The Organic Connection Of Emotion To Breath When Singing

 

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“If you are connected to a feeling your diaphragm WILL respond!”

I was doing a 29 hour reading of a new musical recently and these words came out of the director’s mouth. It instantly struck me that this is an idea that I teach in my studio repeatedly and it was worth exploring further .

I think what struck me about this director’s words was that singing is a truly organic experience connected to an emotion and more specifically connected to the body, mind and spirit’s need to communicate that emotion. We can spend countless hours in the studio hammering out vocal technique (which is of course a crucial basic element), but when push comes to shove, if we are not fully invested emotionally and spiritually, that magic “X” factor will inevitably be missing.

I just took a break from writing this to teach a lesson. As I was working with the student (who is someone new to the studio) on her song, instead of working on her breath support, vowel structure or resonance, I simply asked her to speak the lyric and connect to what she was saying. I then asked her to sing the segment we were working again. The result was immediate and dramatic. Instantly, she was connected to her breath , she was articulating and the sound was ringing like a bell!

In her book The Right To Speak, Patsy Rodenburg talks in depth about the connection of emotion to the release of sound and breath support.  She states, “Once we feel supported and ready to speak we connect to real vocal power. Any previous temptation to push, bluff, embellish, or even retreat from words is lessened. These are, after all, only manipulative habits we use to compensate for our fear of trusting our innate means of support. The whole scope of the voice opens and widens.”

She goes on to say,” Sometimes when we come face to face with a heightened choice-a moment of grief, pain or joy- we can experience support as never before. The habits of the body and the voice are overridden and suddenly we go on automatic pilot, almost as if the moment can only be purged through sound. We laugh till our sides ache, someone new to support work will feel their ribcage beginning to work.”

This same idea is true when we are singing .  We can train our voices and work on our breathing, but it’s the intention to communicate a feeling that will really allow the breath to respond and the voice to soar. So often the performer gets caught up in “How do I sound?” “Here comes the high note” or “I wonder what they’re thinking of me right now”. I can guarantee that performer, audience and everyone involved will feel a greater sense of fulfillment from a performance the moment the singer lets go of all of those questions and commits completely to what is happening in the song. That means what the lyrics are saying, what is happening on the page in the music, what the accompanist is giving you in the moment, and the energy in the room.

When working on repertoire, I’m insistent that my student bring their acting choices into every lesson from the start. What you are thinking and feeling as an actor will dramatically affect how you are approaching the piece. Chances are, you’ve done your work and trained. You’ve warmed up your instrument and are ready to go.  Now that you are working on a piece of material, it’s time to trust that work and know that “If you are connected to a feeling, your diaphragm WILL respond!”

Be Warm,

Kim Stern

Co-Creator : The Broadway Warm-Up

A Completely Synchronized Vocal and Dance Warm-Up That Can Be Completed in under 30-minutes! 

TOP 10 ROADBLOCKS MUSICAL THEATRE PERFORMERS FACE (PART 2)

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Last week I started to explore the Top 10 Roadblocks that I have seen my students consistently face-regardless of how far along they are on their career path. As a private voice teacher, I have the privilege of exploring these obstacles with my students on a regular basis and finding creative solutions. No matter how many times I’ve confronted each challenge with a student or on my own, I am always inspired when someone overcomes a hurdle and discovers their true potential.

This list was inspired when Deidre Goodwin and I did an interview for Theatre Cast: a  webcast where theatre teachers and professionals that share a passion for theatre trends exchange practical advice and tips. We talked about our work in developing The Broadway Warm-Up and shared stories of our experiences as performers and teachers.  At some point in the conversation, I mentioned  that I could name about 10 obstacles or roadblocks that I have seen my students come up against consistently.  At this point, a listener of the program wrote in and asked me to go further on that topic.

The following is intended to help you work through the rough points, stick to your resolutions and reach your goals. For more details on items 6-10, please check out the previous post (creatively titled The TOP 10 ROADBLOCK MUSICAL THEATRE PERFORMERS FACE ( PART 1) )

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5. COMPARISON TO WHERE OTHER’S ARE ON THEIR PATHS

When we were in grammar school and were assigned a creative project, the teacher would tell us, “Eyes on your own page!”. She wanted us to focus on our own project and use our own creativity to create something without being swayed or influenced by what other people were doing. I find this motto to be very useful when it comes to my students wondering if they are where they need to be on their career path. It’s oh so tempting to take a look at where our friends and colleagues are and wonder what we are doing wrong or how we can follow in their footsteps. We can spend so much time and energy focusing on other people’s paths and comparing- that we lose our own focus and take energy away from the things that can lead to our own victories. Stay on your own path. Celebrate your friend’s triumphs and at the same time acknowledge that your path is different and your victories will come in their own time.

