Creating Singing Work for Museums and Art Galleries

Creating a market for singing as a professional singer often requires thinking outside the box and seeing opportunities where others see nothing.

From 1985-2005 I was successful in creating programs and performing opportunities which were brought into many museums and art galleries in the Washington, DC area.

Combining art and music has always been a passionate interest. When I studied Latin and Greek in high school (hey, I wanted to, so there) I found out about the Greek work “ekphrasis,” which originally referred to the various perspectives of an object that a visual artist was painting or sculpting. It has come to mean poetry and prose written to describe visual art, and by extension, song and music written to describe visual art. For an opera history project in graduate school, I chose Paul Hindemith’s “Mathis der Mahler” to survey and was completely blown away by the story of the painter Mathias Grunwald told through the music of Hindemith.

Pavarotti, Joni Mitchell and Jerry Garcia are just a few musicians who all painted. Many singers I know are jewelry designers and artisan craftspeople. And it is most interesting for me to see this passed down to our adult son, Adam Neely, who has twice won the national young jazz composers’ ASCAP award as well as a grant from The Jerome Foundation.  He hears in color. (synesthesia.)

Anyway, I went into all that so you would see why pursuing work in museums and art galleries was a major love for me. I did it because it was an expression of my core self.

Here are some questions about this topic posed by singer Tiffany Thorpe on the New Forum for Classical Singers on Facebook. I asked Tiffany if I could use her questions as a jumping off point for this post and she agreed.

Tiffany: How would I go about proposing something like this to a gallery owner? How do I start the conversation?

Moi: I realize that things are quite different from even five years ago, but I think some things are the same. All my programs were built around what was being exhibited, and sometimes included poetry about the art or the subject of the exhibition. (I just got a Facebook message from Victoria Kirsch out in L.A. who has programmed in a similar manner!) This means that before you approach the museum programs’ director or gallery owner, do your homework. Find out what exhibits are planned for the next two years. Some exhibits are easier to plan music around than others.

(There is a great deal of research and imagination that goes into planning music around an exhibit but I love that kind of thing.)

Then you email the contact person, with their name spelled correctly, and introduce yourself. If you are not associated with an organization, say that you are a professional singer who specializes in integrating visual art with music. Even if you’ve done this only with children as a teacher or parent, that counts. Ask if they would be interested in collaborating with you on a program of music related to xyz exhibition. Always mention that it would be beneficial to the gallery/museum to combine audiences and that you would be able to bring in people to a program that might not visit the exhibit otherwise.

Along the way, sometimes I found out about a concert series that I did not know about—this was partially before the Internet. I actually cold-called a few program directors and got immediate positive results. Do not mention money or funding at this point unless they bring it up. Usually, if they are interested, they will respond to your email asking for a proposal or ask you what you have in mind.

Tiffany: What’s in it for them? What’s the normal percentage of ticket sales for the gallery owner or small venue to take?

Me: 1) You will be bringing more people into their space who would normally not be there and 2) help them to connect into the greater arts’ community via any publicity you generate. Think of your friends, work associates, students, church or temple connections, gym, child’s play group, book club, etc.and estimate how many people you might be able to draw in personally.

Financial or Other Compensation was different for each of my experiences. Each concert was negotiated differently, and each time I got smarter. Here are seven selected experiences to give you some ideas.

1984—Bethune Museum Archives, Washington, DC. (first meeting place for the National Council of Negro Women. ) Back then, The Washington Post had two arts’ reviewers who were known to be sympathetic to up-and-coming musicians. I contacted one of them, Calvin Le Compte, and let him know I had created a program of classical songs by African-American female composers (lots of time spent in the Library of Congress—pre-Google,) and he introduced me to the museum’s curator. She managed to come up with a tiny honorarium from The National Parks’ Service, but Le Compte wrote a wonderful review that appeared in the Post. The museum did a fair amount of publicity in their materials, which got my name out.

1986—My former chamber ensemble, The Amoroso Chamber Consort, performed for an afternoon Tea at Strathmore Mansion in North Bethesda, Maryland. This is a venue that has a small art gallery and concert hall. All the songs had to do with food or drink, including the soprano aria from the Bach Coffee Cantata. Their first financial offer was just tea and crumpets in exchange for our services. I said no. The negotiation went back and forth several times, but we eventually settled on–they would do their usual publicity, and pay us through another source other than the Tea IF we agreed to perform two sets back to back, and if we filled 3 tables with ticket-buying customers. I also reduced the ensemble from 5 to 3 people, and we made a decent wage.

