Category Archives: Jeanie’s Blog

Accommodation

Some people are very accommodating. They will do their best to help you, grant your request, assist you, or even inconvenience themselves so that your needs are met. This can be very important in relationships and in life.

If you sing you have to accommodate the lyrics to the music or vice versa. You have to make sure they work together well. This is true whether or not you sing someone else’s music or if you write and sing your own. You must accommodate the intention of the words — what do these words mean to you and why is that important? If you are hired to sing something you don’t necessary like or would have not chosen to sing on your own, you have to find a reason why doing it really enthusiastically makes sense. You must accommodate the work you are being paid to perform. Period.

If you work with other musicians or vocalists you accommodate them by being a good colleague, making sure to maintain a flow between you all as you rehearse and perform. If you want to make any situation work, you need to take in the largest possible picture and then work to accommodate the overall good of the scenario, even if you have to step your own expectations down.

Sadly, some people can’t be accommodating to anyone ever. They have to have their way, they have to get what they want. They view accommodating someone else as an insult to their own sensibilities. Those people don’t do well unless they have other attributes that compensate — a great sense of humor, a brilliant mind, or perhaps a generous pocketbook. Sometimes even that isn’t enough.

If you are running a singing studio, please remember to accommodate your students by being attentive and adjustable as you meet their vocal needs. Go a little out of your way to do someone a favor, to bend your policies or to offer more than you had planned. Yes, keep clear boundaries. You don’t want to end up feeling like you were used or taken advantage of by the students, but you do not need to be rigid or strict in your behaviors either.

Being accommodating is the opposite of being self-involved. It is what used to be called “the customer is always right”. It implies that the other person or the situation is more important than you are or your life is and that by adjusting to the needs of others you are doing something good. In this day of “me first” it is more difficult than ever to find someone who is willing to be accommodating. When you encounter it, be sure to be grateful.

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SPOTLIGHT ON SUELY MESQUITA

Guest Interview by Billy Gollner

How did you get started in music?

I’ve been singing since I was a little kid, I was attracted to music; my mom signed me up for piano and guitar lessons. Many years later, I began singing in choirs, when I was 19 I began singing lessons with a classical teacher.

As a Brazilian singer, the most important element for learning and growth was singing with friends, learning and teaching informally from one another.

Where did you go to college and what did you study?

I studied Psychology. My family didn’t support the idea of going to Music School. My mother played piano and guitar, we listened to lots of music at home but music was considered something fun that people did at home; it wasn’t really considered a profession.

In my third year of studying psychology, I was certain that I did not want to work in the field. However, I finished the degree and have never worked a day in psychology.

How did you get your professional start in music?

I had my first show when I was 19, it was a complete failure for everyone in the band. In fact, we broke up and didn’t speak for a whole year. This was traumatic. You see, with popular music education at the time, you really had to guess, popular singers didn’t have teachers or concrete ways to learn. It was trial and error. But I think music chooses you and I couldn’t quit.

In 1979, after my first show, I began composing songs and singing in a few groups but it was very indie and not commercially relevant. The popular music market was very polarized, you had the millionaires and then everyone else, it was very hard to make a living just singing, so I turned to teaching to make a living in music.

To make a living just singing, this is still hard, perhaps it’s even more difficult today. I turned to teaching, other friends turned to backing vocals, jingles, and some were crooners in big bands. Others became studio managers or audio engineers; some were hired as musicians or background singers for big stars. While others developed parallel careers as composers to other singers, arrangers, or choir maestros.

Many of us turned to something outside music to make a living: I worked for 10 years as a translator after my daughter was born.  Even big names in Brazilian music did this, like Vinicius de Moraes (diplomat), Aldir Blanc (psychiatrist), Guinga (dentist), Jose Miguel Wisnick (teacher in the university) and others.

How did you start your professional life as a teacher? What were the challenges?

I had been taking voice lessons for four years with a Classical teacher and I was singing in a choir. I began teaching with the singers in the choir. To my surprise, I started to notice what the singers were doing, I watched singers have trouble and I realized that I knew what was happing, sort of. So, I started helping people, I began giving lessons for my own improvement (as a teacher), so I was not charging for these beginning lessons.

At that time, there weren’t popular singers giving lessons in Brazil, everyone studied with Classical teachers. While this training was precious, it was incomplete; the singers didn’t know anything about microphones, female singers were trained mostly in head voice, singers were not being trained in a way that met the demands of the marketplace. Contraltos and male voices had more to gain from traditional classical approaches while Sopranos, like myself, were heavily trained in head voice, and then trying to sing in chest. This was the main issue, here and all over the world!