4. EXPECTING ONE’S SELF TO BE WHERE YOU WANT AS A PERFORMER WITHOUT ALLOWING TIME FOR GRADUAL GROWTH

When a little baby takes it’s very first step, everyone in the room claps and cheers. There are smiles and celebration – and when the baby plops down on his behind seconds later, there are more smiles, applause and encouragement to try again. If he falls, he is not admonished but encouraged to reach further. No one would expect that infant to be up and running a race moments after his first step. Watching the child develop we understand that he must literally put one foot in front of the other to develop muscular strength , coordination and stamina.

As we develop our skills as an artists it’s easy to become impatient with ourselves and expect instant results. We want to see the fruits of our efforts quickly and get frustrated with our status quo. Try to embrace where you are in this very moment as a performer and celebrate that. Acknowledge that you are on a journey as an artist and are developing actual factual muscles. That takes time , patience and practice. Recognize that while you are reaching for greater goals, that does not take away from where you are and what you have to offer in THIS VERY MOMENT.

3. FEAR OF MAKING A MISTAKE- NOT LEAVING SPACE FOR THE “BAD” SOUNDS

It’s very rare that something will come out just perfect on the first try. Great ballerinas have had to fall out of their pirouettes when they were first learning to dance, renowned painters have thousands of sketches that end up painted over or in the trash.  When it comes to singing , I’ve found that most people would like to “sound good” all the time.  For some reason we leave very little room for breathy, cracky or vulnerable sounds when we are working on our singing.  We will go to great lengths creating tension or shying away from notes to avoid “sounding bad” . One of the first things I point out to my students when we begin our work together is that we are not in the studio to “sound good”.  We are in the studio so that we can “sound good” out in the world.  That means that there may be times when we will take the voice to places that are weak, cracky, vulnerable.  As opposed to creating tension and trying to cover those areas up, I encourage the student to actually deal with the reality of what is going on with their instrument so that we can give them the exercises to build upon those areas that need development. It reminds me of going to the gym. Personally, I don’t look my best as I’m sweating on the elliptical machine. However, I hope that as I continue to put in that work I will leave the gym looking and feeling a little better. It’s so important to have at least one safe space where you can feel completely free to “mess up”.  Let that space be your place to play with your instrument, find your creative voice and really let go.

2. NOT GIVING ONE’S SELF THE OPPORTUNITY TO BE BRILLIANT DUE TO LACK OF PROPER PREPARATION

There’s a certain magic that happens when we have done our homework and are truly prepared for a performance . Suddenly, our shoulders release, our breathing becomes easy and our confidence swells. We are able to be present and in the moment and lo and behold-we can have some fun. Anything becomes possible. Proper preparation involves several factors that can sometimes get overlooked or skipped but each element can make a major difference in leading to a victorious outcome. Simply being familiar with our material and having rehearsed it is a good place to start, but preparation can go deeper than that. By giving yourself the opportunity to practice your material in front of other people several times before your audition or performance, allowing yourself the time to warm-up your voice and body,  being certain of how you are going to enter the room and communicate with your accompanist, checking to be sure your music is set up in the proper format and in the proper key and clearly marked, exploring your piece several times and playing with your acting choices and so forth you are setting your self up for an enjoyable performance. Challenge yourself to create opportunities to be brilliant on a regular basis.  As Oprah says, “I feel that luck is preparation meeting opportunity. ”

1. QUESTIONING “AM I GOOD ENOUGH?” 

This is most certainly the #1 road block I see Musical Theatre performers come up against no matter how far along they are on their career path. A performer can have multiple Broadway credits and award nominations or wins. Still the “evil doubt monster” can rear his nasty little head at a moment’s notice. Part of our job as performers is to continually nurture our sense of value and worth. Create a strong support system of teachers, friends, mentors and medical professionals that you trust to guide you on your journey and fill your days with work that inspires you. Continue to strive towards improving your skills while acknowledging how far you’ve come on your path thus far. Practice and be prepared. From there, do the work and just keep doing it. When it comes down to it, we have very little control over what other people’s opinions of us might be — quite frankly it’s none of our business. I’ve seen people talk themselves into the idea of begin good enough and just as easily talk themselves out of being good enough. Make the decision to do the work and let it be an exciting journey rather than a one time trip to greatness. There will be great days and less than great days but you will always be an artist . In my book, by definition, that is more than good enough.

