Saturday, August 2, 2014

An Illuminated Voice: Trust is vital for beautiful singing

An Illuminated Voice: Trust is vital for beautiful singing: "For the flower, it is fully open at each step of its blossoming."  ~ Mark Nepo Hello singers, Yes it has been a LONG ...

Trust is vital for beautiful singing

"For the flower, it is fully open at each step of its blossoming."
 ~ Mark Nepo

Hello singers,

Yes it has been a LONG time since my last entry...
A lot of life has happened along the way and my “Singing Train” has jumped the track many times, or so it seemed, but the NEED and desire to sing has never been stronger and my train is once again speeding forward! Hurray!
I have doubted myself and have wondered at times that if life makes singing feel "so hard," is the Universe trying to tell me to stop singing? But then the flame of my desire to sing burns so deeply I know this is not true! And so, I have had to learn to trust, again and again, like the rose ("Just remember in the winter, far beneath the bitter snow, lies the seed, that with the sun's love in the spring becomes the rose" Amanda McBroom from her song The Rose) Truly, if we show up and are present every day, life unfolds perfectly in the rhythm and ways which are perfect for us, as told in Mark Nepo's quote above.
I have spent the past 4 years learning to sing in a completely new way, a way which fits my giant instrument (and any size instrument, truly!) This "New Way" is along the lines of “Bel Canto” or the ancient Italian way.  For those of you who already sing this way, Bravi Tutti! You are blessed! For the rest of us who; 1.) Have been trying to make every “concept” various teachers have given us  into a physical reality; 2.) Who by way of squeezing and shoving air, have been attempting to "get the sound out" and/or; 3.) Who have been trying to force physical  manifestations to happen, which in reality should only occur naturally as a byproduct of things happening correctly on the inside... I encourage you to learn to sing in this ancient, perfect way!
Singing in this simple, perfect Bel Canto way, by getting out of the way and letting the voice work as it is biomechanically designed to work, with respect to the physics of sound and by only controlling the few simple things that it is our job to control - is mind blowing! Singing like this has not only profoundly changed my singing, but my entire life! I owe a debt of gratitude to all of my voice teachers over the years, who have certainly taught me some things of value and were, I must trust, right for the "stage of blossoming" that I was in at that point in time, but I will always be exceedingly grateful to Carol Kirkpatrick for opening up the world of Bel Canto and beautiful singing to me. Carol is now semi-retired and rarely accepts new students, but if you want to support someone who has meant so much to me and if you want to learn the business of being an opera singer, I highly recommend you buy her book "Aria Ready" 2nd edition available from Amazon and many other places. You won't regret it! Her website is also aways filled with terrific information!
I can honestly say that I have never sung better... Yet, while I continue to improve, singing gets easier and easier, with no fear of high notes or low notes!  But the biggest concept that must be incorporated for singing well is TRUST.  Good technique is mandatory for success, but if a singer can’t trust that she/he will be in tune, will sing the correct pitch, will sound beautiful and will sound like the best version of themselves, then all is lost... 
When we don't trust ourselves, singing becomes a battle or a game or an illusion and the harder we TRY to make these things happen, the more elusive these goals become.

