The Ideal Chorister!

Happiness-Singing-Choir_smChoral season has begun, and here is my description of The Ideal Chorister. These ideas are for EVERYONE, regardless of level of ability or experience. I know beginners who are better Ideal Choristers than professional singers, so I hope this list is useful for everyone!

The Ideal Chorister!

Arrive on Time (or before) for rehearsal

It takes time to build a safe, creative atmosphere, but only a second to destroy it. Habitually coming late to rehearsal pulls focus from our work to you. I know that people get stuck in traffic or have to come straight from work or a child situation, but persistent latecomers aren’t showing respect for others, and are often the ones who would benefit most from the voice training and stress-busting warm up.

Please note, before rehearsal is not the best time to ask your director a question or chat. There are a lot of moving parts for a successful rehearsal and he/she is preparing mentally for the marathon that it is.

Pitch In to the Best of Your Ability

It’s all too easy to let your choir director or other singers in your section do all the work. Yes, the director is in charge, but the final result depends on every single individual in the choir. It’s no good thinking that your fellow singers will back you up and cover you through the bits you don’t know that well. If every singer in the choir thought that, there would be no choir. Everybody has a place in the choir or you would not be here.

Please try to attend regularly, to know your part, to stay aware of rehearsal schedules, to listen to the director and so on. Those of you who wear hearing aides, please do wear them,  adjust them frequently and carry an extra set of batteries!

Develop Self-Awareness and Self-Monitoring

Many people walk through life not really paying attention. Or they are focused on things that are not in their best interest. Or they are aware of everything and can not focus on their role as a chorister!  Become aware of when you are humming your part when you are supposed to be silent. Become aware of how your constant chair shuffling is distracting to others. Turn off your cell phone, of if you must take a call, excuse yourself quietly and walk out of the room to talk.

Please do not cross in front of the director after rehearsal has started.

Please do not wear perfume or scented creams or lotions. Many people are allergic to these things and have trouble breathing around them.

Self-awareness means being present and engaged in the moment. This can be developed by focusing on the warm ups each session which assists in the transition between your busy daily life and the joy of being in a choir.  Many church choirs don’t really have an effective warm-up because the conductor is a keyboard artist and responsible for covering a huge amount of material.  YOU have to take charge of your warming-up before rehearsal, perhaps in your car before you arrive.

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/thewashingtonvocalconsor2  (medium-low)

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/thewashingtonvocalconsor (medium-high)

Always have a pencil and lightly mark your score with everything the conductor wants.  If you are singing by rote or by ear, use memory games to remember what you are asked to do with the music.  You can even draw a “music map” to show repeats, dynamics, word changes, etc.

Trust

Sometimes it can feel very uncomfortable to be in the middle of a learning process. When you first start to learn a new song it can feel frustrating that you can’t hear or get your part. Even when you’ve been singing a song for a while, you might still keep tripping over some of the words.

Try not to get frustrated, but give yourself up to the process and trust that it will come out right in the end. Your director has a vision for the song that you might not understand, and you have to trust that the process is going somewhere good. In this choir, feel free to make mistakes. That is one very important way to learn.

Practice Empathy, not Sympathy

Stay strong within yourself but respect others. We don’t know what’s going on in someone’s life, or what they have experienced. And don’t try to be helpful unless someone asks. Your attempt to be helpful might tick someone off, and your job as a chorister is to tend to yourself.

Develop a sense of the whole

While you are focused on your own part or hearing the voices immediately around you, try to get a sense of the whole choir. Hear the harmonies working and observe the balance of voices.

Ideally you can hear your own voice, but never louder or more pronounced than the voices around you.  If you can not hear yourself, you are singing too softly, and if yours is the only voice you hear, tone it down.  This is relative, of course. Some voices are larger and more present than others, while other voices are insecure or ill-produced.

While I do not have a huge operatic voice, it is a very present lyric soprano, and I usually have had to sing medium-soft (“mp”) as a base-line, most of the time I am singing in any kind of  choir, which takes a great amount of flexibility and energy. There will always be ill-produced sounds that can be heard louder than well-produced singing.  As a colleague of mine says,  “Ugly will sound louder than beautiful every time.”

It’s not up to me or you to sing louder than ugly, frankly. It is up to us to allow music through us.

Keep on Smiling, Keep on Smiling

Maybe this is the most important aspect of all. Find the humor in any situation. This includes in the person standing next to you who constantly sings the wrong note – loudly! Exist in a relaxed, alert and playful place.