So I began developing a way to train singers who knew they wanted to sing popular music. My generation was full of pioneers in the sense that we were giving lessons to popular singers.

There wasn’t a formal pedagogy; we were learning with the students, we didn’t want to cheat people.

So, we began a study group in 1991, this was a turning point, the group was called Grupo De Estudos Da Voz (GEV). One of my colleagues from GEV, Felipe Abreu, perhaps the most renowned voice teacher in the popular field in Brazil, is absolutely brilliant and was the first person to really help me begin to understand the issue of registration.

The group started with 20 people, at first, most of us were singers, voice teachers, choral directors and SLPs. We started mentoring one another in how to teach lessons in a popular context; we would share the challenges we were encountering, discussing difficulties our students were encountering, we’d collectively work to address the problems.

We hired SLPs and Laryngologists to come in and lecture our group; we also hired self-taught, excellent singers to come in and tell us how they learnt, how they studied. We began to create a pedagogy that was useful to teachers and singers, and that was fully adapted to Brazilian music.

Most of the teachers in the group had a classical background, we were not denying what we had learnt from our classical teachers, we were adapting to the demands of popular music.

The group still exists today and has played a huge role in the growth and development of several generations of singers, especially in São Paolo.

When did you meet Jeanie LoVetri? What did her work do for you?

I first met Jeanie in 2005; Jeanie had come to São Paolo with an SLP named Mara Behlau. Mara was the first person in Brazil who brought Jeanie to talk about Somatic Voicework™. We came in trusting Mara’s name at first. In 2005, we had already had lots of foreign famous teachers come to Brazil but none of us had ever come across Jeanie’s work. The course was full and many of us were blown away by Jeanie’s work. This was the first seed; since then, many Brazilian singers and voice teachers have completed the Somatic Voicework™ training, and Jeanie’s name is really well known and respected among the voice teaching community here.

When Jeanie first presented, I immediately identified with so many things being said, things I was saying to my students but I’d never heard from other people; at the same moment, I knew that Jeanie knew exponentially more about the subject than I did, I realized that she was the teacher of my dreams. I knew she was someone who I wanted to know, I needed to get close to Jeanie.

I was impressed with how Jeanie talked about Contemporary Commercial Music (CCM), I was enamored with how she interacted with singers, I was so impressed with the emphasis on registers in Somatic Voicework™ – The LoVetri Method.

Then after a series of coincidences, one of my students was looking to travel to the United States or Europe to study CCM Voice. Of course, I immediately recommended Jeanie; the student had received the same recommendation from another voice teachers in São Paolo who was at the same workshop when Jeanie first came to Brazil, it really left a huge impact.

Upon my students return, he told me about The LoVetri Institute for Somatic Voicework and I went in 2012. Following my completion of the Three Levels of Somatic Voicework™, I have had the pleasure of studying privately in NYC with Jeanie and I have continued my studies with Jeanie via Skype.

How has Jeanie’s work influenced you as a teacher?

Just before I met Jeanie, there was a boom in Musical Theatre in Brazil. There have always been singers using chest dominant singing styles in Brazil; however, this marked the first time that there were many teachers who started trying to teach CCM Styles with a huge emphasis on belting.

I began looking into these teachers, and I took private lessons with some of the most renowned teachers in the area but I would many of the lessons feeling vocally tired. The teachers were just forcing chest voice up, and I often felt exhausted.

Working with Jeanie was the first time I was able to manage singing in the style differently. Jeanie told me in our first lesson about herself, “I’m not a belter but I can belt,” and I identified with that. Of course I am not a belter, and I don’t think belting is something that should be an objective or a target but her work was helping me sing how I’ve always wanted to. In this lesson, it was the first time I was able to sing high notes comfortably in a chest dominant voice.

The first time I accessed mixed voice with Jeanie, I asked her, “am I singing in chest or head? It feels like head but it sounds like chest.” This was very interesting.

In addition, I have been studying the science of the singing voice for a long time but it wasn’t until singing with Jeanie that I could feel everything working in an integrated way. It was the first time I could feel everything making sense together, a bridge between vocal function and emotions; when everything works together, this helps you to be expressive with your singing, it allows you to find the art.

Tell me about your classical training.

