Tuesday, April 25, 2017

New Website, New Article, and New Interview

It's been a wonderful month. Finally, my new website is up and running! Come visit, share a comment, and share with your friends. I can't wait to hear what you think!   

I've received some wonderful feedback on my latest article for Psychology Today, entitled: "Why I Sing". I hope you enjoy it as well.  
Click here to read "Why I Sing"

Lastly, Daisy de Boevere, a voice coach in Belgium, recently interviewed me on my practice, books, and philosophy. It was a wonderful conversation. 
Read the interview here.  

Best wishes to everyone; looking forward to connecting with you on

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Triple Threat

In my practice, I work with a number of Broadway dancers who think that they can’t sing or act.  Which poses a real problem in an industry where being a 'triple threat'– having all three skills– is valuable. There are certainly plenty of dancing roles in theater, yet dancers who sing work a great deal more.

The same is true of many singers. Their focus is on their voices, with dancing an afterthought and occasional requirement. And it’s not always pleasant one; I hear the constant woes of auditions not attended and roles not landed thanks to the dreaded ‘singers who dance’ casting specification.

The problem isn’t limited to the theater.  I’ve recently been working with a spoken word artist who, about to record her next record, would like to sing on a song or two.  Trouble is, she’s convinced she can’t.  

Certainly we all have our specific talents. And things like experience, comfort, and accomplishment reinforce what comes to each of us more naturally.  

But there’s more to it than that. In many of these cases, contrary to desire and even results, it’s not that these men and women can’t be as great at other things. Rather, they don’t necessarily feel that they have a right to be. To have their cake and eat it too, while desirable, just doesn’t seem possible.

Gay Hendricks calls this way of thinking an ‘upper limits problem’.  He proposes that we each have an internal thermostat that is set to a certain amount of joy, love, success, and intimacy.  When we go above that, even in the most positive of ways, fear and familiarity cause us to do something to pull ourselves back down to where we’re comfortable, even if we’re not happy or thriving there.   

This problem shows up for singers this way: “I’m good enough to sing on Broadway, but who am I to assume that I can also dance and act that well?”

To that question I ask another: "Why do you automatically assume that you can't?" The idea that you can only be great at one thing is simply untrue. Does it make sense to say you can’t be a great listener and a great cook?  A great friend and a great parent? Nonsense! 

Yet when it comes to certain things, particularly what we call ‘talents’, our culture tells us– in subtle and not so subtle ways– that you really only get one great gift, one great shot. And that to want or aspire to anything more is arrogant and foolhardy. "Jack of all trades, master of none" is as much as a warning as it is a description.

The fear of failure arises anytime we strive to achieve something... particularly something new, something at which we haven't always considered ourselves talented. It takes courage to put ourselves out there in the world, and even more, to risk a reputation of greatness by attempting something at which we might not be fantastic. 

The men and women I coach have worked very hard to be the best in the performance field. Often, it’s been a long time since they were anywhere other than at the top of their games and the peak of the learning curves.  And the thought of going back to any other spot isn’t attractive.

Yet on the curve is where the magic is. Humility isn’t the avoidance of something you’re not an expert at, something you believe that others do better. Real humility is about embracing opportunities that excite you with a commitment to learn and grow.  

The next time you’re presented with such an opportunity in your life, I encourage you to grab it and give it your all. Stretch and challenge yourself, do your best, and enjoy the ride. 

Click here to learn about The Art of Singing series, which explores the psychology of sining and self-expression.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Are You Good Enough?

One of my singers auditioned for The Voice last week, and did an amazing job. She sang her heart out and felt fantastic about herself and her performance, and I couldn’t be more proud of her.

Before she went, however, she was filled with doubt and emailed to ask whether she should go through with it. Was she good enough? Was she better than those who’ve been on the show? Was it all worth it? What if she didn’t make it; what if she ‘failed’? 

We all ask these questions of ourselves… are we worthy?  Will we hit the mark we’ve been aiming for?  Should we bother? 

Here’s what I wrote back to Sabrina. And I hope it will help you as much as it encouraged her to give up the doubt and hop on the plane!

Sabrina, do you have any idea how hard you’ve worked and how far you’ve come?  How incredible you sound and how much you’ve gained as a singer and an artist and a performer these past few months?  I couldn't be more thrilled for or proud of you.

We can always find people we think are better than us. Even the greatest singers in the world can find someone against whom they don’t think they compare. Should they then stop singing?  Is that the point… to be ‘the best’?  What does that even mean!? 