This is the place where music-making and learning, in other words, THE MAGIC, happens!

Cate Frazier-Neely
http://www.catefrazierneely.com
http://www.levinemusic.org

Clairsentience as a Teaching Tool, Part III

These posts are an introduction to a topic that is never discussed in academia or professional organizations, yet can be a crucial part of vocal pedagogy for 1 in 20 teachers. Please see the first two posts in this 3-part series HERE.

One possible definition of an Empath and/or Clairsentient is one who gathers information in ways other than with the five senses, usually experiencing the “energy” of others as physical sensations within their own bodies.

In the first two posts, I discussed these intuitive types in general. But here are some practical tools for Empaths and Clairsentients who are teaching music and voice privately, in groups or classes, or who conduct rehearsals.

For private teachers during lessons:

1. This first idea is from Dr. Sarah Adams Hoover. Take 4 small stones and place them on one side of your keyboard or in a pocket. You are to move each stone from one side of the piano (or change pockets) to the other, at 4 different times during the lesson. Take about 7-10 seconds to move the stone over, feeling each fully with your hand and fingers. Use this time and the physical sensations of feeling the stones to return to your own consciousness and your own body.

Breathe fully and release your breath by blowing out quietly while deliberately pulling your abdominal muscles in.

2. When you take a drink of water, take a full 5-10 seconds to feel the water move down your throat before you return to fully listening or speaking. Take a moment in gratitude that you are ingesting clean water as you need it.

3. Place a tennis ball or other small therapeutic ball by your feet. Remove your shoe and roll the ball under your foot, massaging as you bring awareness into your feet.

Each of these tools brings you back to your own self, as opposed to reaching to merge energetically with the other person. These are ways to begin to learn to turn your Empath gifts OFF at will, rather than unknowingly being a drive-through for each student’s emotional state. Clairsentience will remain but recede momentarily to give your body a chance to center. This also gives you the option to test whether or not you are truly picking up another’s issues or, if in fact, you are projecting your own stuff onto them.

4. Begin every lesson with a few seconds with your empathy turned OFF, and set your intent to be of help to the student as well as honor your own body.

People without these gifts, or who have rolled their eyes at them for whatever reason, can not begin to know the depth of your experience. My own husband and children could not accept these gifts in me until I accepted them in myself. I was always thinking THEIR way was better and constantly trying to emulate them. You can not imitate others. You have to accept yourself. We hear this over and over and it can be so long in coming!

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For leading groups:

1. Being well-organized with a group plan in place every single class or rehearsal keeps you on track. When you have been doing this for years and years, it becomes easy to coast, but then the tendency to become diffuse through endless merging with the crowd energy easily takes over.

I would not be able to lead with what business schools are calling ‘Resonant Leadership’ if I did not take the time to be organized. This includes regular moderate exercise, meditation/prayer, nutritionally sound meals and regular “play.”

2. In order to stay centered and lead effectively, I set up my room early and then usually leave and do not return until a few minutes before rehearsal starts. I can not visit with people before rehearsal because I will automatically start to merge with their energy and it pulls my focus from the task at hand. I have asked choir members NOT to speak with me before rehearsals, and need to remind them of this from time to time. There are always those who need your attention to feel good about themselves and I have learned to draw limits. They will continue to come at you until they learn. Sort of like parenting…

3. I treat myself seriously as someone who needs to gather energy from inside myself before proceeding and leading effectively. (Introverted personality.)

3. I try to make sure I am vocally warm-up. (see posts on Healing Vocal Fold Paralysis.)

4. I use a microphone, not only as I recover from the paralysis, but because I have come to value the energy it takes to project continually. This is especially true for rooms full of children, those over 65 and in rooms that have noisy fans blowing or old air conditioners. Most singers take pride in their ability to project and I know several classroom teachers who boast of their ability to be heard. Good for them. But as a recovering vocal paralysis patient, Clairsentient and Empath, a microphone helps me focus on the sound of my own voice while I am helping others find their voice. It returns me to myself in the midst of what used to feel like a chaotic ocean of propelling through others’ auras and energies.

The results are well worth it, for the group as well as me. Music, Joy and Learning fill almost every second of rehearsal. Personality conflicts and special needs’ students don’t suck up as much of my time and energy.

I have had to learn to accept and hone my particular gifts as well as let go of ego defenses that I built up over a lifetime to protect the gifts in the first place.

When you teach, you are teaching who you ARE even more than what techniques you use or what you have learned.