1989–This same venue sponsored a John Cage Retrospective with him in attendance– both his art and music. I called the director of the John Cage Festival to pitch my wares and she asked for my resume and cassette demo. I did not get invited to do a program alongside Cage’s art installation, but I was invited to be the soprano in the John Cage Festival Orchestra! Note: I was the soprano IN the orchestra, not WITH the orchestra….and that score was very strange. And I got paid. And met John Cage.

1990—I approached a small art gallery in Kensington, MD, (now defunct) about bringing Hebrew and Sephardic songs to their gallery, as the gallery owner was Jewish and the art was very Chagall-like. She told me she already had a music series and put me in touch with their coordinator, who happened to be her husband. I auditioned for him and ended up singing 4 concerts with him and some fine instrumentalists. We shared ticket sales. Even though this wasn’t a big money-maker, the venue was 5 minutes from my home—I had a toddler then–and I didn’t have the responsibility of singing an entire new program. I got to perform some awesome chamber music. I did bring in many people to the gallery to hear me sing who would not have gone in normally.

2005—I noticed that the National Museum of Women in the Arts was sponsoring an exhibit called “Nordic Cool: Hot Female Designers,” and I cold-called their program director to offer a noon-time program featuring Nordic composers. I arranged a collaboration among them, me and Levine Music, where I received a faculty grant to execute this project. I typed up the program and Levine printed them for me. The museum contributed wonderful publicity and set up, including a tuned grand piano. The central rotunda, where the concert took place, was full. Later I would sing an evening program on their concert stage, with advance ticket sales of $20.00 a piece. We split the proceeds 50/50. That wasn’t as successful financially or in the way logistics were handled.

2007–This story is a good one. The Smithsonian Resident Associates program contacted me to do the Nordic program I had sung for the NMWA. They were having a Swedish festival and wanted the concert performed at the New House of Sweden, by the Potomac River, that had a new art exhibit of Nordic multi-media artists. Their financial offer was insultingly low and they would not budge. AND, get this–they actually asked me to bring a piano.

After I got over THAT, I said, seriously, “well, I have a portable Yamaha digital but you will have to pay ten times what you are offering. If you do that, I not only will get the piano to the venue, but you will have solved the piano situation and the musicians with this one phone call. I never dreamed they would accept it.

2008—I cold-called the Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC, when I noticed that they had an upcoming exhibit of American quilts. I offered them a program I had written about quilts and quilting several years before for a women’s chorus which I conducted. This is how I was paid: I formed another women’s chorus that met every week for 5 months to learn the program, and the women paid me a preset fee which was handled by a former student who acted as business manager. From that fee I paid my accompanist, paid for a good recording and the rental on the church room where we rehearsed. The second floor recital hall of the Renwick Gallery was packed with standing room only, and it was a wonderful experience for everyone. I am still in afterglow 6 years later! The museum printed the program for us and created beautiful posters and publicity.

General thoughts

1. Each situation is different and needs to be handled creatively, but I went into each conversation with information. I also knew what I could and could not live with in terms of pay and extra responsibilities. The Smithsonian was a weird one. If I didn’t have an athlete for a husband that piano would never have made it…

2. Be specific about what publicity they will do and what you will do. You will be responsible for creating copy and making sure it reads well. Don’t leave it up to them or your name will appear as Adele Dazeem.

3. Some places have a set fee and percentage for ticket sales, and some are open to negotiation. Do your homework, and above all, practice what you are going to say to just say it. Often your confident, relaxed delivery speaks volumes about what you are willing to accept.

4. Yes, it is a huge amount of work. That’s the business. Like I said, decide what you can and can not do.

5. If there are ticket sales involved, always have the museum or gallery handle that. You have more than enough to do, let alone the craft, artistry and maintaining physical health for singing.

Happy Singing and I hope this helps spear head some great collaborations!

Youtube Voice Lessons–Pros and Cons

Thanks to the wonders of the Web, there are millions of people in all businesses peddling their expertise, including voice teachers. Since I’ve been teaching singing privately and in workshops for a long time, I’ve watched this form of education and advertising mushroom over the years. Part of me is fascinated by the ease that many people have in front of the camera, and part of me hears what’s being said and watches anyway, like someone who is not able to look away from a horrible train wreck.

Recently I began contacting some video voice teachers who have many subscribers to their Youtube channels to ask questions. This is consistent with my history–if many people in my field are doing something, and I seem to be missing “why,” I ask “what do you get out of this?” Most of them were gracious with their time and honest in their answers, but some reminded me of “the olden days,” when voice teachers closely guarded their trade secrets.

