Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Singing with the Spirit

Tonight I sang at our Relief Society Birthday Dinner. The song was Something Extraordinary (music by Lex de Azevedo, Lyrics Carol Lynn Pearson) and it defines that those small and simple things we do everyday add up over time into something extraordinary. That our daily acts of service and kindness really do matter in the overall scheme of things. I believe that.

It is always a challenge for me to sing as "Tamari" in front of an audience or congregation than it is to be a character in a play and sing. I feel so vulnerable, my singing voice is an intimate part of me. I am bearing my soul for all to hear and perhaps judge, there is no mask or fourth wall to hide behind. But the real kicker is that when I sing for a church program of any kind where there is a message more spiritual in nature there is the added element of me feeling the Holy Ghost as I sing. For me, my heart pounds, my chest has a burning sensation, at times I feel like I am choking back tears and my body shakes ever so slightly as I testify through music. It is not far from what I experience when I bear testimony. But the difference is, a testimony is given through the spoken word and a Hymn or a song with a sacred message has the power and majesty of musical accompaniment. Nothing brings the Spirit of the Holy Ghost more immediately than sacred music.

I find that I never perform technically as well singing these types of songs. I mean, it is slight, but I notice a difference. Not sure if listening ears (except maybe Roger) could hear a difference. But it is obvious to me. I love that I am able to testify through music, but there is this small part of me that wonders if I will ever reach a point when I will sing the song technically perfect as well as feel the Spirit. I have noticed that songs I have sung for years I seem to do better technically. Probably because the muscle memory kicks in. Interesting...

The bottom line though is that the whole purpose of these songs are for the congregation to feel the Spirit. To know what is being sung is truth. So, I have to turn off my ego, experience emotional and physical discomfort and allow the Spirit to do it's job.
I know it may sound a bit crazy, why put myself through that? But I feel that if a loving Heavenly Father gave me this talent then I need to share it regardless. And I do. I love it. I jump at the chance when I am asked to sing in church. It truly is my honor and I am humbled every time by the experience.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Accentuate the Positive

Day 4 and 5 of the SLS Event have come to a close. This educational event turned out to be a wonderful week. I am so excited to get back to my students equipped with a fresh outlook and more "tools" in my teaching bag.

A couple things I want to point out about being a Speech Level Singing teacher is that we are held accountable. Every year a teacher is not only educated but we are tested according to our level so the leaders of the organization can make sure we are keeping everything pure and not straying from the structure and language. They also want to make sure we are progressing in our ability to assess a student's needs and that we maintain our competence to demonstrate the vocal exercises for the student in the correct and incorrect way. It is intensive but it is also a process.

The voice is a complex thing and I can't expect to learn everything overnight. I have to take it one layer at a time and stay positive as I gradually gain more experience and knowledge. In turn I can't expect a student to learn everything they need to learn in a half hour lesson. We set a goal and focus on that. The next lesson we continue to work on that goal or if it gets achieved we move on to the next goal. Even teachers in SLS who have been doing this for years and years say that they are still learning and growing. When I hear them say that and see the humble way in which they approach everything I think, "I can do this!!"

I think the key is to stay positive. Not only will it help me to grow but hopefully it will rub off on my students. A student today was psyching themselves out as they saw the scale they were singing ascend up and up. The teacher jokingly said, "Don't look at the keys!" Greg Enriquez said, "No, have her look at the keys. Have her face it. But instead of thinking, 'Aw man, this is my trouble spot,' look right at those keys and say, 'I am going to get you!" The truth is, if we put in the work and have the right tools we will be able to conquer those areas in our voice that are "trouble spots". Every singer's goal is to get to the bottom of their voice to the top and back down again with a balanced sound. And what I mean by balanced is that one's voice (when heard by a listening ear) has accurate pitch, a pure vowel, free floating vibrato, all bridges are available and in tact, and that there is an ease and presence to the voice from top to bottom. Once we can achieve all that, the real fun begins!

This week was an eye opener to me of what I have to work on and focus on, but it was also a great reminder of the strengths I already hold. In staying positive, focused and working hard, I cannot help but achieve my goal as a teacher of SLS. I look at all of the information and skills I have to digest and become proficient at and say, "I am going to get you!"

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Structure and Adaptability

Day 2 and 3 of the SLS Event I have been attending have been amazing...overwhelming, but amazing. I have so much in my head right now I feel like I am going to burst! It will take some time to process everything, but I have learned so much and have enjoyed getting to know fellow teachers and students. What I love about this process is that it is interactive. We aren't just sitting through a bunch of lectures we are taking part in hands on demonstrations. Very affective.

