Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Kashudo (歌手道): Vocal Efficiency: a point of Ideology 1

A friend of mine who is having a great career once called me and "ideologue". It was not meant positively. He felt my ideology of singing prevents me from doing what is practical to get ahead in the field. Without saying it, he meant that I should do whatever is necessary to create a sound that is considered "sellable". Of course I would not be writing a blog about "The Singer's Way" if I had taken his comment to heart. My friend is working at a very high level and lives the daily pressures of a field that has lost its heart. He does not have the luxury to think about what the "ideal" approach is. As many singers, he just wants what gets the job done, period. I don't begrudge him this. It is a part of balance.

Just when I might consider his thoughts interesting, I find myself teaching a bunch of students who are working in theaters throughout Germany and suddenly receiving news of this success and that success. This is certainly not about blowing my own horn, but rather that of the students who have taken my process to heart. My own vocal development is always present in my mind. I owe them for their faith. Their improvement and their success inspire me on my own journey and reinforce in my mind the importance of ideology, of an "ideal" that we must strive for, a process that accompanies us through the easier days and the harder ones. There is in fact something to aspire to as artists, musicians and singers.

What I have lived these past few days, is what I had hoped for a long time: the voice is truly completely breath-driven. The glottis is truly a passive valve (when everything is balanced). I heard my own finished sound for the first time and it humbled me. It scared me in fact. That my little body could produce such a powerful sound with what felt like no participation from my throat has been the ideal that I have sought. The purity, the ring, the ease...Now I have to make it a habit throughout my range. Like a day at the golf course, when one great shot makes you comeback, I had some 50 high Bbs in the last few days that make me want to come back. I'm going to have to become physically more resilient to handle an entire tenor role. No more days off from Bikram Yoga!

In short I experienced moments when the science and the product became one. My understanding of the instrument as I have laid out here on the blog became a functional reality. I achieved a focused tone that did not require glottal squeezing. The fully erect vocal tract from glottis to soft palate is a total necessity in this breath-driven instrument. The soft palate assuming an adequate shape particularly with respect to the [a] vowel is a crucial component. The natural depth of the [u] vowel and the natural height of the [i] combine to accomplish optimum length of the vocal tract, a situation which influences a mode of phonation that requires the glottis to only narrow enough. I am certain that in this type of phonation that the vocal folds do not fully touch, but that the air itself completes the closure. Such is the practicality of the science of supra-glottal inertial air that has been discussed here so often (Thank you Martin Berggren for bringing clarity to the physics of it).

I gained faith in this "ideal" although there are many who do not believe it is possible, even though the science as explained by the likes of Titze and Sundberg makes a lot of sense. Once it has been experienced, one cannot go back. (I will record myself and share. I have allowed myself a certain seclusion to work my voice out, and I am not done yet. But you, my readers deserve a peak into this. I am traveling the next few days, but will post some phrases at least ASAP). Before experiencing personally my magical heldentenor Bbs, I experienced them in my students. I had real live models who created these wonderful sounds. And so I wish to thank them for their extraordinary instruments and the humility to take the word of a singer who is returning to his true voice but has not completed the journey.

Thank you first of all Rebecca Fromherz, the spinto with the fully opened heart (your name is no coincidence) for the amazing work you have done in the last month. Your "Vissi d'Arte" is a thing of dreams, and to see your graduation to this level of singing has been a privilege.

Thank you Katy Marriott, a Mezzo like the great ones. Congratulations on your triumphs, you deserve them. Thank you for letting me see our work together come to substance. Your work in the last month while I was gone humbles me. Mainz is lucky to get you.

Thank you Meta Powell for achieving such a flawless lower passaggio without ever pushing your beautiful voice. Born with the gentle spirit to sing Desdemona. I want that video.

Thank you Christian Newmann for being a Rossini tenor with substance. And a singer with tenderness. I want your high Ds.

Thank you Tatjana Killiani for having an even easier upper range after your illness. It takes faith to climb back on the horse. You deserve to go all the way.

Thank you Meredith Nicoll for turning a corner in two days and allowing your beautiful free lyric soprano to soar.

