Tag Archives: focus

Breaks

I took a break from writing over the past three weeks. I love writing and sharing my thoughts on singing with you, but I also needed the time and the rest to focus on a performance project that culminated on May 24th.

Breaks are important. Short or long, they allow you the time to step back and refresh yourself so you can return with better work, ideas, and energy.

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Enjoying a break on the beach near Sooke, BC.

My performance project was an opera performance of Mozart’s opera Cosi fan tutte, put on by Fear No Opera, a local company for emerging artists. It was a really fun show with a wonderful cast and production team. We had just one show on May 24th. Many laughs were shared by both the cast and the audience.

Putting that much energy into one performance is extremely demanding – the week before the show particularly, is what’s known as ‘production week’. It is an all-consuming, rehearsals nearly every night, week; where the show grows and changes to prepare for the performance. The intensity required for this week is one of the reasons I took a break from writing.

When it comes to singing in general, consistent practice is good, but so are breaks. Consistent practice will help you add to your skill sets and open your voice. But breaks are necessary to create space for you to physically and mentally integrate what you have been learning.

Athletes don’t train the same way every day, they have rest days built into their training program. Singers should do the same.

Vary your own practice; where you practice, how you learn (not all practicing is singing), what you practice, and how you practice.

Variety will give your brain the constant stimulation it needs to learn your craft. Breaks will integrate that practice on a deeper level. In the summer of 2010, I participated in a five-week intensive singing program in Austria called the Franz-Schubert Institute. I was singing several hours per day, starting at 8:00 am and often not finishing until 10 pm. I made amazing friends, learned 26 new German lieder, and it took me 6 months to integrate what I learned there into my practice.

Immediately after that program, I didn’t sing for 4 weeks. But once I started again and reviewed what I had learned in there, I found that I hadn’t ‘forgotten’ a lot, simply because my body was processing that intensive learning.

As we approach the summer months (at least in North America), I encourage you to sing intensively, then take a break. If you normally take 30-minute lessons once a week, take 60 minute lessons for 4 weeks, then take a break. Write down your observations at the end of the intensive period of singing, then return to them after your break.

Let me know how it goes for you, or if you’ve taken a break from something and returned to it refreshed, share it in the comments below!

 

Words

Learning notes has always been easy for me. I have the proverbial ‘ear for music’. I can follow and pick up a melody, even predict a harmony to a certain extent, with little to no trouble. Uniting music and words together in memorization is what challenges me!

A singer's best tools: score, pencil, cue cards, and memory.

A singer’s best tools: score, pencil, cue cards.

Separating text from music gives us a deeper insight into the structure of a piece or song. In most cases, the words existed first in the form of poetry or a libretto (the words of an opera). In an oratorio, the story is usually taken from a religious (Christian) context.

When you have experienced German art song (Lieder) spoken as poetry, the true beauty of the language shines through. Poets like Heinrich Heine, Eduard Mörike and Wolfgang Goethe were masters of the written word and inspired multiple composers’ Lieder. I have participated in several programs in Austria where poetry written in German was studied, translated, recited, sung, and performed. It gave me a wonderful insight into the beauty of the words and the environment in which they were written.

The next time you are listening to a favorite song –  no matter what the genre, find the words and read them out loud to yourself. See if it changes your experience of the song.

What was the writer trying to say? Does it change when removed from the music?

If you feel inclined to compose, try to set the words to a new melody.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. Did you experience words and music any differently after reading this?

Consistency

What does consistency mean for you? Do you think of food? Do you think of behaviour? How about chemistry? Music? Art?

Consistency cropped 2

Art work for sale at Intrigue Winery in the BC Okanagan. Sadly, in the original photo I took, the glare made the artist’s name impossible to read.

Consistency is one of my Three Words for 2014. I think for me it has been the hardest one to keep present in my mind and in my day-to-day actions. Routine is different from consistency. Routine is your daily schedule that you perform as you move throughout your day. Consistency in that routine is what moves you forward. Incidentally, it also creates good habits!

In Three Words for 2014, I wrote:

“The only constant in life is change, therefore consistency in my actions will bring about the changes that will happen!”

