Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Upside of Atheism

There was an article earlier this week in the New York Times about Atheists, and their growing desire to congregate for the purposes of camaraderie, community and connection.

I think this is a great idea, and was therefore surprised by the opposite reaction of so many around me.

On the surface, it's understandable why some people are wary of Atheism. Not only does it fundamentally conflict with most faiths and religions, the absolute rejection makes many people uncomfortable.

It's the second point that I'm particularly intrigued by, as I believe the rejection focus of the definition somewhat betrays the true meaning of the word. Consider synonyms for Atheists- Humanists and Freethinkers. By speaking to what subscribers do believe in, rather than what they do not, they evoke a much warmer and welcome reception, though the meaning of the three is the same.

By focusing on what Atheists do not believe, the definition completely ignores what they do believe in: the wonder, majesty, mystery, spirit and beauty of all that they feel can't be named, fathomed or comprehended.

The singing world has the same types of language 'blind spots'. By not subscribing to a specific method, many people assume that a singer or teacher is devoid of technique, and therefore, effectiveness.

But this completely ignores what they do subscribe to… having all of the tools and philosophies available depending on what is best for each client. Singing in a variety of styles as well as learning a variety of ways to implement them.

By not having a philosophy that's held to as implicitly true, both singers and teachers are constantly and willingly unconvinced that infallible truths exist, and therefore, are continually and open-mindedly searching…

… and we all are all looking for the same things, regardless of what you call them: Vocal freedom, confidence, predictability, health and joy.

The common themes of spirit far outweigh what separates us, as well: The desire for health, happiness and freedom. The desire to nurture and protect our families, to learn and grow with dignity and humility. To feel appreciated and special. To have a purpose and fulfillment.

Once you get beyond the names and labels and into the heart of the matter, you'll see we're not so different, after all…

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Scarcity-Based Thinking

I've been having a wonderful conversation with my friend and colleague Kate Sawert about confidence and competition. The struggle to both attain and maintain the former… the dual-edge sword of motivation and isolation that the latter bears.

In sitting down today to share some of what we've learned and discovered together, I was struck by the overlap of many ideas I've had for future blogs, as well as themes from my past ones. The topics vary, but a fundamental issue binds them together.

That issue is Scarcity-Based Thinking… a mentality that says there's a limited amount of time, money and love to go around… that there’s a restricted amount of opportunity, talent, success and power in the world. That life is a game of chasing, rather than creating; of reacting rather than enacting… that there is no such thing as 'Too Good to be True'… that indeed, 'Something’s Always Gotta Give'.

In my studio, this way of thinking presents itself in what I call the 'Either/Or mentality'. The choice that seemingly needs to be made between Concentration and Joy. Consciously Understanding and Intuitively Knowing. Technique and Abandon. Thinking and Singing.

I see musical geniuses refusing to attempt to develop their technical minds for fear of somehow detracting from their creative gifts. Conservatory-trained singers clinging to their technical understanding of music, rather than considering that an entirely new way of experiencing and sharing that sacred language might exist…

This scarcity dance is not only performed by singers and musicians, but by all of us. It's in the water… it's our second National Anthem, and we start drinking the Kool-Aid and singing along when we're very young: Are you a real man, or a pansy? Are you going to be spiritually or financially fulfilled? Are you a professional or an artist? Successful or a dreamer? What one thing are you?

For women, the choice we're asked to make at a very early age is whether we're Smart or Pretty. Logically, we know as we get older that we can be both. Intellectually, we're aware of the mind-tricks of the media and society. Publically, we encourage each other to be both, demand recognition of both, adore both in ourselves.

But in our quiet moments, in the center of our beings, most of us are still stuck clinging to the one that we chose long ago to root our confidence, while aching for and envying in others the one we're certain we lack.

A corporate client and I were exploring this issue a couple of weeks ago. A beautiful, feminine, classy woman, she had worked her way up the ranks and taken over the top role in her firm. While raising a family. And going to graduate school. And starting a charitable organization. And sitting on five corporate boards. And happily and meaningfully partnering with her husband of 25 years.

Still, she struggles with simultaneously wanting to enjoy her sensuality and femininity, and feeling guilty for what have always been and continue to be constant hindrances in the workplace. Struggles with the 'opposing desires' of wanting to be sexy and feminine, and respected, admired and heeded.

We can put a person on the moon. We can create symphonies of the most beautiful music. We can cure disease, graft skin, clone animals…

… why have we yet to cure the world and ourselves of the ridiculous notion of Scarcity?

Contrary to the fear-filled, power-hoarding voices that tell us we need to divide and conquer the best of what we are, the world- and we- are temples of abundance that only find peace in a state of balance. Yin and Yang, dark and light. Without one, the entire system falls.

Imagine it. Women feeling smart and sexy, and demanding respect for both aspects of themselves, from themselves and others. Men as comfortable with their emotional sides as their masculinity, and the educational and cultural systems finally holding accountable the schoolyard bullies and those that raise them. Young adults seeking economic and spiritual enlightenment… becoming artists in any and every profession.

Being technically flawless and vocally liberated.

That would be one giant leap for mankind.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Dreams and Success

My friend Rachel Kice has been writing about dreams recently. Dreams and success. And how you know when and/or whether you've achieved them.

I've always loved to ask people... would you feel more successful and proud of your work if you had $10 million in the bank from doing it? What is the real measure of success, of talent? Money? Recognition? The way it makes you feel to create and/or share it? The number of people you impact, or how deeply you affect each one?

