Monday, December 16, 2013

What She Does

Before the recent televised broadcast of The Sound of Music goes completely out of our heads, I have to drop in with my comments. Luckily for all of you, I was teaching that evening, so I was only able to watch a portion of the broadcast. That should make this post short.

First of all, aren't you thrilled that so many people watched this production? See, Americans DO love quality music and theatre. Give us more!

Didn't it feel great to be watching it simultaneously? I miss that in our modern life. Used to be the show was on once and everyone sat down to watch it. No taping, no watching it on the Internet, no buying it on Netflix. There was something wonderful knowing that everyone else was taking in the same broadcast at the same time.

I'm not here to discuss Carrie Underwood's performance. I give her credit. She was out on a limb, a teeny tiny limb and we were all standing underneath her, chattering away like a bunch of hungry squirrels. People (or should I say squirrels) who live in glass houses.....

Here's what I want to discuss:

I find it fascinating that the vast majority of people are raving about Audra McDonald's singing. Not because I didn't think she sang well (full disclosure: I didn't get to experience her “Climb Ev'ry Mountain” until a few days after the actual broadcast and that was on a YouTube clip). I adore Audra McDonald. She does everything I believe in as a singer and as an artist. So, why do I find her rave reviews fascinating?

Because Audra does everything that is out of style these days. Audra doesn't belt; Audra sings in an extremely classical vocal style. Also, Audra knows (or appears to know) the true essence of whatever she is performing. She seems to know the material in front of her, both the words and the music, inside and out, upside and down.

When people come to me for a voice lesson, I am rarely asked to help them sing like Audra. Usually they want help learning how to belt. As for really knowing the texts? People freak out when I suggest that they read the words away from the music. “Oh, that's so hard. I can't do that.”

Yeah, well, that would be one of the differences between Audra and you.

You know why we adore Audra? Audra is authentic. Audra is true to Audra. She appears to know what she is good at and that is what she does.

She reminds me of the little kid on the floor with a box of 36 crayons and a piece of blank paper. There are other kids in the room with 300 crayons and 5 sheets of paper, but they aren't doing what Audra is doing. She might not have the most crayons, but she's down there using every single one of those 36 crayons, creating that masterpiece. Tongue sticking out of her mouth, curls falling into her face, she's focused on knowing what is at the bottom of that piece of art.

Authentic, creating a masterpiece, knowing the work inside and out, upside and down.

Can we say that about your work?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

You Need To Know This: Be Flexible

The next installment in the You Need To Know This series has been chosen by Nate Golden ( If you live in Philadelphia, you can see Nate this holiday season all over town, either as Fred/Young Scrooge in the Walnut St. Theatre's production of A Christmas Carol, or on the gigundo video wall at the Comcast Center as part of the Holiday Spectacular. I saw last year's version with Jiu-Jian Kenn and it was fun, more fun than I expected!

I've worked with Nate as a performer and I've worked with Nate as a student. Of course he's talented, but more than that, he is smart about his career and he has a work ethic that doesn't quit. Nate has chosen:

Be Flexible

Some years back, I attended a wedding shower for my dear friends Jean and Bob. Instead of playing those silly Guess the Spices and Wear Bows on Your Head games, the hostess asked every person in the room to spontaneously give Jean and Bob one piece of advice to take into their marriage. I always get nervous at moments like this. Will I say the right thing? Will I say the best thing? What if my advice sounds silly? I'm sure it will sound silly. Can't I think about it and get back to you?

Spontaneously I blurted out, “be flexible”.

And as I'm writing this, on a rainy November day all these years later, I recognize that the seed for this post was planted that day.

Be flexible. Yes. That was the best advice I could give to two wonderful humans who also happen to be talented and creative. And it is still some of the best advice I can give.

What? Be flexible? Wait, Heidi, you've been telling us to get out act together, to have a plan and patiently persist.

You're right. I have some explaining to do before one of you catches me in my internet web of lies and deceit. Let's talk about that plan. If you followed my advice, that plan has now been in your life for some time. And if you haven't recently, now, yes NOW, would be a good time to pull it out of the file and take a look. Go ahead. I'll wait.

What'd you find? Let me guess. Some “Oh yay, I did that!”. Some “Oh no, not THAT one.”. Some “Well, that one didn't happen because.....” and there you go. Life presented some unexpected happening and threw your plan off. The unexpected happening wasn't necessarily negative, in fact, there is a good chance it was positive. What's important right now is to recognize that it threw off DA PLAN.

Congratulations. You were flexible. Something changed and you went with it. Go have a cookie. Then come back.

Because now we have to talk about how you handled that change. Did it freak you out, even though it was something you always wanted? Yup, change is a tough one. But you better get used to it, because a Creatavita is nothing but a whole lotta change.

Look, living a Creatavita is atypical. The path curves, straightens, drops precipitously into a valley and in an instant, rapidly ascends. A non-flexible approach guarantees the simultaneous convergence of a severe case of whiplash and the Bends. Both can lead to pain and in severe cases, death. Death of your soul. Yuck.

When you allow a flexible approach to take over, there's a good chance, that without even being aware, you'll stay more open to the world around you. Staying open is tough, but that's when the living really starts. You meet new people, you consider other possibilities, you experience a different vision of your life. Words like “I hadn't thought of that before” start to fall out of your mouth. Confidence wells up from deep inside of you as you allow yourself to accept or NOT accept opportunities. Phrases such as “Me? Do that? You're crazy!” are replaced with phrases such as “Wow. I never thought of myself doing that. Thanks for that perspective.”

How to cultivate flexibility? Well, start with those around you. We all need a little space now and then. Start by being more generous to the people in your life. They don't make it easy, I know, but seek out those moments when your flexibility works in the best interests of everyone. Isn't that what is called a win-win situation? Yeah, be a champion of the win-win situations. Don't worry, you'll find them.

Be flexible with your creativity. We get so wrapped up in wanting to be recognized as a great fill-in-the-blank that we often lose the very seeds of what attracted us to being creative in the first place. Step back from your art form and try a different one. Go see a performance of some art form that is completely foreign to you. Allow other creative forms and people to inform your work.  Trust your collaborators; try their ideas, even if it seems completely wacky.  You can always to return to what you were doing before.

And above all, be flexible with yourself. We can be so hard on ourselves, can't we? All because we want those dreams to come true. Yet we need to practice recognizing the unexpected opportunities that appear in our lives, because they just might be the ones we really should be embracing.

This is also a good time for me to plant this next little seed because I just know this topic is going to come up here at Creatavita. Being flexible with yourself is one thing. But flexibility when you're in a relationship? That's a whole new ballgame with a whole new field and a whole new set of rules. What can I say? Ask on the first date, “hey, are you flexible?” Good chance that'll get misconstrued, isn't there?

Here's what I can say. Live with the intention that you are going to be as honest and open as possible, not only with those around you, but also with yourself. Recognize that life is not about controlling people and circumstances; rather, it is about surrounding yourself with the circumstances and people who help you thrive, as a person and as an artist. That is what is really important.

That's it, friends. Live well. Keep breathing. Be flexible.