Inspired by a post on Facebook I have decided to embark upon a 30 day singing challenge: to start each day singing and to see how it affects my life.
Over the past two months between the stress of moving, diet changes and the late nights out with the Macbeth cast my poor voice has taken a lot of abuse. I've been singing a lot less, too busy to make time for vocal exercises, choking back emotions and sleeping in a newly painted room. I must admit part of me has been morbidly fascinated with the different ways these circumstances have been affecting my sound, but the experiment is over and the time has come to get back on track.
Yesterday I was talking aloud to myself in the car (like you do) and I finally (unexpectedly) let out a flood of tears I didn't even know that I had been holding back. As I spoke I could hear my throat open and relax and it hit me just how long it's been since I've taken the time to nourish this part of my life.
And so the 30 day challenge begins. My voice takes time to wake up in the morning and right now due to the high emotion of the last month I can only really access my lower register anyway, so I will be taking it slowly and gently.
When I woke up this morning I had the sun on my face and this song in my head. If I bump it down an octave it meets me exactly where I'm at.
I'd only ever heard Kirsty Maccoll's "He's on the Beach" on mp3 before, but I looked up the video for this post. It's quite different from how I imagined it, probably because I can't imagine anything more joyful than a life on the beach. Every time I hear it I swear I can smell the ocean. Enjoy!
We've all heard of emotional eating. I certainly am no stranger to the practice, but I've noticed something interesting about my relationship to food and how I use it to suppress what I'm feeling.
We usually associate emotional eating with negative emotions, a way to feel less pain, loneliness, sadness etc. But I have noticed that these days I use food to suppress my positive emotions as much or even more than the negative ones!
Most actors won't eat before a performance, because of nerves usually. My habit was to always eat before a performance in order to suppress the nerves. But nerves aren't just fear, they're excitement and energy too. By suppressing the nerves I am calmer, but I am also suppressing every other emotion! Which obviously is not the best idea as an actor. Suppression is not selective, the numbness is all encompassing. In 2013 I experimented with acting on an empty stomach and yes, I felt the nerves more and I had to work a little harder on grounding my energy, but I was also more connected to my body.
I use food to suppress joy, excitement and energy in order to keep myself working. I don't like sitting at a computer, I'd rather be up and running around doing stuff, riding my excitement and enthusiasm like a drug. But that admin needs to get done. Blog posts need to be written. And I have no self-discipline. So instead there is always something to nibble on next to my computer, something to keep me numb enough to concentrate on the task at hand.
I recognize that is an unhealthy habit and after flirting with the idea in 2013, my 2014 resolution is to stop using food as a crutch: to stop suppressing my excitement and my fear, my joy and my sorrow. I imagine I will be less focussed, less productive, less present and less balanced for a little while as I adjust, but I trust I will find a new, more intense focus, a deeper grounded presence and a better relationship with my nervous and excited energy on the other side. What's your healthy habit resolution?
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We all know that things like habitual tension are more than just physical. It's a committed emotional relationship. We grow attached to our old ways. Like an unhealthy romance we just don't want to end because we have so much HISTORY. Am I right?
So here's a fun exercise: let's take the metaphor to a whole new level. . .
Step 1. Write a break up letter to your tension. Tell your aches and pains and muscular tightness and stress that you are leaving them for a new love: an open relaxed body! Take the exercise as far as you can. Why did you start the relationship to begin with? What were you expecting? What did it turn out to be in reality? What do you get out of it? (Be honest, there's a reason you're still together.) What memories and parts of yourself have you attached to this relationship that you are scared you'll lose when you admit that it's over? How are you realizing now that this is destructive and stopping you from being who you really want to be? Have your friends commented? Is an intervention necessary? Personify your tension, tell it how it makes you feel. Then gently, but firmly, let it know you are moving on to a healthier you.
Step 2: Write a letter to yourself to strengthen your resolve. How will your life be better with your new flame? Do you need support from your friends? - Ask them! How about a new regimen? Dream about what life will be like when you are free.
Write it and mean it. Even mail it to yourself to make it more official.
Step 3: Stick by what you've said. Implement your new habits and cut those ties for good. It's a process, it takes time, you'll have days when you want to run back and beg forgiveness. But you know this is best. Be strong. Pamper yourself and commit to a healthier, happier you. :)
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In an attempt to regulate my sporadic blogging habit I have decided to start a Tip Of The Week initiative. I'm going to aim to post one every Thursday.
4 October's tip is: Go Deeper!
Now get your mind out of the gutter for a second and think about everything you've ever been told about breath.
Perhaps you know you don't want to breathe into your shoulders (I hope!), perhaps you even breathe into your side ribs, belly or back ribs. That's great! Now I challenge you to go deeper. See if you can breathe into your pelvis, your bum, hey see if you can breathe into your thighs! Try it this week and see what happens.
