Three Pieces of Career Advice from the Morning Run

Andre3000

Three Pieces of Career Advice from the Morning Run

I love words, love word-play, and I love hip-hop/rap. I will write about this more fully at some point, but this is typically the only music I listen to while working out or pre-gaming for an audition or performance or The Day Job. Here are some great quotes for career inspiration  (aka, motivation to hustle until I can Quit The Day Job) just from this morning. Submitting without comment. Enjoy.

I’m not a businessman. I’m a business, man.

– Jay-Z, “Diamonds from Sierra Leone”

 

Why can’t you stay up practicing that?! If practice makes perfect, why do you just specialize in fun things, and not in the things that require effort, commitment, and sacrifice?!

-James David Manning, from “In the A” outro.

 

Do you B) hit the street hard with a flair

Or do you A) go to school for heating and air?

Dare make an honest living or make a crooked killing

Or do a bit of both until you’re holding on a million?

Brilliant. You got one foot in, one foot out

You put your left foot back in and then you shake it all about

You do the hokey pokey til you turn your life around

That’s what it’s all about.

-Andre 3000, “Royal Flush”

 

Just a note here. (I said I wouldn’t comment, but you know I frequently change my mind.) Andre 3000 a.k.a Dre or 3 Stacks is one of the premier lyricists in the game. His storytelling prowess in particular is unique and unmatched…and dear actor/singer friends, I am OBSESSED with his natural squillo and legato flow which makes his voice fascinating, versatile, expressive, and beautiful to record. I am inspired by his technique alone.

xx,

Juliana

5 Minutes of Vocal Track Yoga

What does a singer practice when she can’t practice singing at that moment? How about Yoga? There are many different style of Yoga out there, and I prefer the Hatha style: emphasis on the breath and meditation, and a focus on creating balance between strength and flexibility through maintaining asanas (postures).

The practice of bringing awareness to your body is important to your vocal practice as well. The purpose of the following five minute session is to bring your awareness to the structure of your instrument and to ground your technique in the strength of your breath and the calmness of your mind. I must credit the master teacher Jean Ronald LaFond for inspiring these applications of body/energy awareness.

BELLY BREATHING

Before beginning, set an intention for the next five minutes.

1.) Kindle the fire. Sit comfortably cross-legged on the floor with your chin slightly down and neck straight. Lightly close your eyes and create space between your teeth. Place your hands just below your belly button. Inhale and exhale with very long breaths, imagining that each inhale feeds a little fire in your belly, where your hands are resting. Remind yourself of your intention. Continue for 5 breaths, and continue to breathe into your hands for the duration of the practice.

2.)Skylight. As you inhale, imagine that the top of your scalp has a retractable roof and slowly open the roof to the sky above you, like a convertible car’s roof retracting. Imagine the exhale sweeping out or “brightening” the inner lining of your skull. Continue for 5 long breaths.

3.) Inhale a smile. As you inhale, gently and subtly lift the cheeks with the zygomatic muscles – those that wrap around the sides of the mouth and lift the corners of the mouth during smiling. Exhale and imagine a “brightening” on the front of your face. Continue for 5 long breaths.

4.) Release the jaw. As you inhale through your nose, release your jaw ever so slightly forward and down until you have reached the top of your inhalation and the most open jaw position possible without any tension or force. As you exhale let the jaw naturally close to start. Continue for 5 breaths.

5.) Shush and lean. Inhale deeply, feeding the little fire in your belly. Exhale on the sound shhhh and continue until you have used every molecule of air. Lean into the shhh…never let the shhh sound be flabby or unenergized, it should not sound like you are conserving air. Go as long as you possibly can on the shhh sound, working toward 20, 30 seconds or more. Continue for 5 breaths.

6.) Breathe easy. Release all control of the breath, the mind, and the body and be grateful for your instrument. Flex your fingers and toes and reach your arms above your head. Breathe easy.

You’re done! This is also a nice way to incorporate body awareness before a practice session, audition, performance, or in the midst of a long rehearsal day. Enjoy!

Confidence is a Choice I Can Make

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I was raised to be insecure by default. I was taught that all men are evil, that I am only as precious as a man thinks I am, that I will be loved as long as I am dutiful and beautiful, and that I have nothing important to say or do outside “the home” or “the church”. Years of work on myself later, I still carry around with me a part that is quiet and reserved, ever-doubting, ever-searching for validation.

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My insecurity blanket is the thing -the only thing- that can keep me from success in my relationships and my career. This insidious insecurity can and will destroy all the good things in my life. You could say that fear is my enemy. (Well yes, that is a Frozen reference.)

But confidence is a choice I can make.

