Sunday, November 12, 2017

Have I Mentioned my Latest Obsession????


One of my favorite frequented studios is holding a Gratitude Challenge. It IS that time of year, and while the level of stress climbs, it is so vitally important to take time to reflect and feel gratitude for the lives we live. It can be extremely challenging to weed out the negativity for me at times, but I have to learn to open up and drop the attitude so that I can feel positive about myself, my work, and life in general.

Yoga has been a great way for me to relieve the pressure of my life as a performer. I do use a bit of philosophy in my one on one lessons, but really, I feel like yoga offers me the opportunity to be myself without the stigma of being "a singer" - I have been feeling the need to connect with myself on a different level lately, and "being a singer" has dominated so much of WHO I AM for so long, that I have started to forget what on earth I liked outside of singing. And because singing, teaching singers, and directing choir are now my employment, I've had to reconnect with who I am as a person and learn to avoid pinning my entire identity on what I do for a living. Is an accountant fully consumed by accounting 24/7? No, well, maybe during tax season - but most people have hobbies. My hobby became my career, and while that's awesome and all, I miss some of the joy of making music for fun and without repercussions and deadlines and stigmas and blah, blah, blah...

If it seems like I've been more withdrawn lately, it is true. Please, I ask that no one takes it personally. I have been taking more time to reflect, ponder, dream, and shape my future. And I've been driving to a lot of different places, listening to a zillion audio-books (May I recommend Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert... It was one of the best pieces I have read in a long time and put tons of things into perspective. Will link at the bottom).

So! I have always loved a good class, but I'm giving it a lot more attention lately: Yoga! I feel so strongly that there is a form of yoga for every type of person. I've been on a personal quest to build strength and find mental stability in my practice. It has led me to find that I can grow stronger, I can concentrate, I can LET GO of the outside world, if only for that hour and a half of the yoga class.

I am so excited about this part of my life becoming more prominent, I'm hoping to take some teacher training and intensives so that not only will my own practice deepen, but I can begin to incorporate even more into my voice teaching and really understand some of the greater depths of yogic philosophy. And maybe this will lead to new things in my life. Maybe I do not have to SOLELY identify as a singer. Maybe I can help someone else navigate their wild paths down the line. But right now, I've become very excited about entering a new community and making these self-discoveries.

I'm yearning to improve more. The more time spent on the mat, the more time I WANT to be on the mat. It's pretty amazing. So, I'd just like to share that bit of gratitude with you all today.


By the way.... (Yes affiliate link, ALSO a coupon, though so, I'd call it a win-win - 20BPYOGAMAT - 20% off BestsharedPlus yoga mat. Available now through 11/13, while supplies last.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Importance of Being Me -- what I wish I knew in Grad School

Hello again friends,

Thank you for your patience as I explore the avenue of discussing and reviewing teaching books through this blog. Amazon's affiliate program could help to fund further writing on this blog if it takes, so please consider purchasing through me as a "donation"  - if you will - so that my students can continue to learn, and I can help navigate beginning voice and music teachers through so many options for learning! I want to help others by sharing what I find inspirational today. As young singers, we have so much on our plates. This is a list of things I wish I knew, and some of the boks that influenced my life in the last three years. I am a big book nerd, so I feel like it's great to share if I find things that are really helpful!

- Liesl

The Importance of Being Me (a singer, teacher, and human being)

This article is something I've been rolling around today, after having a friend ask for advice. I want to let people know: I'm out there and I'm working, and I am (sort of) staying sane. Not every day is glorious, there are ups and downs, but I feel mostly in-control of my life. That is so important for people to understand about gaining control over anxiety. I was not very public about my anxiety struggles while I was going through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but I did have to meet a therapist, deal with out-of-state insurance, and more b.s. through my second year of grad school. Guess what? I came out on the other side O.K. - when I thought the whole world was going to crash down on me and end, it didn't. Some major life changes happened, and after I let go of the anger and allowed myself to be free of other people's ambitions for me, I felt free and capable. I still notice the anxiety creeping back in when I start to lose control of things like my schedule or my diet, I am still working on building confidence. Self-confidence is a life-long journey.

