Yoga for Singers 2: Beginning Yoga for Singers

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Beginner's Yoga Sequence for Singers

Let’s be real.  Starting to practice yoga can be intimidating.  Perhaps this is because of its inherent connection with having to be flexible (which you don’t) or needing to twist yourself into a pretzel (which you don’t).   A very wise yoga teacher once told me that yoga is a breathing practice, and the physical postures are there to facilitate a deeper connection to your breath.  One of my favorite singing teachers told me instead of thinking of singing well, think of breathing well.  It all comes back to the breathing!

Here’s a beginners yoga sequence that I created just for singers.   Try it out before your next voice lesson or audition.

1.     Mountain Pose (Tadasana) > Chest Expansion Forward Fold

Stand with your feet together and arms at your sides.  Really root down through the feet and engage through the legs.  On an inhale, sweep your arms above your head, look up, and lean back – opening through the chest.  As you exhale, interlace all ten fingers behind your low back.  Inhaling, draw your knuckles down towards the floor, and shoulders away from the ears.  As you exhale,  bend your knees very deeply, fold forward from the hips, and lift your knuckles up towards the ceiling to expand your chest.

Mountain pose is a spine-lengthening and grounding posture that can help you stabilize your singing stance. As you find the chest expansion forward fold, try to focus on a wide, horizontal rib cage breath.

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2.     Crouch and Curl

From your forward fold, release your fingers down towards the mat, bend your knees deeply, lifting heels gently off the mat.  Round your spine, tucking chin to chest, your forehead towards your knees.  Take 5 deep breaths.

With the spine rounded in this crouching position, you can really focus on breathing into the entire space of the back.  For me, this pose has calmed a few pre-performance jitters!  

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3.     Crocodile Pose (Makarasana)

From your tiny ball, lift your hips and straighten the legs just slightly.  Plant your palms on the mat and step your legs back.  Lower your knees to the mat, and come to lie on your belly on the mat.  Untuck the toes and relax the legs.  Stack your forearms on top of one other to create a pillow for your forearms.  Tuck the chin into the chest. Take 5 deep breaths.

This pose draws awareness to a diaphraghmatic and low belly breath.  With the whole front of the body is in contact with the mat, you notice the belly pressing against the mat with each inhale when belly expands.  This pose is also a calming, restorative posture, which is beautiful for calming nerves.

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4.     Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) > Low Lunge > Twist

Position your palms on the mat just under your shoulders.  Curl your toes under, and lift your hips towards the ceiling to create an upside down “v” – or downward facing dog.  Lift your right leg off the mat, and sweep it through your hands for a low lunge.  Plant left hand on the mat and lift the right finger tips toward the ceiling for a twist.  Expand through the chest and find length from left hand to right fingertip.   Return right hand to mat and step back to downward facing dog and repeat on the second side.  

Downward facing dog is a powerful grounding posture, as well as spine-lengthening.  By finding the twist, you expand through the chest, creating openness across the front space of the body as you prepare to perform.  

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Nicole adds:  Be smart about your yoga practice. Know your body--what it can do, and what it can't. Talk to your doctor or take a yoga class with Krista or another yoga teacher near you to be sure you're on the right track.

Yoga for Singers 1: Confessions of a Singing Yogini

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Confessions of a Singing Yogini

One frigid January evening when I was not even 20, I stumbled into a hot yoga studio and took my first yoga class.

I hadn’t the slightest clue about body alignment in postures, no grasp of Sanskrit and its place in in the yoga class, and definitely no concept of just how much water I would have to drink afterward to rehydrate.

11949846861384616885stylized yoga person ger 06.svg.hiHere’s what I did know for sure:  I was hooked.  Something about the dance-like nature of the yoga postures, the focus and stamina that came from slowing down the breath, how I felt so much taller, lighter, and open upon leaving the studio.   

This is exactly what my singing teachers and coaches at school encourage every single day.  

Expand your rib cage.  Breathe slower, and all the way into the back.  Stand tall, rooting down through the feet and reaching with crown of head.  Allow your body to be relaxed, but also active.  Express yourself.

The themes were so interchangeable, I had to smile at this beautiful connection.

The next day, I was rehearsing Brahms’ Zigeunerlieder with my voice coach in preparation for an upcoming recital.  We began the first movement together, she at the piano and me singing.  Half way through the first movement, she completely stopped playing.  

“This is the first time you’ve made it through that long phrase without having to take a cheat breath in the middle!”

Wow.  She was right.  

“What did you do differently that time?” she asked.  

“Hmm, not sure.  I did take my first yoga class ever last night, and I learned a breathing exercise at class.  Maybe that helped!”

