Tag Archives: Public speaking

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?

Listening

How do you listen? Do you notice or make note of unusual sounds you hear in your day-to-day life? Have you ever thought about how you listen? Have you caught yourself drifting away from active listening?

Recently an article from the New York Times on Auditory Sightseeing came to my attention. It got me thinking about how we use our sense of hearing, but also how we disregard some sounds entirely.

In my post Listening vs. Hearing, I quoted one of my coaches at McGill University, Michael McMahon, who often said, (referring to a piece of music),

Go and have a listening experience!

How does one have a ‘listening experience’? As humans, we are encouraged to listen to one another in conversation and actively respond to what we’ve heard.

As a musician, I like to think that my listening skills are specially developed when compared with someone who didn’t necessarily study music. But even within the genre of musicians, there are groups of people with a specific set of highly developed listening skills.

An audio technician will have ears finely tuned to what she or he hears when mixing together different tracks. The conductor of an orchestra will have a highly developed sense of hearing so they can ask for different instruments and colours of sound from the orchestra; in order to create a unique experience for the audience.

As a singing performer and teacher of singing, my ears are highly tuned to the human voice and tonality. I can often hear tension in a student’s voice before I see it in their body. What sounds good to them inside their own head may not be optimal singing outside their head!

Sometimes a singer will be listening to their own voice so intently that they forget to be ‘in the moment’ of what they are actually singing (I used to do this a lot!). Public speaking is a similar situation – when we’re nervous, we often get trapped into that running dialogue ‘oh, I said that word incorrectly’, or ‘wow, that sounded stupid’, or ‘hey, they laughed at my joke’.

This train of thought means you’re listening to yourself too much! If you take your attention to listening inside your own head and away from the message you are trying to communicate, then you are robbing your audience of a fuller experience.

Take yourself on a ‘listening tour’ the next time you are out for a walk. Notice different sounds and how they may or may not be pleasant. Notice the rumble of a diesel truck, or some high ‘ping, ping, ping, ping’ sounds as you pass a construction site. Notice the high tonality of birds chirping in the morning. Take note of your neighbourhood sounds and maybe consider starting a ‘sound journal’ – noting the sounds you hear, recording them with your mobile device, or something similar.

One last thought – the following short piece was composed based on birds arranged on a set of wires. Music and sound may be found where you least expect it. How did you listen and what did you hear?

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.

0001tH

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?

Intensity and Imagination

It’s getting down to crunch time. The next performance is less than 10 days away. I know my music and my words. I’m memorized. I’m ready. But is that all?

Of course not.

Can you go farther? Can you delve deeper? You absolutely can – you just need another set of ears and someone you trust. And you need your imagination.

One of my coaches showed up at a recent rehearsal. I was feeling fairly prepared, and then I was gently reminded of all these wonderful things hidden in the music that develop the character I was singing.  ‘Character’ doesn’t just have to apply to a theatrical character, either. It can be an art song, a musical theatre piece, an oratorio chorus – anything.

WHO ARE YOU when you sing a piece? There is you, and then there is the composer, but most importantly, there is the ‘voice’ of the music (or character), which encompasses the others.

By delving deeper, you bring these three elements more in sync with each-other. Once you have got a hold of the technical demands of a piece such as notes, words, rhythms, tempo, etc, you are freed up to explore even more!

This same preparation can be applied beyond music: presentations, public speaking, acting, job interviews, all require a certain amount of intensity in preparation.

So – you are prepared, you think you are ready, but have you engaged your imagination? 

Sing through a section of your music. Now, think about whose ‘voice’ is speaking through the music. If you are a choral singer preparing Handel’s Messiah, are you an angel? Are you like a Greek Chorus, commenting on the action? Are you a townsperson? Imagine different situations when you might possibly be speaking/singing those words.

By using your imagination, you connect at an even deeper level with the words you are singing or speaking. Visualization is an important tool for everyone!

Now, review your pieces with all the above elements – the text, the music, your imagination, the whole package. It’s crunch time – let the intensity focus those elements into the best possible preparation you can do -but don’t forget to have fun!

Thanks for reading. If my words inspired you, please feel free to follow or share!

Preparation

Preparation is one of those words that either excites you to no end (you’re thinking about the final result), or terrifies you instead (thinking about the process to the final result).

Cosi score image

A page from Mozart’s opera Cosi fan tutte. I’m preparing the role of Dorabella for a performance in May 2014

Musicians are perpetually in a state of preparation; the next concert, the next audition, the next lesson, the next masterclass, etc. As a performing and teaching musician, I prepare for each of my student arrivals. From the very smallest ritual of preparing to practice one afternoon, to the long months of preparing a role for performance, it is something we do all the time, we just don’t often consider the idea and process of preparation.

If you are a public speaker, you prepare the nuts and bolts of your presentation before you speak (at least I hope you do!). For a fantastic guide on preparing your presentation, I highly recommend Mitch Joel‘s recent post “How to Give a Great Presentation (Seriously)“. In fact, musicians could certainly take some of his presentation advice and apply it to their own preparation.

Preparation on on a small scale might include a brief ritual before you practice each day. It could be just closing the door to your practice room, turning off your phone and computer, and opening the score. It could simply be taking a breath for the next phrase.

Because my days are generally packed with work, teaching, and other life activities, I find it helpful to meditate in silence for 5-10 minutes before practicing singing. Sometimes it’s seated, sometimes I lay on the floor on a yoga mat and just breathe. I set a timer so I stay present and mindful. There are plenty of meditation timer apps out there for mobile devices that have pretty chimes, or you could just set the timer on your stove or oven! By being silent for a short time before practicing, I focus (prepare) my mind for the activity ahead.

I personally find it REALLY hard not to be distracted before and during my practice. By setting a timer for both my preparation for practice and my practice time, I know that I have to stay focused for that period of time. It’s part of preparation. Getting mentally in the space to do what needs to be done.

Preparation also includes planning. I am about to learn and memorize a lot of music in less than one month. I will create a practice plan so I can get the  most out of my time, instead of just practicing ‘when I have time’. This includes being SPECIFIC. ie. Today I will learn the rhythms on pages 231-240 and memorize the text. Tomorrow I will memorize the notes on that same page, keeping in mind the shape of each phrase, etc.

One of the great changes that has happened to the way I approach my life is preparing for the following day or week ahead. Instead of being caught off guard, I take 10 minutes to look at the day ahead the night before. I keep a small notebook with me during the day, then keep it beside my bed at night where I write down a few words about what I’d like to achieve, see, do, etc. the following day.

In the end, preparation helps us achieve a goal or other final result. The process of preparation can be arduous (speech, report, paper, project, etc.), but it is the journey to what will be a great end result. You will know that you did the best preparation you possibly could, and that will give you a great feeling inside!

What do you prepare for? What sorts of preparation rituals do you have? As always, thanks for reading and please follow if you haven’t already!