There is a lot of material that we have covered but the main one I want to point out is that the Speech Level Singing Method itself is very structured. (even more now than it was two years ago) In recent years SLS has gone global and the top teachers in the program have broken it down and are actually branding it so that no matter where you go in the world to take a lesson the structure and language will be the same. It will be a short hand for teachers and students so that when we say a term it will automatically be understood.

The greatest part though is that within that structure there is a tremendous amount of give & take and adaptability. It is like watching a tennis match as a student and teacher work together. There are all these tools at our fingertips that address any issue(s) a voice may have. It is wonderful as a teacher to have the freedom within the structure to use these tools and allow the student to experience again and again what it is they need to achieve balance and maintain balance in their voice.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Acting Technique Geared Towards Performers

Today I attended the first of five workshops that will be hosted by Greg Enriquez, a level 5 SLS Vocal Coach who is based out of Las Vegas. All the workshops will be held here in Salt Lake and I have been looking forward to this for weeks! Today did not disappoint. Greg brought his friend, Rhonda Carlson, with him to teach this first workshop. Rhonda is an acting coach for performers and she and Greg share many of the same students. He focuses mainly on vocal technique and she helps them with the "acting" side of performing a song. Many people come to see her before an audition and it seems like she works primarily with musical theater performers. She is an actress/singer herself and a very good one from what I could tell in the workshop. Some of the main points that stood out to me were: Making specific choices in a song, the contrast in one's approach to different genres and styles of music, and a reminder that performing is supposed to be FUN!

When one begins the journey of learning a new song it is like a puzzle anxiously waiting to be put together. All songs should include some acting technique in order for them to truly engage an audience. As a performer we need to have the song make sense to us internally and as a result what we convey to an audience externally will be honest and true. And the great thing about art is that there is no wrong answer. Each of us will have our own personal response to the basic acting questions of: What do I want?, What obstacles do I face?, Who am I talking to?, What is my environment?, What happened to me five minutes ago? a week ago? a year ago?...etc. The more specific the choices, the more honest the song will be. And the brilliance of making these choices so specific is that the external stuff happens organically. We won't need to worry about: What should I do with my hands?, What should my face be doing on this phrase?, When will I move or walk?...if we can make specific choices throughout the song, phrase by phrase, all the other stuff, even vocal technique, will fall into place.

What if we are asked to do specific movement during a song by a director or choreographer? We still can make choices to have these external moves put upon us ring true. If we are working from the inside out or outside in, the result can and should still be the same.

On a broad spectrum we have the genres of Musical Theater, Popular Music, and Classical. Within each of these genres there are different styles or mini genres. Each one was touched on today in the workshop.

The Musical Theater approach is the idea that when there are no longer words to express how the character is feeling they burst into song. Singing in musical theater is a heightened expression of communication. In most cases there is a Fourth Wall. The performer is "hiding" behind a character and is not portraying themselves. The more the performer is behind that fourth wall the better the performance. But, the performer is still very aware of the audience, they just don't show it.

With Popular Music we have everything from pop to country, r&b to rock, rap to alternative. There are still choices to be made but this genre of music is more visceral. Meaning, the song comes from the gut rather than the intellect. The fourth wall in most cases is not present. The performer connects directly with the audience and the song is more about mood than interpretation.

Classical music is no exception nowadays. In the past a performer planted themselves on stage and SANG!!! With modern demands the classically trained singer is still expected to internalize their aria or art song. There is less external emoting in our time and more genuine expression that comes from within. It is still indeed heightened, probably more heightned (in general) than any other genre but it is still coming from within the performer. Even when there is a language barrier, as long as the performer is conveying the specific choices they have made, some audience members may not even need subtitles.

Lastly, today was a reminder that what I do as a performer is fun! I think in the past I have had a tendency to take myself too seriously and beat myself up when I wasn't "perfect" on stage. I was so caught up in my head and psyching myself out that I wasn't enjoying the experience. Even auditions should be fun. Once in New York while auditioning for a Broadway show, I got to chatting with the girl next to me. She said that she looked at each audition as a performance. She said something like, "I'm not getting cast in anything so this is my opportunity to perform and shine!" As I stood there, an absolute blob of nerves, I couldn't wrap my head around what she was saying. But, over the years I am getting it. It is a blessing to perform for an audience and grow as a performer no matter what the environment. If something doesn't work or feel right, try something else. Play improv games or make a choice that is completely the opposite of your first choice. Whatever means we use for our end result, find joy in the process...and delight in the final performance.