For a technical "jumping off point, I would encourage you to find a teacher who a.) Sings beautifully themselves – age is not a factor if one sings well  b.) Knows the secrets of Bel Canto AND how to help singers from the "opposite end of that spectrum" learn how to reach the Bel Canto standards at their own pace: physically, mentally and emotionally.  This journey has taken me 4 years and even if it takes you 2-6+ years or however long it takes, its WORTH IT!
The sad news, is that Bel Canto (Literally meaning Beautiful Voice in Italian) is a lost art and I feel so blessed to pass along all that I am learning, as it becomes appropriate, to each singer who studies with me.  However, finding a teacher who can share this information successfully with you is worth it.  In the meantime, I would encourage you to read the article published in Scientific American in their January 2008 issue on page 94 titled "The Human Instrument" by scientist Ingo R. Titze.  This explains in layman's terms, the physics of sound as it relates to the human voice and will open the door of  Bel Canto to you.  If you can't find the article, please email me and I will help you find it.
The demands of singing professionally DEMAND excellent technique; For example an Opera Singer may need to sing virtually non-stop, full out, for 4-5 hours singing on the resonance, as no microphones or other amplification is used, while a Broadway Singer or Jazz/Pop/Rock Star needs to perform 4-8 shows a week lasting 2-4 hours at a time. But truly excellent and beautiful singing, capable of moving us, exciting us and propelling us into action, inspiring us and/or healing us, with any genre of music , can only attain these levels with TRUST, because in the end, we can't hear what we TRULY sound like from outside of our bodies during the act of singing (More on that in a future blog) and often times an opera singer, who has no assisted amplification, singing on the resonance on stage in a big hall with orchestra... hears nothing but their own "noise" as all of their sound has left their body and there is nothing left for them to hear...
We must do the process, have fun and trust!  This is both exhilarating and, in the beginning, terrifying, to become a pure vessel for the sound... a conduit in which that magnificent form of energy we call sound moves through us, out into the Universe, to its ultimate destination... the audience.  This requires total trust.  It is due to the lack of trust, I feel, why it takes most singers many years, if not decades, to achieve their potential.
Trust can not be taught by a teacher, but a good teacher can lead you to the realization that you need to add dedication to self-work on your "inner life" and belief systems to attain the level of trust necessary for success.  Often times some form of counseling or therapy is required, especially if there are stage fright issues present or unresolved childhood or other life trauma keeping the singer from a high degree of trust.
One of the biggest hurdles we singers face is the desire to listen to ourselves sing while we are singing! This is the antithesis of trust, because the physics of singing prove that we can't hear what we sound like outside of our bodies from within! Why do we listen to ourselves, disrupting this critical process?  Because we live in fear that we are not good enough...  I love this quote from Mark Nepo's Book of Awakening: (a book I read from every day and I encourage you to get it also!)
"We do ourselves a great disservice by judging where we are in comparison to some final destination. This is one of the pains of aspiring to become something: the stage of development we are in is always seen against the imagined landscape  of what we are striving for. So where we are - though closer all the time - is never quite enough.  The simple rose, at each moment of its slow blossoming, is as open as it can be. The same is true of our lives. In each stage of our unfolding, we are as stretched as possible"
Mr. Nepo also writes "The paradox is that in true interior ways, the only path to deep safety, that sea of inner peace, is through the shifting sands of risk. Risk opens safety. It doesn't shut it down. Only through the risk to open can we inhabit and receive strength and fullness of what is whole..."
So I encourage you to each always strive for excellence, on a path toward your singing and life goals that stays present in each moment of each day with a heart filled with gratitude...  Be grateful that YOU get to SING!  If you trust your body, trust your heart and most of all TRUST YOUR VOICE great things are possible.
Until next time, let the light of your heart shine through your voice.  
Yours in song ~ Karen

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What Every Singer Should Ask

In this BLOG, I will often address technical vocal concepts and sometimes I will speak to psychological, emotional and spiritual concepts, but today I want to begin with an important question, which many of us are afraid to ask: “Am I studying with the right teacher?”

I have had to ask myself this question several times and want to tell you that it’s okay to ask it. Teachers give us technical information, but they can also help us to gain confidence, sometimes even providing performance opportunities for us and making introductions and opening doors we might not have been able to do otherwise. They become our security blankets, which is not always the best thing. I have had numerous students come to me physically (vocally) battered and emotionally damaged due to abuses from being with the wrong teacher.

We become so attached to what they have done for us in the past, perhaps even playing a role of mother or father or mentor that our relationship becomes co-dependant and is really no longer about the teaching element. When we sing, we bare out souls. I have experienced, as have many singers I know, a feeling of baring our souls to the point we feel naked when we sing, especially when evolving into a newer, deeper more subtle level of trust, but we need to step back every once in awhile and re-evaluate what our teacher is CURRENTLY doing for us – both the good and the bad.

