Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Professional versus Personal

Wednesdsy musings...

The outline of what happens in the studio is vote professional and personal. It has to be. If it is all personal it leans too far into therapy. If it becomes too professional it can become about teaching the material and not the student.

There is a great deal of gray and at the same time, must be a clear awareness of boundaries. The responsibility of those boundaries lies with the teacher as it is her/his studio. The level of professionalism has to be established by the studio. A singer enters and may push those boundaries or may need to be coaxed to come out and play!

Ultimately the teacher must be true to what they are there to do. Each teacher defines that.

A singer needs to know what they want to accomplish and must stay focused on where that knowledge takes them, how it grows and changes as their understanding grows.

That being said, there are many singers who simply THINK they know what they need and truly haven't a clue. I mean from a professional perspective. This allows opportunity for the teacher to discover where a singer actually is and find a way to meet them there and show them what they truly need and create a course of study that will meet the need not the want - which I believe encompasses both professional and personal.

If a student resists me or pushes back as I lean forward, we are dealing with more than vocal pedagogy. I don't need to know why. That is beyond my training and pay grade! But I need to discover how to reach someone and create a safe environment to allow said student to lower their guard enouh to begin to discover what they might be able to accomplish.

Much of vocal pedagogy is about translation. It is about knowledge that is ever changing and vast being individualized to fit the voice, talent, limitations, physicality and psychology of every single singer who walks through the door.

The professional is trained to understand the textbook. The practioner takes that knowledge and adapts the book knowledge to the physical development of each voice that presents itself. The professional finds a way to approach the discovery of the physiology of voice with the personal awareness and the personality of each singer.

One simply does not effectively without the other. The book knowledge without ability to translate effectively is not helpful. A friendly "teacher" who cannot discover a singer's needs is simply treading water.

Just as it is a teacher's responsibility to find the person in the professional development and atmosphere, so must it be the singer's responsibility too.

A teacher must earn your trust, but you must be open enough to want TO trust. Your behavior must show respect and professionalism while allowing an opportunity to remain open personally to allow a teacher to reach you.

It then becomes simple. As a teacher, if you cannot reach a singer, are disrespected professionally, then you simply must allow that singer loose.

As a singer, if you are not being treated like an individual, if you are not being respected for your concerns or questions, then it is time to discover another teacher.

The relationship of teacher/singer is profound and unique. It must have its boundaries and its latitude to create itself both professionally and personally.

The personal develops healthily when the trust exists for the work to take place. The work and professionalism develops when their is mutual respect in the studio.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

you want respect? You GIVE IT!

Sunday musings...

after watching the awesome that is Sheri Sanders on Oprah Winfrey Network's MY TIME this morning,  and after a couple of interesting interactions with "singers" this week, the reminder of what respect truly came to the fore.

Sheri very firmly and with care and love made it clear to her student on MY TIME after she missed her voice session and showed up too late,  that she needed to learn how to respect the teacher's time, Sheri's ability to set up professional assets that the student couldn't get on her own, and the student's own development.

I am constantly amazed at this lack of respect.  Just as a performer wants respect in their audition, as a performer,  as a student,  so they need to offer it in ALL aspects of their lives.  The singer/actor/performer may believe they are the centre of their own universe - but when you collide with others, you simply are not the centre anymore.

One simple one:  if you disrespect someone's time you will be told to look elsewhere.  If your teacher doesn't show up on time,  you as a student have every right to look elsewhere.  However, it works both ways:  if YOU don't show up and are given an opportunity to redeem yourself and you do it AGAIN, you will be shown the door and don't let it hit you on the ass on your way out!  There is no room in a studio for singers who disrespect the time of a professional you are there to learn from.  It also has a domino affect:  often teachers have a waiting list and could have filled that spot with another singer who would NOT disrespect the time.  You also cost that teacher money.  You should be offering to pay for your session - as most of us has a 24 hour cancellation policy or 48 hour policy.  Respect the rules of the road.  Why do you think you are exempt?  Hair salons have this policy - so why wouldn't you respect someone who could help you pursue your craft and may have the professional assets you NEED.  You are furthering your reputation of disrespect into places that may prevent you from getting an audition or a job! 

Respect the rules of a studio.  If you do not agree - then move to a studio that you can agree to.  As I have said many times,  the fee of a teacher is determined by that teacher.  It is not up for negotiation.  I believe the fee is simply for that teacher's TIME.  You cannot put a dollar figure on expertise.  You pay for a teacher's TIME.  If you begin to question it, or barter with it,  you are again showing disrespect for a professional's time.  Please, remember your reputation is being built on your BEHAVIOR!!  In fact,  it leads first - your talent often is secondary!  If a casting director calls me (and they do!) to ask me about a certain singer, they don't ask me if they have the talent to do a project - they ask me how they are to WORK with. 