I had many excellent teachers in classical music that helped take my voice to the next level. My teachers were excellent, I discovered things in my voice that were truly magical and while I was grateful for the training, I could not use the training in Popular styles. I was using a completely different part of my voice and I couldn’t manage the requirements for navigating CCM Singing Styles.

How has Jeanie’s work influenced you as a teacher?

I identified with the way Jeanie related to the singers, many of the things Jeanie had been talking about I was already starting to figure out on my own but it would’ve taken me another twenty-years, maybe a lifetime to establish and nail everything down.

Somatic Voicework™ – The LoVetri Method made me laugh, I felt assured and safe as a teacher. I learned to laugh with my students and this was freedom; when you are trying to do something that you are not skilled at, it is normal to make mistakes, as a teacher knowing what was happening physiologically that caused the mistake, Somatic Voicework™ helped give me a framework to address the problem. I learnt the mistake is precious because it tells me everything I need to know to address the problem.

Tell us about starting your own teaching business.  What were your goals, challenges and successes?

When I first started out as a teacher, my main goal was to be a professional singer, not to be a teacher. I didn’t have a decision or a want to be a professional teacher, I didn’t make that decision, and it just happened, life happened.

From the onset, I wanted to be the teacher that I needed when I was a beginner. I wanted to offer students what they needed, to meet their goals.

I asked students what they wanted, even the most absolute beginners, many times even the absolute beginners knew what it was they wanted to improve about their voice. I didn’t want to be a teacher that told people what they needed; I wanted to be of service to students to help them reach their goals.

Another major challenge I found with my own voice training was that my teachers were not concerned with preparing me for what happens in the real world of how to be successful in the music marketplace, the teachers treated that as something the student needed to figure out. I do not think the two can be separated, it is our job as teachers to help our students navigate the music business.

I encourage all my students to get out there and perform, to organize their own performance opportunities; if you are a singer who does not sing in the world, it will be hard for you to improve, there are things you learn in performance that you can never learn in a classroom.

How has Jeanie’s work inspired you?

Jeanie is very respectful with students; I’ve seen Jeanie work with people from all walks of life. Somatic Voicework™ – The LoVetri Method empowers people, Jeanie is not trying to prove how much she knows, she is just empowering people with information and meeting the students where they are.

Tell me what continues to draw you to Somatic Voicework™

Somatic Voicework™ – The LoVetri Method transformed me, it transformed my lessons. I had been teaching for at least 20 years before being introduced to Jeanie’s work. Somatic Voicework™ – The LoVetri method respects us as teachers, it empowers us to use the information to work with students, informed by our own experiences. When I am working with a student, I consider the student to be the master, I view myself as the conduit for what the student needs.

I appreciate that Somatic Voicework™ actively encourages referring students out when they need to work with other voice professionals, be that an ENT, Laryngologist, SLP, or other Voice Teacher.

 About Suely Mesquita.

Singer, songwriter, and singing teacher, Suely Mesquita released the albums Microswing (2008) and Sexo Puro (Pure Sex, 2002), reviewed in English by Daniella Thompson (Brazzil) and Kees Schoof (Música Brasileira). With Eugenio Dale, released the site and album Dio & Baco (2015). In 2014 was interviewed in the prestigious TV show Zoombido, by Paulinho Moska. Her songs were recorded by some of her renowed partners, as Mário Sève, Moska, Fernanda Abreu, Pedro Luís e a Parede, Kátia B., George Israel, Celso Fonseca, Leoni, Luís Capucho and also by brazilian singers as Ney Matogrosso, Ceumar, Daúde, 14Bis and others. In 2011, the artist made shows and gave lectures as part of the summer programs at the universities UMass Dartmouth and Georgetown. The book Sexo Puro: A Life in Brazilian Song (2010), by Bob Gaulke, reviewed in English by Kees Schoof and by Daniella Thompson, presents Suely’s songs to an English speaking public. Her songs were studied also in a course at UMass Dartmouth (2011).

As a teacher, Suely has given private lessons since 1984. She created, coordinated and taught in the creative laboratory DESCONTROLE NÃO É CAOS (2013 e 2014), in Rio de Janeiro. She also created and teaches, in many cities in Brazil, other courses about the popular singer training, like Microfone Relâmpago. As vocal producer, she signs albums of important Brazilian artists, such as Pedro Luís e a Parede, Farofa Carioca, Gabriel Moura, Rogê, George Israel etc. She is co-founder of GEV* – Grupo de Estudos da Voz do Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro Voice Study Group), created in 1991 to adapt the acknowledgment of classical voice training and the scientific approach of vocal physiology to the popular singer training and to study many authors and teachers renowned in Brazil and abroad. In 2000, she created the first big discussion list on singing in Brazil, preparacaovocal.

