Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lunch with Myra

This past weekend, I had lunch in Washington, DC with my voice teacher from college, Myra Tate. Much more than a voice teacher, Myra helped me– after two years of rigid, top-down conservatory training– to regain my vocal and personal confidence. Her teaching and our relationship were and remain so powerful, I speak about them in my book The Art of Singing.

While a long lunch wasn't enough time after 13 years apart, we caught up, shared our experiences and discovered new insights together. Here's some of the precious dust from the surface we scratched together:

- Stay Positive I've always felt that Myra never got the credit she deserved for her incredible talents. Yet every time I would 'go there'- in an effort to compliment her- she'd thank me and move on to the things she was currently working on and dreaming about. She reminded me in those moments that you never learn anything by criticizing others, and that frustration is never the best way forward. Both take time away from new thoughts, ideas and creativity.

- Don’t Sugar Coat the Past In recalling a rather personal story, Myra reflected that she could have done a better job than she did. I found myself quick with advice on self-forgiveness, 'you didn't know then what you know now' ideas and the like. Myra simply smiled and reminded me that it's OK to see the past for what it is. Peace comes when you accept yourself fully- mistakes and all- learn the lessons, and move forward.

- Check Your Personal Baggage and Pre-conceived Notions at the Door… emotional, intellectual, vocal and otherwise. We had a great time talking about the incredible leaps in our students when we've been able to be completely 'blank'. It's only then that we really hear what someone is sharing and asking of us, and are therefore better able to be there for them.

- Vocal Baggage This is particularly true when it comes to the voice. Not only do we all experience singing in a unique way, everyone has their own 'best' way of communicating about that experience. It's important to both listen to and learn each person's vocal language (verbal and non-verbal), rather than jump in with our own ideas, language and beliefs. While helpful for some, words like 'high' and 'low' and discussing the 'separate head and chest voices' can create a great amount of physical tension for many people. Better to lead by first listening.

- You Are What You Eat Eating clean foods makes for a clean body, which makes for clear thinking. Why create more hurdles in life by giving your body and mind less than the best fuel available? Respect and honor yourself.

- The Four Agreements A discussion of Miguel Ruiz's book gave us both a smile and a shake of the head in amazement. They really are an incredible foundation for a great life:
o Be impeccable with your word
o Don’t take anything personally
o Don’t make assumptions
o Always do your best

Over dessert, the conversation migrated from a mutual sharing to Myra asking my opinion on client issues and technical vocal matters. I found myself feeling incredibly flattered… my teacher asking for my advice!

… and then it occurred to me. In one swift, gasp-inspiring 'Aha!' moment on my drive back to New York…

…that is what a great teacher does.

Even all of these years later, Myra was still teaching me, just as she taught years ago in college, just as her memory and ideas continued to teach me over the years… by listening, by empowering, by encouraging new ideas. She allowed me to be her student once again during lunch, then gently encouraged and humbly allowed me to return to the teacher I'd become.

Thank you, Myra.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Safety and Bravery

Recently, a client emailed over some songs for me to hear prior to our first meeting. They were good... other than some standard tensions (easily released), there was nothing in his voice that was or would be problematic.

What I did hear though, was safety. I heard a tremendous amount of potential not being expressed, many risks not being taken... I heard a choice to play it safe as a vocalist, as an artist and perhaps even, as a person. (Rarely are these three conditions unrelated, in my experience.)

What's stopping him? What's stopping you?

We're not talking about someone in need of vocal work beyond a simple strengthening and flexibility regiment. What we're talking about… what he's in need of- what we're all in need of, my friends- is bravery.

We're all good at doing what we do, staying inside the lines. That's why we do it. That's why we stay there. But that's not where the real fun is, regardless of whether you're a singer, a student, or a CEO (or all three).

Fear calls us to newer and better experiences. And while fear can certainly be scary, it's far less so than the gnawing and consuming anxiety that comes from not striving for and living up to our full potential.

Just as songs are to be shared, not merely sung, life is to be lived, not merely survived. So live while you're alive. Sing your heart out. You'll have all the time in the world to be quiet and still when you're dead.

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Fear, Joy, (performing?), Anger and Love

One of the greatest challenges for my clients- and I'd say most singers and performers- is managing stage fright. To further complicate things, this 'skill' is entirely separate from the understanding and development of the voice... what is solidly known, understood and eventually predictable in the practice room, shower and car becomes strangely foreign the moment the stage is approached or studio entered.

Over the years, I've come across some tricks and tools for managing stage fright that have worked well for my clients and myself: By anticipating, embracing and even practicing stage fright, we're able to blend into and ride the wave rather than get pummeled by it breaking over us.

Still, this approach is a challenge, as in many ways we're tricking ourselves into believing something that isn't true. We're pretending to be excited when we're really terrified... we're running toward our panic, rather than running away. All of this while trying to perform in front of an audience!

Thankfully, new research says that we no longer need to lie to ourselves. An easier and more honest approach for managing stage fright is available that can eradicate the nerves before making a toast, speaking at a business meeting, or singing on opening night.

This 'revolutionary' breakthrough isn't as revolutionary as it is stunning: Fear and joy, love and anger... While these are entirely different emotional experiences, physiologically, they're essentially the same.

If you're having trouble believing- or even conceptualizing- this idea, imagine narrowly avoiding a car crash, then your first kiss. Recall a scary part of a movie, followed by walking down the aisle at your wedding. The same physiological reactions were occurring in these moments... sweaty palms, dry mouth, shaking, rapid heartbeat. What made these experiences different from one another was our secondary emotional interpretation of the primary physiological experience.

While we can't control the physiological response to fear, attraction, joy, or rage, we can control our emotional naming of- and therefore reaction to- that response. What this means for us 'stage scaredy cats' is that we've just won half the battle; with our bodies now on our practical side, it's two against one versus our emotions.

Go get 'em, tigers!

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