|Oh, the places you'll go...|
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Sunday, September 27, 2020
|Knowing where you've been can help you plan where you're going.|
Sunday, September 13, 2020
Sunday, August 23, 2020
Welcome (back), everyone!
Two years ago, in my first blog of the school year, I explored the difference between goals and dreams, as I heard them discussed in a conference by voice pedagogue Matt Edwards (he later wrote about the same topic on his own blog). As we get started in the semester, I encourage you to read (or reread) both blogs, although the main idea can probably be summarized by this quote:
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” ―Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
To learn more about how to develop useful plans, I presented some guidelines in the first blog of last school year about how to set meaningful, achievable goals from author, professor, and vocologist Lynn Helding. In her chapter of the book Your Voice: An Inside View by Scott McCoy, she advocates four parameters to consider when setting goals:
1. Goals should be specific and not too general
2. Goals should be written down (not just kept in mind)
3. Goals should be challenging and not too easy
4. For every goal, you should be able to answer, "How am I going to reach that goal?"
In Prof. Helding's new book, The Musician's Mind: Teaching, Learning, and Performance in the Age of Brain Science, she adds some additional points to consider:
Who is the goal-setter? Since self-motivation is the most effective form of motivation, you should be the one who decides what your goals are. You may get good suggestions from your teachers, your peers, or your family, but you are most likely to work diligently toward your goals if you are the one who ultimately decides what those goals will be.
Goals must be valued by the goal-setter. This is closely connected to the previous point. If I set a goal for you, but you are not particularly interested in that goal, it will probably not lead to the greatest results. This is all the more reason why you have to be the one to set your own goals and why they should be goals in which you're truly invested.
There must be both short-term and long-term goals. This relates to the goals-versus-dreams discussion. "I want to have a successful career on Broadway" is such a long-term goal as to really be more of a dream, mostly because there are so many steps between where you are now and finally reaching that goal. But, if you want to make it a goal, consider breaking it into shorter-term goals: I'll audition for every university show our program offers. I'll audition for every musical Pioneer Theatre Company produces during my time in school. I'll audition for professional summer stock theaters the summers after my sophomore, junior, and senior years. After I graduate, I'll start auditioning for non-Equity tours and for regional Equity theaters. Then I'll start auditioning for Equity tours and for Broadway productions.
Of course, that's not the only path to take in order to achieve success in this field. But, by breaking the long-term goal down into steps, you have given yourself regular benchmarks to achieve, which can motivate you to continue progressing. Notice also that I stated these goals as "I'll audition" instead of "I'll be cast." That's because you have no control over whether you will be cast in a production other than to be as prepared as possible. But you can control how many auditions you attend, which increases the chances that you will book a show.
But let's not worry about shows just yet. Let's focus on developing your vocal skills this semester and this year.
For this first blog, I'd like everyone to share one shorter-term goal (something to achieve over the first few weeks or the first half of the semester) and one longer-term goal (something you're setting out to achieve by the end of the school year). And, as Prof. Helding advocates, make the goals specific, make them challenging but achievable, and identify at least one tactic you will use to complete each goal.
I'm really thrilled to be back in session and am so ready to have a great year. Let's get to work.
Now go practice.
|“Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.” – Barry Finlay|
Sunday, April 12, 2020
"We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest."I find that, by acknowledging that I can't do everything, I am freed from the responsibility of trying to do everything. This also comes with the reminder that, of the things I am able to do, I don't have to do all of them right now. I can focus on one thing at a time and do that to the best of my ability.
This applies well to the voice studio, since I teach one student at a time, each of whom requires guidance and instruction that is individualized. I can't give my students everything they need, and I am aware that what I am able to offer them is often incomplete. But it can be a step along the way, which can lead to another step, which may lead to yet another step. Maybe that's just Newton's first law of motion at work (...an object in motion stays in motion...) or maybe it's something akin to grace.
This was the impetus behind my first assignment to all of you when it was first announced that we would be moving our lessons online: Given the current circumstances, what are two or three vocal goals you can work on for the rest of the semester? Faced with a new normal, I knew that it may not be realistic to try to adhere to the same goals as at the start of the semester. However, I also know that, in order to "do something and do it very well," we have to first identify what that "something" is.
Even so, Untener offers this caveat in an earlier section of "Prophets of a Future Not Our Own":
"No set of goals and objectives includes everything."So, even when we identify the "something" we intend to do very well, it's likely that even those efforts will be incomplete. I'm choosing to view that as liberating, as well.
