KSVS Summer Intensive Blog: #11

THE RIGHT TO SING

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Seth Rudetsky, James Wesley and Van Dean produced “Broadway for Orlando”, a benefit single of “What the World Needs Now is Love” sung by dozens of broadway performers.  You can buy it on iTunes and 100% of what you spend goes to the victims and families of victims in the Orlando shooting.

Seth made a YouTube video called “Deconstructing Broadway for Orlando” which is both crazy entertaining and educational.  In it Seth goes phrase by phrase pointing out what he likes about what each performer does on their solos or what’s happening on a particular group harmony.  Rudetsky is clearly a master technician and a huge fan of all things musical.  He geeks out on every detail of the song in the most hilarious and charming way.  (My definition of a nerd is someone who unabashedly and unapologetically loves something.  I love nerds.)  The striking thing I learned is that, seemingly to him, every voice is valid for communication.

Seth mentions how he talked Whoopi Goldberg and Rosie Perez into singing solos even though they don’t consider themselves singers.  He points out why what they do is so effective in the song.  The arrangement has Sarah Jessica Parker’s light voice sandwiched between power houses Kristen Bell, Gloria Estefan and Idina Menzel.  He explains why he wanted Parker’s sweetness on “it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of” and he’s equally excited about Idina’s expert back phrasing of “No, not just for some, but for everyone”.  And he keeps saying, “I love how ‘so and so’ sounds so much like themselves on this phrase”. When you listen to the song as a whole, it beautifully communicates an important sentiment expressed by many different kinds of voices and personalities.  The variety is part of the appeal.

My good friend, Deanna Decampos, owns Eastside Westside Music Together which offers music classes for babies/toddlers and their parents.  The theory behind the program is that music participation is for everyone.  Once upon a time, families sat around and sang together, but somewhere in the middle of the 20th century with the rise of school choirs and competitions, music became relegated to the naturally gifted.  Music Together tries to remove this burden of expectation and get families singing together again.

Of course, we know that expertise and dedication to the advanced craft of singing is a wonderful thing.  That’s what the Kim Stern Summer Vocal Intensive is all about.  But for today, I love the idea of us all starting from the position that we have a Right to Sing.  I borrow the phrase from Patsy Rosenburg’s excellent book, The Right To Speak: Working with the Voice.  Somewhere along the way, society is trying shut us up – maybe not on purpose, maybe not maliciously, but it happens.  Let’s resist it.

Nova Thomas, tells a great story about when she was attending White Gloves and Party Manners Pre-School in the deep south.  Her father was called in for a parent-teacher conference where he was told (read with an extreme southern accent), “Nova’s inside voice is more like an outside voice and her outside voice is like something from the animal kingdom.”  To which he answered, “Well, she has something important to say.”  He was right.  She went on to be an accomplished opera singer.

We all have something to say.  We all have something to sing.  Let’s do it with love because that’s exactly what the world needs now.

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KSVS Summer Intensive Blog: #10

 YO CANTO

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 I was walking to my voice lesson today, with a music book in my hand, when I ran into a director that lives in my building.  He said, “I didn’t know you were a singer!”  Note to self, always put sheet music in an unmarked bag.

My new roommate, assuming I sing because I’m an actress with a piano in the living room, said, “will you sing for me sometime?”  Gulp.

My comfort zone is either as a complete novice because, “hey, I’m new at this!” or as an absolute expert who can negotiate almost any thing I’m asked to do with confidence and ease.  I HATE the in-between part.  But there has to be that moment when you start admitting to being a golfer or baker or singer.  That’s part of moving to the next step.  The in-between part is where you buckle down and do most of the work.  It’s where the commitment is.  It’s where you admit that you are actually trying something that you may or may not succeed at.  That’s the risk.

Tonight I was on my Duolingo Spanish App and the first exercise was “translate the following into English – Yo canto.”  As I typed the words, “I sing,” I thought, “OK, universe, I’m so far out of my comfort zone, I need my passport AND a sherpa.  But here I go.”

Yo canto.

~ Kimberly Y.

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KSVS Summer Intensive Blog: #9

STRAIN VS. FATIGUE

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I baby my voice.  I was on vocal rest off and on for about 6 months during graduate school, so I developed the bad habit of thinking any little sign of fatigue was a red flag with a blaring siren and flashing lights.  I’ve been working on a song that’s tricky for me.  There are so many things to master that it takes me a couple of hours a day to make any progress.  My voice doesn’t feel strained, but it definitely feels tired.  And when I wake up the next morning, I still feel a little vocal fatigue, but I also feel stronger and more flexible – exactly the same way my body feels after a great workout at the gym.