I feel like it's time to be open about some things because maybe I can help the next young woman or man dealing with fear, anxiety, and general stress!

Being true to yourself is so hard, but I am finally starting to feel more open, honest, and forgiving of myself. I am allowing myself to be true to my own needs and wants. The photo below was taken at the NATS workshop, January 2017, in San Diego. I worked with Mark Moliterno (author of the Musician's Breath, founder of the YogaVoice Foundation, and mentor-friend from Westminster Choir College). His yogic postures really helped open up my singing, and the fact that I was able to mentally feel secure made all the difference in the world to my sound! I am so glad to FINALLY feel like I can embrace who I am, without worrying about others' "disapproval."

Singing Un Bel Di from Madama Butterfly at the NATS workshop in San Diego

What I Wish I Knew During Grad School

1. Being a musician is hard. No one tells you that many aspects are NOT glamorous. It can be grueling. You will work every single day for three months, then find yourself without anything and be stressed. Or - you may have to decide not to be a traveling musician, and make some sacrifices. Sometimes, though - you will get to be extremely elegant and go to great places and be treated like a Queen (or King)! But every day you should be grateful that you can do what you do. You make people happy when you give them your music. Remember that.

2. Being a musician costs a lot of money. It goes beyond the weekly voice lessons, audition fees, and travel costs. It costs you time. Time you can't work in your day job will deplete the bank account, but you'll have to learn to balance it out. You need to be a good accountant for yourself. Learn to balance your books, and try to not be wasteful (and no one needs to know your gown was from Goodwill - look around mid to late summer when everyone gets rid of old prom dresses and bridesmaid dresses)!

3. You don't need to RUSH into anything. If you're not ready, don't audition. Find programs you ARE ready for, and take the plunge into more challenging and competitive programs when you know you can ACE it. I know there are lots of age limits on these YAPs, but stop stressing about it. The right things will find you when you are ready to sing them. I am turning 29, and will be too old to audition for a lot of training programs next season, but I am JUST now settling into my full lyric sound. I finally feel ready to sing the roles that are right for my voice, and I'm pretty much aged out. Does that mean I should give up? No. Training programs that push young singers too far, too young are not doing them favors (they are more likely getting cheap employees for the year). 

4. There is more work out there than the Met Opera - and not everyone is cut out for that. Believe me: There is a demand for singers out there and you CAN find meaningful work that you enjoy. Sometimes you will have to be creative about it and you will have fun in things you never imagined you would do! The most rewarding programs to sing have been in hospitals and for the elderly - the people who LOVE what you do and feel that spiritual connection to music. 

5. LOVE your fellow artists. Celebrate with them. Brag on your friends (even if you're a little jealous). Because love for others can't hurt you. Don't talk crap about singers getting gigs. You don't know the whole story and if you are prickly, people won't want to work with you! Support the arts in every way you can. Go watch performances. Observe. ("Talk Less. Smile More."). 

6.  Promote yourself. I still have so much trouble with the cold calling and the self-promotion! I feel so conceited, and maybe that I'm not good enough and they'll think I'm ridiculous. But guess what: you have to like yourself a little bit. :)

Books that helped me as an artist:

Dana Fonteneau: It's Not (Just) About the Gig. I had the pleasure of getting to be in a class taught by Ms. Fonteneau last summer at Opera San Jose. Her practical approach to being a working musician and keeping your sanity is WONDERFUL. I feel like this workbook she has created is a great tool for those leaving school and trying to figure out living, finances, and reality. Know what you really want out of your career. Sometimes, we need to accept ourselves and not try to become like someone else (I will never be a Renee Fleming or Diana Damrau, and I am OK with that). You may be able to purchase on Kindle much cheaper. That's what I did! Since it's a workbook, you will have to have a notebook ready for writing exercises.