 I have started getting up earlier. This consistent action has allowed me to add a few things to my morning routine on a more consistent basis. This includes a short morning meditation, writing this blog, and having time to enjoy my breakfast (most mornings!) before I head to work.

Getting up earlier also means I have to go to bed earlier! So, I have tried to be more consistent in the time I end my evenings. I finish up around 9:30 pm and start to get ready for bed. It’s made my earlier mornings much easier and I feel better overall!

It’s easy to set a routine or a daily schedule, but harder to stick to it. So by being more consistent, (even on weekends), I find I’m not as frequently overwhelmed by everything I try to accomplish in the day. That doesn’t mean I still don’t try to do too much!

Better consistency in my singing practice has also resulted in a more consistent sound and ease in singing. It has been hard to make that part of my routine because although I love singing, I often experience Resistance, that thing we all wrestle with when we have something that needs our attention!

By fighting Resistance with consistency in my actions, I lessen the possibility of procrastinating on the things I’d like to achieve.

Singing every day, in some way, shape, or form is a consistent action that makes me very happy. What makes you happy? What consistent actions do you do that help you move forward? Leave me a comment below or contact me on any social media – I’d love to hear from you!

Intention

Intention is a powerful word. It’s a word of strength, focus, and meaning. If you are intent on doing something, it has your full attention.

Lola intent on bacon

Lola’s intention is focused on the piece of bacon in my hand.

For me this year, intention is a word that is lending focus to my year, and to my music. I am preparing to perform an opera on May 24th. I started working and practicing my score in January and for the first six weeks or so, I was intent on my schedule of practice.

Then a long-time friend suddenly died after being hit by a car one morning.

And my intention on music and practice was shifted. I would even say it was re-focused (out of necessity) for about a month to six weeks. My body and my soul were intent on the necessary healing.

Six weeks doesn’t seem long, but when I was in it, it seemed an eternity.

Between mid-March and early April, I began to feel my intention for music practice return. I went back to regular Yoga practice. I created time in my calendar specifically for practice. I’m still working out an ideal balance between work, practice, health, and daily life, but I am intent on making this work.

Intention is not the same as focus. I believe it comes from a deeper place. What do you think? Please feel free to share your thoughts on intention in the comments or reply area below.

Review: Three Words for 2014

In January I wrote about my Three Words for 2014. It has been very enlightening reviewing that post and thinking about the past thee months.

Today I’ll review my three words very generally, then over the next three weeks, I’ll take a closer look at each of the words on their own.

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My Three Words for 2014 Word Cloud

My three words were Intention, Choice, and Consistency. Each of those words are informing my life in very different ways so far this year.

Intentions are related to habits. If you are intent on beginning a new habit, then it will form more quickly and more easily than if you don’t have that intention. I am still working on building my intentions for my personal singing practice habits. Sometimes life (or death) just happens and your intentions are skewered for a while.

Choice – we always have a choice of what action (or inaction) we will take. In my case, every weekday when I get home from my morning job, I choose to eat a square or two of chocolate and read for pleasure for about 15 minutes. I choose to get up 20 minutes earlier than last year so I can spend time writing and starting my day.

Consistency is something that can be harder to maintain. I’d like to say I’m consistent in my writing habits, but the truth is, I write (on average) three mornings a week. I want to be more consistent with my personal singing practice, but I need to adjust my choices to make that happen.

I want to draw your attention to a phrase from my original post Three Words for 2014 that has grabbed readers’ attention.

‘The only constant in life is change, therefore consistency in my actions will bring about the changes that will happen!’

In reviewing this phrase, I am struck by how true it is.

But I also want to share that I have learned the following in the past three months:

My choices lead to consistency in my intentions. 

My consistent intention will inform good choices. 

My intention will direct consistent choices. 

It’s this wonderful trifecta of related words that is swirling around my being and guiding me through the year.

Did you set up three words for 2014? It’s not too late! Reflect on the past three months and see if any specific words make themselves known to you. Share them in the comments below – I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

Inspiration Part 2 of 4

On Monday night I saw a friend and colleague’s graduation recital for her Master’s in Voice. It was inspiring for a number of reasons.

