This is a new addition to my blog. I'd like to be able to keep up with the activities of my students on my blog, so that it can be edited more quickly and efficiently than on my website. So . . . please let me know what you are up to and I promise it will get published here!
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Yikes! It's been ages since I wrote anything. What a strange summer it was and how detached I felt from the world of singing. Of course many voice teachers who work with young people experience a drop off of attendance at lessons and many plan ahead by going to workshops, going on vacations, performing in summer theatre or opera companies, etc. This summer was a little different for me. Rather than performing in "stock" or studying with a great master teacher, I along with my boyfriend and two other friends set about producing, writing, directing and acting in a web series that just made its debut. It's called "50 to Death" and is about the lives of three "boomers" and their attempt to joust with the 21st Century. The web address is "50todeath.com." I've never been a producer/writer/actor before and it's pretty scary and very exciting. The marketing aspect of all of this is teaching me new things every day. And it makes me more grateful than ever that fall has come and with it the opportunity to return to the solace of music and teaching, which feel so pure and sure in their special way. If you are a reader of this blog and would like to go to "50todeath" I guarantee a laugh. I promise the next post here will be about singing.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Well, the Tony's are all passed out and the Broadway season is over. How wonderful that the musical theatre awards went to singers with distinctive, unique voices. Let's face it . . . when you hear Patti Lupone sing, whether you like her voice or not, you know it's her. The same can be said for the lovely Laura Benanti, who I have known since she was 19 and Kelli O'Hara, both of whom are "New Broadway" stars but are equal in individuality to the ingenues and leading ladies of the past. Unlike so many of the thousands of kids being ground out of MFA Musical Theatre programs all over the country designed to "fit" the current sound or the screechy little "Legally Blonde" wannabe's who you basically cannot tell apart. This leads me to speak about a reading I did last week of a new musical based on the hilarious Susan Seidelman film, Boynton Beach Club. It featured a cast of fifteen actors, most "of a certain age" (including Tony nominees and winners), each and every one with a distinctive, unique, voice. No cookie cutter techniques, no "chorus girl/boy" sound, everybody was an individual and together we rocked the joint! Of course, we had no microphones and sound mixers to mess with our beautiful sound, but, I'll tell you, when I heard those six guys sing "Dirty Old Men" in four-part harmony and when we "girls" did three-part girl group singing, I was in heaven. To bring this back to teaching . . . this is the kind of teaching I believe in. Finding your true voice. Your most beautiful, healthy, free voice.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Yesterday I worked with a new student, a lovely young man who unfortunately had to quit college in the middle of his studies to take care of his family. There is no question that this is a gifted singer who has already had excellent training and should be singing professionally some day and/or passing on his love of music to young people. His passion and joy are infectious and we had a blast at the lesson. The high points of the lesson were definitely what I call "Ah Ha" moments. Something clicked. But not just in his head. In his whole being. He "got it." Or to quote "Stranger in a Strange Land" he "grocked it." Every part of his instrument lit up and he had to pause to absorb the fact that what had happened had truly worked as completely as he felt it had. So we did it again. When the "ah ha" moment can be duplicated I know that we are on the right track. Often whatever breakthrough we achieved or principle I was teaching was something another teacher had tried to communicate before but perhaps the method the teacher was using wasn't right for him or he hadn't been ready to absorb the information yet. That has happened to me as a teacher many times before. I've had students come back to me and say "You know that thing you were trying to teach me when I was fifteen? Well, now that I'm twenty-five and I'm working with someone else, I finally realize what you were saying works." I'm always delighted when I hear that they have gotten it. No matter who they get it from, as long as they get it and it sticks!