For inspiration, I turn to quotes from Julia Cameron's The Artists Way. A workbook and supplemental materials to live creatively, think creatively, and find artistic freedom through writing and letting out emotions.

Inspirational Books for Everyone

Audible had a free trial with self-improvement audiobooks. I listened to Buddhism for Beginners on my commutes to and from my voice studio. I'm really into religious philosophy lately, and want to understand what is out there as I work to grow as a person. I thought the answers to many basic questions about Buddhism in this book were wonderful. I want to be more mindful. More compassionate. We all have to work on it. Check out audible with the link below. It's free to downloads and I was able to read this book free of charge (I have Amazon Prime, so it might require that)!!

 Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks

Suze Orman - Women and Money (Listen for FREE with your Audible trial)! I know the title sounds a little sexist, but women today need to understand our own finances! The men in my life tend to be highly aware of finances, and I wanted to be, too! We need to have control of our money, and like I said: being a musician is expensive. You had to take out how many dollars in student loans? Did you have to use credit cards? Are you dealing with credit card debt on top of loans? And OH NO your car broke down! What can you do??? Take Control Of Your Finances. Life does NOT get cheaper as you age. I left grad school with $40,000 in student loans, plus over $3000 in credit card debt, had to pay $1600 per month for an apartment (because the SF Bay Area went COMPLETELY insane, and that was the CHEAPEST thing I could find in the area...), and I had a teaching job (that "secure" day job I couldn't stand). Luckily, my car held out until I had completely paid off the personal loan I got to pay off debt from credit cards. Now I have NO credit card debt, an AWESOME credit score, and I bought my first NEW car last year (#lovemyhonda). I don't even have the "day-job" anymore (and don't have to live in a shoebox for $1600/month, either)! (Of course, I will be paying off student loans until I die, I'm sure... our new Government Administration will be sure of that). I don't give FULL credit to Suze Orman, but the more you know about controlling debt, the better your life (and credit score) will be. Between this guide, and Dana Fonteneau's, you can figure out the business side of your life so that you can ENJOY making music.

Last book I have to recommend: Jen Lancaster's The Tao of Martha - if we don't have a sense of humor about ourselves and our ambitions, then we will never survive this crazy world. Jen also has a hilarious blog with anecdotes about the day to day life of an author (an artist of a different kind, for sure, but none-the-less a great read).  This book had me constantly laughing. And while, as singers, we are not necessarily trying to create the perfect garden party, or cook an amazing meal for 100 guests, you can appreciate her self-acceptance and take away the fact that NO PERSON is perfect. Laugh at yourself. Enjoy life. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Beginning Voice Students, Part 2 - Adult Students

This article contains affiliate links.

Here's part two, adult students. There are a few "brands" of adult students, so to speak. I am not going to address college students - these are "kids over 18" in my opinion. The adult beginning voice student - called by my local NATS Festival "Late Bloomer" category, can be comprised of older, retired adults, adults who study after work for fun, those trying to get into a community choir, or feel better about church choir, and you may have that adult who is longing to perform on America's Got Talent. They will have varying needs and you are going to need to understand how much of their lesson is recreational and how much is serious.

Private Students and Music Theory

When we want to introduce theory to adults, how do we do this without 1) seeming condescending, or 2) taking time from vocal technique, which is WHY they came to you in the first place. I have found that when adults begin taking music lessons, it is because they really love music and singing, and are trying to get over a technical hurdle that prevents them from fully enjoying singing. More often than not, these are the students you may need to guide through practicing. Occasionally they will have done some music in their youth, but maybe not. They may have rusty music theory from piano lessons, or not have any background with music theory whatsoever.

So, do we recommend that adults take outside piano lessons? Do we introduce theory as we go along? Or do we pick our battles? I tend to recommend self-study. I understand for adults it is often a struggle just to get to voice lessons, practice those songs, and go about daily life. But some, like retirees with a little extra time, want to soak up everything they can. I think a great self-study book is essential. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the same book to some of my adults that I use with kids.