A popular diet book advises taking daily cold baths as a way to rev up your metabolism. The instructions say that when you sit down in the chilly bath water sit down quickly, like a child playing musical chairs. I’ve tried this whole cold baths thing, and whether it works on your metabolism, it certainly works on your resolve. The first several moments in the tub feel like true torture, then suddenly your body kicks into this completely exhilarating feeling. You’re supposed to sit or lay in the cold water for about eight minutes, and in spite of the energy rush I am experiencing, I am often tempted to abandon my mission and scramble out of the water. But when I finish all eight minutes and bounce out of the bath I have a real sense of happiness and accomplishment, eager to take on my infant, toddler, and seemingly endless career to-do list.

I may not be confident by nature now, but I can certainly plunge head-long into confident thoughts and actions. Confident thoughts and actions can be very uncomfortable to me, like the miserable shock of bathing in cold water, and all I want to do is escape to the comfort of being just an object, a pawn. Being confident simply feels to me like stubbornly refusing to give in to my fears. The more you train yourself to choose confidence over fear, the more successful and credible you will be in your relationships, both on and off the stage.

It’s very easy to look for confidence outside ourselves: in a relationship status, in a teacher’s praise, or in social media approval. When we chase validation, we’re simply looking for confidence in all the wrong places. The outside search is based on false presumptions about the people around us, and those presumptions will ultimately build up a wall between us and our partners, teachers and audiences. Confidence is about deeply connecting to your true self, your story, your mission.

Here’s what I like to do when my insecurity blanket starts smothering me:

1.) Close my eyes and center my mind on breathing into my lower dantien, that energy center below the navel (about three finger widths below and two finger widths behind the navel), which is also called “the golden stove”. Discover a sense of grounding and balance.

 

2.) Envision myself working through my situation completely strong and confident in whatever I do.

 

3.) Feel what it would feel like to be super strong and purposeful every day.

 

4.) Generate the confident feeling by remembering a time when I felt that way. If I can’t remember feeling confident to that degree, then I think of a character in an opera or the movies (or a certain R&B artist) that embodies that quality. Then I imagine playing that role, feeling how confidence feels at the same time.

 

5.) Envision myself hunting down my insecure thoughts and fears like they are disgusting parasites, bravely wrapping them up in soap bubbles, and watching them float away.

Confidence is a choice I can make. I can make that choice as many times a day as it takes to live my dream, to serve my purpose, to tell my story.

 

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Open heart, open throat, open mind

English: Rosa 'Peace' - hybrid tea rose; Peace...

English: Rosa ‘Peace’ – hybrid tea rose; Peace rose in full bloom, showing off the delicate shading from yellow to pink.

Many of the vocal issues I’ve dealt with are the result of a lack of flow in the instrument (body) and lack of congruence between body and mind. Shout out to Karen Hoyos for the inspiration here.

If I felt fear, it showed up in an incredibly tense vocal tract and an unfocused mind.

Here’s how I’ve dealt with it: I practiced opening up my heart as widely as possible, and then I sang what came out…without judgment the entire time.

If I felt mad, I sang out the anger. If I felt afraid, I sang that. If I felt sexy and beautiful I sang that, and if I was feeling silly…well, you get the picture. Tears and laughter are an inevitable part of this process too, so go with it.

I started giving my heart her voice back.

Now, seriously, don’t do this with your arias or art music, don’t even try this “therapy” with rep you may sing one day. Do this with scales and arpeggios and material that is out of your fach.

Every day you have to practice opening up your heart, I don’t think anyone can honestly say that they don’t. If you are a singer with flow and congruence issues (raise your hand if you’re not-I want to take you to dinner) you can benefit from a few minutes a day in an open heart meditation.

When I prepare to sing these days, I am reminding myself: “Open heart, open throat, open mind”.

More on the open mind journey next time…

Xo,
J

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I’m feeling you, Sonic

collinsInstead of cereal boxes, I enjoy reading non-fiction with my morning coffee.  That’s only because carbs make me fat and books don’t. And well, because I’m a self-employed entrepreneur of the starving-artist sort, I am particularly fascinated by business innovations/management literature these days. This morning it was this book on the table: Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t, by Jim Collins.  Just mentioning the title would be a great conversation starter among a group of emerging artists, and I have enjoyed applying the perspective of a CEO to myself this morning as I glance over at the pile of new audition rep recently suggested to me by my voice teacher.

In flipping through the chapter summaries, I notice this question:

“Are you a hedgehog or a fox?” fox

Isaiah Berlin, social and political theorist, philosopher and historian of ideas, wrote his now-famous essay called “The Hedgehog and the Fox” based on the ancient Greek parable: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

Ok, I like this already. My teacher’s and my goal is to learn to dominate an extremely simple technique, and this could be a great way to reinforce that idea.

The fox is a cunning creature, able to devise a myriad of complex strategies for sneak attacks upon the hedgehog. Day in and day out, the fox circles around the hedgehog’s den, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce. Fast, sleek, beautiful, fleet of foot, and crafty–the fox looks like the sure winner. The hedgehog, on the other hand, is a dowdier creature, looking like a genetic mix-up between a porcupine and a small armadillo. He waddles along, going about his day, searching for lunch and taking care of his home.