You have to ask yourself… why am I auditioning, and more… why do I sing?  Why did you make your CD?  Why are you going to Nashville to audition for The Voice?  Is it to be ‘the best’ or ‘to win’?  If so, you might find yourself frustrated even if you succeed, because these are standards against which none of us can ever measure up.

If, on the other hand, you’re auditioning– and singing and making music in general– because you want to challenge yourself to be your best, then not only will you enjoy the ride, but you'll continue to grow, including beyond where you once thought possible. And if you frame winning as accomplishing your goals and dreams with grace, persistence, and an open mind and humble heart, you will always be successful.  

When you doubt yourself– and we all do from time to time– go ahead and listen to ‘that voice’. Sometimes it has wisdom for us… have we practiced enough? Are we working hard enough, caring for ourselves enough, and challenging ourselves in the right ways? Take that wisdom in and apply it, and then get back to getting ready for a wonderful adventure, both in terms of this audition and all along your musical journey!

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Emotions, Vocal Freedom, and Technical Issues

Yet another wonderful series of questions from one of my great singers. I hope that you find our conversation helpful! 

I’m finding as I’m doing the vocal exercises and becoming more aware of my body (and as I move toward the audition) I can get emotional.  I guess it’s a combination of letting go and putting myself out there.  Is this a common experience or just my own?  

Very common.  Often when we 'learn to sing' it becomes an out of body, disconnected-from-our-body experience. When we sing as we're meant to- connected in our bodies and therefore, with all of who we are physically and personally, the breath and vibrations and connectedness can call up emotions that we've pushed away and/or ignored.  It's a great thing... an opportunity to reconnect.  

As I’m practicing, should I be staying in my “head” voice throughout the songs or allow my voice to move from my chest to my head and just practice the transition exercise to smooth it out? 

I say play with it!  Try things in your head voice, and then in your chest voice, and then choose to move back and forth between the two with a spirit of playfulness, rather than trying to get it 'right'.  Then most importantly, make creative choices about how you want to sound and learn to ALLOW the voice to follow your decisions. It's tempting to try and physically will the voice to shift from head to chest and back again, but this tends to result in throat tension and a holding of breath. When we allow the voice to take the lead, and take our hands off of the proverbial reins, it's incredible how effortless these shifts- and singing in general- become.  

I’ve been told in the past to open my mouth more as I sing and that’s been a challenge for me - is that something for me to let go of for now, or should I pay attention to that in front of a mirror?  

I've never liked that advice... like 'supporting', 'breathing', and 'placing', these verbal commands and instructions often don't make sense or help when it comes to practical implementation.  Sometimes opening your mouth a bit more- ALLOWING it to open- can help, but it really has little to do with whether you're creating sound correctly in the body in terms of support and connection and engagement, and whether the voice is traveling healthily through the vocal tract.  If the sound is created correctly, allowing your mouth to open a bit is relatively easy.  If you're tight, disconnected, or crimped in any way though, it will be a struggle to do so. The same is true when people ask you to manipulate the tongue in order to help production.  If production is correct, the tongue is easy to manipulate.  If not, it just adds tension upon tension. 

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

New Book Promo and Press!

What a wonderful weekend!  I was just in New York City, doing interviews with Hal Leonard Publishing for my new book, The Art of Singing Onstage and in the Studio. We had some great conversations about the psychology, technology, and relationships in performing and recording, as well as performance anxiety, finding your creative niche, and discovering and developing your true voice. I also had the chance to visit Drama Books for a meet and greet, as well as to roam around Central Park with my family.

And of course... I did some singing as well.   :)

Looking forward to sharing these interviews with you... coming soon!

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Friday, September 2, 2016

The Art of Improvising

A few weeks back, I received an article asking about IMPROVISING... how to do those riffs and runs, and in general, how to find and confidently lock into new ways of playing with melodies. Here's what I wrote back... hope it's helpful!