Please check out more from Suely Mesquita at:

Facebook (Teaching Page): https://www.facebook.com/cursos.de.canto.popular/

Facebook (Perfomance Page): https://www.facebook.com/suely.mesquita.cantora
Duo Projects Website (Dio & Baco): www.dioebaco.com.br

Suely’s Book ‘Sexo Puro: A Life In Brazilian Song’: https://www.amazon.com/Sexo-Puro-Life-Brazilian-Song/dp/1891241257

Dio&Baco’s Music Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05b5zVw4CB8

Dio&Baco Live Performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xa88KepGGO4

Videos About Suely’s Group Courses:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TT_9vThEY3M
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRAAjj1C5j0

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Getting Your Voice Together For The First Time

Some people have never had the opportunity to experience singing with freedom and ease, making a pleasing sound and expressing their feelings while singing. This is a terrible loss.

If singing teachers were doing a good job across the board, anyone who took regular lessons for two years and practiced in between lessons, would end up sounding better and feeling better and enjoying the process, regardless of where they started. People who had little background would begin to sound good and people with natural ability could sound really terrific. Sadly, this is often not the case with training. In some small percentage of the cases, the issue could be with the student, but most of the time it is due to inadequate teaching. There are few good ways to learn to teach singing, as even in the schools that offer degrees in vocal pedagogy, most schools do not yet have programs that focus upon how to teach CCM teachers.

In order to get into a conservatory or a college as a voice major, you have to be able to sing decently or you would be rejected. The people teaching in those institutions do not have to teach you to match pitch, or to be able to sing a song, as you wouldn’t be a voice major if you couldn’t do that. And, with students who are mostly talented, mostly motivated and mostly open-minded, even generic teaching will help them gain more ability over time. Teachers don’t have to be particularly gifted for their students to improve.

When you work with singers who don’t have great voices, or are not very expressive, or do not have natural musical acumen, the opposite is true. You must really know what you are doing. You have to be creative, resourceful, dedicated and patient and keep your expectations modest. If you are successful with these students, you really have to be a very good teacher. If you succeed in helping these people get their voices together, sometimes for the first time, you have done something monumental and should be congratulated. Does that happen? Not usually.

This applies equally to helping an injured singer regain their ability to sing, even if they do not sound like they did prior to the injury. If you have been singing all your life and then suddenly you can’t do what you have always done, it is devastating. Finding a new way to sing, however, is far better than not singing at all. Locating a teacher who can assist you to make that possible is not an easy task, as many singing teachers wouldn’t have a clue as to how to start that process, but if you are persistent, you could find a skilled expert who could re-acquaint you with your larynx and vocal folds. You need someone who can also offer psychological and emotional support as you work your way through a difficult and daunting process. Getting your voice together for the first time in a brand new way is also monumental. It is always worth the effort to try.

Coming home to the voice you have always had but didn’t know you had is an extraordinary experience. Coming home to the voice you had to cultivate to take the place of the voice you had once upon a time is equally amazing. Either way, the journey is dynamic and challenging but rewarding. Finding a guide to help you along the way is a blessing.

Remember that Somatic Voicework™ exists to help you find the voice inside and let it out. It exists to help you create a vocal path that is satisfying, happy and musically powerful, but also healthy and functional to whatever extent is possible. If you seek to be a singer, Somatic Voicework™ will help you understand how to get there slowly and with conscious awareness. There are no gimmicks or quick fixes to get to be a star, just honest, useful tools that make sense to anyone who seeks to make use of them.

My work is for elite teachers of singing who view teaching in the broadest possible manner, with an eye to detail, who believe that everyone is capable of greatness. Revealing that greatness is a gift to be shared. Don’t forget!

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Teaching By The Numbers

Did you know that every vocal sound we make can be reduced to five numbers? Surprising, but true.

The human vocal tract has five specific “vibrating peaks” based on the length and diameter of the open tube between your vocal cords and your lips. As you sustain a vowel it interacts with that tube and, depending on the pitch and the volume, you get an interaction between the vowel and the tube that produces boosts in the sound. The boosts are called formants and when they align with certain harmonics of the pitch, you get a special configuration — one which seems like there is “more sound” or resonance.