Friday, May 30, 2008
I work with several young students (below the age of 16) including a couple of boys. Most of these kids are professional actors already. This is a challenging age to study singing. The voice is changing or just about to. Attention spans vary widely in length. Musicianship, or lack thereof, can be a big issue. In addition, there is the age difference between us and the balancing act of respect and friendship that occurs in any private lesson situation. Most of my young female students have done just fine with either the classic vowel exercises that adult students use or the "fun" vocalises devised for younger singers, like "koo-koo-koo-koo-clock!" But for boys . . . well, the embarrassment issue raises its ugly head here. Who wants to sing about "koo-koo-clocks?" when you are doing everything you can to appear cool and masculine at the ripe old age of 10 or 12? So, today I asked one of my young male students to make up his own vocalise. Just come up with 5 syllables that make up a sentence. "All chimpanzees rock" was the result. You know what? At least it got him to sing out and use his full voice for the first time. The resulting flow of energy led to more enthusiasm from him for the rest of the lesson and more creative teaching from me. ("Magic energy belt" and other space-age props were added to help my young sky warrior). He improved vastly from his last lesson. I had fun. I think he did too. He stayed cool and masculine. Win-win.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
It's been a very busy few months, with teaching, traveling, auditioning, rehearsing, filming and living. I'm enjoying writing these blog entries a great deal and especially enjoy reading any comments or responses I've been receiving back from you. I'd like to know now if there are any questions you might have for me. As the summer arrives and many of my students take off for camp or summer stock or European gigs I find myself with more time on my hands and the desire to communicate more through this new creative outlet. So, here I am. Is anybody there?
Sunday, May 18, 2008
I just got back from an exciting and challenging three days in Seattle, working for the Jerome Robbins Trust helping to cast the upcoming Pacific Northwest Ballet production of "West Side Story Suite." Twenty-eight dancers, most of whom had not sung since they were in middle school chorus, if at all, were required to sing either "America" or "Cool" not only as a solo, but in front of a video camera! Can you imagine if you were given a challenge like that in an art form you were almost totally unfamiliar with? I had one and a half hour group lessons with each of four groups and then ten minutes with each individual to help them do the best job they could to portray Anita, Rosalia or Riff and tape the audition. The group session proved a terrific way for everyone to learn with a feeling of comfort and playfulness and taught me how to teach them. Then, when the individual auditions came, these magnificent artists, who amaze me with their physical genius and grace, came into the room with such vulnerability, terror, and insecurity all I could do was wonder at the strange and wonderful workings of Nature and the gifts of talent and courage. As it turned out, many of the dancers actually could sing and act very well. There wasn't a single one who could not sing at all. One sweet girl had been kicked out of 6th grade chorus because her teacher said she couldn't sing. There she stood at her audition, literally trembling; I put my arm around her and sang softly into her ear and she sang on pitch and in correct rhythm. That dancer CAN sing! They all could sing. And most of them could act when given half a chance. Let's all give ourselves a chance. And give our kids a chance. And when we are trembling, an arm around the shoulder and a sweet song in the ear couldn't hurt.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
This week's revelation is about hard work, sweat, and laughter. "Is it hot in here?" is the typical question for a woman going through menopause. It's also a question for a student really working well in the voice studio. I find myself stripping off layers of clothing during every lesson. (Don't worry . . . there is a limit to how far I'll go!) This week my studio was a veritable strip tease/comedy club! "I'm exhausted!" "Is your voice exhausted?" "No." "I'm tired too but let's take off a layer and keep going for a little while longer." Then when I sense that the student's muscles can't support the tone anymore and/or they are singing "from their throat" we stop. We rest and drink water and breathe easily and let the muscles recover. But those supporting muscles are getting stronger each week and the beautiful, tiny vocal folds are protected and no one walks out unable to speak or sing at the end of a lesson. They may need to take a nap or a shower, but that's OK by me.
I have to be real careful with my younger students and constantly ask myself "How much can they take? How much can they give?" But they constantly surprise me. So I had some revelations this week with a 13 year-old who hung in there for an hour of pretty demanding singing and with a sparkle in her eyes managed to make it through a song she never would have been able to tackle just two weeks ago. Once again, the power of music working with the human body and spirit constantly amaze me.