With the fall season beginning, many of you are looking for a teacher or a coach.  As you are consulting with different professionals,  realize that if the fee is higher than you can pay per week, if it is someone who can really help you - you find a way to work with them!  Maybe not every week, maybe a half session instead of a full session - but you WORK!!

Just as a student must show respect,  so does the teacher.  You cannot expect respect if you do not offer it. 

Respect comes simply from action and behavior.  Behavior speaks volumes. 

First time, shame on you.  Second time,  shame on me.  There isn't a third time.  From EITHER side of the piano.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

the physical athleticism of our craft

Saturday musings...

As I continue the rehab and recovery process of our near fatal car accident back in June,  I am continually reminded of how physical and athletic the craft of singing truly is.

Our instrument, at its core (no pun intended) is about balance, strength, endurance and presence.  It has to have pliability, elasticity, useable tension and release.  None of this is possible without a consistent and constant reassessing of the physical alignment we move in all day.

You do not need a trauma to recognize something is amiss! Or as dear friend comedian and actor Lewis Black says "something is askew!!!"

More and more, we as singers must release x y and z  and go back to a b c.  This is not going backwards.  This is recognizing the physicality of our instrument needs constant nurturing, recognition and care.

The body is the instrument.  As singers we are athletes.  We are long distance trainers ultimately and we need to know the mechanics of the physicality in order to make sure we have the physical capability to rise to the occasion!!

What are you doing to develop physical endurance? Physical strength? Physical pliability? physical alignment?  breath consistency?  physical balance?

Often I have singers who come in and say their only feedback from an audition is that there isn't consistency.  Guess what?  The voice cannot develop consistency if the body has none.  Period.

The stronger and more developed the body is - the more potential the voice will have to develop the even consistency to sing a full role,  to sing through an orchestra, to perform 8 shows a week.

There are no pat answers.  Your physicality is individual, and your sensibility is unique.  What works for one person may not work for someone else.  Ultimately, the goal is the same but how you get there may be different.

Physical alignment is key: developing clearer behavior in alignment and recognizing where you hold your tensions and how you need to rebuild behavior and release those tensions has to be a continual process.  Stress,  weight loss or gain,  pregnancy, and more affects this. Do NOT ignore the importance of it!  It will be what sets you free or if not taken seriously, will be your demise!

Alignment can range from yoga to Alexander Technique to Feldekrais to Reiki to acupuncture to T'ai Chi to Chi Gong and more.

The breath intensity we need as singers needs to find an athletic cardio component - either passively or actively.  Are you breathing when you work out with weights?  You NEED to.  Are you breathing when you run or jog or walk briskly? Is breath viseral during your day in ANY active activity or in the quiet moments of meditation or stretch?

Are you building strength as you align? Are you making conscious choices through your day to be aware of your physical behavior? Simply, are you IN your body at ALL TIMES?  You need to be. Begin to make a choice to be aware several times a day - while you walk from A to B; while you sit on the train or subway or in the car;

You cannot develop your singer physicality ONLY at your lesson.  If you only think of it while in the studio, it is too late!

Claim that athleticism - do not apologize for it.  Know it shifts each day, and each day we need to be aware of where we are.  Wherever you are BE there.  Stretch from it, breathe from it, do not make excuses and simply claim it.

This leads to behavior and behavior leads to possibilities.  If we have possibilities, we have everything to gain and nothing to lose!

Monday, September 5, 2011

When is craft enough?

Labor day musings...

I have many of you asking questions about craft, about readiness, about technique and auditioning...

And simply, are we ever ready?

So I begin to explore that process with you.

If we are expecting perfection, we will constantly come up short. Perfect technique is not the goal. Whatever that even means. If we waited for "perfection" we would never perform, audition and would always find an excuse!

As artists on the mission of revealing truth, we have to begin with ourselves. Where are we? What are we? What can we do NOW? Are we doing the now? Or are we pursuing past it? Does it allow for us to explore or does it limit us.

Technical behavior is never in stasis due to the physical adjustments we make day to day. Are we committed to allowing for that flexibility?

Technique doesn't need to be perfect to put yourself forward. We need to know where we are and where that "forward" is at the time.

Even if the technique is perfect, it simply isn't enough. A beautiful voice gets boring, a well modulated monologue is flat, a lovely physicality of dance does not move the audience if we the performer are not committed to something more:

The narrative.

