Saturday, June 27, 2009

1 + 1 = 4

A client and I were talking about communication yesterday, marveling at how seemingly simple conversations sometimes go so wrong, the meaning getting incomprehensibly lost in translation…

The language we use is so crucial to communication that (as some of you know) I spend an entire chapter of The Art of Singing discussing the many ways that it can help or hinder learning and understanding. On the surface it seems obvious, but in fact it's often an incredible challenge to be certain that what you say is an accurate reflection of what you truly feel and think.

More important than the language you choose however, is ascertaining the actual number of people involved in a conversation.

It sounds like simple addition, but look closely. When two people are talking, they are not alone. Both bring to the table not only their current, conscious selves- the part of them that hopes and longs for specific things in the specific present- but the aspects of themselves that have been formed- often unconsciously- by their conditioning and past experiences.

If you're not sure what I'm talking about, consider the last important decision you made… see if you can recall the distinct- and likely disparate- messages from your brave and centered self, and your fearful, uncertain self… the part of you that knows who you truly are and where you stand in the world, and that which is still caught up in less than ideal thoughts and patterns from long ago.

Two people are talking, but four entities are communicating and reacting to what is being said (and not said), each with their own very distinct agenda… No wonder things get so confusing!

In singing it's even more complicated, as there are actually three energies wrestling for the spotlight when a single person steps up to the microphone: the present-day person, the collection of that person's past pains, fears and experiences, and the voice.

Certainly singing is about the physical instrument, and its development and training are obviously important. But the voice is only one aspect of the entity that is The Singer. Truly effective vocal training- if it wants to be holistically integrated with long term results- cannot only be about isolated technical development. It must also involve and listen to the hopes and dreams of the person actually standing before you, as well as the fears and issues that oftentimes push that person both forward and back.

It's a powerful lesson for all of us: we must become aware of every message we're sending out as well as hearing, giving space to each aspect of ourselves and others. When all of who we are feels acknowledged, listened to and understood, communication- and learning- are effortless.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Selling Your Truth

Earlier this week, I shared the wisdom of my friends Rachel and Charles regarding self-promotion: know what three things you want to say, then say them again and again. Yesterday, Rachel followed up and asked: "If there were one thing you wanted to share out of your book, what would it be?"

I have absolutely no idea.

And I'm not sure I want to know. The walls of resistance rise in me whenever I'm asked to sound bite or pare down in an effort to 'focus'. Were it up to me, when asked the question "what one thing is your book about", I'd open up to page one and start reading…

In composing, for some reason, I don't have this problem. I usually have tens of pages of notes and ideas that I happily hone down to 3 minutes and 33 seconds... twenty or so lines of words and melody that encapsulate all that I think and feel about the topic at hand.

Why don't I mind, and even enjoy, the narrowing then? Why do I get giggles of giddiness as I try to carve and sculpt general concepts into small melodic moments and quick linguistic lances? Because it feels like a distillation, rather than a whittling away. I'm compressing large amounts of carbon into what I hope will become precious diamonds, rather than choosing between my heart and soul.

Great businessmen and women understand this distinction. They know that 'selling' isn't the diminishing of a concept, person or product. It's displaying the highlights of a jewel in the best possible light.

We artists have got to wrap our heads around this idea… to learn that 'selling' ourselves and our art doesn't require the minimizing of who we are into a teensy, tiny box. It's about delivering a summary that's as or more powerful than the work we've created… sharing the best of who we are and what we do in a way that others can easily appreciate. (After all, imagine trying to get people to learn and sing along to a 56 minute song with no discernable melody, rhythm or rhyme…)

When the time comes to present your art and heart to the world, don't see the negative- and incorrect- notions of compromise, soul-selling or debasing your art for gain. See the opportunity as an invitation to write a gloriously catchy song… to translate and elevate your narrative heart into a most exquisite haiku.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sing Your Truth

Yesterday, I had an interview with Back Stage about my new book. I consulted with my friend and business guru Charles Day before the call, who told me to think of the three things I wanted to say, then say them again and again.

The lovely Rachel Kice seconded Charles' advice in her blog today, suggesting that the key to getting what we want is not to be aggressive in energy or mind, but to simply keep repeating what we are determined to achieve.

Language is a very powerful vehicle, and I speak often about the importance of knowing what it is that you want (rather than what you don't) and proclaiming that to yourself and the world. But the call for repetition struck me…

Often, in an effort to help clients open up, I'll ask them again and again, "who are you?" The initial answers barely brush the surface: "I'm Bob. I'm a singer. I'm a man." But as I continue to repeat the question, a greater depth and often surprising awareness is reached: "I am the hope of my family. I am not contained by my body. I am alone."

The continued asking of a question yields a greater truth, and speaking that truth out loud confirms it. But indeed it is repetition that transforms and manifests a hope into reality.

Religions and governments the world over have recognized and utilized this power of ritual in prayers, chants and anthems, and so should we. Therefore, sing your truth. Repeat the verses and choruses again and again from the depth of your soul-centered knowing. Let your song reverberate and be certain that people- and the universe- can't help but listen, and eventually, sing along.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Moment

I work with a lot of people who have made a lot of decisions. They know what they're afraid of. They know what could have been, what should have been. They know what lovers and others have hurt them and what jobs have been taken away unfairly. They know what's wrong with the world and the people in it.

They come to me professing these things like a bad habit they're desperate to shake. But when I ask them to articulate what exactly they do long for, and what steps they're taking in that direction, they usually have very little to say.

Life mantras are powerful things. But more powerful than the messages we constantly feed ourselves, are the moments those belief systems are born, take root and begin lives of their own.

Those moments wait for us at every crossroads… Go this way, and grow. Go that way and don't.

Unlike the beautiful, slow motion movie scenes with the symphony playing in the background, these moments usually come at a low point in our lives… when we've been shown, yet again, that our belief systems aren't working… that we've in fact been working against our dreams and best interests, rather than for them.

At those times, all any of us want to do is wallow in a gallon of ice cream and our feelings of hurt and failure. And there's nothing wrong with that, for a time...

But there will come a moment- a single, ironic moment- when you feel least powerful, when life will actually hand you the keys to your entire future, and ask: 'will this break you, or will this help you?'

Listen closely, then choose wisely.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

Sunday in the Park

Thank goodness for good friends, good weather and good walking shoes.

Yesterday, my friend Maniezheh and I decided to take advantage of all three. By the time we were done, we'd traveled over 10 miles, from morning to evening, river to river, restaurant to restaurant, shop to shop, park to park. What a gorgeous city we live in… at every turn a new experience, a new opportunity…

The same is true of life. It's so easy to get caught up believing that the only view out there is the one you're currently looking at. That's great news if what's before your eyes is something you've consciously envisioned, bravely created and lovingly nurtured.

But sometimes, even the best of us get distracted and lose focus. We silence our inner voices and let fear have its say… and the landscape changes into something rather different than what we've looked forward to.

Thankfully, as the wise and wonderful Charles Day often says, sometimes all you need is a fresh perspective. Indeed, the best way to get a handle on the view from the inside looking out, is to get on the outside and look around.

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