So I encourage you to sit quietly and think of your current voice teacher (or coach, etc,) and WRITE DOWN all of the positive things and negative things. If there are negative things, decide upon the level of their impact, see if you can address them with your teacher and, if appropriate, move on.

I have never met a voice teacher or coach who confessed that they were on a mission to ruin voices, careers or lives. No! We all want to help! However, knowing that each person and each instrument is one-of-a-kind and that many of the concepts we discuss are difficult to put into words or demonstrate, it may be that their style of teaching and method is not the right one for you – that doesn’t make them bad teachers...

I will leave you with a series of questions and ideas to use as tools for your evaluation – Good Luck!

Physical: After your lessons, does your voice feel hoarse or fatigued? Do experience any dysphonia? (Meaning it takes 10-60 minutes after a lesson to produce a natural, easy clear sound either speaking or singing) Do you have any other recurring physical symptoms either before or after your lesson (Headaches, Vomiting, or Diarrhea?) If you can answer yes to any of these questions you might be studying with the wrong teacher.

Discuss these symptoms with your teacher. As we know, there can be underlying psychological or emotional issues manifesting as physical symptoms or you might be misunderstanding a vocal concept, which can be cleared up with an open discussion with your teacher. I am here to tell you that any of these symptoms, if they are ongoing, are NOT normal and NOT the result of your “body getting used to the new technique. I would advise you to consider another teacher.

Technical: Is your vocal range, low to high, increasing and stabilizing or is it shrinking? (Are you losing your high notes and or low notes?) Healthy vocal technique should not decrease your range. Does singing feel more and more natural and easy as you study, or does singing become more difficult? Are register shifts more noticeable and difficult? Do you feel like you can trust your own voice less and less? When you ask your teacher “Why” is my voice doing “THIS,” do they answer that it will just take time and not to worry?

Have you ever taken a “Break” from lessons with your current teacher (Due to work being busy, Illness, financial or other reasons) for 3 months to a year and discover that your voice feels better and singing is easier after that break? If you can answer YES to any of these questions, you might not be with the right teacher.

Psychological/Emotional: Do you look forward to your voice lessons, or do you dread them? (See Physical questions above as well) We all have bad vocal days and bad lessons from time to time, but do you leave every voice lesson frustrated, dejected, shamed or depressed?

Do you spend most of your lesson talking about your life and problems, rather than singing? Do you consider your voice teacher MORE of a friend/mother/father figure, than a teacher? Have you ever commented to yourself or others “Well, I don’t know that he/she’s helping me much with my singing nowadays, but I wouldn’t have survived my “crisis” (Being laid off from work, my divorce, my mother’s death – you fill in the blank) without him/her!”

Do you feel a need to stay because of possible future professional contacts your teacher might be able to give you?

Have you ever said “Gee, I’d really like to take a master class or coach or study with this other teacher, but I know that if my current teacher found out he/she would kick me out of their studio!”

If you can answer yes to one or more of these questions, you might have more success with a different teacher.

Yours in song ~ Karen

An Illuminated Voice: (A weekly beacon to shine the light on solving your vocal mysteries)

An Illuminated Voice by Karen Tucker Patterson
(A weekly beacon to shine the light on solving your vocal mysteries)

Dear Singers,

After 30 years of the ongoing study of voice and 18 years of teaching, I have been inspired to speak up and so I thought a BLOG was a good place to start.

Perhaps, like Renee Flemming and others, you were born with a “Golden Throat” and so your experience of singing has been more about gaining confidence and your teachers and coaches have spoken to you more about the music and its interpretation than about vocal technique. If so, then bless you for being one of the lucky one’s - go sing! This BLOG will most likely not be of interest to you.

However, if you, like me, have struggled through many challenges, in singing and in life, that have impacted your vocal journey for better or for worse, then this might be the ticket to help your own inquiries and inspiration. I will value your comments, suggestions and questions and will respond, where appropriate, either directly or in the body of a message. Wishing you all things brilliant and beautiful in your journey of song...