Thank you Ines Thomas Almeida for daring to take a path of patience and faith resulting in the beauty of your true voice.

And thank you Krzysztof Szumanski for trusting me with your gorgeous baritone voice. You will rock as Figaro!

Your collective beautiful voices, hearts and souls have not only made the travels of the last two months a thrill for a voice teacher, but your leaps of faith have shown me the results of "ideology" and inspired me to new trust in my own ability and vision as a teacher, and to new hope in my own journey as a singer.

© 03/31/2009

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Kashudo (歌手道): Strength Before Flexibility, An Obvious Lesson For Phonation

It took Bikram Yoga to remind me of an obvious lesson I had learn unconsciously years ago. I had remarkable grace as a soccer player in high school, but never thought of it as anything special. My coach of my senior year (he came that year and unfortunately I forgot his name), when he found out I had accepted a scholarship to music school (I was supposed to study computer engineering or something math and science related), was disappointed. He was hoping I would attend a school that had a soccer program so that I would continue developing my skills. But I was born in Haiti, where young children, who played with makeshift balls, without shoes in the stony dirt, had greater flair than me. But if we deny our skills because of our reverence of those we think are greater than we, we destroy our means of contribution.

Later, my beloved teacher, George Shirley, who I still consider my teacher, once said: "You have to be able to just smack the heck out of the golf ball before you can really hit a chip shot!" That was a metaphor for singing. I did not have enough experience back then to fully appreciate the wisdom of that statement relative to singing. But as an athlete, it made sense to me.

Recently in Bikram Yoga, I was reminded how my arm strength is a major asset in my striving for flexibility. I thought that the leg muscles were simply tight and it would take forever for them to loosen up. But Bikram teachers said I had an advantage because of my arm strength. Low and behold that because of my arm strength, I was able to touch my head to my knees and with my fingers under my feet as anchor to maintain the posture, I gradually straightened out my legs. I was astounded.

Changing from baritone to tenor has been the test of a lifetime. I have watched my strength improve, and my ability to warm up higher become more consistent. Still, certain age-old weaknesses remained. Why was the passaggio still an issue? George Shirley once told me that he hoped I would keep focus in the voice when I made the register change. The truth of my voice was often lost when I made the register shift. Yet many others congratulated me on my skill because I was able to achieve a smooth change from the low voice to the high. It was however a neat trick! A trick that today confronted me. I warmed up to my high C in a very natural way and then tried to sing a few arias. Some really good things, and then gradually more phlegmatic, and difficult! Then I took a break and it was better. Despite just opening my mouth and singing like a healthy yell (thank you Pavarotti), the voice always turned (acoustic shift) in the right place. My vocal tract is a thing of grace (it takes great strength to make this affirmation) but I have been avoiding the centered truth of my larynx. It was weak, unstructured, uncoordinated. I was a wonderful trickster all these years despite the correctness of my pedagogy. Now I am strong enough to be aware of how weak I am in phonation. Strong enough to have wonderful vocalises, but too weak for that coordination to behave in context.

On a totally technical point, until the muscular coordination is strong enough, it will not be possible to take advantage of the fluidity and efficiency that comes from a fully breath-driven production. Supra-glottal inertial air is the golden fleece of vocal pedagogy in my opinion. It relies on the ability of the folds to approximate close enough to complete closure without unnecessary muscular tension. Once this coordination is achieved with security and strength, then flow-phonation becomes the attainable prize. I have had moments when a completely breath-driven system has been my reality. Yet it is not sustainable where I am muscularly weak. Two months ago, I was able to warm up comfortably to a Bb. A month ago, the B-natural became consistent in warm-ups. Now the C is there every day. Yet there are many uncoordinated Gs and Fs and low notes that in context cause problems. Meanwhile, I observe how stronger voices behave. One of my students has a powerful soprano voice. Despite some weakness in the extreme top (most dramatic singers do not develop the extreme top. We will!), she has great control in her necessary upper range. I would be happy with that much as a tenor (to have a reliable and flexible high C#). Yet the path is clear. Strength comes with doing! Knowledge about the voice is one thing! It helps me train others. Training myself is another matter altogether. I must have the strength to separate the singer me from the teacher me. I do! Otherwise I would have gone to the teachers who would want to experiment with my voice and take the easy way out in the end. Truth of it is I could continue to sing as a baritone, but I would be that "lazy" tenor who took the easy way out.