Mid-Life Manifesto

Sunset+Beach+North+Carolina

“I no longer have patience for certain things, not because I’ve become arrogant, but simply because I reached a point in my life where I do not want to waste more time with what displeases me or hurts me.

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I have no patience for cynicism, excessive criticism and demands of any nature. I lost the will to please those who do not like me, to love those who do not love me and to smile at those who do not want to smile at me. I no longer spend a single minute on those who lie or want to manipulate.

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I decided not to coexist anymore with pretense, hypocrisy, dishonesty and cheap praise. I do not tolerate selective erudition nor academic arrogance. I do not adjust either to popular gossiping. I hate conflict and comparisons.

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I believe in a world of opposites and that’s why I avoid people with rigid and inflexible personalities.

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In friendship I dislike the lack of loyalty and betrayal. I do not get along with those who do not know how to give a compliment or a word of encouragement.

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…. And on top of everything I have no patience for anyone who does not deserve my patience.

– Meryl Streep

All photos taken by Cate Frazier-Neely

Clairsentience as a Teaching Tool, Part II

Wow! “Part I” of Clairsentience as a Teaching Tool sparked more interest than I expected, and I am grateful to colleagues who wrote to me privately as well as those on the Somatic Voicework tm: The Lovetri Method Teachers’ forum for lively discussion.

One thing that I need to clarify is that everyone is born with intuitive gifts, but skillful use of them depends upon how open one is to using them and whether or not one has been able to receive mentoring in their development. Empaths and Clairsentience, both in the spectrum of intuitive gifts, are two different things.

Let me state right up front that I think life-long learning in Voice Science, Functional Listening, and other quantitative tools are two cornerstones in becoming a master teacher of singing, (although perhaps these are also Western preoccupations,) but–

–being LEFT-BRAINED and LOGICAL are just two parts of being scientific. “Scientific” has come to mean facts based on quantitative research, but every time science learns more, the view of the facts is shifted to include new information. Sometimes science actually makes an about-face to completely refute itself when more information is uncovered. Science shares the following qualities with Intuition: 1) Openness to possibilities and trial and error to find out what works and what doesn’t. 2) Mindfulness, curiosity and wonder which are essential to observation. 3) The use of journals and notes to keep track of outcomes, questions and possible connections.

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(part of “command central” in my music studio/study)

If you suspect you are an Empath and/or Clairsentient, there are certain skills you need to develop first for yourself if you are to work with others without sacrificing your mental, emotional and physical health over time. If you are not naturally a “grounded” person, the first essential skills are becoming grounded through vitalizing nutrition, exercise and practices such as yoga, meditation and/or prayer. Also, your body may be much more sensitive to noise or toxins in your environment than that of the average person, so take yourself seriously in this regard.

The problem with this way of being in the world is that empaths act like “psychic sponges,” often unskillfully merging with others’ energy fields.  Others leave feeling really good, and the empath is exhausted. Empaths are naturally hard-wired to be healers, but an unskilled healer, especially over time, is of no help to anyone, including themselves!

The thing is, if this is what an empath is accustomed to feeling, he/she doesn’t know any better, so they keep gravitating to people and situations where this cycle can be perpetuated because it is familiar. Where things get REALLY dysfunctional is when feeling this used and depleted is interpretated as being loved or loving.

My own voice teachers who recognized this sensitivity in me tried to help by telling me to toughen up, not leak my energy out, stop being so smart, surround myself with protective egg shapes and light, and a whole host of well-meaning but ultimately unuseful ways to manage myself. At the same time, other musicians, audiences and newspaper reviews from the 1980’s—through the early 2000’s, praised my musicianship, emotional depth and vocal suppleness. Was it possible that the outer successes were because of the way I was made, not in spite of it? Yes, of course…

…but the bottom line is that I always felt split and anxious..always, like I was carrying heavy secrets or hidden illnesses and neurosis that dared not be exposed.

And maybe I was. Everyone else’s and my own.   If you are not an Empath, understanding what this feels like is impossible from your frame of reference.  Of course you can be understanding of other’s pain, but you will not end up carrying it in your own body like it is your own pain.

OK. So let’s say you are an Empath and/or Clairsentient and  have spent the time and effort to learn to become grounded and have even managed to attract people into your life to help you with this task. (My husband of 36 years is as left-brained as they come, still with an acute artistic sense) You also understand that Empath/Clairsentients support others completely with their conscious awareness by massively stretching over to another person and merging with them energetically.