Currently, in voice science, it is the hot topic everywhere that the first and second formants  and the first and second harmonic must “talk to each other” in order to help get a good sound. That interaction, coupled with the first and second harmonics, are about the differences between belting and singing classically. When you get the specific alignment that “hits the target” you win the prize, sort of.

How do you know you are aligning these ingredients? You have to have the equipment that measures them. There are software programs that can do that, even freeware. You just sing into a microphone and watch what shows up, sort of.

If you have to squeeze, contort or generally manipulate your throat into doing these maneuvers, well, too bad. Just get the right numbers, then you have it. It is this scary fact that has allowed some teachers of singing who don’t belt, have never belted, and will never belt, (in a song in front of an audience) to assume they can teach belting because they understand the acoustic science and read the info revealed by the software. They can tell you that you have the right harmonic/formant (H/F) alignment or not. Great.

This is not moving us forward. The only positive aspect of this development is that suddenly belting has gained credibility in certain classical circles. Since the teachers who have only classical training and classical experience have no idea what “good” belting versus “bad” belting sounds like, unless they have really developed  ears and perceptive eyes they might miss that difference. And, if the belting is deemed to be “bad” because the person is straining, even though they match the harmonic/formant partnership, whether or not the teacher has the means to get the singer to the correct response as well as keep the H/F configuration is completely unknown.

This “teaching by the numbers” is supposedly credible because it is based on objective measurements. So much for vocal pedagogy. It is the new version of “vibrate your eyebrows” instead of “vibrate your cheekbones”. More or less a waste of time, potentially harmful. Certainly disconnected from any kind of authentic communication.

I say again, this is NOT progress. It doesn’t even make sense in any professional universe. You do not audition by showing off your H/F ratio in a song.

Many of the proponents of this approach are middle-aged white males with classical backgrounds who do not belt. I can’t think of any women in this category. There is a popular speaking voice therapy that rests on “resonance” created by an older white female speech pathologist. I do not know about the details of her work so I can’t say whether it is related or not.

Most of the thousands of people who have sung CCM repertoire down through the ages and survived vocal problems did not know voice science. They did not have it to use as a tool of learning. They went by how things sounded and how they felt. Those are still the best two tools. Understanding the phenomenon from an intellectual place and knowing what things are is important. I need to know that I have an engine in my car and that it runs on fuel. It won’t help me drive or give me a good sense of direction.

Be very careful about people who have quick solutions to any singing issue. Elite singing doesn’t happen in anyone “right away” and attempting to get it to do that is a big fat mistake.

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Integrity, Respect, Humility

I was raised by a father who was born in Pennsylvania to Sicilian immigrants. My mother was from New Orleans and was of German and Irish descent but her family had been there for at least 6 generations. I rarely saw my mother’s family. I was in Connecticut and was surrounded by my father’s family and consequently, my social programming was largely that of working-class Italians. All around me was a large wave of people with similar backgrounds who were raised the same way.

One of the primary things that was emphasized while I was growing up was respect. (The mafia guys don’t kiss the ring of the Don for no reason.) Respect had certain parameters but was oriented towards the family, towards church and community, towards authority and civic duty. It was very very important to show respect. Everyone around me in the larger community had those same values. It was a shock to me as I ventured out into the world as I grew older that some people did not have those values or any values at all.

The idea that there was a clear right and wrong about things in life was a given of my upbringing. There were things that one did and did not do that fit in with the above ideals and you just did not go against those things unless you wanted to cause yourself a lot of trouble. We can see from the present election, some people just do not have values based on truth, honesty, decency, kindness, decorum, and, yes, respect. The horrible man running for the POTUS is an example of people who truly do not have any values that I recognize. Being rich and famous is a qualification for nothing.

Throughout my life my values have been both a source of great solace and  a source of self-examination in order to sort through what I was taught. I needed to decide for myself which of those values, repeatedly taught to me as a child, were premises I wished to keep as an adult whose life was very different from the one I had growing up. Interestingly, I kept much of what I was taught because the ideas fit who I wanted to be in the present.