So what’s the difference between “good tired” and “whoops, I’m going to be hoarse all day tomorrow.”?  Pain is a big indicator.  I’ve definitely had those evenings in a loud restaurant or bar where I’m shouting for hours and feel something not good going on with my vocal chords.  And in grad school, I lost my voice because I wasn’t sleeping even though I had pneumonia, followed by bronchitis, followed by post bronchial asthma.  But the show must go on, right?  Nope.  Not always.  Sometimes you have to stop.  And sometimes you have to push yourself.  The trick is learning the difference.

The summer vocal intensive is…well, intense.  And I’m learning that my voice can take it because it’s a consistent, measured, smart approach to strengthening my instrument.  I’m learning where and how I need to stretch in order to grow.  And I’ve discovered the voice isn’t so fragile after all.  It mostly acts up when I do something stupid that common sense will protect me  from.  Sleep, don’t scream for hours, take care of your body, stay hydrated and you’ll be surprised how much you can work out the voice with no danger at all.

~ Kimberly Y.

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KSVS Summer Intensive Blog: #8

CONVERSATIONS

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I was at dinner with some longtime friends who I hadn’t seen in a month and I was just about to tell them about the Summer Vocal Intensive when one of them asked, “How do you feel about broadway?”  Neither of them are performers and sometimes people will defer to the tastes of professionals, so rather than give my opinion I asked, “how do you feel about it?”  I was shocked at what came next.  “Well, I hate when I have friends who think they can sing, who think they have a chance on broadway when they will clearly never be Audra McDonald.”  Then began a discussion between the other two about how broadway performers are like a different kind of superhero species and everyone else should go find another talent.  I didn’t bother to point out that not every show on broadway is a musical or that Audra McDonald is glorious and unparalleled for sure, so perhaps she shouldn’t be the marker.  Instead, I felt myself shrinking inside and wondering why on earth I was wasting my and Kim’s time with voice lessons.

The next day I went to lunch with good friend, Mara Davi, who has done many Broadway Musicals.  She had just finished singing in the “Princess Party” concert at Feinstein’s/54 Below.  She sat there with her years of experience, gorgeous voice and organic bran muffin saying, “Yeah I had to have a serious conversation with myself before the show.”  They had asked her to sing a song from The Little Mermaid that had been challenging for her years ago, but her voice has since grown into it.  Even though she knew she sounded great on the song, she started thinking, “but what if … (insert insecure thought)?”  And that’s when she stopped and had a healthy conversation with herself.   She’s one of the most well balanced, least neurotic people I know, so I figure we can all take a lesson from her!

She pointed out how psychological singing can be (also physical, technical, and emotional), and often the opposition or resistance starts in your mind and then spills out into the song.  That’s why the conversations you have are so important.  You can’t control what other people say to you, but you can have a healthy conversation with yourself putting things back in proper perspective.  Mara reminded herself of all the reasons she shouldn’t be freaked out about singing the song and then of course she went and rocked it!

~ Kimberly Y.

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KSVS Summer Intensive Blog: #7

AT THE BALLET

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KSVS Summer Intensive Blog: #6

A MIRACLE 

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I have the best intentions in the world.  I try to work out regularly.  I try to vocalize daily.  I try to stretch regularly.  I try to do a relaxation exercise two times a week.  I really try to keep myself in performance shape.  But sometimes I skip a day or a month.  It’s not because I’m lazy.  It’s because I get frustrated when I don’t seem to be making progress or I get tired of re-creating the wheel. Or sometimes, for example, I’m really good about relaxing but can’t fit in vocalizing or stretching.  THEN IN WALTZES THE BROADWAY WARMUP.  It’s like the waters parted and I could see the path to my promised land.

As a bonus, Kim gave all her intensive clients a 30 day pass to the Broadway Warmup which is a regimented, systematic, detailed, physical and vocal warmup.  The series begins with an instructional video where you learn every component of the workout step by step.  You learn the physical movement, then the vocalizations, then you put them together.  The warmup itself takes a little time to master, but that’s part of it’s beauty.  It’s so efficient and thorough that there’s no dead space or wasted time.  Plus doing a very physical vocal warm up is so much more effective then standing with your arms by your side starting blankly into space while running through arpeggios .  All the physical movement grounds and frees my voice.  I’m spending so much energy trying to get my form correct on my upward dog that I somehow let go of my vocal ticks and bad habits.  It’s crazy the sound that easily flows out of me.  And the warm up itself is complicated enough to do everyday without losing interest.  And it’s simple enough to do every day without getting frustrated.  And I can spend my mental bandwidth on my technique instead of always thinking, “which exercise should I do next”.

This one’s a game changer.

~ Kimberly Y.

 

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KSVS Summer Intensive Blog: #5

WE ALL NEED TO RELAX

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 We know relaxation is a huge part of performing.  We know that relaxation has to be a regular part of your everyday life in order for it to be readily accessible on stage or screen.  What I didn’t know until today is how debilitatingly tense I have gotten over the last few months!!!