This exercise doesn't work for my 'successful' clients, because they already have $10 million in the bank. So to them, I ask: 'what is it that you long for?' Their answers vary, but generally they either speak of a previous time or a faraway place… where life is more simple, more anonymous, better…

To sum up: Dreamers long for success. And successful people long to dream. Both long to find a happiness that often seems to elude them.

Were any of us to wake up with $10 million (or alone in remote cabin with no press or media), we'd spend a few months blissfully doing all the things we dream of doing when dreaming of success or freedom. But after the euphoria wears off, after the hundredth sunset, you build a fire, pour yourself a glass of wine and dream of... what??

Whatever it is, that is your happiness.

This imagining tends to be very hard for people, because often what we see ourselves doing in that moment isn't what we’ve spent our time, energy, money and education focusing on. What we told everyone we would do, what everyone expects us to do. What we built a career around, what brings us security and stability.

But that's life. People change. We learn, we grow, and therefore, we naturally start to dream different things. Until we stop ourselves from dreaming different things. Or from dreaming in different ways.

The angst I see in my superstars and almost superstars isn't caused by the elusiveness of dreams or success. It's caused by a lack of bravery. By stubbornness that holds onto a dream or success that no longer fulfils. By fear and insecurity that cling to the poor management of a dream at the expense of success and joy. By the decision to stop listening to the voices that whisper 'we came, we saw, we learned… where to now???'

Modern culture in many ways tells us that we have no right to more than one dream… that success means to make a choice, pay your dues, collect your proverbial pension, and remain. But don't forget that once upon a time, our lowly 'Jack-of-all-trades' was considered a 'Renaissance Man'… back when families gathered around a piano rather than a television…

Turn down the noise. Listen to what your heart now longs for and dreams of, and follow it at all costs with wisdom and reverence. Listen to what your soul believes it means to be successful. Then become it, every day, no matter what anyone else says or thinks.

Happiness will be there waiting.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Why We Sing...

I recently joined a vocalist discussion board that my friend Benjamin Asher recommended. While many of its members are focused exclusively on the academic and provable side of voice production and science, I've met others with some really wonderful, out-of-the-box ideas.

Jonathan Doyel had one such idea, and decided to start a discussion group dedicated to exploring it further. Simply called "WHY?", the group aims to figure out why we sing. Not why we should, now how we should, not what we hope to achieve, but why we do.

This may seem like a simple question. But Jonathan made me realize that while I've certainly thought a lot about singing over the years, I haven't spent nearly as much time thinking about why I sing.

My initial gut reaction to the question was that singing for some of us is like breathing. It's like oxygen. These thoughts came to me over His Eye Is On The Sparrow playing in my head: "I sing because I'm happy... I sing because I'm free."

But so often this WHY? gets covered over… by fear, perfectionism and judgment. By the need to make simple things complicated in order to feel smarter, better and more important. Or by simply 'maturing' and becoming an 'adult'. We leave the wonder behind in our pursuit of knowledge, confidence, academia, success, power, fame, attention… and forget the joy of the experience, as well as the wisdom of that joy.

A child doesn't need to understand the composites of sand to play on the beach. Nor does she need to know the molecular structure of water to splash around in the waves or to lose herself in tasting a raindrop that's landed on her tongue.

Why do I sing? I sing to open up. I sing to share. I sing to discover who I am. I sing to discover who I want to be. I sing to transcend my body. I sing to expand out the boundaries of my emotions... to feel more, be more, taste more. To grow. To fly. I sing to tell the story of what I've learned with others, and to ask others to share their stories with me.

I sing to feel. I sing to love.

Understanding the science and psychology of singing is fascinating. But in the stillness, at the end of the day, wherever and whenever my voice and I share a moment, it's the joy, rather than the knowledge, that leads me on. It's the mystery of this wild gift inside of me- the WHY?- that brings tears to my eyes.

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Friday, April 3, 2009

Silence is Golden

While everyone- and everyone's journey- is different, there is one telltale sign that lets me know that a client is coming to a revelation… silence. Not only does the voice stop, the body and nervous energy cease from storytelling. The noise fades. All that remains is a stillness accompanied perhaps by a dancing in the eyes and a look of wonder spreading across the face.

The birth of silence is in my experience not only the surest sign of a person's impending growth, but the most important gateway to their evolution. Certainly there is a place for expression, but so often our 'expressions' are habits on perpetual auto-replay that distract us from what's real, including what's real within ourselves.

We therefore speak before we think, and think before we listen. We shout solutions to problems we've yet to fully consider. We offer advice to people we haven't taken the time to truly get to know. We proclaim truths we’ve yet to think about deeply enough to know whether we fully believe them.

The solution is to begin with silence. I help my singers work toward this vocal sacred space with a technique I call 'diaphragmatic learning', or listening with the diaphragm. Rather than sing through a song in an effort to learn it, I'll ask them to be silent and listen to what the music- whether a recording or on the page- has to say… to first feel how the body hears the song, rather than try to technically presume, name and claim it.

The music is always there waiting to be discovered, in singing and in life. Slow down. Still your mind and yourself. Listen beyond the voices around you and your own. In that silence lives a symphony that's been waiting to rush in. Once you've let it swirl around you in the blissful quiet and hear the wisdom of what it has to say, by all means, open your mouth, heart, body, mind and soul… and sing. That will be music worth listening to.

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