The fox waits in cunning silence at the juncture in the trail. The hedgehog, minding his own business, wanders right into the path of the fox. “Aha, I’ve got you now!” thinks the fox. He leaps out, bounding across the ground, lightning fast. The little hedgehog, sensing danger, looks up and thinks, “Here we go again. Will he ever learn?” Rolling up into a perfect little ball, the hedgehog becomes a sphere of sharp spikes. The fox, bounding toward his prey, sees the hedgehog in defense and calls off the attack. Retreating back into the forest, the fox begins to calculate a new line of attack. Each day, some version of this battle between the hedgehog and the fox takes place, and despite the greater cunning of the fox, the hedgehog always wins.

200px-Hedgehogandfox

Berlin extrapolated from this little parable to divide people into two basic groups: foxes and hedgehogs. Foxes pursue many ends at the same time and see the world in all its complexity. They are “scattered or diffused, moving on many levels,” says Berlin, never integrating their thinking into one overall concept or unifying vision. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything. It doesn’t matter how complex the world, a hedgehog reduces all challenges and dilemmas to simple—indeed almost simplistic—hedgehog ideas. For a hedgehog, anything that does not somehow relate to the hedgehog idea holds no relevance.

In Good to Great, Collins defines a Hedgehog Concept as a “simple, crystalline concept that flows from deep understanding” about the intersection of the following three circles. I have directly applied these circles to the understanding necessary for a young vocal artist to succeed:

  1. What you can be the best in the world at (and, equally important, what you cannot be the best in the world at). This standard goes far beyond fach. Just because you posses the competence and acoustics of a certain fact doesn’t necessarily mean you can be the best in the world at it, or that all the skills of that fach will come easily to you. Conversely, what you can be the best at might not even be some technical aspect that opera professionals would immediately listen for in your repertoire.
  2. What you are marketable as. Today’s working world-class singers have somehow attained piercing insight into how to most effectively generate sustained interest in their package and profitability of their choices of roles. In particular, they have discovered the single denominator that has the greatest impact on their hire-ability.
  3. What you are deeply passionate about. The great singers focused on those roles and arias that ignited their passion. The idea here is not to stimulate passion, but to discover what makes you passionate. As a personal soap-box-side-note, tell me how you can discover what makes you passionate without exposing yourself to the great singers of past generations and being adventurous and brave in your vocal work.

hedgehog

Some things to think about:

  • The Hedgehog Concept is not a goal, strategy, or intention; it is passive; it is an understanding.
  • If you cannot be the best in the world at some aspect of your package, you should take a closer look at what is happening in the practice room, or if you really even want to compete in this career path.
  • The “best in the world” understanding is a much more severe standard than technical competence. Conversely, perhaps there are  aspects at which you could become the best in the world, but at which you have no current competence. How is your diction? your dynamic sensitivity? your acting? your endurance? your trill? your ability to collaborate in another language?
  • To get insight on your marketability, listen for feedback on the one aspect of your total package that has the single greatest impact.
  • Great singers have a skill set based on understanding. Good singers have a package based on competency and/or bravado.
  • Getting the circles of the Hedgehog Concept is an iterative process. Use your “team” (your teacher, coaches, studio mates, and significant others).
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Why Every Singer Should Tune Up with Alexander Technique

…and why I think you should schedule your session with Karina.

If you’ve ever had a voice lesson, you’ve probably heard about the Alexander Technique. The Alexander technique teaches the ability to improve physical postural habits, particularly those that have become ingrained or are conditioned responses. The technique improves performance, self observation and impulse control and relieves chronic stiffness, tension and stress.

The technique is named after Frederick Matthias Alexander, who in the 1890s developed its principles as a personal tool to alleviate breathing problems and hoarseness during public speaking. He credited the technique with allowing him to pursue his passion for Shakespearean acting. Most every vocal pedagogy class will study the technique in depth, but still, there is nothing like learning from an “AT” pro.

Several weeks ago I received a private Alexander Technique session with Karina Lombrozo. She said something surprising at the very beginning of the session: “don’t try to get anything specific out of this session, think of it as a relaxing treat.”

I was puzzled. I had come to learn about my body, about my frame, what I was doing wrong, how to fix it…all the standard singer obsessions. But I came to realize throughout the session that the mind informs the body all by itself, without my “willing” it to happen. And Karina was right. I left feeling more relaxed and connected to my body than I could ever have hoped.

The session included brief lessons on the human skeletal system, aided by her handsome miniature. The most enlightening visual for me was seeing that the arm hangs off the end of the clavicle, and the horizontal line which begins at the sternum and stretches out past the shoulder joint is a long and graceful one. This is a visual reminder to me that the spaciousness in my chest and between my ribs is achieved through a similar gracefulness and natural beauty, not by a grunting brute force.

Karina broke down the Alexander Technique into mini-lessons throughout the session–into what felt like guided meditations on the human form. This is where Karina’s true talent lies. She is remarkably intuitive. She is warm and…I don’t know a better way to say this…she feels very “safe.”

