The Song is You

We singers are such fragile creatures. We command an instrument out of our reach that can’t be manipulated with fingers like a piano, or put away in a case like a violin.

It is always with us.  On good days and bad days, our voices travel with us through all temperatures and seasons.  It’s only natural that we would build up some psychological attachment to it over time and begin to “self-identify” with it.

IN MY OPINION, this identification puts too much control into the hands of those in charge of developing us as singers, musicians, and artists.  We are robbed of our creative power. Many singers (myself included) suffer from “good student” syndrome.  We want to do what our teachers say.

But the teacher’s chair can become a DANGEROUS place to be. It can lead to control, mind games, guru-ism, and coteries that are psychologically unhealthy for budding singers.

A lot of singers rely on their teachers too much, to the loss of their own artistic and creative development.

This can cause students to:

1. Wait for a teacher to assign them repertoire – rather than finding things that resonate with them. Or searching out things that interest them for fear of making a “bad choice.”

2. Not listen to multiple recordings of their rep, finding their “favorite” rendition, and waiting for the teacher or coach to say “Oh, that person is TERRIBLE! You have to listen to person X.”

3. Tend not to read the literature of their field – whether that’s books on composers, poetry, literature, music history, or theory, or pedagogy.

4. Fail to practice.

5. Fail to take on professional performance opportunities for which they are CLEARLY READY in fear that it would “upset the teacher.”

6. Sing repertoire that they love (jazz, pop, musical theater, classical) because they feel that their teacher “wouldn’t like it.”

7. Become risk-adverse to opportunities as they present themselves.

These students are PLAGUED with self-doubt at every turn when the teacher or coach is not there to “make decisions” for them.  Whether it’s HOW to sing, or WHAT to sing – these students are in KNOTS when forced to make a decision on their own terms.  They become “artistically paralyzed”.

The greatest ACHIEVEMENT ANY artist of ANY art form can say is this:

“What do I think?”

Not – “What does so and so think?”

When a singer can take control of their artistic path, self-evaluate, and strike out on their own terms it’s an exciting and scary thing.  OF COURSE, having advisors is important. OF COURSE we need feedback on our work. But to become a “puppet” or a “parrot” to a teacher doesn’t create a vibrant, exciting, or expressive artist. One book I recommend for all singers and artists in this kind of “recovery” is “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron.  This book is extremely helpful for getting in touch with one’s true artistic nature and self.

I encourage every singer that comes into my studio to MAKE THEIR OWN DECISIONS.  What do YOU want to sing?  What rep do you LOVE?  And then, let’s work to get there with healthy concepts that will let you sing that for a lifetime. Don’t agree with something I say? Let’s talk about it and come to a decision.  But please don’t treat us teachers like gurus.  We’re just as infallible as everyone else.

Stay true to yourself and YOUR voice, and life will be so much easier.

10 Things Yoga Taught Me About Singing

1. Stay on the mat.

Every time I am on the yoga mat, the temptation to think about my other problems, life issues, and concerns can completely take over. It is at that point that my mind and body are completely disconnected, and I am no longer ‘on the mat’. Additionally, if I am comparing myself to others in the yoga room with more flexibility, more strength, and more skill, it can be easy for me to denigrate myself and feel bad about where I am in my progress. These comparisons are another way of moving ‘off the mat’ and not being with myself, and my body and breath in THIS moment.

In a voice lesson or a practice session, if I am projecting out of the room into other problems, or comparing myself to other singers in their journeys, then I am no longer with myself, and able to focus on what the needs of my voice are in the moment.

2. Some days need more child’s pose than others.

There are days in the practice of yoga when the body just doesn’t want to do a certain pose. It’s the same thing in singing: an exercise that I did one day may not work another day.

Having vocal exercises similar to ‘child’s pose’ are a helpful way of continuing your vocal practice on days that the voice just can’t or won’t do a certain extensive exercise. There is NO SHAME in going into child’s pose. In yoga classrooms, participants do it all the time, and the teacher doesn’t walk around SHAMING students in child’s pose. Voice teachers should take a page from that book and find ‘child’s pose’ exercises for those occasional ‘off’ vocal days.

3. Singing should be a spiritual practice

At the beginning of every yoga session, participants ‘consecrate’ the practice they are about to embark upon. They take that moment to get into the present, and set an intention for the next hour. Have you ever taken a moment before practicing or performing to get present, get grateful, and set an intention for your session or performance?

Phrases like “I honor the music within myself” or “I release any attachment to an end result, and invite myself to become open-hearted and creative” or “I am giving myself permission to fail beautifully” can set a gentle purpose for EVERY vocal session.

4. Some days just need to be easy

As I mentioned earlier, some days require lots of child’s pose. This is never seen as a bad thing in yoga. The purpose in yoga practice is to be present, and listen to the body. A vocal practice session is the same thing: LISTEN to what your voice is telling you. If the voice is tight, tired, cracky, or dull, take some time to do some gentle stretches. Maybe the ENTIRE session will just be gentle stretches, lip trills, and easy slides.  Let child’s pose ALWAYS remain an option. Yoga practitioners don’t FORCE the body to do something that it isn’t ready to do.

5. Only the present moment matters

What has come before doesn’t matter. If I had a fabulous lesson or performance, it doesn’t mean that I am guaranteed the same thing next time. Staying in the present moment allows me to accept what is here in this moment NOW, even if I don’t like what the present moment has to offer.

6. Being unattached to a result frees you to go deeper into your practice/singing

If I am not attached to the end result of my sound, but focused on the practice and this exercise, then feelings of inadequacy or anger or disappointment don’t crowd into the sacred space of my singing. Perhaps I’ll discover something new and wonderful, in the same way that a yoga pose might suddenly ‘work’ in a yoga session. If I am trying SO hard to get to a result that I WANT, I miss out on the other possibilities of my voice in that moment.

7. Every session is (or should be) a learning session

Every time I am on the mat or in the studio is a different session. I can always learn more about my singing, music, and my vocal abilities. Stay open to learning something new EVERY TIME you sing.

8. Trust that the asanas/vocal exercises will allow (over time) the flexibility and strength the voice needs

There are a LOT of vocal poses and yoga poses (asanas). You’ll find, however, that certain poses/exercises are the mainstays of the repertoire. By committing to a family of exercises over time, you allow the voice to find patterns of habit and behavior. This is useful because it will give your voice a ‘home base’ of function and understanding when you try more advanced exercises and vocal ‘poses’.

9. Pride has to go up on the shelf every time

If I am trying to compete with others in yoga, I will HURT MYSELF. If my body can’t do the poses that you can do, then if I try too hard to meet YOUR skill level, then I am only asking for trouble. Muscles will sprain and HURT. This isn’t the purpose of yoga OR singing. Be where you are and don’t compare someone else’s ability with your own.

10. Self-acceptance leads to greater growth.

Take today, take this moment. Be okay with where you are now in your singing. Make the time to consecrate your practice. Don’t compare yourself to others and put yourself down on where you are right now. Jesus said to “consider the lilies”. Lilies don’t compare themselves to each other, or fret about their growth or development. You are in Nature. Blossom and grow in YOUR TIME. Be gentle with yourself, and open your heart to this wonderful path of music and singing.