Today I'm listening to the New Model Army.
Family off the album Thunder and Consolation is my favourite of the day:
The morning part of the challenge didn't really happen today. I overslept, jumped straight into work and only looked up from the computer screen after noon. I tried to sing along to iTunes while I was working but the frog in my throat didn't take to that idea so I only got around to some serious song when I took a break and moved around a bit.
I can feel a lot of tension in my jaw today. And in my whole body. I've been in serious "get things done mode" since I woke up and that doesn't leave a lot of room for authentic vocal expression. Yesterday I could really feel the progress, although I my throat and shoulders started creeping together as soon as I stopped singing joyfully and started doing admin. If only I could get a doctors note for anything computer related. . .
I'm feeling more open now, I'll keep at it. We shall see what tomorrow brings.
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!
Candee and I got together with the fabulous Lori Watt to record a little video blog about the upcoming Expo. We had waaay to much fun, but we managed to get a take in between all the giggles.
You may or may not know that I review for an online magazine, called Plank.
Last night I saw Grace Symmetry, a collaborative performance between Ballet BC and Turning Point Ensemble. This snippet of conversation from drinks after the show sums up the experience pretty well:
“This ballet feels so primal, it’s like the material by-passed my brain, reached into my guts and stirred things about.”
“Yes! Not needing words they instead go: That thing you’re feeling? It looks something like this...“
I'd much prefer you went to see it for yourself (I heard a rumour they've opened up some more seats, might even be discounted on the day-of.) but it's only at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Feb 20 - 22, so if you can't, at least read my review. I have a feeling I will carry the memory of this performance with me for the rest of my life.
Read more at:
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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My mother recently reminded me of something that speaks to my previous posts about self-song and lullabies.
When I was a kid I threw some serious temper tantrums. I was pretty unmanageable. But my mother discovered that if she could just get this ball of kicking and screaming and biting into the bathroom, plunk her into a warm bath, lock the door (and then stand outside to listen and make sure I was safe) as soon as I thought I was alone I'd start singing. Angry songs at first, but within five minutes I would miraculously sing myself happy. Every time. Without fail. This was pretty much a daily occurrence for longer than I'd care to admit.
Of course I cottoned on to her fiendish plot and would try really hard to get angry at her later for making me forget why I was angry at her. But even when I knew what she was doing, and fought her tooth and nail, it always worked. And I still do it to this day. I don't march myself to an enforced bath, but I do sing it out. It made me realize that this habit of singing the pain away has been with me my whole life.
This is especially interesting because my niece was born recently. (The first in our generation, it's very exciting and I am so happy for and proud of my brother and his wife. They are going to be amazing parents.) I've been looking up lullabies to sing to her. And books to read of course. This story-telling thing has so many amazing uses, but holding my little niece I realized that I had forgotten that even before we understand words, even before we understand tone, we feel vibrations. And the sound of a voice of a loved one reverberating through their chest and cocooning you in sound is a first, primal memory of love and comfort.
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Why do my voice tips always sound dirty? It's not intentional I swear!
To continue with the singing theme from yesterday: Do you ever struggle to hit those high notes when you're singing? Do you ever get choked-up (literally) with emotion or nerves or just plain tension? Next time, try opening your mouth a little more. See what happens. ;)
In our bigger, better, faster, more society there's an awful lot of jaw clenching going on. You might not even know you do it, but chances are you do. And chances are you can afford to let that tension go, open that mouth just a little further and let that voice out!
Isn't it great when your own advice comes back to bite you in the ass?
I did something very stupid 2 days ago. It really brought a lesson home for me. So of course I thought I'd share.
I'm working box office at the Vancouver International Film Festival this year. It's great fun and it's a nice short shot (2 weeks) of constant work to top up the bank account. I could feel I was getting a cold, I haven't given my body proper rest since some time in July, and I was assigned to my customary box office booth number 1. The mic in this booth doesn't work and it was a point of pride for me that when I was there that wasn't so much of a problem. I know how to use my voice! I up-pitch, I project and I get by. But that's when I'm well. I've come to realize that I allow myself some very bad habits because I know that I'm robust. What's the saying? Strong like bull, smart like lamppost.
Here's the problem. I don't speak with my true voice when I work customer service. I know this is a habit that I have and I usually just say "screw it, I'd rather feel safe thank you". For any readers who haven't done any work with authentic sound or finding your true voice, most people use what I call voice-masks most of the time instead of connecting with their true voice, in regular daily life anyway. It's like a shield, a persona we put on, a role we play. It's useful when I'm dealing with irate customers. The problem is, not using my real voice means I'm "off-voice" which means I'm creating unnecessary strain. Usually, I go home, chill out, relax, reconnect to myself and everything's dandy. A little voice strain can be weathered as long as you keep it contained and warm up (and down) appropriately. Hmph.
Combining being "off voice" with up-pitching and having a sore throat from a cold already is a very bad idea. On top of that I've been so busy and feeling so ick that I haven't done my personal practice in a while either so I really wasn't in good shape to begin with.
About half-way through the shift I could feel that I was doing some damage. The sensible thing to do at this point would have been to ask someone to switch booths for a while. Or I could drop the up-pitching and use hand gestures for the customers who weren't so great at reading lips. I did neither. I was proud and keen to prove that one broken mic was no match for me. And with this swaggering bravado I got croakier and croakier. My voice lasted. Just. As I stepped out of that booth at the end of my shift my throat closed up and that was that.
Thanks to my pridefulness I had to endure a day at the box office with no voice at all. Which is frustrating and impractical at best, but when your co-workers know that you coach voice technique, it's mortifying! I'm off to do it again tonight. My voice is coming back, I'm at maybe 60% today, but I've learned my lesson, I'm not going to push through. It's whispers and charades tonight and I'll see how much I've healed by tomorrow.
This whole experience has humbled me rather. This is a big part of what I address in my coaching and I am not practicing what I preach. I have grown lax! Not just on a physical level, I'm also not challenging myself the way I used to. I've been catering too much to my fears. There is no reason I shouldn't be connected to my true voice all the time, but I'm terrified of being rejected, ostracized, fired! I feel so exposed. It's easy when you're in a workshop or on stage or among friends, but out in the world, especially behind a counter, it seems an impossible thing. But it's not. I know that. And hopefully some of the people I've coached know that. It's a journey. I've come a long way in the last few years, now it's time to find the path again and re-commit.
All through writing this I have heard David Smukler's voice booming in the back of my head. At the 2011 National Voice Intensive, we were doing some sort of exercise I don't remember what and I was hiding and squirming and being generally uncomfortable up on stage and he asked me "Why does Honest have to mean Vulnerable?"
That's a very powerful question, David. Thanks for the compass. :)
between this meeting and that flight and the twirling bustle of my life.
Ha! I just realized how glamorous that makes my life sound. It's not, but it would please me to think you thought so. ;)
Anyway as I have been wrestling with the challenge of returning to regular blogging (ironic how when I have stuff to write about I have no time to write about it and when my life if boring I have no inclination to write) and looking for the right words, this song keeps coming back to me. I was prevented from singing it at a recent talent show by laryngitis, so I thought I'd share it with you all now. I hope you gain as much comfort and hope from this simple song as I do.
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. :)
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.