The majority of famous singers who become teachers know what they want to hear, but have very little idea how to get one to that point who is not already nine tenths of the way there. All objective information makes me a tenor. But practical ability makes me still a tenor wannabe. Well here's to strength! Building up muscles has no shortcuts! Real strength-building takes time and patience. My tenor students who made the change from baritone to tenor in a short time were already very strong in the ways they needed to be. I just gave them the structure in which to safely make the switch. I on the other hand have had the structure but needed to just work hard every day.

There is a legend that strength is not necessary to sing opera. That legend is the myth of those who already have strength. When you are very strong, you can bench-press your own body-weight and it does not feel like much. But when you are weak, it is a different experience. When you are a strong ballet dancer, you can carry your partner over your head and still look graceful while doing it. Such are the needs of a singer: to make the difficult not only sound achievable, but look and sound easy!

© 03/24/2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

Kashudo (歌手道): The Fear of Spirituality in an Art Form That Is Non-Existent Without It!

I have stated often that I am not religious. This is not a disclaimer but a point of fact. While I respect each individual’s religious persuasion, I, a raised catholic, find religions and their denominations to be chosen expressions of a spiritual reality that is all-encompassing, and far more inclusive than the covenants that drive them. Still, within the confines of each religious covenant (and my own personal choice may be seen as restrictive or naive by some) or even the denial of such, there is an element that connects them all. It may be called prayer or reflection, or meditation or even concentration. The atheist might agree that when we concentrate, we are able to focus our minds. But what is a mind? Is it considered the same as the brain? And what is it that is being focused? Is it merely thought? What is thought, or intelligence, or consciousness? More importantly, what has all of this to do with singing?

For this, we must consider the ritual that is vocal performance:

A singer and his conductor or pianist walk on stage; the audience applauds their entrance; they respond by taking a bow together; then there is a moment of silence as the performers ready themselves; then the music begins!

1. The singer and accompanist walk on stage for a performance. This is understood. The stage, formal or makeshift, is the place where performers present their work.

2. The audience applauds their arrival! But why? They have not done anything yet. If the performers are famous, the audience’s reception is often frenzied in excitement at the expectation. And that is the word: expectation! The audience expects something and thanks the performers in advance for what they have painstakingly prepared (hopefully) for its (the audience’s) benefit. For this expected product of art, the audience pays hard-earned money.

3. Then the performers bow. This is an obvious sign of respect for the audience, which is collectively the patron of the performers. The audience helps them make a living.

Ergo, there is a contract between audience and performer. The audience pays for something that only the performers can offer. What is it that the audience expects, pays for? A change of pace, perhaps or change of atmosphere, or a change in their state of mind or a change in their spiritual state.

4. Then there is that strange moment when the performers are silently concentrating (meditating, praying) before they perform the first note. In that moment of suspended silence, of silent meditation, of meditative concentration, of concentrated energy, the performers have their greatest power. It is then that the audience too is called to preparation, to concentration, to meditation, indeed to prayer. This is the moment in which the audience opens itself to receive the expected gift of art, just before being thrilled or disappointed. Experienced performers also know that there is a singular moment before curtain that the entire audience becomes spontaneously quiet. What is the collective consciousness or unconsciousness that makes a group of people invariably become quiet shortly before a performance? Performers who are aware capture that moment and call for house lights to go down directly after that moment, which is the audience’s signal that it is ready to receive the expected gift of art. If the performers respond to that moment of mass readiness appropriately, the other moment of silence just before the music begins could be superfluous, depending on the nature of the music being offered.
There is therefore a mystical aspect to musical performance. Or, this ritual I just detailed is nothing. We could chose to forget the Greek ceremonies that are the roots of classical and modern theater as we know them. We could also forget the church pageant-plays that are the roots of opera, and therefore musical theater by extension. But why should we?