Be Warm,

Kim Stern

Co-Creator – The Broadway Warm-Up

A Completely Synchronized Vocal and Dance Warm-Up that can be completed in under 30 minutes!

The TOP 10 ROADBLOCKS MUSICAL THEATRE PERFORMERS FACE (PART 1)

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Happy New Year Folks!  As we see the horizon of a New Year many of us have our sights on exciting new goals.  We’ve made resolutions that we’ve been able to stick to thus far and we have high hopes for the promise of the coming year. Unfortunately, as we continue along our path we may find that some of these resolutions are a little harder to keep than we thought or we may get frustrated at not hitting the mark for all of our goals right away.  The following is intended to help you work through the rough points, stick to your resolutions and reach your goals.

Recently, Deidre Goodwin and I did an interview for Theatre Cast: a  webcast where theatre teachers and professionals share a passion for theatre trends and share practical advice and tips. We talked about our work in developing The Broadway Warm-Up and shared stories of our experiences as  performers and teachers  At some point in the conversation, I mentioned  that I could name about 10 obstacles or road blocks that I have seen my students come up against consistently-regardless of how far they are along on their career path.  At this point, a listener of the program wrote in and asked me to go further on that topic.  I took some time to look at this and came up with the top 10 roadblocks that I see students consistently face. I realized each “roadblock” is surmountable the moment we are able to acknowledge it in a supportive way and find a way to address it.

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TOP 10 ROAD BLOCKS MUSICAL THEATRE PERFORMERS CONSISTENTLY FACE IN REACHING THEIR GOALS ( PART 1)

 10. SEARCHING FOR APPROVAL FROM SOURCES OUTSIDE OF YOURSELF BEFORE GAINING YOUR OWN APPROVAL

Many times I will have students coming to me hoping for me to tell them if I think they have what it takes to reach their goals. I found that the only real answer is to suggest that they take a look at themselves and ask that very same question. So many times we are tempted to search for approval in auditions, rehearsals, performances or in our day to day life. If we can begin to grow that sense of approval and worth within ourselves we’ll find ourselves continually nurtured. Confidence will soar and our performance will flourish as a result. Value the input of your mentors and teachers but trust that you and you alone can determine your worth.

9. DIFFICULTY EMBRACING THE BRILLIANCE OF THE PERSON YOU ARE AND WHAT YOU HAVE TO OFFER IN A UNIQUE WAY- TRYING TO REPLICATE WHAT OTHERS HAVE ALREADY PUT OUT THERE

To me, part of the wonder and brilliance of life is it’s absolute uniqueness. Each one of us has our very unique qualities and our very unique ways of expressing ourselves to the world. So often, I will find students trying to replicate a performance they’ve seen  on YouTube or heard on ITunes and most of the time it’s obvious right from the start. They may not even realize they are doing it, but they’ve gotten it into their heads that there is one way to put a particular piece across and they aim to replicate it. The result is generally fine—but less than inspiring. When I discover this happening, I will try to find a way for the student to break the mold completely and find their true voice in the song- both on a technical level and as an actor. Invariably, the performance will flourish and the actor and audience will feel more satisfied when this kind of work comes into play. Bring your own unique voice to the table – it’s the one thing you have to offer that no one can take away from you!

8. FEAR OF TAKING A RISK

“If you do what you always do, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten”- Tony Robbins

By definition a risk is a situation involving exposure to danger. It seems quite natural that most of us instinctually avoid risk at all costs. However, as musical theatre performers, we’ve already committed to the idea of taking a risk at some level. When we walk on to a stage or enter a room for an audition we’ve taken a leap into the world of of being vulnerable and free ourselves up to act and react authentically and in the moment. Let’s commit to that idea in a full way.  To be clear, Risk taking is not throwing caution to the wind and going in to an audition unrehearsed expecting brilliance.  It’s challenging yourself to be fully present in the moment , trying a new piece of material or making a bold choice. When you take a smart risk as a performer you will inevitably leave the performance feeling fulfilled, rewarded and exhilarated and 9 times out of 10 your audience will walk away with the same feeling.