There are some good voice teachers on the web, but in my opinion, they are few and far between. It is a great deal of work to make and produce a video voice lesson series, and most of the teachers I interviewed admitted that they have not seen much financial return for that work. They spend a great deal of time answering questions in the comments’ section, or get a Skype lesson or two out of it, but regular recurring students are a rarity. It seems to take about two to five years of making video lessons part of their regular work day, to start to get regular private students on Skype. My impression was that the number of students seeking Skype lessons does increase, which keeps income steady, although the retention rate is dismal.

For some teachers, possibly the advertising revenues from Google can be greater than income from teaching. One mid-20’s instrumental musician/teacher I interviewed says that he has made about $600–$700 from Google in the ten years he has sporadically posted video teaching lessons. He reminded me of something I have read consistently–that the key for getting students or increasing advertising income is to post regular and inspiring video content. More experienced video lesson teachers taper off making the videos after they have the work they want, and let their old video lessons continue to pull in students.

There are those who are making video lessons because they have a burning need to be famous or have true narcissistic issues, which can usually be spotted a mile away.

From what I have observed, creating video lessons makes great sense if you are trying to sell a book, educational material or fill a webinar, but it may not translate to more regular students unless they are Skype lessons.

There are two issues I have with many video voice teachers. And the fact that I have not made videos (yet) is not wasted on me….I get it. Those who have not done something easily cast stones. I know that things are different than when I began teaching singing 35 years ago and know that it is harder to navigate the market place. Or is it? After talking with video lesson teachers, I think that the same skill sets of ingenuity, creativity and hard work were necessary a generation ago as they are today. The difference is that academia is graduating many more musicians whose inbred qualities do not include those three attributes. Read Colvin’s Talent is Overrated.

Yet there are two things that are often missing in most video voice teachers that I feel are the foundation of being a good teacher of singing.

1. Knowledge of how the voice is supposed to work is only a PREREQUISITE for all good teachers of singing. And now, thanks to voice science and the evolution of the species called “the voice teacher,” we have voice teachers who know the science of how the body is supposed to work in the production of sound. Just because you have explained the science does not mean you know how to work with an individual over time.

YET in spite of this progress we still have voice teachers talking about doing something with nasal resonance, nasal cavities, the vague directive to “support from the diaphragm” and forward placement, all of which are SENSATIONS due to something happening efficiently elsewhere in the body, larynx, throat and mouth. I hear many video voice teachers talking science but sometimes it is not accurate. (Kind of like using “facts” in a political debate–you never know what is accurate and what is not. Thankfully, voice science is pretty straight forward.) But the unsuspecting public gets pulled in.

And, I repeat–if you happen to get your scientific facts straight, just because you know the accurate science behind how the larynx works, or just because you have figured out how it works in your own body and come up with your own terminology, it does not mean you know how to work with others because singing is such an individual act. You also need to be able to observe, sense and diagnose how and what is not working in another singer, much like a body worker or physical therapist. You need to understand a basic physics’ principal that where a tension is released, it must be picked up somewhere else in the body. Which means you need to observe and hear fine muscle movements with an eagle eye and ear. You need to understand how emotion (fear, anger, sadness, just to name a few emotions,) can be stored in the body and affect singing. And then know how to work with muscle groupings and the mind to help slowly release dysfunction and build up vocal function. And on top of all that, you must be, or have been, a good musician and/or singer yourself.

2. The greatest musicians and teachers are HUMBLE in the face of their art and the traditions from which they come. No voice teacher or musician or entertainer ever exists in a vacuum, however much they think they do. Many video voice teachers as a whole are not communicating anything other than that they have the answers and learned the answers themselves so they are the experts.

We live in a culture of Personality Worship. The problem is our cultural understanding of Humility. Sometimes the word is synonymous with being a door mat or mild-mannered. Humility, as an expert, comes from understanding you are where you are because of the work of others. It comes from knowing that the things you have “discovered” are indeed, worthy, but not because you have originated the idea. You might be the One to take an idea to the next level, but we are part of a web that reaches further than the internet, further than we can fathom. Becoming humble means you are in service to something Greater than Yourself and you are there to serve the student. How can one teacher be of service to everyone on the Web? It doesn’t work that way.

Video voice lessons are a great way for people to find out more about their own singing but the truth is, you learn to sing by singing. Which means that just about any video voice “tip” will be of help if it gets you singing or starting to practice more consciously.

I’ve found a few web voice teachers who are accurate, knowledgable, great singers, humble and have a great sense of humor. But let the buyer beware….they are few and far between.

Chamber Music for Soprano

cfn_82506_DSC6033In the 27 years I worked as a classical singer, I was incredibly lucky to sing a great deal of chamber music.