In my experience, the superficiality of modern art is in great part due to an inability to access the inexplicable. The virtue of religious/spiritual education is to help the individual to have a means to deal with the intangibles in our lives. Whether we explain a déjà-vu experience in terms of the relativity of time and space, or in terms of extra-sensory powers or past lives is irrelevant. What is important is that we are conscious that these anomalies occur in moments of reflection, or meditation, or concentration, or daydreaming or prayer.

What it means to me personally is that our perceived individuality is greatly misplaced, that science and religion both agree on the connectivity of all matter in the universe through our intermingling atomic matter or through a communion of the spirit. That connection is real and sensed through a number of simple experiences that are often dismissed as tricks of the mind.

I have had performance experiences that have been life changing, for me most humbly and for the many audience members who have shared their thoughts with me after such performances. They have occurred when I was the most prepared, technically, musically and psychologically. In those rare moments which do not need to be rare, all concerns were dealt with and at the time of performance, the communion of souls was complete, maintained for the duration of the performance and we were all changed.

Whether it be through entertainment, or a call to contemplation, we singers change the spiritual state of the audiences we sing for. We may irresponsibly and unconsciously change them for the better or for the worse, or we may chose to acknowledge that we have a responsibility to prepare ourselves consciously for a mystical, life-changing experience that places us, the performers, most humbly in a place of honor and leadership, not unlike a priest or a pastor. Humbly, because it is only in cleansing ourselves of our ego (all the imperfections that bring us to self-consciousness, rather technical or emotional or intellectual) can we be free enough and open enough to lead the spiritual transformation that occurs during any meaningful performance.

© 03/16/2009

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The terrible superficial conflict between classical and CCM vocal techniques: A Spontaneous Tribute to Master Teacher, Robert Edwin

During a conference on vocal acoustics a year ago I was lucky to make the acquaintance of a great voice teacher, named Robert Edwin. Robert did a compelling presentation on the training of CCM singers that not only supported my personal theories about the subject but inspired me to work more freely with my CCM students. The result was direct. The new confidence I had with my CCM students was palpable. My long-time student, Regina Gatti recently got cast as Rosie (the lead) in the national tour of Bye Bye Birdie. She attributes this milestone in great part to her recent vocal work. It has been a goal of mine for a long time to bridge what I call a "superficial divide" between Classical vocal training and CCM vocal training. Robert Edwin's approach eliminated the divide as if it never existed. In fact it never existed in his mind. His mother was a voice teacher who trained opera singers and broadway singers alike at a time in New York when theatrical vocalism was not a rarity. However, Robert Edwin's beliefs and commitment to the fundamentals that make for great singing regardless of style are countered in equal measure by teachers in the field who feel better served by widening the divide as much as possible, whether classical teachers who like to criticize CCM teachers for dangerous practices or CCM teachers who like to discuss classical singing like an unnecessary dinosaur that has no practical application to the needs of the CCM singer or possibly to the world of Music Theater.

It is important to understand the similarities and the differences between the two disciplines, as well as the historical relationships between Opera, Musical Theater and other popular vocal styles. First it is important to know that the origins of theatrical vocal music goes back to Italian Opera in 16th Century Florence and Naples. The exportation of Italian Opera gave birth both to national opera movements in France, England and Germany and eventually across Europe and the New World. As early as the early 18th century, standard Italian Opera met with more popular alternatives like the English Ballad Opera and the German Singspiel. While Italian Opera was based on vocal and musical virtuosity, these alternatives were based on popular consumption, textual intelligibility in the vernacular and more accessible plots that reflected the experience of the middle and lower class people that attended performances. This movement in fact gave rise to the Italian counter-movement, Opera Buffa, beginning with Pergolesi's one-act, La Serva Padrona culminating in masterpieces like Rossini's Barber of Seville and Verdi's Falstaff. The English and German versions continued first with masterpieces by Mozart (e.g. The Magic Flute) to Operettas by Offenbach, Johann Strauss Jr, etc and on the English side culminating with Gilbert and Sullivan. Out of the English model developed the American Musical Theater, which was further influenced by the many Vaudeville acts of the early 20th century culminating in great works by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, the Gershwins, Berstein and Sondheim and so on.

