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!
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!
Monday, March 31, 2008
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 email@example.com 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.