Chamber music fed my heart as a musician and collaborator.  In addition to performing standard chamber music repertoire such as “The Shepherd on the Rock” of Franz Schubert at the Goethe Institute in DC, and Bach’s solo arias with obligato instruments with The Washington Bach Consort, I worked for many years for the former American Women Composers, premiering numerous American works in 8 languages throughout the Mid-Atlantic and on the West Coast of the US. Eventually AWC absorbed into The International Alliance of Women in Music.

If you are looking for chamber music repertoire, here’s a partial list from those performing years. Back in the day, I had to go into downtown Washington,DC and the Library of Congress to research this stuff. Some of it may be hard to find, but it is worth a little sleuthing.

G.F. Handel–“No se emendera jamais,” Spanish Cantata, soprano, continuo (keyboard and cello)

Albert Rouseel–“Deux Poems de Ronsard,” soprano and flute

Johann Christian Bach–“Semplicetto, an cor…” (from the opera Endimoione) soprano, flute and piano

Arnold Cooke–“Three Songs of Innocence,” soprano, clarinet and piano

Aaron Copland–“As it Fell Upon the Day,” soprano, flute and clarinet

Gustav Holst–“Four Songs for Voice and Violin”

Virgil Thompson–“Five Phrases from the Song of Solomon,” soprano and percussion

Lynn Steele–“Breviario,” soprano and harp

Clare Shore–“Four Vocalises” for soprano and mandolin

Nancy Carrol–“Songs from the Heart of a Child,” Soprano, mandolin and guitar

W.A. Mozart–“Komm, Liebe Zither, Komm,” K 351 soprano and mandolin
“Die Zufriedenheit,K 349 soprano and mandolin (this makes a nice mini-set)

Herman Berlinski–“Psalm 23″ Soprano and Flute

Clara Lyle Boone–“Slumber Song” voice and mandolin

Winifred Hyson–“Love and Beyond” for soprano, flute and Japanese koto (I sang this with Lori Laitman, flute, before she became a well-known American composer!)

H. Villa-Lobos–“Suite for Voice and Violin” for voice and violin, and
“Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5,” for soprano and 8 celli

Franz Lachner–“Frauenlieben und Leben” soprano, french horn and piano. Franz Lachner had two brothers, Ignaz and Vinzenz, who also wrote chamber music for high voice.

Granados–“La Majo Doloroso” soprano, english horn and piano (I’ve also done this with a french horn playing the english horn part.)

Chamber Operas:

A Game of Chance by Seymour Barab

A Hand of Bridge by Samual Barber

Green Eggs and Ham, by Robert Kapilow (listen to an excerpt here, although this performance used a piano reduction of the chamber music score.)

Birthday of the Infanta by Ron Nelson

There’s so much out there! If you are planning a recital or program, explore some chamber music.

The Business of Music for College Arts’ Majors

moneyThere’s a great deal of talk these days about how college music and arts’ programs need to include more matter-of-fact courses in marketing and the music business. I may be a lone voice in the world of career singers and singing teachers, but it seems to me that it is not so much a question of learning business skills as it is of developing 1) Creative Entrepreneurship and 2) Learning to Manage Money.  These skills are necessary even before you learn about music as business.  And those two things must be cultivated when you are growing up, BEFORE you get to college. I don’t think it is the college’s responsibility to teach these things. It is the parents’ responsibility to encourage an environment where a creative person starts to think in these ways and begins to acquire the skills.

So once again, we are blaming teachers and curriculums for things parents should be doing.

That being said, my parents did encourage my creative projects and interests, but didn’t do so well with teaching my brothers and me about money management. I can not blame them for two reasons. The first is that they were both musicians and very spiritual and religious souls in a certain era of American history who still managed to raise three kids on a church musician’s salary.  They had mom’s supplemental income but no outside help or family inheritances. They had many mixed feelings about money because of their ingrained belief that Christianity and financial security could not exist within the same life. They also had swallowed the belief that musicians needed to work as a service to the Lord, which is not a bad idea, but their beliefs translated to working their asses off for little financial return. Children will inherit attitudes modeled by their caregivers.

The second is due to my nature.  I fall in the category of creative dreamer-souls who have had to learn the hard way that learning about money is in my own best interests. It’s like I couldn’t leave the part of my life when my parents’ took care of everything, like some people insist on the notion that love is nothing but romance. I couldn’t seem to grow up for a long time.

I had the Creative entrepreneurship thing down, though, and my website outlines some of what I’ve done.

But in this post, I offer you my version of Handling Money as an Artist when I was in my 20’s here. Fortunately, time and wisdom (and getting my butt kicked a few times,) have helped me grow up.