I am keenly aware every day of how easy it would be to dwell on my own foibles, weaknesses, limitations, failings and obstacles. I know very well my negative habits that intrude into my life as a woman, wife, friend, and teacher of singing. I work to be the best person I can be, knowing that I will never be perfect, and strive to keep an open heart and mind, a loving point of view towards everything and everyone, to be honest in what I say and how I deal with others. Of course, I make mistakes, but since I will always want to forgive those who injure me, I hope that the same courtesy will be offered in return. I choose to look at myself and my life positively, gratefully and with compassion. It is what allows me to get out of bed in the morning and face the day with hope.

You cannot teach well if you do not look into your own mind and heart and face your dark side. You cannot hide from the places where you are wounded, small, frightened, and withdrawn. If you would bring light into the world, you must own your darkness. If you cannot be responsible for the harm you do to others, (regardless of any reason or motivation) you will carry the burden of the unexpressed guilt with you until and unless you can confess it, at least to yourself, and seek absolution (from yourself or others).

We all fail at teaching singing, even when we strive to be as effective as possible. When we sincerely want to help our students sing with beauty and joy but we can still not be able to find a way to illuminate that path.  If we cannot hold and acknowledge that we are human, our teaching becomes stilted and dry and our hearts heavy and occluded. If you teach, realize that you are not now and will not ever be perfect. You will never be the best or only good teacher, you will never help everyone, you will at times make mistakes in spite of all good intentions not to. You must realize that all of this is OK. It’s real. It just is what it is. To go forward with courage you must trust  your own inner integrity, knowing that you will always take the high road. That is all that you can do. It is a choice and must be made on a daily basis.

If you do not respect yourself it is not possible to respect others at a deep level and to live out of that respect. If you act with impunity to make yourself look good, or seem important, or glamorous, or smart, you will actually create the exact opposite. Do not be surprised if you cannot compensate enough for your own behavior and choices and that your own falsehoods and lies cannot be camouflaged with excuses and dismissal, denial and blindness.

Have the humility to face yourself with grace and kindness and allow that to inform your piercing honesty. Integrity requires nothing less. If you want to be respected you must first be respectful. If you do not begin with yourself, you will never get the respect you deserve from  others.

 

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Respect

Merriam Webster defines respect this way:

a) a feeling of admiring someone or something that is good, valuable, important

b) a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way

One way to respect music is to find out what the composer intended when she wrote it and to investigate what the poet or lyricist intended as well. Sometimes we don’t really know, but we should do our best to research things and discover whatever we can. Another way is to understand the general style of the music when more than one composer or lyricist has created in that style. Lincoln Center Library lists quite a few distinct styles including music theater, jazz, rock, folk, pop, alternative, etc.  While there is always artistic license, such that any music can be arranged in any manner, in order to express something unique, not bothering to find out what was intended in the first place, now that we have the internet, is unacceptable.

There are many ways to make analogies here. If you arrive in a place and decide the people living there are stupid barbarians and that you should suppress their customs and religious beliefs because yours are better, then you yourself are the barbarian. If you think that classical music is superior to all other music and that classical musical and vocal values should be applied to all styles —  you, too, are a barbarian. Fortunately, this idea is going away, but it isn’t gone. The old wives’ tales die slowly and the one that says, “If you can sing classically, you can sing anything”, is persistent. Sadly, it’s simply not true.

In previous posts I have written about “non-classical” as a term of disrespect. “Non” in the dictionary means:

a) not:  other than:  reverse of:  absence of

b) of little or no consequence;  unimportant,  worthless

c) lacking the usual especially positive characteristics of the thing specified

This means that “non-classical” music is of little or no consequence, is unimportant or worthless. Yes, we still have this term and we still live with its consequences. WHY? 

And, if you respect the music, then respect the people who teach it the way it was intended to be performed. Respect the teachers who understand the vocal, stylistic and performance aspects of  music and help you understand how to work with all styles in your own unique way. Respect teachers who do not insist that you must first learn to sing “An Die Muzik” in order to sing “Out Tonight” from Rent.

Respect is necessary. When you respect your teachers it is because you also respect yourself, your voice, your body and your artistic vision to express something unique and special. Contemporary Commercial Music (the term that has replaced “non-classical”) deserves everyone’s respect. If you agree with this idea, please share this post.

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Good Enough – Hopefully Not

In art, it is never OK to be good enough. It is never all right to decide to get by. No artist who is truly an artist is interested in being ordinary.

An artist is someone who views life through a unique perspective, one that cannot be shared with anyone else in exactly the same way. An artist illuminates some aspect of life, shedding new light and new insight so that others may come to appreciate it in a manner that would otherwise not be possible. Any artist who is truly an artist will ever seek that which is over the next hill and valley, the path untrod, the new and challenging, until they no longer are capable of creating.