Singers, you already know that you should be studying some Alexander Technique. And if you aren’t already studying with someone, I highly recommend setting up some time with Karina. Her website is http://www.karinalombrozo.com

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The Universe Makes Room for Sara Henry

Sara Henry, Soprano

Last summer, my voice teacher mentioned that another big-voiced coloratura soprano in our studio was also working on a fuller connection to  her middle, and that we should sit in on each other’s lessons to hear how the other was dealing with it. He introduced me to Sara briefly as she came into the practice room to begin her lesson after mine, and after a series of Facebook exchanges I was finally able to find a time to sit in on her lesson at Shetler Studios.

I have a really strong memory of that afternoon:  She was -and is- slim and sensibly dressed in belted jeans, a tidy tucked-in t-shirt, and trainers–the look I’m accustomed to seeing her in still.  Her rep book was the size of an enormous alter Bible.

I was not prepared for the profound sounds that I heard coming from this wide-eyed girl next door.

If I closed my eyes, I would swear that I have been whhhhisked back in time to sit in on a young Callas working out Lucia’s mad scene. Here is the liquid voice of a young cabernet savignon: intense tannin, plum, cherry, blackberry, blueberry, warm spice, vanilla, tobacco and sometimes leather. As it easily swirls in fioritura, she only releases more of the bouquet.

Sara, what was the first aria you learned?

All by myself? Che faro senza Euridice from Orfeo ed Euridice (It was actually the theme song to a t.v. program I used to watch back when I was living in Brazil. I guess I found it compelling, or well, at least it stuck in my head.) The first aria I was ever actually assigned, however, was Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix from Samson et Dalila.

So you started off as a mezzo? I’m not surprised at all, actually. When did you make the switch to Coloratura Soprano and was it difficult?

Oh, that’s a long story. I have actually done more fach flip-flops than just about anyone I know. It seems like every teacher I’ve studied with has had a different idea of what I should be singing. I think the main issue is that I have always had a relatively easy top, a darkish color in the middle, and a really strong lower register which all adds up to…???

What I can say is that my voice always moved really easily, so singing Rossini mezzo/or Handel castrati type rep felt great and totally natural, whereas if you handed me something like Quando m‘en vo, I would literally feel like I was suffocating trying to get through it (ironically, probably because I was singing too lightly in the middle range.) So I always preferred mezzo rep. But as I got older, I started getting offered a lot of heavier roles (like Carmen and Azucena) and I just felt like I‘d hit a plateau with technique.

That’s when I started studying with Ron [our teacher, Jean-Ronald LaFond], who immediately diagnosed me as an unbalanced coloratura. That was 2008, and it has been a long road uphill from there, trying to re-balance everything. The hardest part of it for me has probably been the psychological aspect. I am not much of a girly girl, and so many soprano roles are either ingénues or damsel-in-distress types, that I have had a lot more difficulty identifying with the characters I sing, not to mention figuring out how to physically embody them on stage. (Give me a good pants role any day!) The other hard part about being a coloratura: having to sing sustained high E flats. I am still waiting for the day, in which I am actually confident about that instead of approaching them with a mixture of fear and dread.

Is your family musical?

Sort of. My father used to be a pro bass player. He plays about 10 different instruments, all by ear, and having had very little formal instruction. On the other side of the family, my grandfather was a very talented jazz pianist. And supposedly, his uncle was some kind of Wagnerian who used to sing at the Old Met back before WWII.

Which singers do you admire? Why?

Too many to list, so here are my top five, although I could go on and on…

Renata Tebaldi–for her sheer vocal beauty
Maria Callas–because regardless of whether she was singing well or poorly, you always believed every moment of her performance.
Shirley Verrett–for her great range and versatility.
Marilyn Horne–because she sang Handel and Rossini with more balls than any countertenor I can think of!
Lorraine Hunt Lieberson–for being such a wonderful storyteller and singing actress

Do you sing in the shower?

Hmm. I always shower at night, so in order to keep the peace, generally no. I do however sing a lot in the car, and in the kitchen.

You sing in the car? That’s awesome. Do you ever get funny looks from other drivers?
You know, I don’t really know. Probably, but when I am singing in the car, I put myself under the voluntary delusion that if I’m not looking at them, they’re probably not looking at me. It’s silly, but it gets me by.

What is a technical reminder you give yourself while warming up?

My mantra of the moment is not to squeeze, cover, or muscle through register changes. I spent so many years doing those kinds of tricks to get by that I find that I have to be hyper-vigilant in order to avoid them.

What do you practice – exercises, new arias, difficult arias, etc.?