Theory and Sight-Reading for Singers has been a great find for my studio. It introduces basic concepts chapter by chapter, and for my young girls and teens, we sing through the sight-singing exercises and they can ask questions, but it is truly designed as a voice lesson supplement. Teacher guidance with this book is extremely helpful, and there are two part exercises to practice singing harmonies.

Alfred's Essentials - Self Study: If you know your student is going to work on things on their own, you can recommend a self-study theory book. Even with the best students, I think without guidance it can easily get put aside. But, I was impressed by how much ground the Alfred Self-Study covered. If they are serious, taking piano and voice, and want to understand, this is a good avenue. It has the CDs, workbook pages, and in the back there is a full answer key.

Group Lessons/Choir Music Literacy

I direct an adult church choir, and this is a challenge. I have a retired choir conductor and retired professor who can sight read anything, some men who play piano and guitar, and a handful of adult singers who would rather have a lyric sheet. My first step to get evryone up to speed is to offer three introductory theory sessions. JUST basic notation and some simple sight-singing. I feel like those who don't need it shouldn't have to do these exercises, and I'm on a limited amount of time for teaching theory for the majority of the liturgical year, because we must sing anthems for church. Luckily, after Easter it gets a lot quieter and we will be winding down for summer, perfect time to give them something new to do!

We are going to work through Alfred's Music Theory, Book 1. I liked this book because it's straightforward, cut-to-the-chase, and cheap enough to buy with my church music budget for whoever needs one. I was very impressed with the depth of the self-study book for private students, so I decided we will try the class book for choir. The lessons are almost identical, the only thing about the Book 1 is that you don't get the ear training CDs or the answer keys, so if you don't plan to spend much time DURING lessons on theory, then talk your student into the more expensive self-study so that lessons can be focused on technique. For classroom teachers, I LOVE that this book has a teacher book of reproducibles. When I worked in the classroom, it would have been perfect when needing a sub! Middle school and up could handle it. :)

I am also a former student of David Xiques, and will be using some of his ear-training exercises in his book Solfege and Sonority. He published this book several years after I graduated, and I giggled quite a bit because it was like being in his choirs and his classroom. He teaches through Kodaly, but also brings in his many years of experience as a singer and conductor, so there are glimmers of Robert Shaw counting, Vance George's musical expressiveness, and much much more to value as a conductor. This book is really optimal for middle and high school choral directors (even community college or extra-curricular university choir) who need a place to jump off with theory. My church practices in the sanctuary, so some of the written exercises can't be done properly - hence the separate class for introducing notation and vocabulary. The step-by-step directions on introducing musical movement (step-skip, etc) were extremely helpful when I was in the music classroom. 

(Private students could gain from either of these books, but they may not necessarily benefit from them for long. The Alfred book is easy to work through, but there is a collection of Books 1 - 3 available, if you choose to go that route.)

Hybrid - Piano/Voice for Adults

It's taken a little while to get this part of the article up, as I have been scouring piano libraries for appropriate choices for adult learning. 
David Carr Glover Adult Piano Student (published by Alfred). I tend to drift toward these for voice students because they put reading the staff before developing hand techniques (They DO develop hand techniques, don't get me wrong). Your student will see clear explanations of following skips versus steps - much like David Xiques' book - which inevitably will help your singers. Because Glover was a jazz pianist, his methods may be a bit more suited to the aurally inclined student needing to understand the written notation (I can't say for certain, that's just my guess). His forward openly expresses that he is trying to move slower than other Adult Piano books.
Alfred Adult Piano Course gave me one concern: they print the note names on the notes, even in the "grown-up" book. I feel like we should try to introduce moveable notation, not get hung up on C. Patterns, in my opinion, are important to develop for sight-reading. Some adults may find this much more straightforward and helpful though. Very simple stuff. Has songs that could be sung in lessons such as Raisins and Almonds (if you don't know this lullaby, go look it up... gorgeous). Right hand is introduced, then left hand, then grand staff. Moves somewhat slowly, had students chording relatively quickly. For the advanced voice student/music ed major preparing for teaching, this could be very useful. 

