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

Give it a rest.

on . Posted in News

It's time...to take a break.quarter-rest-black-no-stroke-hi

2014 has been quite a journey.

This year I've:

  • finished and announced this new website
  • traveled to Patagonia (Chile), Oregon, Milwaukee, and Virginia, MN (yeah, you know it's awesome up there)
  • started my own voice studio
  • started teaching in the after-school programs at one high school and soon will teach in another
  • sang my first World Premiere
  • sang "Les Nuits d'été" for the first time
  • rehearsed "Jesu, meine Freude" with my friends' infant cooing on my lap (that's a career highlight, by the way)
  • sang the German National Anthem for the first time

Not to mention blogging for the entire month of August, sending Nicole's Notes monthly, adjudicating Solo & Ensemble a few times, a few big changes in my own life, and keeping up with it all.

So I'm calling it a year for Open Intervals; I'm done blogging here for 2014. I have pictures to post, pages to update, I'd like to practice what I preach and actually make a smashbook of musical inspiration, not to mention having some freetime and getting together with some great friends.

Without rest, we are all work and no fun. So it's time to give it a rest.

So have a very happy holiday season--Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year! See you on the flip side!

Best,

Nicole

Don't Save Your Thanks for the Acceptance Speech

on . Posted in Inspiration

thanks-digital-calligraphy-hiWouldn't it be awesome to stand up in front of thousands of people in a packed hall and give an amazing speech saying thank you to everyone who has affected your life and career? And for it to be televised? And then jet off to your next destination, ready to take the stage, film the scene, give the next lecture.

That would be SO COOL.

Just like it would be SO COOL to win a big award like a Grammy. And then people start calling YOU.

That would be so awesome.

And it most surely is so awesome to be one of "those people" who gets to stand up there in a designer gown, hair coiffed, wearing jewelry so expensive it requires its own security team...

...it's an awesome dream. Dreams keep us fueled, dreams keep us motivated, dreams are what we strive for.

Sometimes we see glimpses of dreams in our work, and we find they are anything but dreamy--they are hard-core, standing-right-in-front-of-you, on-the-screen-right-there, honest-to-goodness dreams-come-true.

So say thank you right away. Look that person straight in the eye and say thank you. Some people won't accept it, some people will feel self-conscious about it, some people will feel a bit silly that you took the time to give them your thanks. Do it anyway.

Some people won't give you a chance to say thank you--they will give you a huge compliment and then turn and walk away--and it's ok. Think of them, write out what they told you and put it up where you will see it. Remember them.

So few singers will ever "make it" into the "big career," and have the chance to give that speech. The tear-jerking, Adrian Brody-style "I'm only ever going to get to do this right now," Fred Rogers-like genuine exercise in gratitude.

So just do it now.

In the spirit of Thanks-giving and in the determined decision to walk my walk:

Firstly, thank you to my family for your enduring support. And for teaching me cribbage. And poker. (These come in handy.) :) So do all the stories we tell.

Thank you to my friends for your enthusiasm, your excitement, your caring, the way you incite courage in me. It is an honor to call you my tribe.

Thank you to the churches, the organizations, the schools, the parents, the businesses with whom I work on a daily basis. Nothing can take the place of genuinely good working relationships and the sheer effort it takes to create lesson space, to make a concert series happen, and to make sure everything happens.

To my students:  It is an honor to be your teacher. There is no other way of putting it:  you are all unique, wonderful human beings and I get to see you undertake the creative, physical, musical and emotional process of making music once a week for weeks on end. One of my students recently called me "The Moral Voice Teacher," as she found she goes home every week with a moral or a lesson learned. I was quite surprised when she told me this, and then I realized I really do want every single one of my students to take a morsel of human knowledge with them every time they leave a lesson. And this student helped me see that I do this because I cherish my students and the opportunity to work with them. I do not take this for granted.

To my students' parents:  You are rockstars in an age of over-busy, over-scheduled, demanding tasks and time, yet you still get your kids to lessons on-time, ensure they are practicing, you communicate clearly, and follow-up when you have questions. You respect the payment and cancellation policies, which helps me do business well. You ask your questions and make sure your kids understand what needs to be done. Awesome. Well done! And thank you.

To the conductors and artistic directors:  Thank you from the very bottom of my heart. It is because of you that I am working in this industry, that we can make such beautiful music, and that we can make long-term plans for success to ensure this part of our culture stays alive, relevant, and part of the human experience. We make history every time we make this music.

Related, and just as important:  Thank you to the National Domestic Violence Hotline and for the Violence Against Women Act, both of which enabled me to leave an abusive marriage and to start recovering. Without them, my life story could be very different, but it isn't. To my fellow survivors:  you are an inspiration. Some of you share your stories, some of you don't. Remember it is always your choice. I am grateful--so very, very grateful--to know that you are there, whether we know each other or not.

Lastly, to the audiences, the listeners, the concert-goers, the download-buyers, the blog-readers, the tweeters, the commenters, the newsletter-readers, the hosts:  You're simply amazing. I'm blown away by the stories you tell of how music has touched you, why you love music, how music is a part of your life and what it means to you to listen to the music I make. You've told me stories of your parents making music, the teachers that have touched your lives, you've told me how deeply music has moved you, you've shown the tears as a result of music stirring your heart--each story and comment is a gift that I cherish because you have shown me a part of your soul.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is an honor. I wish you a happy, safe, warm, well-fed Thanksgiving; may you know no end to the blessings in your life, and may you bless others selflessly, that they might know the same.

Amen. And a lot of woman.

In Deepest Gratitude,

Nicole

 

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This post was inspired by the lasting impressions and experiences from last weekend's concerts of Les Nuits d'été (Summer Nights) in Chisholm, and Virginia, MN with the Mesabi Symphony Orchestra. From the gems of auditoriums in which we performed to the stories from audience members to the generosity of my hosts and simple conversations in passing, it was a dream-come-true kind of weekend. Forget the "big career." It's all about the big experiences.

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.

This is how I #SeeDV. How do you #SeeDV?

on . Posted in News

Last week I wrote about upcoming concerts I have with VocalPoint Chorus out of St. Paul, Minnesota. I'll be singing two pieces, however I'll also be there as an advocate for domestic violence awareness.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and I'm proud and grateful to share with you that I've written a blog post for the National Domestic Violence Hotline about how I #SeeDV (how I see domestic violence).

Click here to read the blog post at The Hotline.

Most days, but specifically in October, I am reminded that my life could look drastically different. My life and my awareness changed when I left a violent relationship--one in which there was not much fun at all, daily tasks were tainted with misgiving, mistrust, and insults.

I would wake up to criticism and crazy-making behavior that left me feeling worthless, terrified, and helpless.

Then I had one chance to leave, and I left because I knew I couldn't stay. It was in my weakest moment, the most terrifying time of my life that I had to make the strongest, most courageous decision I will ever make. And given the very unique opportunity I had to leave, I've chosen to speak out on behalf of other victims and survivors who cannot or choose not to speak out.

I can no longer count the emails, messages, and phone calls I've gotten from friends asking...

  • My friend's husband beat her up...what do I do?
  • I can't stay here any more, I'm terrified all the time. Where do I go?
  • Can you help me?

Or simply saying...

Because as horrifying as it is to hear the stories that are coming out in the news right now, it is even more horrifying and terrifying to live in that situation.

If you or someone you know needs help, find a safe place and call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). You can speak with an advocate and get help.

And yes, it does get better. Much, much better.

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.