It really depends. Some weeks I am on the go so much that I am lucky to find 10 minutes here and there to work. In that case I try and spot check difficult phrases and try to run anything else that I’m currently rehearsing for that feels mentally or physically shaky. (I also do a lot of mental practicing–while there’s no substitute for actually working the muscles, I find that if I try to mentally digest the concepts while I’m out of the practice room, it‘s much easier to integrate them physically later.) When I do have the luxury of sitting down for a couple of hours, I try to do some exercises, practice new arias, drill recits, maybe check in with an old aria or two. (I honestly don’t like to practice things that have old habits too much, because I tend to get tied up in knots.) I also try to sing something else that a) is none of the above, and b) that I really like, because after all the technical work, it’s important to remind myself that singing is fun too!

Last month our teacher, Jean-Ronald LaFond awarded you the Kashu-do Gold Bracelet  in a surprise ceremony during our last studio class. He later said in a FB post to our studio:

“I give the gold bracelet when I feel a singer has reached a level of balance in their approach to the art of singing and the business of singing. Faith (in one’s self and the purpose of one’s talent) Courage (to pursue one’s true path) and Patience (to see one’s hard work bear real fruit). Hard work is a given…These are the principles of my approach to the Way of the Singer. Working at anything with passion and purpose will change us for the better! Sara, I am honored to have been able to accompany you on your journey, wherever it takes you!”

Congratulations, first of all. The surprise ceremony in the studio class was truly inspiring. Can you describe a little bit of your “balance in [your] approach to the art of singing and the business of singing”?

I think I was more surprised by it than anyone else! And totally honored as well!

Now, my approach to balance–that’s a good question. Of course, there’s the technical sense of it– we always want to strive for balance in vocal technique–balanced head and chest tones, upper, middle and lower registers, balance of breath and phonation, strength and flow. Really, balance should be the natural end goal, because once you’ve achieved it, everything can work together in harmony and no one aspect is pulling everything else out of sync. Finding balance in one’s approach to the business of singing and life of an artist in general–that’s a more complicated thing, because if you look around at this business and do the numbers (especially as a soprano), it’s really difficult not to feel pessimistic about career prospects after a certain point.

I think what keeps me balanced and level-headed, is:

a) Making sure that I have an active life outside of singing. Spending time with friends and family, communing with nature, traveling, keeping up with other projects and other interests not only helps relieve career stress, but also makes me a richer artist for having all the more life experiences to draw upon!

b) Having a healthy sense of humor about things And

c) whenever I feel totally frustrated and like giving up I remind myself of these two things:

1) If I have faith, do the necessary work, and persevere despite all, the universe will make room for me in the singing world. I may never necessarily make it to the Met stage, but there will be plenty of opportunities for me to do my art. So why not put it out there, and see where things go?

2) What I do matters. Despite all reports to the contrary, it does enrich the world and make a difference in peoples’ lives. It is as much an honor and a privilege to be an artist as any other way of serving the world. (It’s true, too, but believe me, it took me a long time to get to the point where I actually believed it.)

Anyhow, that is pretty much my philosophy at this point. It’s not a perfect system by any means, but it seems to keep me on the right path. 

You are amazing, Sara. I CANNOT wait to see what the universe has in store for you.

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My Cringeworthy Secret

Last night I had one of the best coachings I’ve had in a long time. There are some technical issues that I’ve been working on for the past couple of months while my teacher has been away in Berlin, and last night’s coach gave me some really useful strategies for approaching these bugs.

But the most meaningful moment was when he proposed that these physical quirks could just be manifestations of some mental hangups. I think he was right. I have a dark secret that I have worked zealously to keep under wraps.

I’m scared.

I’m intimidated of this career, I’m afraid I’m not good enough, I’m scared to sing, I’m scared not to sing…sometimes I feel stuck.

Maybe you have the same secret. Maybe you already know you need to let go and go for it. As my insightful coach put it, “Let go, and surrender.” These are some of the most unsettling words you can hear as a singer. And some of the most powerful.

It’s so interesting…as I’m sitting here listening to the recording of my coaching session, I hear that what I need to tweak with my breath and my sostenuto are actually about embracing uncertainty; I don’t need to make any huge change to my technique, I have to acknowledge that release can bring me peace or panic…serenity or turbulence…sweetness or sadness.

One element of bel canto is the “appoggia” or lean. That’s the muscular antagonism between the inspiratory and expiratory breathing muscles while singing. It’s also a reference to the role of the larynx in providing resistance to the upward pressure of the breath. So in its fullest sense, “appoggia” is the complex balancing act between two sets of muscles at the respiratory and laryngeal levels. The image of leaning on the voice is a great metaphor for breath support. I like to think of the breath as water and the body as earth, combining to make a divine blend of mud, silky and delicate like a mud mask, and sometimes a little thicker, like a mineral mud bath where you can immerse your entire body.

But water and earth also combine to form mud that is too thick, dried out, and solid as adobe brick…which is also an ideal metaphor for being stuck. That’s where I am.

When we overfill our emotional body with unused elements of artistry and technique, we become stuck. We become procrastinators, we become attached to things that no longer serve us. Ultimately, we can get pretty clingy. And needy. Hanging on to something that no longer serves us.