Monday, April 14, 2008
In response to a request from Erin C. for remedies, exercises, etc. for overworked voices or ideas for how to handle singing when you're sick, I'm going to share some more ideas from my experience as well as those of an expert. Dr. Anthony Jahn, one of the most highly respected otolaryngologists in the country recommends zinc tablets or nasal swabs, saline nasal spray, a Neti pot (I use mine religiously), and vitamin C. He says to avoid antihistamines if you are going to have to perform, because they tend to dry you out, and that is dangerous if you have to sing. Better to use a decongestant (hence my love affair with Musinex). The mucus gets looser but you won't get dried out. Remember that commercial for hand cream that used to show the dried up leaf vs. the beautiful green leaf? I like to think of always keeping my vocal folds like the green leaf, moist and supple.
When you have a cold, the chances are you are going to be affected in the upper parts of your voice and/or your passaggio. You may also be feeling physically weaker. Be very careful to not tire yourself out, because that's when you are in danger of really hurting your voice. Eat well. Rest well. Cancel or re-schedule any engagements and auditions if you are able to. And remember, a cold will pass, but if you over-sing on it, watch out! You can do damage because you may be singing from an unsupported place and can cause harm to your voice, which will take more time to heal than just the week or ten days that it would have taken to nurse a cold or flu.
As far as overworked or overused voices are concerned, I am not a voice therapist, so I will send my students to an otolaryngologist when I sense that something is amiss that healthy nutrition, rest, good technique and conscientious practice seem to be doing nothing to conquer. A couple of times the doctor has found a cyst, a polyp or even the dreaded "nodes" but I always feel it is better to be informed than to keep on beating your head against the wall wondering "Why can't I sing like I used to?" Dr. Jahn's column in Classical Singer Magazine is enormously useful every month and can be found in the archives on their website.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Wow, has this been a crazy couple of weeks! Not only have I been sick, but at least three of my students have called me with "HELP WHAT DO I DO ? I HAVE TO SING AND I'M SICK!" Questions. All three of them had different issues and I'm going to share what I told them.
First of all was the issue of the baritone singer/actor who not only is performing in a show but had an audition where he had to sing and act a lyrical ballad. I reminded him that he was not just a voice. This young man, as we all are, is a three mode performer. He is a very strong actor, who has a face, voice, and body that can communicate the truth of his song and his character if he trusts them. Sometimes, we are not able to rely on "the voice" being there 100% so we have to ask more of the rest of our instrument to help us out in an audition or performance situation when there is no understudy or opportunity to change an appointment or canceling is not an option. I also suggested he "take it easy" with both his audition song and his song in the show and see what happens. My student took this advice to heart and got wonderful results in both situations.
The other two students who were under the weather were doing recordings and I gave them different advice for very different reasons. One I told to put off her recording, because it sounded like she had actually done some minor, temporary damage to her voice by talking too loudly too soon after being ill and she is a heavy-duty R&B singer at the beginning of a very promising career. The other student is the young soprano I mentioned in an earlier blog, who is at the finishing stages of recording her demo CD and had some "fixes" to do. Just because she wasn't 100% it didn't seem like there was any reason to not try to go into the studio and listen to what we had and try to fix what we could. Despite her fatigue and the fact that she was recovering from a cold, knowing that the "finish line" was in sight and hearing the inspiring sounds she had already made in the previous recording sessions, she managed to do some pretty incredible singing that evening.
And what have I been doing for my cold? Water, water, water, water, water. Rest, rest, rest, rest.
Musinex, every twelve hours. Chicken soup.
Sunday, April 6, 2008
This has been a rough week for me, as I've been ill, and my students have been canceling a lot. Spring Break, "Spring Fever." sudden breakouts of "forgetfulness," auditions and rehearsals for other projects popping up at the last minute, who knows? Everyone has a legitimate excuse. It's not easy being a private voice teacher. I'm frequently last on people's priority list. But I choose this life because I love the independence that it brings me. I worked for an institution before and it just wasn't my style. I hated the bureaucracy, game playing, and loss of freedom that was involved. But with a private studio comes more personal responsibility for keeping track of the business side, not just the artistic, of being a voice teacher. Hence, my website and this blog. I am trying to find new ways to network, to reach out and find new ways to build my contacts, so that when a week like this one happens I can handle it with more serenity than I have in the past. I'm grateful to any other independent contractors out there who read this who would care to respond.