Bartok Mikrokosmos would be ideal for a student who has already studied music notation, has no fears, and is willing to dive into musical techniques. Mikrokosmos follows parallel motion and develops finger skills. Bartok's introduction stated that is was intended for a student to have aural skills before beginning this course of study. Students who can handle this will have some introduction to solfege. I think it's great for adult learners ready for piano who have already either played an instrument other than piano, or sung in choir for a long time and have a good grasp of musical line and ideas. 
As with anything else in the music world, these are not the only options. I did not get my hands on a Bastien, for example, but would like to see what that had to offer (although I believe they move VERY fast, so you need dedicated daily study with those). 
Never forget that your voice and piano students need to have fun when learning. Even adults like games and flashcards, so encourage playfulness in the lesson!! 
Comment below if you have a favorite theory or piano book you like to use for adult students!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Beginning Voice Students and Piano Lessons, Part 1 - Kids (under 10)

I know... this is WAY off from my usual topics about performing! I thought I should take a minute to talk about this, since it is so so very common. In full disclosure, I am using Amazon to display these books and have an affiliate link. You should not be discouraged from visiting your local music stores, though! I plan to break this discussion into a couple parts so I can look through more books. Here is the 1st part: KIDS!

 I have been a voice teacher longer than a piano teacher, but I have been playing since I was 6. I enjoy it, I didn't take it very seriously in high school, as I had turned my focus to singing and performing on stage, rather than piano. I don't play advanced repertoire, but I learned to sight-read very young and have been getting away with my nonsense ever since. I have also taught Music Together, and highly recommend that for a student up to 4 years old. I get calls from parents for 3, 4, and 5 year olds wanting voice lessons. I suggest a hybrid piano + singing, or MT for the very young. A great way to get them motivated, but not doing something developmentally inappropriate.

Personally, I am very big on pushing musical literacy. I did a project on Gordon's music literacy studies and the similarities with verbal literacy in grad school. It's important to know what is developmentally appropriate for the student's stage of learning. As voice teachers, we often recommend that our students take some piano as a primer to their voice lessons, hoping this will promote note-reading - sight-reading is so important and we want it to lead to self-sufficiency!! Of course we do! Here's an issue though - many of our students are getting very good piano lessons, teaching them some great techniques to become fine musicians. But they aren't learning to read the notes well. This is not to say these skills are not valuable to a pianist! You need to have rote-learned finger technique to achieve the technical skills to create music as you advance.

Since I started teaching piano, I've learned some of the reason note-reading skills have such a huge disjunct with what voice teachers have come to want and expect from this "pre-requisite" so to speak. This is my opinion of these books for these age levels. Keep in mind that it's important to know your students and their reading levels. If they are having any academic issues, the music teacher should chat with the parents and find out if there are ways to help. Some kids are really fast learners and will need more advanced books, too.
 1. Best for Nursery & Preschool Age: Piano Adventures - Pre-reading level. (Yellow Book). This is a great way to introduce your pre-schooler to sounds on the piano, simple songs, and movement of the index, middle, and ring fingers. The games and songs are intended to build finger-technique and encourage children to explore high-low and loud-soft sounds. Developmentally appropriate for 3 and 4 year olds. Parents need to work side-by-side with these kids to talk through the exercises on a regular basis (I have seen second and third graders walking into lessons with this book, and that is NOT the developmentally appropriate book for that age. If they are old enough to read, they need a higher level).
2. Best for 1st & 2nd Grade: David Carr Glover Primer (Green Book) This is what I started with 25 years ago. These books introduce the grand staff and bass and treble notes immediately. I really like that, personally. It's like introducing "A - alligator, B - bear, and C - cat" to the kidergarten age and above. The print is fairly large, but a second or third grader would not be offended. It's less colorful and less cartoon-ish than Piano Adventures, so for the more serious little kids, this is a great start.
3. Best for Reading Level Preschool, Kindergarten & 1st Grade: Music for Little Mozarts This book also introduces notation right away. They have a lot of drawings including the piano keys, so it's aimed at a little bit younger student than the Glover. I don't own this set, but I have incoming students who have brought it in. Many parents feel this moves too slow and want their child in a more rigorous piano study. I think it could be an ideal book for potential voice students to learn to read. You can easily incorporate solfege exercises and sing all songs. It is worth investigating more.
4. Best for Grade School 2nd - 5th Grade: Piano Adventures Level 1 (Red Book?) This is very different from the pre-reading, although still has similar songs. The Piano Adventure books all have supplemental theory and writing books (you have to purchase separately). You are not going to be introducing one note at a time, they get students comfortable using notes all up and down the keys, so again - heavy focus on the hand technique and building muscular and technical skills for later work in classical piano repertoire.