You know what would happen if you were to take one of those great breaths at the beginning of a beautifully composed phrase, then you clench down and hold it. At that point you’ve already absorbed all the oxygen you need from this breath, but you’re still holding on. Just try spinning out a beautiful phrase now.

This is what it’s like to hold on to something that no longer serves you. What do other things in your life feel like when you hold onto them past their value point? Is there a fach, a teacher, a relationship, a point of view that you are still holding onto that no longer serves you?

Is there a box that you’ve meant to open that is still taped shut?

This could be a real box from a move or another metaphor that speaks to some congested aspect of your singing life; something you want to open, but for some reason it has remained closed. Acknowledge that there is another world other than the world you are locked into.

The reason we have fear and trepidation about taking the plunge is that we think that taking the plunge is diving off a thousand-foot cliff into the water below. There are so many factors to concern ourselves with: the depth of the water…the splash from the crash…the timing of your breath…our form as we dive…will my parents be watching? Will there be any sharks in the water to nibble on me? How far from shore is it? Do I need a life vest to hold onto?

Taking that plunge is horrifying and humiliating.

Instead, imagine that taking the plunge is like so gently sliding into a warm, lavender-scented bathtub: bubbles and salts caressing your body. The water temperature is soothing…the aroma is nourishing…and calming. The depth of the water is just perfect, cradling your neck, supporting your back. This plunge feels pretty good. Expansive. Nurturing.  Awakening. Supportive. Generous. Loving. In line with what you want.

It doesn’t need to be challenging or painful, taking the plunge can be exhilarating! It’s finally getting yourself off the space you’ve been occupying: the chair, the couch, the bed, the practice room, the hedge fund day job, the young artist programs, the chewed consonant, the disconnected breath…wherever you’ve been stuck out of fear or overwhelm, at some point you have to break free from the past and the reinforcement that has kept you in check.

“I understand that fear is my friend, but not always. Never turn your back on Fear. It should always be in front of you, like a thing that might have to be killed. My father taught me that, along with a few other things that have kept my life interesting.”
― Hunter S. ThompsonKingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century

Think of the unknown as a gift, so that you can grow in any direction. Think of uncertainty as the driver of possibility and potential.

I’ve been stuck long enough. I’m ready to step outside my comfort zone of “this is what my voice does and this is what my voice doesn’t do” to a place where new things, GREAT things, unexpected things, unplanned things can occur. I want to actually have the life I dream of. As my delightfully unmusical Mann says, I now need to add some “swagger” to my audition package.

I think singers in this city and in this economy have conditioned ourselves to think that we have a looooong way to go before we quit our day job.  Can it be that I am so embarrassed that I am not yet singing in A houses that I hang on to my vocal bugs as a way of saying “see, this is why I’m not at La Scala, because I’ll never be good enough!”? Is there such a thing as fear of success?

I think I’m entitled to the same when-I grow-up-I-want-to-be-a-singer dream I had as a high-schooler. I desperately want to connect with that un-constricted, unbounded self. That self is a conduit for real art to flow through. I know I need to give myself permission to feel powerful when I sing. I need to lean into the present moment and give up “then”.

I invite you to jump in with me.

xo,

Juliana

P.S. Thank you sooo much, Dear Coach. I look forward to our next session!

Leap, and the net will appear. -John Burroughs

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Karina Lombrozo: Balancing is a Relationship…and it’s Mobile

I’m not exactly sure when and where I met Karina for the first time, but -as so  often happens in our little New Yorkland- our paths have crossed through mutual friends several times over the past five or six years.  At one point we were studying with the same teacher, and I met him after he taught a lesson in her apartment. I did not get to hear her sing that day…but I DO remember that she had the most stunning modern white couch!

Karina is a Nationally Certified Alexander Technique Teacher, too.  I have LOVED interviewing Karina…she geeks out to singing the same way I do, and now I wish that I had made it a point to get to know her earlier.  She is gracious and passionate about singing and Alexander Technique…an old soul in this outrageously beautiful and vivacious being!

Karina, what was the first aria you learned?

Cavalleria Rusticana’s Voi Lo Sapete

I was only 13!  But my voice teacher at the time had a unique approach. Without ever intending for me to actually perform this role, the vocal range was right for me at the time. I had only been studying classical voice for 2 years – prior to that I as singing in chest voice and belting as though I were an alto!

I was really into EVITA and STREISAND’S version of SOMEWHERE from West Side Story….
It took several lessons and a form of restraint (which I now identify as Alexander Technique ‘Inhibition’) to sing without pushing and to allow crescendo/decrescendo to happen through the messa di voce.

My teacher didn’t allow me to listen to the aria on recording, because as a child I was a good mimic, and listening to any Santuzza would probably have ruined me…. so, I could only learn it or practice it with her or at the piano.

Suffice it to say it was the lightest, sweetest little version of Voi Lo Sapete ever uttered!

Is your family musical?
Yes, very.

My sister is a lyric soprano studied at Carnegie Mellon. My father and mother both sing and play guitar. They sang extensively to us as children and music was always part of the shared experience.