That first class swept me into my second, third, and so many more after that.  Yoga has been my constant companion and complement to music making.  Right away, here are the best things I learned and was able to apply immediately to my vocal technique:

1.     Release of tension

The emphasis on noticing where you are holding tension in your body and actively working to release it catapulted my vocal technique from moderate at best to rock solid.  Jaw tension?  Take your tongue away from the roof of your mouth, gently part your lips, and begin to breathe softly through the nose.  Neck and shoulder tension?  Tuck your chin in just slightly to your chest and let your shoulders drop away from your ears.  Awareness is the key:  check in with yourself every few breaths to ensure you are relaxed, but still active in the body.  

2.    Strength

As I got into grad school and was either in practice or performance mode, developing endurance and physical strength for performing was a priority.  The stronger I became physically, the more magnetic I felt as a performer.  I continue to cultivate the strength

3.    Breath

As I illustrated above, the breath is the best gift that yoga gave to my singing.  Training the body to breathe  deeper and wider gave me the confidence to allow my phrases to really soar.  Long phrases begin to come naturally instead of having to be thought out and calculated so much in advance.  So much freedom and flexibility is yours with a full breath.

Come along with me and release tension, strengthen, and breathe deeply in the next segment:  a beginners yoga sequence for singers I created just for you!

Yoga for Singers Starts Tomorrow!

on . Posted in Singing

Yoga is becoming more and more popular and singers are no exception. 1194984685992851260stylized yoga person ger 05.svg.hiWe must be aligned in our bodies and in tune with what our bodies are telling us to really create incredible music and yoga is a fantastic tool to help us do just that.

Mezzo and Yogini Krista Costin has written several articles about her journey as a singer who discovered yoga and received some incredible gifts along the way.

So join us tomorrow through Saturday for Yoga for Singers, right here on Open Intervals!

3 Tidbits about Virgil Thomson and his song cycle "Praises and Prayers" - Hear it June 22nd in Minneapolis!

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Virgil Thomson, composer

Virgil Thomson was a pillar of 20th Century American music and a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer. Although he looks a bit grumpy in this photo, rest assured he was a productive, creative individual, producing 8 books in addition to his numerous compositions. He also earned 20 honorary doctorates. 20!

All that before the computer and "the internets."

1. Thomson was a paid organist at the age of 12 and attended Harvard on scholarship. (Link)

Having a regular gig from the age of 12 is pretty spectacular by any standard. A scholarship to Harvard? An amazing opportunity, one he used well.

2. He spent 1925-1940 in Paris and met/became friends with an impressive list of people:

Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Igor Stravinsky, e e cummings, Aaron Copland, Jean Cocteau, Scott Fitzgerald, Christian Dior, and Orson Welles. Just to name a few.

Thomson also studied with Nadia Boulenger, one of the 20th Century's most accomplished and famous composition teachers. (If you are in my voice studio, you will be learning about her over the next couple of months!)

3. Thomson insisted on accompanying the world premiere of "Praises and Prayers" in 1963 and was reportedly sloppy in his rhythm and even skipped ahead a whole measure at one point.

That's like forgetting to put the milk in the fridge...dangerous. These songs are dependent upon their own rhythm and text accentuation. (Read:  these songs are hard and incredibly rewarding.)

Luckily Mark Sedio and I know what we're doing and we won't be skipping a measure when we perform 3 songs from this song cycle on June 22nd at Central Lutheran in Minneapolis. Here are all the important points in one:

 

Sunday, June 22, 2014 at 10:00 a.m.

"Praises and Prayers" by Virgil Thomson

1. From The Canticle of the Sun (St. Francis of Assissi)

2. My Master Hath a Garden (Anonymous)

3. Jerusalem, My Happy Home (Anonymous stanzas on "Mater Hierusalem Civitas Sancta Dei" from The Meditations of Saint Augustine, Ch. XXV)

with Mark Sedio, piano

Central Lutheran Church

333 S 12th St.

Minneapolis, MN  55404

Call me back. I want to give you money!

on . Posted in Singing

We need to talk.

You and your phone...you're together 24 hours a day. You've got Facebook and Twitter and Google+ and Instagram and apparently you have email and hey, look--that thing even makes phone calls!12387035811999740766adam lowe Smartphone.svg.hi

Yes, that computer in your pocket--you can use it to actually talk with another person!

What I mean when I leave you a voicemail that sounds like, "I need a pianist/conductor/recording engineer/graphic designer/web developer/photographer for this project I'm working on, so please call me as soon as you can" that means I really want you to call me as soon as you can. I want you to call me. Even more:  when you call me back and say yes, I will actually pay you money.

I know, crazy, right?!