The significant vocal departure between the two disciplines has primarily to do with vocal virtuosity on the operatic side and textual intelligibility at all cost on the Musical Theater side. At the height of the two disciplines, whether in Germany or England or the United States, the formidable teachers responsible for the training of both disciplines were from the operatic discipline and often Italian in heritage. By the 20th century in the United States (New York) the teachers remained largely operatic and European. But then came the development of the microphone. With the microphone came radio and musical broadcasts based on an electronic model. Suddenly acoustic vocal production was no longer necessary for the Musical Theater singer or the evolving popular singer whose career was as much made on the recording of popular songs for mass consumption as it was for concerts for large audiences. Over time, the broadway belter whose vocal style was conceived for character parts became more and more mainstream. The last quarter of the 20th century saw a deep divide widening between classical vocal production and what is now referred to as Commercial Contemporary music (CCM). The Met may be on Broadway and 65th, but unlike the days when Cesare Siepi would leave the Met and go to the Majestic Theater to give his rendition of "Some Enchanted Evening" in South Pacific, the twenty or so blocks that separate the Metropolitan Opera from the Theater District might as well be 20,000 miles.

When the training of musicians became democratized through the development of Music Schools in State Universities, the process was gradually modeled after other purely academic courses of study, squarely reduced to a four-year process complete with fundamental education courses that should have been mastered at the High School level. The actual hours spent in musical training even at the top schools are severely inadequate as compared to the way musicians were trained earlier on. The conscientious young musician who learned discipline from earlier private teachers usually had the foundation to turn the degree program to his/her advantage, filling the holes by arduous practicing. It is usually the instrumentalists who followed a strict regimen of practice, theory and harmony before they even entered school. The singer often comes with a well coordinated voice (in modern times, even that is not assured), some basic stage presence and a couple of songs learned for the college entrance audition. Those that have had a piano or other instrumental background usually thrived with respect to the musical/academic aspects of the program while their better vocally coordinated colleagues got cast in the operas even without the ability to learn their notes on their own.

Now University programs, continually trying to be artistically relevant even while remaining behind the pace of development in the professional field, found the addition of Musical Theater programs lucrative. With the popularity of the vernacular musical forms, there was no lack of prospective students. Musical Theater programs became the province of the established Drama/Theater programs, which depended on the music departments for vocal and rudimentary musical instruction. In most of those programs the musical theater singer is taught by graduate students, some of which are natural teachers, many of which have neither a basic knowledge of vocal pedagogy nor of the stylistic differences between classical and CCM modes of production.

With the many inadequately skilled singers coming out of musical theater programs, a need for truly competent voice teachers geared for the needs of the CCM singer became evident. This need gave rise to some wonderful teachers, such as Robert Edwin, Jeanette Lovetri, Joe Estill and Seth Riggs. Great vocal technique, like a miracle, becomes quite ordinary when one attempts to package it into a neat product for sale. That is why I have a particular affinity for Robert Edwin. Mr Edwin is a no-nonsense, gifted teacher who likes to see the possibilities instead of the limits. His intincts are first-rate and seeing him work has been one of the most inspiring vocal events of my life. It is my sincere hope in the next couple of months to interview him for the blog. I must mention that he is also a fantastic singer, a gentleman and a selfless colleague dedicated to taking away this imaginery wall between singing techniques.

Now I am not being naive. There are necessary differences between the vocal needs of the Classical Singer and the CCM singer. The differences are fundamentally resonance-based. Phonation practices for the legit CCM singer are no different from those of the classical singer and this point above all must be taken into account. The average pop singer does not aim to do the extreme heavy vocalism that a heavy metal singer uses nor the extreme falsetto-based approach of a singer like Aaron Neville. The great majority of pop singers sing in a mode that could be fairly labeled "light belt", or objectively described, modal phonation with a speech based (i.e. first formant dominance) resonance. First-formant resonance in the female middle range or male high range depends on a high larynx to be viable. This is the fundamental acoustic difference. This mode of singing because of the high larynx does not make use of concepts like inertial reactance which necessitates a long vocal tract (i.e. a low larynx). This means that by nature, a light belt is slightly less efficient. But absolute efficiency is not the goal of CCM singing. Text inteligibility and a sense of the vernacular are paramount and therefore lush resonance is sacrificed.