But, really, all that is required to be with someone is to be physically present, listen and show a sympathetic attitude.

*Only unskilled Empath/Clairsentient Teachers are wacky enough to routinely interpret ‘being there for someone’ like this:

1) Unconsciously I will merge with this person’s energy field 30 super-quick times in 10 minutes, lifting energy from her field and depositing it into mine.
2) I will give as much energy to this person as possible…until she tells me she is satisfied.* Which may be never.
3) I will do all this plus show her how to technically develop her singing to freely express through music, teach music history and theory, style and technique, play the keyboard while sight-reading multiple scores, advise her on contracts and auditions and deportment, teach at least three other languages phonetically plus English diction, etc., etc., and if you are a high school student who wants to major in music or theater, I will hold your hand and your parents’ hands through the totally messed up and crazy college search and audition calamity.
4) I will charge her the equivalent rate of a psychiatrist and lawyer and college search coach combined.
5) If only, on number 4.

*paraphrased from Rose Rosetree’s book “Become the Most Important Person in the Room.”

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By routinely “taking on another person’s stuff,” an empath naturally will make others feel better and they are left feeling drained and possibly sick.   A voice teacher who is an empath may find themselves illustrating singing with student tensions and misunderstandings and then find it hard to reconnect to  their own voice. Richard Miller, the great teaching guru who passed away in 2009, said “never, ever sing out of posture,” meaning, never illustrate with anything other than your best singing.

The National Association of Teachers of Singing used to have a list of top ten jobs to destroy your singing voice, and teaching singing was at the top of the list.

In training my gift of Clairsentience, I have received the most help through trial and error, the mentorship of Dr. Roberta Sachs and studying the Somatic Nervous System and alternative health. Becoming a skilled practitioner of “Somatic Voicework tm” The Lovetri Method” has been crucial to integrating my scientific and intuitive self and learning to listen functionally. The atmosphere of collegial learning is one I searched for with colleagues when I founded the Washington Vocal Consortium in 1987-2012. At that time, there were virtually no places for safe learning and experimentation as a singer and teacher of singing. (The National Association of Singing sometimes carries within it an atmosphere of judgement and right and wrong learning, although it is much better than it was a generation ago.)

Empathic gifts, Part III of Clairsentience as a Teaching Tool, coming right up this week,  will discuss some practical ways to strengthen your own consciousness and free yourself of continually merging with others while you are teaching privately or for groups. You will still support that individual or class or rehearsal with 10 times the awareness of most other teachers, but will not deplete your own energy field in giving to others.

 

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Clairsentience as a Teaching Tool, Part I

Clairsentience as a Teaching Tool, Part I

Great Falls, MD

What is Clairsentience?

This is the first in a series of posts about Clairsentience (“clear-feeling”) and it’s role in teaching vocal technique. The academic in me hastens to add that if it weren’t for studying voice science, I might not have developed a coherent and specific language for translating information from my body into something useful for a student of singing. And this is true. But voice science is meant to serve intuition, not the other way around, and I think we’ve put the cart before the horse in contemporary vocal pedagogy. I know many fine voice teachers who understand how the body is supposed to work in the production of sound, but they can’t work with the person in front of them who is not singing in that ideal way.

We have an amazing body of voice science and are continually learning more. Isn’t it time to learn about the information from our own amazing bodies?

Clairsentience is one of the most practical intuitive gifts but left unaware and untrained can be brutal for someone who does not know she or he has it. It is a type of sixth sense which enables one to “feel” or “know” and interpret surrounding feelings and energies. It is also possible to feel things from a distance. Empathy and Clairsentience can be grouped together in the spectrum of intuitive gifts, both of which relate to sensing and feeling the emotions and energies of people, animals, plants or things. Training this type of Knowing requires recognition, acceptance and patience with one’s gifts, and also the kind and wise guidance of others. It is not something that is recognized or trained in our Western culture, although the best teachers often use it, even if they are unaware that that is what they are doing.

I have the ability to feel, in my own body, what is at work physically, emotionally and psychologically in another persons’ speaking or singing voice. I was born with this gift and grew up in a most unusual and incredible family and community of singers, music and singing. So I probably began to feel deeply and merge energetically with others through voice and singing from a very early age. I also tried to protect myself from stuff I couldn’t understand by carrying extra weight as an attempt to pad myself from feelings of invasion.

Training this gift requires self-love and acceptance and wisdom, accrued with time. Untrained, I felt I could read other people at a deep psychological level when, in fact, the information was often tainted because I was mixed up between my own inner journey and that of others. Boundary issues are always a lesson for this kind of Knowing.

