include the time it should take. The next time you have a no-show lesson, grab your list and see what you could get done in that time.

See? There's a certain amount of structure, but flexibility inherent in each of them.

3. Clear the Clutter and Get Your Stuff Together

Nothing will distract you more than clutter. OK, maybe relationship stress, but clutter is just one of the worst things you can do to yourself.

Because unfortunately, catalogs and other paper clutter do not grow legs and walk away on their own.

So, one pile at a time, clear the clutter. Touch each paper or item only once. You must take care of the first item before the second, and so on. (This idea comes from Benjamin Franklin as well as the book How to Simplify Your Life .) So you have 3 choices:  1) Take care of the item, 2) make a special place for it to live (be it in a file for taxes, a binder for future reference, or in your scores, which you may have organized last month during Perspective), or 3) trash/recycle/donate it.

Create routines for dealing with mail, like open everything and get recycle the envelopes right away. Use a simple filing system (using a 3-sectioned hanger like the one on the right) for 1) Deal with This Week, 2) Deal with Next Week 3) Some other Time.

Simplicity and clarity is often the key to success. So keep it simple, keep it clear, and clear out what you don't need or truly want.

What routines help you stay centered in the midst of a creative career? Share your thoughts below!

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Stay tuned for the next article in this Intuition series--Shielding & Being Assertive!

 

Intuition 1: Your Instincts

on . Posted in Singing

11949854421936090706farfalla contorno archit 01.svg.hiSome people claim they are not intuitive.

I disagree.

If you have ever had a gut feeling, you have intuition. And since pretty much everyone has had a gut feeling, pretty much everyone is intuitive.

Musicians are particularly intuitive. Think of how we communicate with our bodies and our facial expression in rehearsal and performing. It's not so convenient to talk while you're rehearsing, however you can move your body slightly or change the way your breath is moving to create a dramatic tone which your musical partner responds to with elan. Some of it is seen, some of it is heard, and some of it is pure sense. Think of chamber musicians sensing their group members' guidance through the slightest raise of an eyebrow. Or purely through feeling.

Hold on it's gonna get a little woo-woo up in here.

Feeling is the focus today. Musicians feel so much and we feel it so deeply. Many of us are also introverts and we are fueled by time alone--by a need to clear our minds and rejuvenate in order to be ok around other people. We are sensitive people in terms of how our feelings feel to us and we can so frequently tune in to other people in such a way that we know if something is going on with them even if they hadn't said a word.

This is called clairsentience:  clear-feeling.

It's related to the commonly known term clairvoyance or clear-seeing. There are 4 main types of claires, the other two being clairaudience or clear-hearing and claircognizance or clear-knowing. Two other types of clairs are fairly rare, clairalience orclear-smelling, and clairgustance or clear-tasting.

* There is an article about an oboist or clarinettist in Germany who tastes the notes she plays--I can't find it, but if you know where it is, please comment below or send me the link via 'contact' (above). *

Well that all sounds really woo-woo. What does this mean for every-day living?

Really this means that musicians have a special sensitivity to feeling other people's feelings. We are open to these feelings and we sometimes take them on either emotionally and we carry it around with us, or we get too involved in it when it's not necessarily our place.

If you find yourself carried away on someone else's "stuff" or that tense moment in rehearsal is still with you hours later, you might have taken it on. Or perhaps you learned growing up to ignore your instincts and later you regret having ignored them.

Our job as people is to hone our instincts and to take care of our own feelings. To put it in woo-woo terms, it's our job to take care of our own energy and to leave other people's energy to themselves. And also to protect ourselves when we need to protect our own energies.

Your best intuitive guide is you. Rule #1:  Listen to your gut. Rule #2:  If in doubt, refer to rule #1.

So Hone Your Instincts

The best way to hone your instincts is to listen to your gut--even if it doesn't make too much sense. Don't fall into the trap of feeling something in your gut and then excusing it with "Oh, no, that would never happen."