My mother is really a singer songwriter and has a repertory of love songs dedicated to my dad. when she finally recorded them in ’96 ,my father accompanied her on guitar and sang the harmonies! I know—-ridiculous right?! 

What was your first stage experience like?

Because I was performing at such an early age, I probably don’t recall the first.

I guess one of the first stage experiences I recall might have to be singing the theme song from the movie Flashdance – What a feelin! -with my sister using ‘The Singing Machine’ my dad had just gotten for us, dressed in Gold Lame’ bikinis after a pool-party for all our parents’ guests!

Another memorable stage experience: Sara Brown in Guys n Dolls my sophomore year in High School. It was quite an elaborate production and I loved playing her. I don’t think I quite understood her until I was older, but the music was fantastic and so fitting for my voice.

Since you started singing classically at such a young age, singing must feel very natural and organic for you, is that right? But you also know so much about technique and the physicality of the instrument. How do you strike a balance between the head-knowledge and the “heart” of singing?

I actually went through transitions from having singing feel and be completely organic to being too technical. from age 2-11 it was like breathing for me….and then when I began voice lessons, the technical part became very evident to me, it’s like a diff part of my brain all of a sudden was called upon to do something that I had been doing for my whole life without that part of my brain! but at the same time that new part of my brain got very fascinated with it!
I think I managed to balance the natural and the technical throughout my adolescence and teen years, because singing was all about exploration and joy, and there were so many venues and outlets for it. Not to mention support, and acclaim!

But once I moved to NYC for college and became an adult the demands and skill level were higher in order to get roles or to be selected as soloist etc…, I think I definitely went through period of time where I was very much in my head.

I could still sing certain repertoire more organically ( latin music/jewish music) but most everything else became very technical for me. And although the phonation probably still resonated as organic to an audience, the performance itself did not!

I actually (as most of us do) went through some terrible vocal training throughout my college career…
so just when that need to strike a balance emerged, I really didn’t have the guidance, technique or support to find it.

Upon graduation, I literally had to pack up and move back to my childhood home in San Diego, return to my original voice teacher, and participate in my musical family’s frequent performing around town and at parties, in order to begin to find the soul of the voice and incorporate all the technique I was still vigilant about studying and acquiring.

At that time, I probably was having two voice lessons a week (studying classical), one Alexander Tech lesson a week, several coachings (mostly art songs), and performing with latin bands(popular music) three times a week.

With that sort of set up, the balance finds you.

With that sort of set up, the balance finds you.

Nowadays, after a few more transitions and definitely a lot of growth, I have lots of resources to pull from, in order to find that balance. but it definitely takes conscious effort.

One thing i find helpful is to really commit within the context of a voice lesson, after the technical warm up and work, to sing a piece with total abandon! To basically just go for it…. and not care whether or not the high notes will sound great- to really let the body test drive all the learning it just acquired both intellectually and kinesthetically during the first 45 minutes of the lesson.

If that abandon doesn’t yield the result you want it’s time to go back to the technique and really get a handle on it, before attempting that again. But I find most of the time, if I’ve been diligent beforehand- that the test run with total abandon is very freeing and very informative and that whatever technical elements one has been working on, seem to get implemented.

I also think that my extensive history with the Alexander Technique and now being a certified teacher- has strengthened the skill of ‘thinking in activity’ …it’s really a skill that allows you to be more present, totally aware and in command of oneself but without end-gaining, therefore you have the freedom to pause, the freedom to re-direct, the freedom to adjust in the middle of a note or phrase, but with presence…not with the intent to control what will sound or happen next.

That is a skill I’ve been working on for 16 years not only in relation to voice but in everything I do. So just like a muscle that you train and it becomes stronger, the skill or that thinking process has become stronger and livelier and quicker for me!

Do you sing in the shower?
Of course.

What is a technical reminder you give yourself while warming up?

Neck Free, Head Forward and Up, Torso Lengthening and widening, knees away – The classical Alexander Technique directions.

I also will obsess on one particular thing from week to week like ‘free tongue’ and then the next week ‘open hipjoints’, or ‘chromatic scale’ but the constant is Alex Tech directions.

What do you practice – exercises, new arias, difficult arias, etc.?
Latino Boleros. (spanish ballads- like the equivalent of american songbook – but for latin america) No matter if I’m going to be singing karaoke or in a formal concert, I’ll always go back to Maria Grever Boleros, like Jurame, Alma Mia, Te quiero Dijiste, or Asi. I grew up listening to them & singing them.

I wish I was more prolific and learning new arias or pieces all the time, but it’s just not the case. I’m much more likely to revisit music.

I am very into ‘technique’ probably more so, than most performers. I have had my most ecstatic experiences in voice lessons or practicing at home, more so than on stage…..

I enjoy the technical and the conscious effort and skill it takes to improve upon something. I don’t like winging it. and frankly I’m not so good at winging it!

