Sunday, July 17, 2011

Inject Some Enthusiasm

I have to admit that I'm having an off day. My energy is not quite up to par, but I think this makes it a great time to discuss a concept that is so important to utilize in singing, in making music, and most importantly, in living life.

This is the concept of enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is vital to the success of your life. Remember the quote, "if you stand for nothing, you'll fall for anything"? Sometimes you lose your zest for life because you think you have nothing to be excited about. The solution is to inject a little enthusiasm into the many tasks in your day and see if it doesn't change for the better.

I use this technique when running a choir rehearsal on a weeknight. I realize that people have been working all day, and I appreciate that they are committed enough to show up for a two hour rehearsal after a long work day. I know they're tired; so am I! But if I can get them enthusiastic about what they are singing and how they are singing, rehearsal goes from drab to fab, and those two hours fly like minutes!

You can inject enthusiasm into just about any task and make it more desirable to check off your to-do list. Gotta clean the house? Put on some good jazz tunes (or whatever else you prefer to listen to) and double your cleaning as an exercise routine. Need to run some unexciting errands? Envision how you will feel after you've completed them and imagine how the completed tasks will make your life easier. Have to brave the long morning commute? Download some new podcasts to your mp3 player and use your time in the car as "personal development". The fact is, you can turn anything you have to do into a more desirable task if you find a way to develop some enthusiasm for it.

In music, if I'm feeling apathetic about a particular task I have to do (chart a song in a new key, for instance), I first assign myself a time limit to work on the project. Usually it's 30 minutes to an hour. I promise myself that if I can't get into the work at the end of the time period that I can quit for the day and at least I'll have gotten started. But what usually happens is I get into the project and get excited about it and plow through until it's done.

Are there areas of your life that need an injection of enthusiasm? Maybe your singing needs some new life. Try to imagine what the author of the material you're singing was thinking and feeling when he/she penned the words, then try to get in that same spirit. Experiment with different vocal tones and dynamic levels. Research the style of music you're performing and see if you can find out something interesting about it that you didn't know before. Or, go completely off the wall and choose a new piece of music in a different genre than you ever performed before (reggae, anyone?) No matter what you do to spice up the music in your life, taking the time to become enthusiastic about it will be anything but boring!

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Vocal Warm-up and What It can do for You

Hello fellow singers! I know it's been a while since I last posted, but rest assured, once I begin my new job as a chorus teacher, I am sure to have an array of subject matter and stories to tell you! For now, I want to take a moment to speak on one of the most important parts of vocal health, and that is the vocal warm-up.

Anytime I teach a private voice lesson, I begin with a series of stretches. (Some of these are covered in my previous blog post: Vocal Secret Weapon #3). The concept behind stretching is to let the body know that you're getting ready to sing and also to remind yourself that singing is a full-body experience. It's also simply easier to sing when all the muscles of the body are warm as opposed to tensed up.

After we stretch (and yes, I always stretch and sing with my students; it's unreasonable to expect them to do something that I can't do!), I take the student through vocal warm-ups. This might surprise you, but I spend at least half of each voice lesson on vocal warm-ups. Why? They are so important to helping a singer master the correct technique, and they can also be directly incorporated into the singer's repertoire, or "real life" material, as I like to call it.

The main purpose of vocal warm-ups are to help the vocal cords avoid injury. Aside from that, warm-ups prepare the body for heavy singing, help develop agility in the ranges, and get the singer in the habit of practicing good vocal technique!!! It's a win-win situation all around when you warm-up.

One thing I have to emphasize when talking about vocal warm-ups is that they are just that: warm-ups. You perform them as a preliminary exercise to singing whatever other material you're practicing. Therefore, they shouldn't be perfect or you wouldn't even need to use them! When I was recording some of my own vocal exercises for my students, I actually had not sung at all that day before I began. I used those exercises as my warm-up while recording them! They aren't perfect, but they illustrate the way warm-ups are supposed to sound, and more importantly, they provided the perfect warm-up for my voice that day. When you are performing warm-ups, they should be done with ease and should bring you more energy, not drain it! If the exercise is too strenuous, then it shouldn't be considered a warm-up. You don't want to do the hard work before you've even have a chance to sing a song!

Now that I've hopefully talked you into adding a warm-up routine to your singing, you may be wondering where to find warm-ups. The answer to that is easy. Look around you; they are everywhere! You can easily find warm-ups on the internet. Use this quick guide to help you evaluate if a particular warm-up will work.

1. Make sure the warm-up is easy to understand
2. Make sure you can perform the warm-up with ease to a certain degree and that it doesn't tire out your voice or temporarily decrease your range
3. After you perform it, you should feel "warm" around the throat and articulators. That's usually a good sign that you can begin practicing your other material
4. Make sure the warm-up actually helps your voice develop and grow

Warm-ups are critical to your success as a singer! They will ultimately help you increase your range and memorize what it feels like to sing properly.

Friday, July 1, 2011

From Choir Singer to Chorus Teacher

On April 10, 2008, I wrote these words in my personal journal:

"I've decided to wholeheartedly pursue teaching. I am getting everything together that I need, including all of my references. And, mark my words, Journal, I will get hired somewhere and I will make an amazing teacher. It has always been in my heart to teach."

If I'd only known how long and at times, how rough the journey would be, I most likely would have given up sooner. That was over three years ago, and over the past three years, I worked harder than I ever have before, became a substitute, went back to school, took a slew of tests, applied for jobs, interviewed, got rejected, cried, said I was done, then finally dusted myself off again and told myself I was worth a shot as a music teacher. I just needed the right school to give me a chance.

On Tuesday of this week, I had all but given up. We all have dreams that at times in our lives have to be laid at the altar, so to speak, because they are taking our energy away from other areas of our lives that could be more productive. I was driving to my church choir rehearsal and prayed and released what I thought was a dead dream of teaching into God's hands.

Several hours later, I found out that a high school I had interviewed for a week ago wanted to hire me as the Chorus Teacher! I have to be honest and say that after three years of relentlessly pursuing a goal with as much gusto as I could muster, I was a bit numb when I finally, finally accomplished it! I had never gotten past the point of rejection before, so now that I was on the other side, I had a whole new set of feelings to deal with. Namely, what on earth am I going to teach these kids?

Of course, now that the news has settled, my organizational skills have kicked in and I know that I'm more than capable of giving my students a quality music education. It's what I love to do when I teach private lessons, so I know I can do it in a classroom setting.

All I needed was one chance, and now that I've been given it, I vow to be the best music teacher that I can possibly be. These students won't know what tornado of a 5 foot woman hit them!

I'm so glad I didn't give up. My life has now opened up to this new road on my journey and I'm overjoyed to get the chance to take it. I believe that God placed me right where I needed to be, in front of the right people, and it was time for me to get my shot!

I also need to say that there are countless people along this journey who have helped me, encouraged me, given me invaluable information, and assured me that I was worth it. If you had anything to do with any of these things, you know who you are and I have to tell you that I am eternally grateful and couldn't have done it without you! Thank you.

Finally, now that I've accomplished my goal of becoming a teacher, I needed to set a new goal to strive for. I'm going to cut myself some slack for this school year so I can learn the ropes of being a first year high school teacher (gulp!), but eventually my long-term goal is to be Teacher of the Year, either at my school or for the county, whichever comes first! I'll let you know when that happens!

Please don't give up on your dreams. You never know if you're a phone call away from them coming true!