At its best, this talent gives me a remarkable amount of information about a person’s needs in their voice lesson, or the needs of a group of people with whom I am working. Years of experience and study enable me to wade through the tsunami of information I receive from my body in a split second and come up with helpful tools for students’ vocal and musical development. At worst, I begin to entrain to the student or group, literally vibrating at their level, which is not good for my own well-being. It is not uncommon for Empath-Clairsentients to have drastic physical and mental health issues until they learn who they are and can train their gifts for their good as well as others.

The next posts in this series will give you more information on traits of an Empath-Clairsentience and how those traits can be used to be an effective teacher of singing.

In the meantime, if you would like to know more, I highly recommend the book “Be the Most Important Person in the Room” by Rose Rosetree. It has some self-tests and practical guidance for those who are learning to use their own empathic gifts.

Finding my voice through finding my voice

IMAG1631It’s been a year and a half since diagnosis of vocal fold paralysis, and I have chronicled the journey towards healing HERE. Progress feels slow, but there are little signs of continued recovery here and there. The latest reassessment by Jeanie Lovetri, the singing voice specialist who developed Somatic Voice Work tm: The Lovetri Method, is that I may be able to sing a simple classical song within another 4-5 months, assuming I continue with my exercises and stay with the other forms of therapy and healing I am using. Nothing is certain, of course, and we are truly forging new ground with this manner of working.

Sometimes I will sit still and just imagine a movie in fast motion, first showing my vocal apparatus struggling and silent and then scrolling through improvements until the function–the way the laryngeal apparatus is working–is oiled and smooth. I imagine feeling happy and centered as I sing, free of all the dysfunction that had been set up vocally over the past 10 years. I know through personal experience how important IMAGINING and VISUALIZING one’s desired outcome is towards achieving a goal. As well as doing the physical work.

New information:

There is a relationship between thyroid function and the function of the voice. They are even located in the same part of the body! I’ve had issues with my thyroid off and on for many years, but it is not a simple case of hypo vs hyper thyroid, and I have never taken medication. Medical doctors had their chance. From 2002-2003 I went to FOUR different endochrinologists who each told my my thyroid was OK after testing. Yea. I was 200 pounds, my hair was thin and falling out, and I had a 4-nodule goiter that ran the width of the thyroid. But sure, I was ok…My voice teacher, Elizabeth Daniels, was positive that some singing issues I had begun to have were thyroid related. We were both stumped.

From 2003-2007 I was able to regulate my thyroid and maintain a healthy weight as I worked closely with a multi-disciplinary alternative health care clinic that a voice student told me about. I worked with kinesiologists, nutritionists, and exercise counselors, taking massive amount of supplements and on a regiment of saliva testing for monitoring endocrine function. It worked, but it was very expensive and very time consuming. Singing was restored somewhat, but the middle register was funky and unreliable.

I drove 45 minutes around the Washington, DC Beltway and back 1-3 times a week for almost 4 years, and finally, after accruing massive debt, decided I had to stop. None of this was covered by insurance and my husband and I had entered into the college years for the kids. We just finished THAT phase of life this past May. (two kids, two college degrees.)

IMAG1597-1-1So, I this past June I decided I had to go back to trying to solve the thyroid puzzle. I started working with another alternative health care clinic where my doctor is an MD as well as an Alternative sort. His testing revealed severe mold growth throughout my system–EW!–which has suppressed the ability of the thyroid produced to be drawn into my cells. I have spent the summer tweaking supplements I am to take to kill the mold off slowly, as well as tweaking diet and upping exercise. My husband spent two weeks before starting a new job, building a drainage system in our back yard AND we are getting a new roof as there was mold detected from water damage.

We will know in another 6 weeks if this protocol is working. In the meantime, I am in touch with my regular medical doctor with lab results and what I am doing and getting his feedback and guidance.

I will be honest with anyone who is reading this who knows my medical history, which includes 8 really nasty abdominal surgeries, three with severe complications. My life has been pretty extreme in this regard. I realize that. No one is more tired of these stories and experiences than me. When I look at what I have managed to accomplish in spite of this history, it is truly Herculean. I am not sure I would have had the tenacity and courage to keep healing from these things if I wasn’t a singer.

And what I have learned has made me an exceptional teacher of singing. I am also working on a book on the subject of generational healing.

Finding my Voice through finding my voice.

(flower photographs taken while on a walk through Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland.)