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

You Don't Always Get Your Ideal Fee.

on . Posted in Singing

Some organizations just don't have a large budget, yet they offer great concerts, wonderful experiences, and provide wonderful resume-builders for singers. And we should, for all reasons, sing them and bring music to people. That is, after all, the whole point. So let's look at a few ways that organizations offer and singers accept gigs that are perhaps lower on the pay scale but high on education, respect, and worthiness.

a/k/a How to ask a singer to sing your concert when you't have much money. And for singers, how to accept a good gig that's doesn't pay a whole lot.

a/k/a Rules to live by.

When you're offering:

1) Don't ever call it "exposure." Just take the word out of your vocabulary. See my previous two articles for reasons why. If you're still not sure, read them again.

2) Be up-front:  when you ask a singer about your concert or service, give them the who, what, when, where, and how much. It's rude to make someone ask "What is the fee paid?" and it puts the recipient in an awkward position. So just lay it all out on the table right away. This sets a great precedent for being upfront and goal-oriented; clear communication makes everything quicker and easier.

If you're emailing the offer and not calling, send all of these facts in ONE email with a descriptive subject line like "Handel Messiah on December 15 in Ourtown, OurState?" It's so much easier to refer back to one email with the facts than to have to search 8-10 emails and put everything together.

When you send a confirmation letter or contract, you can copy and paste the information between the email and letter/contract, which saves you time, too.

3) Keep things hard-and-fast:  stick to your rehearsal times and keep your emails succinct and to-the-point. This keeps everything productive and efficient for everyone involved.

Then if you send an extra reminder email or you need to notify everyone of a change, they will take note simply by the fact that you've sent an additional email or perhaps you've sent this email with urgent status.

4) DO offer what it is:  experience, possibly new repertoire for the singer, education for everybody all around (since we musicians really can't afford to stop learning) and a great time together making beautiful music.

Music is a small world and if you like to work with someone, or think you will enjoy working with them, then ask! There are so many reasons for performing and creating great music together. We cultivate our working relationships this way and quite literally:  you reap what you sow.

5) If your budget is tight right now but will be more generous in the future, only offer future gigs when you know you will follow through.

This happens when organizations are just starting out or when they're transitioning in their own set-up or mission. If you need a favor, call it in from someone you know, trust, and would be open to hearing it. If you can honestly say that you'd be happy to offer them something in the future, go ahead. But don't make empty promises. You'll reap that fairly quickly in return.

When you're accepting:

1) Watch out for red flags like wording that insinuates that you're young/inexperienced/need the work. Exercise caution if things aren't spelled out in the first email; AVOID ACCEPTING right away. To get more information and better insight, ask the questions you need to know. Ask who, what, when, where, and how much. Ask why if it's a fundraiser--which organization is receiving a donation from the event?

2) Be very clear on why you’re singing it. Whether it's a new piece, another line of experience on your resume, a piece you've always wanted to sing, "easy money" for a piece you've already performed, networking, or an excuse to wear your new suit or concert dress, know why you're doing it. This is for you and only you.

Remember it can be as simple as "Because I want to."

3) Turn it down if you don't have time to do it well. It's still work, so if you can't do it well, don't accept it. (Or you can learn this lesson the hard way. ;) )

4) Frequently building a career is akin to creating a mosaic. There are lots of different parts to it and in music, those different parts pay different amounts. Be sensitive to the fact that the organization offering you work may be on a strict budget. Remember, music is a small world (a very, very small world). Treat others with respect unless you need set a boundary and be assertive, and still do that with respect and class.

If you would like to work with someone, or think you will enjoy working with them, then accept! There are so many reasons for performing and creating great music together. We cultivate our working relationships this way and quite literally:  you reap what you sow.

Is there an echo in here?

5) Treat every singing event as if it were paying you your ideal fee. While you never know when one gig might lead to another, you're still meeting new people and making new connections at every concert; showing up ready to do your best is one of the best ways to create a solid, respectable reputation. It's like the theater adage, "There are no small roles, only small actors."