CCM singers depend on immediate recognition in order to have success. In the vernacular realm, this can include raspiness, breathiness and many levels of imbalance that gives the charismatic performer a recognizable idiosyncracy. Whether it be the nodule-ridden lead singer of the Gipsy Kings or the falsetto antics of Little Richard, or the extreme nasal twang of Willie Nelson. Noone should be disillusioned in thinking that these people have great vocal technique by any measure but rather that these singers use limited vocalism combined with their very charismatic personalities and unique musical style to create a visceral package that audiences find thrilling. At the same time, we have had beautiful vocalism, by any standard from the likes of Bette Middler, Barbara Streisand, Annie Lennox (the lead singer of Eurythmics), Freddie Mercury of Queen, etc.

Robert Edwin's teaching does not waste time with whether this approach is the ideal approach or not. He essentially concentrates in giving the singer a healthy way to do what he or she needs to do and in this way bridges the divide between classical and pop singers. I watched him teach a classical singer who has never belted to sing a beautiful healthy belt without a break. This he did in minutes, while helping the singer shed her fear of the unknown. Mr. Edwin is a hero to me because unlike certain teachers who package popular vocal techniques as revolutionary new approaches, thereby tying themselves to techniques that have little basis in actual science, he uses practicality to arm the student with a healthy approach unique to the specific musical and stylistic needs. Int his way he is no different than the greatest teachers of singing who help their students find their unique mode of vocal production. I set him apart not only from those who find it convenient to get rich on packaged vocal techniques (an oxymoron in the real sense), but also from the cowards who benefit from making classical vocal technique a culprit for the ills of the CCM world.

I did not set out to make this a tribute to Robert Edwin, but there is no reason it should not be. As a voice teacher and a singer I am inspired by those who make sense and whose hearts drive them to serve the art of singing that we all love. So this post is for you Robert! I hope to see you soon on the golf course where I am nowhere your equal, if you remember the hundred balls I must have lost in the rough when we met in Fredonia. I also hope to see you soon in your studio, where I will be the humble student, learning from your true mastery. My sincere admiration!

© 03/08/2009

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Kashudo (歌手道): The necessary paradox of the art and the business

A student of mine of which I am very proud had an interesting experience recently. I am particularly proud of him because he too is a dramatic tenor who sang as a baritone for quite a while. His voice is magnificent. He now warms up to high Eb occasionally and has not lost the full baritone-like color that is his real voice. This is the product of several months of hard work. He recently had an audition for the role of Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus, an ideal transitional role for him. Knowing how his top voice had developed, I had no worries whatsoever for him. It turned out at the first round of auditions that he cracked a high G that had been perfect during warm-ups and rehearsals. Why? By his own admission, he imagined that he might crack that note when he was getting ready to go in for the audition. The disappointing high note was a product of his own imagination. He got a callback anyway. Concentrated that time on his process and is cast in the role. Congratulations RC! Great recovery but we must be prepared the first time!

Another tenor with a gorgeous voice had a series of auditions that were difficult after battling a cold. I warmed him up before two of his recent auditions and they went relatively well. In one case he thought he sang really badly and ended up impressing the agent enough to be put on the roster. You're blessed with a great talent PH, but must learn to own it!

What is it with tenors anyway? We are a different breed for sure. But then again a mezzo with a magnificent instrument who appears very confident in general has shown lack of confidence after a series of really good auditions that do not yield the kinds of results she wants. All the agents like her and claim that there are not many jobs for her particular Fach. I'm proud of you AS, but we must learn to bring the BUSINESS to us. That takes faith.