In teaching Alexander Technique what are the top bad habits for advanced singers that you’ve noticed in regards to alignment, and how do those bad habits affect our singing? 

Top Bad Habits I Notice in Singers

Head is pulled back and down….

Meaning that more of the weight of the skull is positioned behind the atlanto-occipital joint and so the spine is not supporting the skull but instead the skull is compressing the spine- mostly at the cervical spine- but it affects the whole system! The problem is that you cant just mechanically reposition the head to b fixed in a balanced spot…. in fact that’s an oxymoron – to be fixed and balanced.

Balancing is a relationship and it’s mobile.

Balancing is a relationship

and it’s mobile.

What does have to happen is the muscles of the neck have to stop over tensing and pulling on the head
SO it’s actually a release of certain musculature that then allows the head to pop back up to the proper relationship to the spine!

The way it affects our singing is in every way! As vertebrates our coordination and integration surrounds the alignment of the vertebra, so if it is compressed we cannot be at our best.

Alexander discovered that “the lengthening spine is the prerequisite to movement” you can see this in any cat or even elephant!

And by movement he meant even the most subtle kind, so breathing is a movement, blood circulating is movement, the delicate dance between two legs while standing is movement, as well as singing, or running —

So compression of the spine causes the involuntary(as well as voluntary) systems of the body to get out of whack. Resulting in inefficient breathing, vocal folds that don’t respond to the part of the brain that controls expression, all of our system begins to work inefficiently and then all the parts of us that we can voluntarily interfere with – we begin to desperately do in order to meet our ends… so our attempt to perform an activity such as phonation or standing or sitting ends up being performed by our interfering with what was once a balanced, coordinated system that had the intelligence and coordination to to that act! (think, raising the face and chest to hit a high note- that doesnt work! but we’ll try it or anything if our system can’t otherwise reach) (or think, reaching our butts to a chair- we do that because we think of the end- our butt will be on the chair in order to be seated- but the process with which one sits , is not reaching one’s behind to a chair, it happens through the bending of the legs, and the balance of the integrated torso over the legs and feet until one has bent low enough to have their behind meet the chair!)

In basic terms, when the spine is compressed, our body cannot function according to it’s design, so our functioning is impaired.

If one has proper use of self- that is- a lengthening spine, balancing poised head, and widening torso, the system can function according to design.

More Bad Habits I Notice in Singers

  • Narrowing of the Torso
  • Misunderstanding of the Shoulder Girdle
  • Jaw/Tongue Tension or Overuse

Karina, you are amazing. This is really great stuff…I’m totally inspired, and I know the readers are going to LOVE this. Many thanks and best wishes to you. I hope our paths cross again soon!

Check out Karina’s website! Learn more about Alexander Technique and find out how to study with her! karinalombrozo.com 

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Joyce Lyons: Making Songs Her Own

Singer and Actress, Joyce Lyons (AEA., SAG) has performed all over the country (Aspen and Durango in Colorado, Santa Fe, NM, Lenox, MA and Washington, DC.) and of course in the Big Apple to name a few and to much acclaim. Once described as “What Cabaret is all About!” Her cabaret shows are legendary, but it was the honor of performing for Justice Clarence Thomas at the Supreme Court that still leaves her speechless. Her recently released CD, “Sooner or Later” is receiving radio airplay throughout the country and features some of New York’s finest musicians, including the stellar Lee Musiker (Musical Director and Arranger), who’s “day job” is musical director for Tony Bennett. Sooner or Later is available on  iTunes or CD Baby  or her website…joycelyons.net.

I met Joyce when she taught a masterclass on “Expressive Text Portrayal” for Underworld Productions last fall. She coached our American opera and musical theater pieces, and she helped us make an honest connection to our audience.  I have often thought of that class.  It’s not just when working on my musical theater  I want to infuse all of my vocal “conversations” with that same ease and honestly.  If you have a chance to see her perform, don’t miss it.

Joyce, what was the first aria you learned?

First aria or classical piece would be Vivaldi’s Domine per Gina [Crusco, voice teacher] pushing me out of my “jazz box!”

Do you attend shows that you aren’t singing in? What makes a good performance?

I always like to get out and see other performers. I can always learn something new. To me, a good or great performance is one that makes me laugh, cry, reflect or sigh! Or better yet, causes me to lose all sense of time and space.

What was your first stage experience like?

My first stage experience was 4th grade, sang “Side by Side” with my older sister. It was great, though she was wearing fishnet stockings held up with rubber bands and one of them broke…I’ll never forget it.

Do you sing in the shower?

…Yes, I sing in the shower, all the time!

What is a technical reminder you give yourself while warming up?

The technical reminder I give myself when I am warming up…to take my time and breathe…just breathe!

I practice exercises and then attempt to always learn a new song.

And you teach voice, too?

I teach performance/lyric interpretation and I love it when working with students and they make a connection to the material. Truly making the song their own and creating a performance that soars!

Thanks Joyce!

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