Tag Archives: teaching

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?

Advertisements

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?

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.

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?

Inspiration – Part 1 of 4

Welcome to the first of four shorter blog posts on Inspiration. You may want to review my posts in inspiration and breathing here before reading further.

Inspiration is a word that has several meanings or implications – there is the mental condition of being inspired to do something, and then there is the physical act of inspiration, more commonly known as inhalation.

inspiration_wallpaper_by_naomi89-d2yhfs51

Today’s post is the first of two on the  mental condition.

What inspires you to make music? Have you always been inclined towards music, or is it simply background filler for you? What styles of music move you?

Inspiration comes in many forms – as varied as the human condition itself. For me personally, I have always been drawn to music. According to my mother, I could sing a tune back before I could properly speak words. My grandfather taught himself to play the accordion and when I was young, I used to go  down to the basement where he practiced and we would play tunes together, me playing the melody on the keyboard, and him playing the chord buttons and squeeze-box.

Those memories of being immersed in music still inspire me today. Music is such a personal experience – no matter what we do musically – it’s still all about us and what we share.

As a teacher of singing now, I encourage my students to explore their passion for music. It can be scary, allowing music to open your soul – but that is what leads to true inspiration!

The next time you listen to music, make music, or are inspired by music, take a moment and think about how you feel inside. Record these feelings and start a ‘music inspiration journal’. It may help you hone in on other factors in your life that require attention.

Be inspired, then be inspiring to others.

Happy music-making – whatever form that takes for you!

As always, I love to hear from you! Your comments, feedback, and experiences of inspiration and music are welcome!

Motivation

How much do you love to sing? Is it all shiny and new and you sing every day? Do you love choir practice, but find it hard to find the time to practice on your own? How motivated do you feel to practice the things you need to do, in the best possible way?

Yes, it can be terrifyingly uncomfortable learning to practice on your own. The quote ‘Sing like no one is listening’ can be pretty hard to do when you’re first starting to sing.

Motivation-Monday-618

Maybe you find some other important things to do instead of opening your score and practicing singing. I know I fall into this category. I have an ever-evolving to-do-list that provides endless distraction when I would be better served by practicing.

There are several keys to motivating yourself to practice regularly. Writer Stephen Pressfield wrote about ‘Resistance’ in a great book called The War of Art. Pick it up, borrow it, read it.

If you don’t have that book at hand, here are some tips I’ve learned over the years to help you find the motivation to practice!

Tip 1: Manage your time

Put your practice time in your day planner. That time is sacred time. Even if you just open your music and look at it – that is practice time. You don’t have to be singing the whole time!

Tip 2: Prioritize

This is related to Step 1 above. If you are just starting out on a singing adventure, set aside 20 minutes a day to start – make that time a priority. Done.

Tip 3: Minimize distraction

This is a tough one. Distractions come in many forms, from family members, email, phone(s) ringing, television, the internet! Turn off the computer, turn off your phone, and sit at your keyboard, piano, whatever, and focus for 20 minutes. Set a timer if you have to. I do.

Tip 4: Be inspired!

This falls into the realm outside of practice time, but might be something you do to prepare to practice. Find some videos or recordings of what you’re working on and observe and enjoy them. You can do this anytime and anywhere. I recommend you use headphones to minimize distractions!

Tip 5: Be flexible

Life happens. Sometimes your practice time will be eaten into by other activities. But don’t NOT practice because you didn’t get to it ‘at your time’. Some of the most productive practice I have had has been in the 15 minutes before I have to do something else. Review your music on the bus, hearing the sound of your line in your head. Review it while listening to the recording, without singing. If you record your lessons (which I highly recommend), listen back to them several times before your next lesson. I prefer to do this while walking places.

Tip 6: Have fun!

Remind yourself how much fun you have when you do sing. Go to that fun place and let that motivate you to look at your music with fresh ears, eyes, and enthusiasm.

Do you have any tips for motivation? I would love to hear from you! Hit Reply under the title in this blog and leave me a comment. As always, feel free to share your own experiences. Thanks for reading and see you next week!

Related Posts:

Discovery

You know that feeling when you finally ‘get’ what someone is talking about. Up until then, you think you understand what they mean, then Presto!, something clicks, something falls into place, and you realize that what you knew before was the tip of the iceberg, and now you know there is more under the surface….

That’s discovery. How exciting is that?!!

As a student, it’s thrilling, and as a teacher, doubly so, as it means you, as a student, are taking risks and discovering new ways to explore singing and sound.

There are external and internal discoveries. External discoveries are those outside of your body – perhaps you found a new restaurant, found a hidden drawer in your antique desk, maybe it was forgotten treasure at the back of your closet?

I am talking today about internal discoveries. Those real moments when your brain makes a connection with a physical act of exploration.

Internal discoveries don’t just happen in singing, as you probably know. Discoveries happen in yoga class, in the classroom, in the workplace, etc.. Sometimes they are new methods of doing things, sometimes it’s a whole new process that works better for you overall, and sometimes it’s a simple as adjusting your big toe slightly!

Re-discovery can be tricky, though…especially when you’re learning singing, or even another instrument!

Have you ever discovered something then went back later to try and find ‘it’ – whatever ‘it’ may be, and it’s been harder to find? Sort of like chasing a dragon?

Don’t despair! Sometimes the harder you chase, the more elusive it is. Here is a process to try, the next time you are returning to a discovery.

  1. Think back to the date, time of day, and location of that discovery.
  2. Remember in great detail all aspects of that time, including what you were wearing, who said what, how you were feeling.
  3. If it helps, close your eyes and envision that moment in your head
  4. Now try to replicate what you ‘discovered’ in the present time.

You’ll probably find that muscle memory will kick-in. You may also find that the re-discovery isn’t as strong a ‘feeling’ as the discovery. In my experience, this is completely normal. It’s just a sign that you are incorporating this ‘discovery’ into your being.

If the steps above don’t seem to work, don’t despair – just keep exploring those sensations. You will find it again!

Once you have found it multiple times, you own it! It will now be a process of refining and integrating what you have discovered into your daily practice.

What kind of discoveries have you made – external or internal? Are they special and memorable?  Hit the Reply link above and share your discoveries!