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!
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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It's my birthday! You know what that means? Birthday giveaway time!
What's the prize? Well, I have a bunch of workshops coming up so I thought I'd let you choose.
The winner will get to participate in the Living Voice workshop of their choice (or gift that spot to a loved one) as long as that workshop happens before 31 December 2014. You can see a full workshop calendar here and it is updated regularly.
Enter the contest by emailing me (firstname.lastname@example.org) your answers to the questions below before November 30th I will draw the winner on December 3rd.
1. Full name
2. Email address
3. What is your profession?
4. Do you act/sing/dance/perform in any capacity? (Please describe.)
5. What is your biggest challenge with your voice?
6. How do you find that #5 affects you in your daily life or limits your potential?
7. What outcome would you prefer to #6 in an ideal world?
8. How would getting #7 affect your life?
9. If you experience anxiety speaking in front of people in any situations, please describe.
I was listening to, of all things, Gold Mother by James today and it got me think about how I'm approaching the world and my life right now. I've been hibernating the last week or two, doing a lot of punishing and judging, not so much of the curious exploring. I only realized listening to that song what a funk I was in! So this tip of the week is as much for me as it is for you.
Tip of the Week: Be Curious!
Imagine a baby approaching the world, they don't even know how their fingers work! Everything is wonder and mystery and discovery. Why shouldn't we continue to approach our bodies that way all through our lives? If anything as adults we have more of a capacity to appreciate just how intricate and powerful and fragile and versatile and strong our bodies are. But instead of being in awe, we punish, we bully, we ignore and neglect.
And of course this especially applies to approaching voice work. Do you ever bully your voice? Take it for granted? Do you ever ignore what your voice is telling you because you're pushing for a result no matter the cost? I know I do. Let's take time this week to approach our bodies and our voices with respect and curiosity. Approach your practice, your singing, your rehearsals and your conversations with wonder and joy. Truly listen to your body. This could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
"Winter is coming" as they say. Are you prepared?
If you're like me and you walk down the street singing a lot you'll have noticed the change in the weather in Vancouver, BC. My throat does not like these temperatures (OK I know they're not that low yet, I'm a ninny, I admit it) and it closes up in terror when I breathe in that icy ether.
So it's just going to get even colder, what can we do about it?
1. Wear a scarf outside. A warm neck is a relaxed neck. Shoulders too. The last thing you want is residual tension from the weather!
2. Warm ups are always important, but even more so in winter. Your warm up is there to WARM up your throat. If you don't usually warm up (wrist slap for you) or you usually only do a quick one, take a bit more time and be a bit more gentle with yourself at the outset.
3. Let that air in. I know, it's cold, your body doesn't want to, but breath is still of the utmost importance and skimping on an inhalation is not the answer. You might unconsciously breathe more shallowly in winter. Make it conscious and allow the breath to travel at least all the way into your belly (Or deeper! If you haven't read the Go Deeper Tip Of the Week, make that your next stop). Remember that breath is the fuel for the sound: less breath, less sound and less vocal range.
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!
I just want to take a moment to acknowledge the high quality of performances at the Vancouver International Fringe Festival this year. I know the main Fringe is based on a lottery system (not the BYOVs though) so perhaps we just got lucky this year, but still, for Fringe, I saw a LOT of great theatre.
Not only were there a lot of high quality shows, but there were a vast number of 1 and 2 woman productions. Given that there are SOOO many more female performers than male performers out there, and that there are so many more roles for men than for women, it's heartening to see female performers even out the odds by making their own work. I am so proud and inspired.
I didn't see that many shows this year, but the ones I did see that were of exceptional quality were (in alphabetical order)
Little Lady (1 woman)
Loon (1 woman)
Opera for Heathens (1 man)
Plasticity Now (2 women)
Recess (1 woman)
Where's My Flying Car (1 woman)
I was also part of the Plank Magazine review team this year, so if you want to read a review (or submit your own thoughts on a performance) please check out www.plankmagazine.com
I am absolutely humbled by some of the talent I have seen on stage this past week. It makes me want to crawl into a hole and never try to act again. Paradoxically it also makes me REALLY want to get my own show in the Fringe next year. I'm going to go home and dig up my most recent draft and see what I can rewrite while I'm still buzzing with inspiration...
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!
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.
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.