The selection of music was both varied and moving. Oldest pieces were from the  late 16th/early 17th century and newest pieces were from the 20th Century. Her performance of them was both sincere and moving.

inspiration - picasso2

A single event can inspire someone to get out of a rut (in my case a non-practice rut, since I’ve had a cold for the past two weeks).

Being inspired by a musical performance is an external factor that motivates internal inspiration. As Picasso says above, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” Even though we don’t feel inspired at a particular moment to do, create, work, whatever, we must be open to the moments when inspiration will find us.

I wasn’t ‘working’ while at my colleague’s recital, (although I was listening closely), but it took some motivation to get me out of the house that evening. I am glad I went though, as I was inspired by the performances of all involved!

Inspiration doesn’t always strike when you’re working – sometimes it happens in the breaks between work. In which case you make a note of it in whatever way you can, then go back and use it!

Inspiration doesn’t have to be big or epic to be ‘inspiring’ either. It can be as simple as moving a house plant to a different location in your home, walking down the street and noticing a painted telephone pole, or just seeing kids play at the park and being inspired by their carefree ‘joie de vivre’!

The point is, be open to inspiration and it will find you – whatever form it may take. It’s up to you to act on it!

As always, I love to hear your comments, thoughts, and suggestions. What has inspired you lately?

Interference

Do you interfere with your own success? Do you put up blocks, distractions, negative thoughts to stop you from making progress? If you do, the good news is, you’re human! We all, at some point or another, impede ourselves from learning. Interference plays a huge role in that (non) progress.

It’s easy to say, ‘Just sing, be free, and let your sound come out.’ The mechanics and physical reality of doing that, however, is very different. Our command of different, minute muscle groups, our coordination of those muscle groups, and the openness of a space in which to resonate, all affect the final product.

Mentally, we often provide just as much interference! In the book ‘The Inner Game of Music‘ the authors discuss Self 1 and Self 2 and how Self 1 sends instructions that hinder you from making progress, but Self 2 is perfectly capable, and even more so when Self 1 is not interfering. Interference is part of that ‘inner voice’ that critiques what you are doing, instead of being open to, and exploring what you are doing. I encourage you to read the book, as it’s an excellent insight not just into musical practice and performance, but more widely applicable life skills.

So, what can we do to reduce interference? First of all, you need to recognize it.

I classify interference into two broad types: external and internal. Within those types, there are many forms of interference.

External interference includes distractions like anything on the internet, our families, cleaning the bathroom, phone calls, to-do-list, etc.

Distractions.learningfundamentals

Create Focus rituals and habits – use this mindmap for tips and tricks when you are feeling like these things might interfere with your progress. Image is used courtesy of learningfundamentals.com.au

You probably know what I’m going to say.

Turn off your phone. Turn off your computer. Shut the door to your practice space and put down the cleaning products. Schedule a practice time and stick to it. I set a reminder on my phone to come up 10 minutes before my scheduled practice time. That gives me time to wrap up whatever I’m working on and get into the ‘head space’ to practice.

Don’t look at your desk or shuffle papers. Open your music, or set up your recording device for playback/record. Set a timer, if you have to (I suggested this in my post  focus )

When it comes to internal or physical interference, that’s a much tougher thing to nail down and you would be best to discuss this with your teacher. We all have physical habits that will interfere with our singing. Some habits are easier to change than others.

If you are a choral singer, the way you hold your music could be interfering with the quality of the sound coming out. You want your arms to hold your music, but let your shoulders and neck be free and without effort in order to get the best sound possible. Play around with different heights of holding your music so you have optimal sound, but also optimal vision of both your music and your conductor.

If you are learning to sing solo works, you have more physical freedom! Walk around while you sing. Obtain a large exercise ball and play with different positions to free your sound.

Swing your arms, bend at your hips and bend over like a rag doll, slowly rolling up while singing – observe how that affects your sound.

A solution is as as simple as your thinking of allowing your neck to be tall and free (Alexander Technique) and then singing will offer a world of changes.

Be aware of your interference, then let it go.

Interference comes in many forms – recognize it, then explore solutions to deal with it.

As always, thanks for reading, and I love hearing from you. Feel free to leave me comments or questions!