To be an artist is to tread a lonely path. While the outside world can give support or condemnation, it can bestow accolades or criticisms, it cannot tell an artist what to create or not to create. The artist is bound to make whatever arises from inner inspiration. In being true to herself, an artist is compelled to bring forth that which must be given existence, and will often overcome monstrous obstacles to see that the creative end product is birthed according to her passionate vision.

You can study. You can develop skill and craft. You can have excellent mentors and guides. You can have multiple influences along the way but no one can motivate you to confront yourself and your own limitations, your foibles, your fears and your lacks. No one can give you the courage to keep on keeping on no matter how discouraged. Outsiders cannot make you keep your skills and talents in top shape, nor to trust others to seek their thoughts about your work. It cannot prevent you from falling victim to praise, sucking you into the abyss of your own self-admiration, fooling you into thinking that you are more significant because the world has congratulated you. This is, perhaps, the greatest horror of all.

It is very easy to be complacent and to take the easy way out. It is, sadly, in our culture, all too often the case that the squeaky wheel gets the oil. That means, in this case, that the people who can manage to get lots of “followers” on Twitter or “likes” on Facebook can be noticed by that alone, becoming “famous” even though they may have absolutely nothing of value to contribute to the world. These people are not truly artists even though they may become “celebrities” — famous for being famous.

If you are a vocalist, you cannot really hide. If you have something to say, musically and vocally, you must find a way to say it. You will have to “pay your dues” by studying with the best teachers you can find, seeking out ways to learn and grow through performances and by seeking to be as uniquely yourself as possible. Then, when you are “older” you will be able to look back to realize that you left behind a new path, one that others may follow until they find a better one of their own. You might even discover that you went where you never dreamed you would go. You might smile and decide that you were, in the end, an artist after all.

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Boundaries and Choices

It is necessary in singing, as in life, to have appropriate boundaries. Not to have them or be able to understand their usefulness is a mistake.

Even if you sing well and have solid vocal technique/function the only way to know what your voice wants to do happily is to work on repertoire. You can’t really determine how your voice will feel best doing only exercises. You have to read through and then thoroughly work repertoire of various eras, composers and styles in order to find out what your voice can and cannot do easily.

Yes, you can choose to make your voice and body sing in an unnatural manner through lots of hard work on both sound and breathing. Yes, you could manage to sing that way and survive. You may even end up sounding very good and making a great impression, but singing this way will require you to give up everything outside the sound as you have cultivated it. You will sacrifice variability for consistency. If, as an adult, you truly want to make this choice, and are informed about its consequences,  you have that right.

If you want to be able to sing with maximum freedom and versatility, however, you need to find out what happens when songs fully reside in your throat. If you work on a piece that exhausts your voice even though you are technically secure, that piece is a wrong choice. If you want to do contrasting pieces and styles, and you find that one style truly interferes with the other, then one of those styles has to  be adjusted vocally or you can’t sing them both. If you want a chesty penetrating high belt and a soft floaty heady high, alternately, I will tell you now — that isn’t really possible. It’s the old saw, “You can have anything you want, you just can’t have everything you want.”

Too much weight in the middle voice will (yes, WILL) pull you out of your top tones no matter how much breath support you provide and how much you work on “forward resonance”. It might feel good and sound fine, but it will not work up high. It will not. If you want to have easy high notes, the middle has to be calibrated such that it’s heady enough to stay connected to the high range without effort. You cannot make that work some other way. While you are young, however, you can probably get away with trying. After that, age will start to calcify your thyroid cartilage and you won’t be so lucky.

Will you read about this somewhere? I don’t think so. Am I correct? You will have to take my word or wait and see for yourself. If you are going to be a master of moving from one style to another you have to calibrate the entire machine to be able to do that easily and keep doing that all the time. If you are going to choose to be a high belter or a spinto soprano, you will have to specialize in that and not try to be a star at something very different.

Remember, you need to understand function measured against repertoire. In the end, your throat will tell you how far it can go and still return to the same starting place. It will tell you what it can do to vary things and still have the capacity for them to remain the same when you return to home base, vocally speaking. If you let your throat establish appropriate boundaries and choices are made based on how your throat/voice works in repertoire, you will have a safety net that allows you to sing anything (not everything) you want.

