Know thyself

Lamperti says ” ‘Know thyself’ applies to the singer more than to other professions, because to sing well, body, soul and mind are tuned together to do it” (Vocal Wisdom in the section “Know thyself”).  The “self” is a complicated subject, but I tend to agree with Lamperti that having an ongoing excavation of yourself is a necessity as a singer. Science is showing us that our notion of our self is perhaps too fixed – so many cases of traumatic accidents causing personality shifts or behavioral changes are documented elsewhere. Yet we know that the “I” exists and is worthy of exploration.

One of my teachers recently commented that every thought and experience you’ve ever had comes out in the sound of your voice – just ponder the implications of that for a moment. If everything that’s a part of us and our life experience thus far comes out in the sound of the voice, then of course we should explore what exactly those thoughts and experiences are, with judging them as good or bad. This takes practice too, and a devotion to understanding how we each work. I’m reading another translation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (one of the great yoga philosophy texts) right now. Sutra 1.22 is translated as “As persons are leisurely, middling, or intense in their practice, so excellence is achieved accordingly.” The translator Nicholas Sutton then goes on to comment, “success in yoga practice is dependent on the amount of dedication one is willing to give it.” Gee, sounds like that might apply to music too! And life! I can’t help but draw these connections from my yoga studies with my life as a singer….like so many, I have been scared of “excellence” or fulfilling my potential in the past. Now I have a greater ability to look at my habits/thoughts/experiences and see them as not good or bad, but rather to just “know myself” better. I can be free to dedicate myself to practicing (in yoga, singing, and yes, life itself) with less judgment or expectation.

So these two ideas of devotion to practice and “know thyself” are really linked in my experience. A butterfly flies around seeking nectar because that’s what it’s designed to do. Some flowers are dripping with the good stuff and some are duds. Like the pollinator who flies devotedly from flower to weed to tree seeking pollen, I can practice seeking myself, through the practice, and come to relish the experience for itself – no conditions or clauses in the contract.

Practicing Fearlessly – Reboot!

Four years ago, I shared some thoughts on how to practice with another blog. I’d like to revisit those for a moment here.

Here’s the original post:

Practicing Fearlessness – Fearlessly

Part 1

Practice, practice, practice… often the bane of any music student’s existence! 

I have to work at this too- instead of saying, “Ugh, I need to practice,” or “I’m supposed to practice later,” try turning it into a positive: “I want to practice that awesome piece,” or “I love singing in Italian- I’ll go practice now!”  It sounds cheesy, but using positive reinforcement and encouragement with yourself will really change how you look not just at practicing music, but in other daily activities. 

An old conductor of mine used to say “Practice Makes Permanent.”  This applies not just to specific patterns or music you’ll practice, but your mental involvement in music.  Your mind should be actively listening, engaging your vocal mechanism, stopping when you need to check something, but not using constant negative language to beat yourself up.  Regardless of where you are in your studies, there is always room for nuance and improvement, but no one singer is 100% perfect at any given time.  I find if I focus on the things I’m screwing up, rather than on the things I know I can improve, my practice session will be short and unproductive. I hope if you too start working now on practicing positively, practicing your vocal music will become a permanent joy rather than a chore.

These thoughts were inspired by a teacher I worked with for a short time, who pointed out that every time I approached a high note, I told myself “no.” For many years, I relied on my intelligence to learn notes and just get through a piece, but was almost afraid of practicing in case I actually got really good. I was afraid not just of failure, but also success! It’s amazing what the ego mind, or what my mentor calls the Brat, can do – it’s that voice in your head setting you up to fail or always have an escape route ready.

It’s taken me years to understand that practicing is part of my job, and that I really do just need to do it. One of my voice students here in Denver often wears a cap with the Nike logo, and when he struggles, I simply point at his cap and say “Just do it!” Taking that leap, sometimes once, sometimes many, many times will eventually prove to you and the Brat that you are capable. Failure or success really have nothing to do with singing. If you have two working vocal folds, you too can just do it.