Of course, there's a catch: I want to hear from you! Who tried it? How did it feel? What did you realize? How did it change your life? All observations are welcome from the revolutionary to the mundane. (But nothing offensive please, this is a family friendly website.) Post your comments below and every week you'll get to see what other people thought and experienced in this little experiment.
So go now. Live life. Breathe deep. And tell me all about it! ;)
After much hoopla and ado, pacing and nail biting, I am finally sitting down to write about the voice experiment sessions. They have in fact been going really well. Too well. I haven’t felt like there was much to report. Today was only session 4 and we’re nowhere near actual SONG yet! But today was so much fun that my inertia broke… As it were.
Allie is taking to this work like a fish to water. I love teaching the inexperienced. They have no bad habits that they want to hold on to, no egos established, just a curiosity and willingness to learn. Which is of course the best way to approach any creative task, no matter where you are in your career.
To fill you in quickly, the first 2 sessions were double whammies on free, truthful sound and starting her on the support exercises.
Flashback to day one:
My subject (hehe I feel like I should be wearing a lab coat and goggles) has an interesting approach to the sigh. She’s a very active person and from what I can tell she relaxes very actively too. In our first session I was completely flummoxed. Every sigh was an explosion! The word relax was met with a very deliberate rearranging of her shoulder muscles. A re-organization of tension. Stillness? Yes. Relaxed? Not so much. But she’s learning: she’s doing spinal rolls and we’ve found a breath image that encourages her to use a lot less effort. I’m fortunate in having a student with such an open attitude, Allie is very honest and self-aware about her patterns, it makes her very easy to work with. I’m quite proud of her. :)
Back to present day:
Today’s session blew Allie’s mind. “Who knew learning to sing could be so much like doing mushrooms?” OK, she didn’t actually say that, but it was the spirit of the thing. Up until today we’ve been fairly somber (well, for me), but today we really got up into the body’s natural amplifiers and we were getting all tingly!
Session 3 and 4 have both had a focus on resonance. Last week was a version of Stewart Pearce’s chakra resonator scale, a big favourite of mine. Very profound. But today, session 4, was the soft palette and the Linklater Resonance scale. Waaay more room for sillyness. And we had an audience! Who shall remain nameless and was a little bit of a surprise to me I won’t lie. It was my first time teaching with an observer in the room. But that’s what you get for doing free sessions as house calls. I’m sure he learned a lot. ;)
I am so excited to keep moving, I could’ve gone all night. But as I left Allie draped herself on the couch in an exhausted flop, so perhaps it was prudent to stop when we did. Stay tuned for more experimental madness!
I am so jazzed about this "anyone can sing" experiment. I have absolutely NO idea how it's going to turn out, but I had an inspiring consultation with a prospective guinea pig today (who shall remain nameless until I ask if it's OK to blog about him/her) and I am exciiii-ted!! (Anyone who missed the last post about me being a puppy, let this be your warning.)
This project began as a redemption quest. Given my chosen line of work now, I am wracked with guilt about teasing my mother about her singing when I was a young teen (she still won't sing to herself if she knows anyone is in earshot) and I thought I'd make it up to her. She demurred my offer, but then I thought I could at least pay it forward so I started to develop a curriculum for the vehement non-singer.
Recently it's stopped being about that. My initial reasons are still important to me, but my motivation has expanded into an idealism that gets deeper and deeper every day. Self-expression is so important. And singing is, to me, such a vital part of that. I have absolutely no interest in performing, hate being in choirs, but if I thought I couldn't sing, well, I probably wouldn't be a puppy.
Talking about this today really touched something in me. When I'm going through a lot of stress in my "normal" life, or when I am distressed or hurt, or exuberant, I sing. I use it as a tool to syphon off extra energy when I'm so overjoyed I'm scared I might burst. It's a healing balm for my deepest grief. A way of reaching out to the world, even if no-one responds; I feel it resonate from my body out into the world and I feel better. I can't imagine ever being without that. I never have been. And the thought that there are people out there who don't because they're scared they sound bad or it hurts or they just never thought they could... I'm getting so worked up I can barely type. You get the idea. This is important to me. And we're going to get to give it a try! And perhaps I'll even do a little bit of good in the world while I'm at it! I am so lucky. What a gift. :)
I'm looking for volunteers to help me develop two new programs!
You get to take the new program for free in exchange for giving me feedback about what worked and what didn't!
Contact me for more information: 778 235 7696
Danielle Benzon coaches entrepreneurs and performing artists in voice, acting and audition technique. She is also certified to teach the Meisner Approach through the True Acting Institute. Danielle is based in Vancouver, Canada.