I love Lee Strasberg’s definition of relaxation, “Relaxation is the exact amount of muscular effort you need to accomplish a task”.  Relaxation is not being a heap of jelly on the ground, nor is it being a mush mouthed singer.  It’s using the correct muscles with the appropriate amount of energy to get the job done – no more and no less.  In my case, I discovered my effort is in all the wrong places.  I try to muscle sound with the back of my tongue, yet my lips are super lazy.  After these discoveries in today’s lesson, I started paying attention to my every day usage.  I noticed -

1. I hold my breath while choosing an answer in Duolingo (It’s an app for goodness sake, not a PH.d dissertation.)

2. I raise my eyebrows and shoulders while putting on makeup (I promise, my arm can reach every part of my face without raising my shoulders).

3. When I brush my teeth, I crouch over and jut out my neck in a way that makes no sense at all.  It’s just not necessary.

4. The list goes on.

Why all this tension?  Have I always been like this?  The answer is not always, but the last two months have been full of 7 weeks of travel, 3 continents, little sleep and tons of work.  Clearly, I’ve been operating on empty and resorting to muscling and holding my breath through life.  So as always, it’s good to check in and bring awareness to the situation.  And sometimes awareness is enough.  In my case, I need to reset.  I love Elizabeth Kemp’s “green light” exercise.  There’s nothing in the world like having Elizabeth lead you through the exercise, so put taking one of her classes on your bucket list.  Until that magical day when she leads you through it, you can start with this:

  1. Lie down comfortably on the floor.
  2. Bring your awareness to your toes.
  3. Wiggle them around and imagine a green light flowing through them.
  4. Let the green light release all the tension.
  5. Imagine the green light moving up your body, one section at a time.
  6. With each body part – bring your awareness to it, move it, release the tension.
  7. Spend extra time on all the muscles of the face.

The purpose of the green light is to give you something to focus on, helping to avoid your mind wandering or worrying.  I, for one, am going to get the green light flowing until I stop tensing up during smart phone games!

~Kimberly Y.

 

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KSVS Summer Intensive Blog: #4

USE YOUR MIND

images-1 I suspect Kim Stern might be a mind reader.

 Exhibit A:

Kim:  Think of two dolphins – one jumping through your belly and out your mouth.  And one jumping into your mouth and down your throat.

 

Me:  (THINKING OF THE DUELING DOLPHINS) “Key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e, key-e,”

(SUDDENLY FORGETTING ABOUT THE INCOMING DOLPHIN AND ONLY CONCENTRATING ON THE BELLY GUY)

“Key-e, key-e, key-e.”

Kim:  Don’t forget about the dolphin jumping in your mouth.

Me:  What?!???!  How do you know what I’m thinking and not thinking?!?

Because she listens.  And because thoughts matter.  Singing is athletic and it’s mental.  Great singing is intentional.  Lesson learned today – don’t go on auto-pilot, don’t get mentally lazy, the perceptive audience knows when I’m doing my work.  And I wouldn’t want any other kind!

~Kimberly Y.

 

 

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KSVS Summer Intensive Blog: #3

SINGING IS OPEN

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 Here is a recap of the take aways from my first few lessons:

  1. Open my chest.
  2. Open my lower back.
  3. OPEN MY MOUTH!!!!

Singing is expression.  It’s more effective when that expression comes from openness.  As performers, we spend so much time trying to open up emotionally, but sometimes it’s just as simple as opening up physically and the rest follows.  When I open my shoulders I get more emotional, when I open my low back I become more grounded, when I open my mouth I produce more and better sound.  Easy fixes that lead to great big results.  Of course now the trick is developing those easy directions into new habits.  That’s the luxurious thing about having a summer full of voice lessons to work on it.

~ Kimberly Y.

 

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KSVS Summer Intensive Blog: #2

SLOW START

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I was so excited about taking the Kim Stern Summer Intensive and packing a year’s worth of voice lessons into one summer!  “Imagine the progress I’ll make.”  “My voice will be in the best shape of it’s life.”  “I’ll develop so many great habits!”  “They’ll beg me to be the first female Hamilton!”

And then I get sick the first day – really, really sick.  And I stay sick for 3 weeks.  And now the thoughts go something like this, “The whole summer is ruined”, “My voice will never go back to normal,” “Is this a sign I should quit singing?”

But the truth of the matter is that mastering anything is a marathon and not a sprint.  Set backs are inevitable.  And there’s usually a silver lining if you look for it.

So as I lie in bed with a barely there voice, I looked for music I might want to sing.  Now when does a person ever have the luxury of spending hours looking through sheet music.  #glasshalffull

~ Kimberly Y.

 

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