Monday, October 24, 2016

Nice People

While waiting to see the dentist last week, I read this Wall Street Journal op ed piece.

I'm not crazy about my dentist.  She's a good dentist, but she's not what I would call warm.  There have been appointments when I have allowed her severe attitude to bring out my lesser angels.

Moss-covered log at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum.
I had a fabulous walk there today!

This appointment was different.  After reading this piece, I decided to be nice.  Nicer than I usually am.

Of course the mood of the appointment was better.  Of course I left feeling good.  Of course the rest of the day was lighter.

Here's hoping the same happens for you.

Curtis Prairie, the world's oldest restored prairie,
also at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Your Car Is Not A Practice Room

Pittsburgh.  Yes, Pittsburgh.

It happened again last week.  A student told me about a recent practice session in their car.

Which reminded me that I had yet to publish this post.  Which serendipitously complements this recent post.

I would like to remind you non-musicians that these ideas can be applied to any task that requires persistent attention. This includes eating, exercising, relationships, even cleaning the bathroom.  Not creative, but a task that requires attention on a regular basis (unless you're a teenager).

Let's quickly review the purpose of practice.  Practice is “the daily rite of discovery that is how learning really happens". We practice – to discover. Discover mistakes? Sure. Discover the notes and words we don't yet know? You bet. Discover ourselves? Oh my friends, my friends, indeed. To discover ourselves.

That is why you cannot call what you do while driving a car, loading the dishwasher or watching TV (all mundane tasks that students have told me they do while practicing) practice. You cannot be attentive to the YOU in your art while doing those mundane tasks. Don't tell me you can. I know; I've tried. It is not possible.

Are there other aspects of mastering a musical instrument or artistic form that you can work on while doing those mundane tasks? You bet, and in my work as a voice teacher, I point out exercises that could successfully be done while driving, cleaning, walking, etc.. I must remind you, though, that for the best work to happen, you need to be wholly attentive to who you are and what you are doing at that exact moment.  This is how we find the best possible way for our bodies, brains and souls to release the sound that is the essence of each of us.  Then we must repeat this new process over and over again that process - with all of the frustration, sweat, blood, tears and beauty it brings - until our bodies, brains and souls embrace it.  

This, my friends, is the Cleveland Public Library!

The other big reason I think practicing in the car is a bad idea?  Talk about distracted driving! What a fine example of a dangerous habit.  Good practice requires awareness of what your body is doing to communicate in the best possible way what the music asks of us (see above rant). When done well, that's the highest form of multi-tasking. From my understanding of our society's continual concerns about distracted driving, multi-tasking while driving is not a good idea.

That said, I know why many people practice in their cars. First of all, too many people in this country spend an inordinate amount of time in their cars commuting to work.  Secondly and I think more importantly, for many people, the car is the only place in their lives where they are alone. Time that feels wasted + time alone = Hey, I think I'll try practicing in the car.  

I can't do anything about your commutes, but I do have some ideas to help you find time and space in your life for attentive practice.  I know these aren't all easy solutions.  Give them a try anyway:
  • Talk to your families/roommates about the importance of a  judgement-free zone where you can feel free to practice and explore the possibilities of your voice. This means you will fail, That means you will make sounds that aren't ideal. That's okay.  That's called practice.
  • Find a time when everyone agrees they can and will leave you alone. I don't mean they have to leave the house; they just have to leave you alone. They can put on their headphones, they can shut the door.
  • Seek a space in your house that feels private, so you can feel free to try out new ideas and make mistakes. (In an upcoming post, I'll have some nifty, ripped-from-life practice space ideas. Let's just say people can be very inventive.)
  • Set the bar low. Start with 5 minutes of attentive practice in your house. As you get comfortable and more confident, increase the amount of time.
Am I saying you shouldn't sing in your car?  No!!!  Please, sing away!!  Open the windows and give the world some joy. The world needs more of that.  But let's be real - singing along with your favorite songs is NOT practicing.  That's feel-good time, to which I have no objections. Unless you call it practicing.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Another Perspective

The ability to view life through a different lens. That's creativity. 

One of Creatavita's biggest supporters, Amy Armstrong, has written a beautiful piece with another perspective on life and gratitude.  It's worth your time to read this one.

I Became A Mother At 44

Watch out - you might find a different perspective on your own life.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Moving Forward

The Waiting Game ended last week. The project is moving forward without me.

Now, before we go any further, I know there are many of you out there who are assuming I must be upset.  Perhaps you are feeling sorry for me, even feeling bad for me. I want you to know that you don't have to feel that way (even though it is presumptuous of me to tell you what to feel).  I'll admit I've been upset for some small moments, but I've felt the upset, I've acknowledged the upset and because of that, I've been able to let go of the upset and I am moving forward. I don't feel sorry for me, I don't even feel bad for me.  So you shouldn't either.

You see, that's the point I'm trying to make in telling you this entire tale.  It's how you choose to look at the experience - the experience being an opportunity, a relationship, a career choice, even the new color of your hair.  I have chosen to look at this experience as a positive.   That choice is very new for me.  It has taken practice, BUT, as I told you in this post, I did it!  I changed my attitude!  And since I changed my attitude, and since I am the Queen of Stubborn and Negative Attitudes, I know you also can change your attitude.

Life hands all of us a mess.  Some of that mess is gorgeous and easy to live with.  Some of that mess is a disaster area and we do our best to avoid it.  But, whether gorgeous or a disaster, there's life in there.  Glorious life, full of blood and people and air and feelings and music and sweat and trees and all the beautiful things that give us a complete life.  Embrace it, love it, and find the life in your life.  Right now.  Don't wait.  Tomorrow will be too late.

This doesn't mean ignoring the negative.  This means acknowledging it's existence, dealing with it, if necessary (that's usually the case) and then moving on, letting go, turning the focus to the positive.  See paragraph 1 if you don't understand.

So what am I doing these days?  I'm auditioning, just like I was before.  There's another performing gig out there waiting for me and my job right now is to find it. I having a blast working on my next cabaret (hint:  YOU should come).  I'm back to teaching in my private studio, enjoying it as much as I ever have.  Beloved and I have been working on some long-delayed household projects. Demolition is a great way to get rid of excess energy.  Oh, and we rescheduled that trip.  But we're not going to Machu Picchu....stay tuned!