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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