Be cautious of random energy modalities developed by someone trying to sell you something. It may be the 21st century, however snake oil is still a hot item. And for women especially--we are taught by our culture not to listen to our instincts, that we are supposed to abide by something someone else says.

Nuh-uh!

So first give yourself a couple of months to hone your instincts and really challenge yourself to listen to your gut and follow it. It is really that simple and that difficult. 

I reached a point a few years ago where there was a project I just couldn't deal with any more--I tried to make changes and all the while my gut instinct was speaking louder and louder--be done with this! This is not going to get any better! You already know all you need to know! Although it was not a popular choice for me, and it didn't make any sense to anyone else, I knew the best thing for me would be to jump ship.

I did and I haven't looked back. Other fantastic projects came along and I feel good that I trusted my gut.

If after a couple of months you find you keep running into barriers, or you're already there, or you just want to learn more about deep instincts, give this book a whirl:

Women Who Run With the Wolves changed my perception of my intuition in deep, meaningful ways. I've recommended it to friends and every single person who has read it has said that it held great meaning and value for them.

 

 

Yoga for Singers 3: 4 Yogic Wisdoms for Singers

on . Posted in Singing

What My Yoga Practice Has Taught Me (Besides to Stand on my Head)

We all have a common desire:  to feel good about ourselves and what we are up to in the world.  Many musicians choose to go into this field because they couldn’t imagine themselves doing anything else.  Anyone brave enough to say a wholehearted “yes” to make their true passion their living knows there are ups and downs along the way.   I know that I am living my yoga when I’m able to gracefully receive a rejection email and say to myself “I’ll try this again next year,” or being able to honestly cheer on a colleague that was accepted for a gig that I wasn’t.  Yoga is so much more than standing on your head or doing the splits, it’s a way of life.

Here are a few gems that I’ve learned along the way:

1.    “Practice and all is coming.”  -Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (founder of Ashtanga Yoga)

11970905601565623445Gerald G Yoga Poses stylized.svg.hiIn yoga and in singing, you must show up.  Getting to your mat or the practice room is really half the battle.  The other half is what you do with the time you have.  Are you focusing on a certain piece of music or yoga pose?  Break it apart into small pieces, so that each vocal passage or warm-up yoga pose is preparing you for where you’re aiming.  Know where you’re going, and keep practicing.

2.    Check your ego.

One of my favorite accompanists always reassured me when I was nervous to “perform to express, not to impress.”  With that as my mantra, I sing because I love it, am prepared, and can’t imagine myself doing anything else versus singing with the fear of judgment from others.

In a yoga class, taking childs pose in a room full of people doing a headstand is sometimes the harder (but stronger) choice because you’re doing what feels good for YOU right now instead of the person next to you.  Music can be insanely competitive.  By dropping my ego on the mat, I’ve noticed it softens in the performance hall, too.

3.     Be Kind.

Be kind to yourself first.  This is not always easy when your expectations for yourself do not meet the reality of the situation at hand, but relax.  The fact that you are putting yourself out there to be seen and heard by so many people is an act of bravery and courage.  When you speak nicely to yourself, it shows.  Affirm your talents and unique qualities every day.  The kindness that you cultivate for yourself by showing up on your mat and practicing yoga can inspire your kind words to colleagues in your midst as well.  You want to be the person that gets the call for the last minute gig not only because of your talent, but because you were a kind and generous person to work with on and off the stage.

4.    You are enough.

When working on a challenging pose, I encourage my students to just “be” in the yoga pose instead of forcing their way into it.  This allows them to experience exactly where they are in this moment.  Physically and emotionally, we are all built differently, and come with different sets of experiences and stories that shape us into the artists we are.  Validate the good and the bad experiences in your life, be grateful for both, and use them as fuel to create a little more each and every day.

Embodying these things isn’t easy, but that’s why we practice:  we return again and again to that inner pull of creating, performing, moving, breathing, expressing, and doing the very best we can.

Breathe well, my friends.