What are we trying to say? What are we trying to do? What is beyond and under and through the technical behavior?

The most incredible performances don't move an audience because their technique was flawless. They move an audience because of the commitment and the respect the artist has to the narrative and the form. They realize the art is larger than the artist. They succumb and dedicate themselves to the narrative.

What needs to be said? Through text, through physicality, through language, through breath, through gsture, through movement? And are you willing to move past yourself, your insecurities, your imperfections, to claim and commit to that narrative?

Craft encompasses so much - from the physical technical behavior, through the narrative. How do you achieve it all? Simply a step at a time. Simply recognition of self one step at a time.

Not always easy I know. But while you are building physical technical vocabulary you need to be involving the narrative of what you arr doing. If all you can do is think technical behavior when you perform, you have dismissed the narrative.

Technique is informed from so many places, and the narrative can give you strength and reality and focus and purpose in audition and in performance. If all you are doing is worrying about the high note ( trust me, been there, done that) then you have lost the narrative.

Consider exploring your work from both ends - technical one day, narrative the next. As they begin to inform each other, they begin to weave together instead of oppose each other!

What do you want to DO with that song that aria that 16 bars? Work within the NOW of what you CAN do and explore the levels of CAN not cannot.

Ah-ha moments give us the reality check we need to embrace where we are and how we proceed. Enjoy them!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Game, Hype, Brand but what about CRAFT?

some musings today...

As we ramp up for the fall season,  preparing for auditions and possible work, I see a great deal of classes about brand, the game of the business,  hype developed by some teachers about themselves and more.

Do we need these classes?  Of course we do.  If we don't know how to market ourselves in our area of the business, we can be at a disadvantage.

However, I simply ask - what about CRAFT?

The business of show - from opera to music theatre to theatre to tv/film to voiceovers is simply oversaturated.  Some are actually talented; some are not.  Some have actually studied; some have not.  Some have actually developed craft;  some have not.

I just see too many resumes with "industry" type classes and not enough actual STUDY OF CRAFT classes.  To me, this is simply ass-backwards.

Industry classes present you with a door.  As a singer/actor if you don't have the tools to walk through that door,  it is wasting everybody's time.

The tools are the craft.  Not the game, not the hype, not the brand. You cannot find your brand, your type, your marketing until the TRUTH is in working order.  The truth is simply craft, technique, knowledge, and the ability to access it,  and develop it, and draw on it without hesitation.

How can you create a brand if you haven't studied the craft of your discipline enough to inhabit it fully?

Those that start with the packaging and fake their way into the room will begin to be exposed as surely as those that bring something real and truthful and present that!

Ironically,  the hype and the game exposes itself when the resume is set on the table and has no craft or discipline represented.  Then, all you have to do is open your mouth and we know if the hype is larger than the talent, or the brand is more aggressive than the craft.

If you want to really find your brand/your type - you will drop the hype and the game and simply pursue your craft and your technique with the talent you hold.  The stronger your ability to understand and inhabit your craft, the more obvious your brand and your type become.  Often it even gives you options!!!! Or it simply narrows it down to what you CAN do, not what you WANT to do.

What do you need?  The desire to be where you are and discover what you have.  You need to pursue craft with passion.  You need to find out what your instrument can do - and what you need to do to get it to a place to inhabit fully and luxuriously!

You need patience, you need focus, you need honesty with yourself.

Your game, hype and brand will show its facade very quickly if the truth of your craft doesn't exist.

Ironically, when the truth of craft is a living, breathing part of you,  the game and hype is unnecessary.  The brand reveals itself,  and gives you choices as to how you want to be seen in the industry.

None of this is instant.  Surprise!!! If you want REAL, you gotta work for it.  If you want instant, you got a whole lot of nothing.  The packaging might be interesting, shocking, and may catch someone's eye, but once you go back after the double take and begin to unravel it,  you are disappointed, disgusted and bored - nothing there but hype and game and no real craft or technique.

However, if you DARE to work from the inside out and actually build craft, build technique, discover WHO you are and HOW your talent blossoms with the craft of discovery,  you don't have to be fake and shiny to become noticed, to get a lingering look,  a longer discovery,  and an invitation to come into the room and show us MORE!

It is hard to show more, when there really is nothing there, or you simply are a one trick pony.

So even though the industry classes are bright and shiny,  and we need them,  ask yourself if you are ready to be SEEN there yet.  If you haven't begun your journey as an emerging, discovering artist,  you have nothing yet to show.  Be seen when you know there is craft you can rely on.

Find the substance first - create it, mold it, and know it is an ongoing journey.  The icing of discovering where it will be best molded happens when that journey is well on its way!