The problem in all these cases is that the singer is so concentrated on trying to get the job that they forget about the special thing that makes them desirable: "Singing for the sheer joy of it!" and "Singing with principles instead of feeling compelled to impress people." People are impressed when we can have fun.

This is one of the reasons why I am spending a good amount of time speaking about intellectual and spiritual techniques. Physical coordination is a great confidence booster, but we must also release ourselves from outside pressures like wanting to get hired and wanting to please powerful directors and conductors. These pressures harm the psyche and prevent the kind of flow of energy that makes a singer exciting to watch and listen to. Psychic blockage is just as palpable as blockages due to vocal function. In fact, vocal function is affected by mood, sense of self-worth or lack thereof, etc.

Like a good Bikram Yoga class (I had a satisfying one today), one does not know how it will go. How will my body deal with the difficult postures? Will I be strong today or will I feel faint? Will I be able to concentrate today or will I be distracted by my thoughts about the day? Will I be able to stay in the moment?

The reason I have become really excited about Bikram Yoga is that there is no point to it but a personal journey of self-improvement and discovery. I do not judge myself, or compare myself to the other class members. Oddly enough although I am new to Bikram Yoga, there are a couple of postures I do better than those in the class who have been doing it for months or even years. The only thought in my mind is "do the posture". Interestingly this is also my thought about my daily singing exercises, which I am preparing to post here on the blog. Doing the exercises as correctly as possible is the objective. Technical improvement, increased strength and flexibility is a consequence that we try not to judge. I am finding that improvements in Bikram Yoga and in vocal function can happen quickly when we are truly process-oriented and when the process is truly correct. I intend to video-record these fundamental exercises over the next couple of weeks with one or two of my advanced students and put up here.

The goal of exercises is to give us principles that are fundamental to everything we do. A performance must have these foundations at its core. And audition must not deviate from these fundamentals. They must be done physically correctly, with a well-focused mind and a joy of creating vocal sounds. These exercises must be a performance whether it is a good day or a bad day. I had a couple of beers with some friends last night and expected the alcohol to affect my practice today. It did! But unlike the past, I did not accept defeat. I did the exercises knowing full well I would experience phlegm. However I did them with a determination to go through each exercise with joy and with a principled discipline. A mere half-hour later I was demonstrating Bbs to a student. My new respect for my body and its possibilities means that I should not drink if I intend to practice. But occasionally we have to live life and deal with the consequences. I am excited about how tomorrow will be since I did not drink tonight.

I am convinced that this kind of routine that occupies body, brain and spirit and their interaction prepares us for the auditions and performances we have to face. The important thing is to face them with a game plan that is well-seasoned in our bodies, our brains and our souls such that the total WE is truly trained to sing and does so automatically regardless of the conditions. This is the ideal we work for. And from day 1, the young student must do the same fundamental exercises that the advanced singer does. The advanced singer will do additional exercises, but will always begin with the fundamentals. In this way we become compelling singers inviting the world to listen in. In this way, THE BUSINESS seeks us and not we prostituting our karmic energy to CONFORM (what a dirty word) to what we think IT (the business) wants.

Yet, in the end, we need the superficial world of THE BUSINESS to act as a counterforce, as a temptation. The business lures the vocalist and the entertainer to abandon the path of the singer for quick and fleeting glory. In this way it provides a distinction between the average performer and the advanced artist who is most often seen as a compelling anomaly, a curiosity, a dazzling exception. In truth there is nothing exceptional about the artist other than extraordinary hard work on all the elements that are necessary to be a great artist. They seem enigmatic because the average singer has not gone through the baptisms of fire and water, of frustration and sweat, of fear and earned courage that no one sees and that reporters find too lofty to write about.

Great artists often despair and feel alone. When singing becomes a complete discipline as it was centuries ago, there will be plenty to write about that is compelling and the work of the great artist will no longer be a mistery, but rather a comprehensible discipline that even then few will dare to undergo, not because they don't know how hard it is but because they will know precisely what is involved: A commitment to perfecting body, brain and spirit resulting in a complete whole that decries the thought that they were ever separate. In other words, a fully-formed human being emmitted atom by atom through song!

© 03/04/2009