Monday, March 31, 2008
Thanks to my wonderful students and their parents asking me questions this week, I have something to share for all of us regarding studying singing. Sometimes it is hard. Sometimes it seems like there is no reward in sight. Sometimes it seems boring or stupid or exhausting. So I have to ask myself, "Do I have the time, discipline, and willingness to put up with doing what may seem like silly, embarrassing, even impossible things for a while in order to allow my instrument to grow?" And you know what? Sometimes I don't. And that's OK too. You can take a break. If you find yourself resenting every moment of practicing or hating your lessons, take a vacation from them. If auditions are making you crazy with self-loathing or confusion, find another way to fulfill your creativity by writing or painting or just dancing in your living room. Your creativity will find a way to express itself if you give it a chance. And eventually you'll come back to singing if you are meant to. Just ran into a student I hadn't seen in a long time who did a very creative thing . . . she had a baby!
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
IT'S NEVER TOO LATE TO SING (BY KALILA BORGHINI)
Ten years ago, when I was fifty-one, I sang for the first time since childhood. I must have sung as a young child, although I don't remember doing so. I suppose at some point early on, I started to feel self-conscious. I also don't remember anyone else in my home singing. Sadly, later in my childhood, and especially as a teenager, there didn't seem to be much to sing about. This occurred despite there being lots of music around. My father loved Ella Fitzgerald and Broadway show tunes as well as classical music. He also listened to what I disparagingly referred to as "war music" - that great era of the big bands (which I now love as it turns out, along with spinach and sweet potatoes). But no one sang or even sang along. Actually, that's not entirely true. My mother did totally embarrass me once in my early teens when she sang along at a musical we once attended together. I think that was the last time I participated in that kind of activity with her. Otherwise, it was a singing-free household. I grew up loving music as well as dance but as far as singing was concerned - that just wasn't something I did or more importantly, felt I was any good at. I didn't think I could sing on pitch or even carry a tune.
That all changed in 1998 when I found the spiritual path I now follow - the African Traditional Religion known as Yoruba, which hails from Nigeria, made its way during the Middle Passage to Cuba and the islands, and then made its way here. Don't ask what led me to that religion - that's another story and this blog is about singing.
Anyway, I was at a Bembe (a song and drumming celebration) for my Godmother Barbara Bey (Ibaye) and was standing next to one of my godbrothers. Everyone was singing our tradition's songs, some of which I had been listening to on CD and to which I knew the words. Except that I was humming. This godbrother turned to me, and in a rather loud voice, said "SING!" So I sang. And I haven't stopped.
Going from someone who for the most of her life didn't even sing in the shower, I have become quite the songbird. Since the Yoruba style of singing is Call and Response, I not only sing the Response but have taken it upon myself to learn the Call. Not only do I sing with enthusiasm and joy at all spiritual functions as part of the chorus but, believe it or not I have actually sung the lead on one occasion in front of others. In addition, I find myself often singing spontaneously throughout the day.
When I sing, my spirits are always lifted. For me, song is communication with the divine and the spirits of my ancestors. They let me know they have heard me by fulfilling my requests and accepting my thanks. It is a truly magical process,facilitated by the earnestness of my voice and the sincerity of my prayers. However, please don't totally typecast me. I've also been heard singing all parts of an entire CD of Dells' greatest hits and harmonizing with Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. My husband, a professional singer (now isn't that ironic?) says that I have a good voice. And although I'm grateful for his feedback, what's important is that I've been able to connect with the deepest part of myself and be moved to tears of joy. To feel the vibration in the core of ones being is a spiritual connection - no matter what if any spiritual path you may be on. So, I encourage all of you out there to overcome whatever resistance, embarrassment, perfectionism and shyness you have have and SING! Sing as though your life depended upon it.