7. BECOMING HYPER FOCUSED ON ONE AREA OF WORK THAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT WITHOUT ACKNOWLEDGING AREAS OF GROWTH AND STRENGTH ALONG THE WAY

I’ve seen it over and over.  A student will get super focused on belting a certain note in a song or become so hyper aware of a section of their instrument that needs some developing that they will completely lose track of the growth that they are making as an overall performer.  Then they will start to become frustrated, lose interest, lose motivation and lose focus. When we  focus on one specific area and lose track of our creative instrument as a whole, the work starts to become less satisfying and more and more of a chore.  I think it’s always important to have a realistic view of the goals we wish to reach and check in with those goals on a regular basis.  At the same time,  try to remember that you are developing your whole self on several different levels and you want to continue to acknowledge your growth and strengths along with your opportunities for improvement. The results can be surprising.  I’ve seen students step away from working on an area that’s been challenging for them and begin to really focus on building their instrument as a whole.  Then, a few months later they will come back to a piece of music that seemed impossible for them earlier and it will be a piece of cake.

6. DIFFICULTY COMMITTING TO REGULAR PRACTICE

We’ve all heard the old joke: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?…”  Well,  there’s no way around it, practice is key element for anyone looking to master their craft.  Most of us have great intentions but  when it comes down to it may find it difficult to commit to a regular cycle of practice.

I find there are several elements that may get in the way of a steady practice cycle. The first is committing to too much too soon.  If you haven’t been in a regular practice cycle it is going to be quite a shock to your system to suddenly commit to practicing 1 or more  hours a day working on vocal exercises running through repertoire and cooling down. Try starting small. Commit to 10 minutes 3-4 times a week. Half the battle is actually beginning to practice. Chances are, once you start, you won’t want to stop and may end up doing more practice time than you committed to. If you do more, that’s great, but consider your practice fulfilled once you’ve done your 10 minutes. Do that for a month and then expand your commitment to 20 minutes 5 times a week… you get the idea.  Before you know it you will have eased yourself into a regular practice pattern.

The second element that may interfere with regular practice : LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION! Many of us live in urban areas and don not want to disturb our neighbors or live with roommates. We may want to practice but find it difficult to find a proper time and place to really let our voices out. For my students living in urban areas, I suggest a few solutions: If you are living with roommates, it might help to come up with some sort of a schedule. Most likely your roommate would not mind having an hour or so per week of private time in the apartment even if they are not a performer.  Make an  agreement that both of you will plan to be out of the apartment for one hour per week at a specific time ( they would be using the apartment when you are out  and vice versa) .  You can then plan for that to be your rehearsal time. As for the neighbors, I recommend being as upfront as possible.  Try knocking on the door or leaving a note and letting them know you are a performer and will be rehearsing from time to time . If at any point the noise is a problem invite them to please let you know.

A third element that generally gets in the way of regular practice is not knowing what to do or a general lack of focus. I recommend to my students to work with the vocal exercises that we have recorded on a given week along with the recording.  I suggest for them to to do the exercises along with the recording and listen to the things we talk about in the lesson as sometimes you may hear an idea in a different way upon repetition. This element of not knowing what to do is actually one of the inspirations for The Broadway Warm-Up.  I had so many students asking me for some sort of a set and efficient warm-up that could get them ready for a show or audition and found myself making repeated recordings for people. I finally decided to come up with a better solution.

In terms of working  repertoire, it’s always tempting to strictly work on new material and let some of your older material suffer. Try to get in the habit of running through at least one or two of your old stand by’s a week and see what fresh insight you can bring to them.

Try to look at your practice time as a regular gift you can give to yourself . It’s time that you are taking away from any of the day to day drudgery to be creative and nurture your artistic self.

COMING SOON: TOP 10 ROAD BLOCKS MUSICAL THEATRE PERFORMERS CONSISTENTLY FACE IN REACHING THEIR GOALS ( PART 2)