5. Best for Grade School 1st - 3rd: Schaum Series - Pre-A (The Green Book) Schaum has a lot of sight reading supplements and theory supplements. Introduces the staff notation right away, but also focuses on finger technique for 2-3 notes at a time at first. They are good about highlighting the picture of the keyboard so that kids can practice at home. This is a great starter for the piano-voice hybrid, because they can sing the song the range written for the most part (because they introduce bass clef, there are some low g's which most kids cannot reach, but the teacher usually can).

Everything stays in C long enough to grasp the solfege concept, and you can create a hybrid lesson with a little creativity. As they go along, Sight-Reading Book 1 can add some fun songs to sing & play for said hybrids! For now, this concludes my discussion of piano books. I hope some of these ideas are helpful as you pick out music, or send your voice students to other instructors.

Feel free to check out these and other books through my Amazon shop. Click Here 

What do you use for your voice/piano lessons? Comments are welcomed below!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Back to the Grind 2017!

Hello Dear Friends,

January 2017!? How can it be? Alas, I am already in the throes of several new projects, have returned from an amazing conference/workshop in San Diego, and working on my New Year's resolution to be more forgiving and accepting of myself.

It's been hard keeping up with all these projects, but through it all, I am managing to stay sane and healthy! (Knock on wood, I've heard there is an awful flu going around, I plan to keep up with my regimen of netipot and probiotics and lots of sleep). The conference this last weekend was on wellness, yoga, alexander technique, and holistic health for singers. Could there be anything more "up my alley"? I had a great experience singing in Mark Moliterno's masterclass for Yogavoice. I have worked with Mark a couple of times in the past, and became friends with him while I was studying at Westminster. I always come away from sessions with him with very positive ideas, relaxed, and ready to sing. This experience was no different!

I am eager to try some of the new ideas in my voice studio. There was a lot of great information about spinal alignment and several ways to address it in your singers. I know many people have a hard time grasping what "good posture" looks like, and this workshop offered several ideas on how to remove rigidity from a singer's body, and allow it to be free to make music! I had a blast.

Coming up in the near future, I will be singing at Pocket Opera's annual gala. They are celebrating their 40th Season this year! I am blessed to be part of these fun productions! Then this February, I will again join Cappella SF to sing the Pulitzer Prize winning Anthracite Fields with Bang on a Can Orchestra, as part of UC Berkeley's concert series. I continue to sing with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, in one of my favorite works of all time: Beethoven's 9th Symphony. Not only does it have one of the most memorable melodies in the world, but it conveys the most important message (much needed in today's world) - that we are all kin, and humankind's connection with one another is our connection with God, or a greater being than ourselves.

I look forward to sharing more about these upcoming performances as the season moves ahead - until then: Tschüss!!

A Busy Singer is a Happy Singer

The days tick on, and although it's January, Springtime is rolling in! Not just green trees and wild flowers, but the spring opera seaso...

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