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. 

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