Untener's reflection continues:
"This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities."The image of seeds growing is so familiar in education as to have become cliché. But, we can tie it into the stages of learning. In some of your skills, you are just planting a seed. In other skills, you are nurturing a small, budding plant. In other skills, you are harvesting fruit. You can't get fruit from a seed you have just planted, but you can water that seed, give it sunshine, and keep the weeds at bay so that it has the best chance to reach full growth.
Untener's reflection concludes:
"We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own."Although we may aspire to be master builders in our craft, the best artists I know still consider themselves to be workers, reaching toward greater "end results" that they may or may not ever reach. That future is not their own since they can't dictate what the ultimate results of their efforts will be. All they can do is continue to lay foundations that they know will need further development.
In another sense, we build our voices so that our songs can be released into the world. We can never know the full impact they will have, how they will be received, or how they will be remembered. All we can do is infuse our singing with the greatest skill and greatest intentions we can manage and hope that it will reach people in meaningful ways.
We are living in a time when "reaching people" is increasingly difficult and yet vitally important. In this global pandemic, too many lives have been lost, questions linger about the future that no one can reliably answer, and our "normal" has been permanently altered. While life is weighed down by these concerns and we feel the sting of isolation, we rely even more on tools of connection, especially those that artists provide.
We can't do everything. But let's keep doing something. It will be incomplete and we may never see the end results of our work. But it will be a step along the way, planting seeds for a future not our own.
This was a semester unlike any other. As the world turned upside down, it was a privilege to continue to hear your voices.
Sunday, March 15, 2020
As many of us dive into online learning this week, I expect there will be some glitches to work out and a learning curve to overcome. Nevertheless, I'm taking a moment to revel in the relatively new technology that can even make this possible.
When I was growing up, video calls existed only in the land of Star Trek. (In fact, video calls are just one of several technologies we use today that first appeared on Star Trek.)
|From the episode "Wink of an Eye"|
That being said, I will be reminding myself in the coming weeks that what I am doing is not really about the technology. It can be easy to geek out and get lost in all the things we can do. But, ultimately, the technology is just there to allow us to keep doing what is at heart an old-school, unplugged activity.
Technically, the only element required for singing is the human body. The sounds created are felt, heard, and experienced by the person making those sounds and by any others who are in the physical (or virtual) proximity to also experience those sounds. Technology simply allows us to extend that proximity to include more listeners in additional locations.
Our task in voice lessons is to help singers create sounds that can reach both the ears and emotions of their listeners. Therefore, the singing must be efficiently produced and emotionally enlivened. For most classical singers, this is generally done without the benefit of a microphone, ensuring that what audiences are hearing is what is actually occurring. Music theater singers have the same goals, since even though their performances regularly involve microphones, the purpose of the mic is usually to amplify, rather than to modify, the sound.
Like singers, the most important tools that voice teachers use do not require a power cord, either. Our eyes and ears observe, and then our brains interpret what we see and hear and filter that information through our knowledge and experience. Then our voices allow us to offer thoughts, ideas, and—hopefully—inspiration to our students. Of course, tools like spectrograms can precisely break sound into many components, providing a more in-depth perspective. But, as author, pedagogue, and professor Scott McCoy states in Your Voice: An Inside View:
"Computerized voice analysis is not a panacea. No matter how fast the computer or how complex the programing, it is unlikely ever to surpass the human ear and brain. A computer can help its user understand what is happening in a voice; it cannot, however, tell if the sound is beautiful or musical." (p.83).So plug in, power up, launch the apps, and log in. But remember that we are working with human beings, not screens. That way, we can focus on the holistic, organic process of singing by plugging our attention into our students instead of our devices. I am grateful that technology will allow us to keep moving forward in our singing lessons. But I will also be reminding myself that it is there to facilitate our work and not to be the center of our work.
Tuesday, February 18, 2020
"[...] we do not observe learning directly. We can only infer it from observation of performance changes that follow practice or exposure." (p.219)
"[...] use it or lose it. If we train our voice to adapt to the demands of a specific role or song and then stop, we will lose those gains fairly quickly. Additionally, the longer you refrain from training, the longer it takes to reestablish gains." (p.324)In other words, we have to continue to practice the skills we want to maintain, even if they are "learned" and in the automatic stage.
What elements of your singing are in the automatic stage? How has your singing been this week?
|Sorry, the road toward learning never ends!|