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Compassionate Teaching

Would you be surprised to know that many times students are blamed for the teachers’ lack of ability to communicate effectively?It’s sad but true. They do not know how, as teachers of singing, to deliver compassionate teaching.

Students come in to see me with a laundry list of “things they do wrong”.

I like to hold my jaw.

I like to squeeze my throat.

I am always thinking too much.

I don’t let go of my tongue.

I’m very resistant.

My breathing is messed up.

I remind them that they are students. Students have to think a lot, and they don’t really understand how to do some of the things on this list which is why they are students. They should not have to carry a list of things they “do wrong”.

If you are a singing teacher and you get to a dead-end with a student and you cannot find a way to help the student improve, what do you do? Do you blame the student? I certainly hope not.

You could, if you were motivated, look for smaller clues. Go over the same thing again but with a more perceptive eye and ear. Stop trying to get the student to fit into your agenda of what they are supposed to do and how they are supposed to sound and find out what they are doing and how they already sound. Look for simpler things that can be accomplished and request less obvious change. Be present with the student, with the student’s body and with the student’s voice. That should be enough.

You can also enlist the student. Say, “I seem to be out of options. Do you have any idea why you are not able to do what I’ve asked? Perhaps you could tell me what you think I want? Do you have any thoughts about how you could help me to help you? How do you experience our impasse?” You might be very surprised about the answer.

Do not forget to include all manner of things from the student’s past  that may seem to have no bearing on singing. Old accidents, dance training, instrumental training, old scolding about singing, old feelings about the voice, systemic physical illnesses that effect the entire body and require daily medication. Old surgeries (not vocal), old habits from childhood (speech issues?), family history (mom was always hoarse from yelling?) Sometimes being the child of a famous or successful singer is difficult. (“Could I be better than dad without making him angry? Maybe it’s better not to try that.”)

Dig a bit. Ask questions. Be creative. Be kind. Be gentle. Teach human beings not throats. Teach people not larynges. Teach vocalists not time slots or lesson appointments. Teach singing not sound-making behaviors. Teach with compassion. How can you possibly develop artistry in singers if you do not work within a philosophy of compassionate teaching?

 

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Olympic Singing – Vocal Athlete – Body Type?

Olympic Singing? Vocal Athlete? Body Type?

Training As If It Mattered

We all know that the beach volleyball women are very tall. We know the female gymnasts are very short. We know that weight lifters have thick, dense muscles throughout their bodies and that swimmers, who are also very strong, don’t look like them at all.

It is so, then, that your eyes can see consistent body types in each sport and development of those bodies such that the very structure of them is consistent within a sport. In other words, many of their bodies in each sport look similar.

Why, then, would it not be so that voices are also that way? Someone in a large frame is more likely to make a big sound than someone who is tiny. It’s not that is it impossible for a small person to make a “big” sound, it’s just that there are tendencies. A tall man with a long tall neck and a large larynx is going to be a bass.

There is much discussion regarding “fach” or “voice type” in classical singing. There all kinds of designations of vocalists. In CCM not so much, but there are differences and similarities there as well. We don’t talk about them, but we should. If you search YouTube you can find belters who have similar vocal production — that is if you know how to listen for vocal production as a goal in the first place.

It would be great to have research along the lines of testing whether certain physical types are more or less likely to produce certain kinds of sounds, but I realize that this would be very hard research to do. That doesn’t mean, however, that it isn’t possible. There is such as thing as sports medicine and there is far more knowledge today than there was decades ago about how muscles work not only in each sport but in each individual in that sport. Trainers understand that many kinds of exercise are necessary in order to have a body that is uniformly strong and flexible no matter what the sport, but that work on specific aspects of that sport have to be mastered. They support each other.

It would be interesting to see how the small female gymnasts would do in beach volleyball and how the tall, lean women beach volleyball players would do in gymnastics. It would be equally interesting to see a true belter attempt to do an opera aria or an opera singer try to do some high belting. I know, a few have tried it, but no one has been really successful. There are reasons for that, surely, but we do not know what they are. We still have only our eyes and ears (and life experience) to guide  our choices in our professional students.

And, yes, training matters. You can’t train for volleyball and be good at gymnastics. You have to be trained for the sport you do. That’s true for singing as well. Being prepared is a combination of natural tendency, proper training, long-term conditioning and true dedication to the chosen goal, whether it be for sport or music theater, or gospel, belting, rock, or jazz.

 

 

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