It seems so simple...yet it is so complex for some people. It's like the world of freelance has become the world of dating, where if you don't like someone enough for a second date, you just don't call them back. It's pretty immature. The world of freelance is becoming the world of "I don't care/the answer is no/I don't have time, so I'm not calling back."

And it's crap.

When you don't call people back or don't answer an email or don't respond to an inquiry, it sends the message that you are irresponsible, disrespectful, and makes you look like you don't care. It doesn't matter if "that's how people deal with things" these days. It's a load of hooey and you know it.

Worse:  it costs you money. Because you don't get the gig. AND you don't get the gig(s) that could have followed. I promise when you are a pianist who doesn't respond to an inquiry and you don't answer my email or voicemail, you get automatically demoted. You get put on the 'B List.' People I only call if I have to...because you're now my second (or even third) choice. I will call every single person on my A List before I will ever call you. And often, I will call people I don't know before I call you--because they will often call back when you didn't.

Answering inquiries and requests is a form of marketing. It's also good customer service, but think of this:  in marketing, it used to be that people needed to hear your message 7-10 times before they would respond. That was before Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, and every other social media site out there. Now it's likely multiple times that.

If someone recommends you to me:  your name is in front of me once. If you respond, no matter if you say yes or no, your name just got in front of me twice. See how it works?

When you don't respond at all, you cost people like me time and money. You didn't call me back. And because you were unresponsive/lazy/too "busy" to even send a 1-line email/too lost in your Facebook feed to come back to earth and get something done, I had to call multiple other people, ask for more recommendations, call and research other people. You who didn't call me back have wasted my time.

Do you want to know the easiest way to get more work? Call people back. Return their email. Respond to their Facebook comment. The best advice comes from this Entrepreneurial Guru:

Your future is in the follow-up.

~Ali Brown

 

Anybody willing to bet that isn't true?

Listen, you pianists, you singers, you composers, you conductors, you teachers, you working professionals whom other people pay to provide a service. Make it as easy as possible for people to leave their money with you.

Yes, you.

So check your spam folder as often as you check your email. (Yeah, and by the way, when you change your email, you should email everyone you've ever met and tell them. Except that person you went on 1 date with and don't like. You can skip that person.) Answer all your voicemail within 24 hours. Do NOT ever say, "Can you call me back in 2 hours?" Write it in ink on the back of your hand and call me back.

Here are a few great options for responses:

  1. Yes
  2. No

Any questions?

The Best Pencil for Musicians: Paper Mate Clear Point Elite

on . Posted in Singing

Confession:  I'm an office supply geek.yellow-pencil.hi

Having the right writing utensil is a goal for me (and I know a lot of other people who are like this, too). Having just the right pen or pencil is part of every-day writing, not just for letters or for signing contracts, but for making notes, writing down blogging ideas, marking scores, everything. And now I've found the perfect pencil for writing, score markings, and note-taking:  Paper Mate Clearpoint Elite. I'm a goner.

To give you the whole picture, we have to back up 1 step. A while back I picked up  Paper Mate Clear Point 0.5mm Mechanical Pencils (not the Elite version, they weren't available then) because:

  1. I need a lot of writing utensils for teaching, writing, note-taking, marking scores, etc.
  2. I have large hands (I can easily span a major 9th on a piano keyboard) and those thin, yellow pencils are hard for me to use.
  3. Running out of lead or eraser just isn't an option. Especially not in the middle of a rehearsal!

These pencils were great--with a larger barrel, plenty of space in the barrel for extra lead (0.5mm only--ever!) and a long, replaceable eraser. Yes, you read that right:  Replaceable! Refillable! Rechargeable!

4 brand spaking new pencils, all perfect, and there was always one at hand.

Then the clips broke off. First the blue one, then the green one, and then the other blue one, and then the other green one. Soon there were no clips left.

PapermateEliteSmallOffice supply snobbery hit, and so did a rehearsal in which I was tied up looking for a place to put the pencil, since I couldn't clip it to anything--not the folder, not the music, nothing. No clip = no storage. It was a rough day.

Then Paper Mate came out with the Elite version, with a metal clip. I'm a believer.

Elite is right--a larger, smooth barrel with slight ridges where your fingers grasp the pencil. A metal clip that is practically indestructible. The same spacious interior for copious amounts of 0.5mm lead and the same, large, replaceable eraser.

I bought two and haven't looked back. These are seriously the best pencils I've ever used for writing, marking scores, erasing markings, note-taking, e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

If you are looking for just the right pencils for your markings, try a couple of these and please let me know what you think in the comments below!

Fellow office supply geeks unite!

Update 5/15/14:  Left in the photo you see the pencils I bought, the extra erasers and the lead. Pure score-marking awesomeness. ~NW