The truth is -- your life does.
To learn more about Kalila Borghini who is a Psychotherapist and Ordained Yoruba Priest practicing in Manhattan, visit her website at http://www.childofthestones.com/
Friday, March 21, 2008
This week's "Revelation" happened to me. I was working with three students, all of whom are in their twenties and have been studying with me anywhere from eight months to two years . All of them have gone through many vocal challenges but have been persistent in their studies and, despite the fact that they are not "blessed" with the most beautiful and mature natural voices, have hung in there with practicing and have kept a positive attitude. Well, this week it seems that all three of them have not only made breakthroughs, but they are also able to consistently repeat their vocal improvements, make truly beautiful natural sounds and understand how they are doing what they are doing. The only way this was able to happen was through "persistent, purposeful play" and trusting that Nature would, in Her own time, enable their voices to mature at the right time if we didn't interfere.
A lot of young singers hear their "idols" on the radio, TV, Broadway or web and think "If so-and-so is only 17 and can sing like that, why can't I?" They forget that "so-and-so" is amplified within an inch of her life and has a sound engineer tweaking notes to avoid any hint of "pitchiness," and that, most important of all, many of us do not find our true voices until we are 18 or 20 or 27 or 32. But we can and should keep on singing.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
I just read a great article in the NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing) Journal called "Understanding Performance Anxiety" by Shirlee Emmons and Alma Thomas. They pretty thoroughly covered the issues of preperformance jitters, the differences between people who deal well under high stress and those who function better under low stress, the condition that defines an Ideal Performance State, and ways to manage performance arousal and anxiety. We have all felt it at some time or another; be it before an audition or performance, or sometimes right in the middle of singing. To quote the authors "stress tends to be the result of the interaction between the singer and the environment . . . Whether, however, the environment causes an anxious response in performers will depend on the appraisal of their ability to meet the demands of the performing situation. Examples of stressors include:
The very presence of the audition panel
Another singer performing the same repertoire (song)
The presence of the voice teacher during a performance
An opening night with press present
An accompanist arriving late
Bad weather cutting size of audience
An ill-fitting costume
A critical attitude on the part of the musical director
The presence in the audience of a musical or theatrical VIP"
I'd like to know if any of these have affected you negatively (stress, anxiety) or positively (arousal) in auditions or performances or if you can think of others you'd like to share. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will share the results with the rest of our ''BEING VOCAL" community. Then we'll talk about how they affect us and ultimately share our SOLUTIONS!
Thursday, March 13, 2008
A young soprano in my studio has been working on her demo CD for several months now. After lots of detailed preparation both vocally and dramatically, she is ready to record a variety of songs from musical theatre to pop to rock. This week for a change I decided to have her just sing her songs straight through . . . no breaks, no time to think, no time to evaluate how she did, no time to re-adjust her "technique" or her acting choices . . . just as if she were doing a cabaret show. I had my back to her, so she could feel free to be as active as she wanted to be, but all I would hear was her voice as it would sound on the CD. Well, what happened was pretty fabulous!
Her sound was more vibrant, exciting, and varied than it has ever been. Her acting was thrilling and spontaneous. And her reaction to the experience was overwhelming joy and excitement. She said she found new things in each song that she'd never found before. Try this exercise for your own audition and/or performance workout. Take a bunch of songs you have accompaniment for and just SING THEM STRAIGHT THROUGH with no stopping, evaluating, or judging. Let the music and your own impulses guide you on a journey of discovery.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
One of my students had a wonderful revelation this week. Instead of thinking of high notes as HIGH NOTES he thought of them as opportunities to utilize everything he's been learning about release in his technique. He relaxed his jaw (a big issue in the past) and most importantly, relaxed his mind. Those scary F's and G's went soaring and sailing away!