"Improvising... when we next talk, let's explore a bit more what you mean specifically. Riffs? Runs? More jazz lines? Basic melody shifts / slight variations?
Regardless, there are some approaches that work with all of them. And in my mind, the most important is, mentally, cultivating the willingness to let go of control, which then translates into a release of the physical tension.
A couple great ways to release in this way are: a) listening and singing along with music in the car / shower... anywhere you're 'distracted' and not fixated on singing well. Harmonize, play, goof around. The more you do it, the less your brain can maintain such a stringent focus. And the more you'll be wowed by 'what you just did' in terms of improvising.
Another critical and much overlooked tool is LISTENING. Listen to people that improvise well and let your mind and body learn what is going on. Through hearing, let your vocal vocabulary expand, and your body start to sense- without singing a note- what is possible. This same tool is imperative when it comes to physically carving out the runs you want to hear. Yes, some things can be off the cuff, and certainly the more you improvise, the more willing you'll be to take risks (aka: letting go of control) and see what the voice comes up with.
In the interim, however, HEARING what you want to create- whether you want to imitate what someone else has done, or are imagining it in your mind- is imperative before CREATING it in the world, with your voice. Imagine a run you'd like to do in one of your own songs. Hear it in your mind. Most likely, you'll come up against, 'I can't hear it... I'm not sure what it sounds like, what I would want to do.' And that's OK... that's why you haven't been able to do it! Start imagining what you would like to hear. Hear the notes, and more importantly, how your voice sails around them. Hear the pace, hear the run faster, then slower. Feel your body start to 'sing along' with them, engaging slightly in places... again, without opening your mouth. When you really hear and feel- clearly- what you want, let the body create what it now understands and knows. Once your ear has 'carved out' the run, your voice will follow.
Lastly, most of our warm ups in the vocal world are walk-ups and downs, thirds and fifths in the major scale. As such, our bodies- and minds- aren't used to really hearing and playing with 7ths and 9ths, seconds and tritones, as well as the minor scale. The same goes for vocal flutters (Arabic and Indian music) and other interesting grace notes and rhythms. Play around with these things, experiment. Be zany and willing to sound hilarious in your search for the edge and beyond of what sounds and feels 'normal' and familiar. Make the odd and interesting a part of your vocal vernacular, and you'll be amazed at how effortlessly these things will appear on command when improvising in your own songs.
Hope that helps!"


Check out my new book: The Art of Singing Onstage and in the Studio!  http://amzn.to/1UDNmoH  

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Monday, August 8, 2016

Finding Fulfillment

This past weekend in New York, I had the chance to work with a number of wonderful performers. We sang, we laughed, and had some great conversations. Thank you Cristian for recording our time together, and for sharing this piece that was meaningful for you in your search to discover ‘who you are’ and ‘what you want to do’. And for your willingness to share it with others in the hopes it inspires them as well.

"Coming full circle to what I was saying about being older than you and the 'wisdom' that comes with it… it’s funny when I look back on myself when I was 20, like you, I feel like I was the exact same person as I am today.  Any differences are less about being smarter or better, and more about simply having had more years on the planet and the perspective that comes from that. So I’ll just offer this perspective to you.

People have an idea of what a career is supposed to look like.  For example, if you say you want to be a performer, it’s as if you should do that one thing until you’re 60. But you grow and change, we want different things. I was a professional singer for years, I teach, I write books, I’m a mom, I want to work with orphans and foster kids, I want to do millions of things. 

Rather than following what you feel, and the journey of life and it’s winding roads, I think that the world tries to say that who you are, your identity, is That One Label: a singer, a performer.  A lawyer, a doctor, a scientist.  

For me, what I’ve learned is that it’s not what you’re ‘called’ or ‘what you do’ that matters, whether it’s one thing or many throughout your life. It’s what you bring. 

If I bring all of who I am and my passion and heart as a singer and teacher, if I bring that to being a mom, to working with orphans, to being a wife and a friend, and a writer, then I am fulfilled. It doesn’t matter what ‘the thing I’m doing’ is or is called. I could mop floors and be fulfilled. If I am loving the people who live in that house, if I am making a difference for them, if I am giving all I have to serving, then I am at peace and fulfilled. I’m fully alive in that moment. 

There are people I know and have worked with, famous singers, who miss this entirely.  Not only can they not imagine being fulfilled doing anything but singing and being successful, they don’t enjoy even that. One bad review, one wrong note, and they lose it… their composure, their power, their peace. 

They’re missing it. They’re missing it. The opportunity to be alive in this and every moment.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t be intelligent, or self-reflective… I can look at a book I’ve written or a performance I've given and think, I’ll do better next time. It also doesn't mean that you shouldn't follow your dreams and passions. Of course you should. 

Rather, it means that fundamentally, existentially, it doesn't matter what you do or what you call yourself. In order to disappear your fears and concerns so that you can be fully alive, you have to be willing to be present in the moment and serve, whatever it is that you are doing.  You have to take away the meaning of what society says is important, including about yourself, in order to do anything with joy and peace. And by taking away that meaning, you find meaning in your work, in your life, in yourself."

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