Tax Forms
1.  al+x_________ _________ squilgy lines wack-a-doo ___________________
2. form c sized to which never (silence in brain)              ___________________
3. we will kill you unless you put a number here              ___________________
4. (this spot for doodling with cool pen)                               ___________________
TOTAL EARNED INCOME                                                         hahahahahahaha

Credit Card Debt Credit cards mean I have money and can pay for things even though I have not actually earned or obtained the money to pay. The balance due is a reflection of how much the creditor trusts me. They really trust me a lot.

Itemized Item Deductions for Self-Employment Tax

I actually have receipts by the Miracle of Lourdes but it took me over 25 years to learn to do this in a systematic way.

Sheet Music………………………….                                $ 310.45
Piano Tuning…………………………                               $ 220.00
Private Lessons and Coaching…………..              $1,000.00
Students Who Suck Life Out of Me……              $7,000.00
Psycho Parents of High School Students        $9,000.00
Corporate Administration Mindset in
the non-profit arts’ educational
institution where I work……………………….             $503,006.82
Self-Doubt as an Artist/ Educator……….             priceless

Put gas in and go

Paying Bills On Time to acquire good credit score
Wait for collection agency letter, then pay. Pay for all books, recordings and craft supplies BEFORE rent and food.

No number of college courses in marketing or business could have helped me with what are basic adult skills in a contemporary society. Those skills were (and still are) so BORING compared to the music and visions in my head and heart that I could not bear to focus on financial common sense.   Suzie Ormon herself couldn’t have persuaded me otherwise in college.

Money management starts before you go to college, and if you are not the type of person who will learn, it will catch up with you later. So learn what you can now.

I hope my little list has been of help….

Is Your Child Ready for Private Voice Lessons?

This article originally appeared in Washington Parent Magazine

Making Joyful Sounds: Is Your Child Ready for Private Voice Lessons?

by Cathryn Frazier-Neely, M.M., B.M., CERT in Somatic Voice Work: The Lovetri Method

Does your child love to sing? Is she interested in private voice lessons? This article will help you find a good voice teacher and smooth out the wrinkles often associated with formal music study.

Q: When can my child start voice lessons?

Many voice teachers say that a girl should be at least 14 years old or past puberty before starting voice lessons, and a boy should wait until after his voice changes. Until these hormonal changes occur, the larynx and vocal cords grow at different rates and they feel that voice lessons will pressure these muscles. In the meantime, these teachers advise students to sing in an ensemble, listen to good singing and/or study an instrument.

However, since these hormonal changes now occur much earlier than in previous generations, many children are ready for private lessons much earlier. With the right teacher, students can establish good vocal and musical habits and also foster an awareness of personal interpretation and beauty.

An adolescent’s rate of physical and emotional growth–and her interests and talents–determine when she is ready to start lessons. It is imperative that the voice teacher working with your child specializes in the physiology and psychology of young singers. They do not need to have academic degrees in child psychology, but should have experience and interest in working with this age group. Adolescents are not small adults. Males and females differ in vocal development as much as they differ in physical and emotional development.

Consult with two or three recommended private teachers (it is worth paying their consulting fee to save money in the long run) or ask to visit voice classes with your child to make an informed decision together. You can also ask to observe another student’s lessons, with permission from the student, her parent and the teacher.

Look for a teacher who joyfully encourages regular healthy vocal production and musicianship. That teacher should also hear your child as an individual and not try to make every voice sound the same. Ask the teacher or coach if she enjoys working with your child’s age group and gender.

Q: What is the difference between a voice teacher and a voice coach?

A voice coach helps students learn new music, plays the keyboard and guides the singer in musical selections and style. A voice teacher develops the physical, mental and emotional aspects of singing, called “vocal technique.” Both voice teachers and coaches need to be excellent musicians, although a good voice teacher does not necessarily play the piano.

Q: What is considered “healthy singing?”

Healthy singing does not make the student’s throat hurt, leave her hoarse or cause her to cry at the end of a lesson. Healthy singing normally does not make neck veins strain, the jaw thrust toward the ceiling or breath come in gasps. Healthy singing means that the student’s body is working in a well-coordinated and natural fashion. It makes her feel good and possibility a little tired, like working hard at something you love can do. It gives her the capacity to relate to beauty and to express many emotions. Healthy singing is a tool for expression, not a means to an end in itself. All voices lessons and coachings should ultimately lead to better music-making.

Q: What is meant by “chest/low voice” and “head/high voice?” My daughter sounds great on the low notes but gets wispy when she sings higher notes.

There is a 300-year old difference in opinion among voice teachers about the proper use of “chest voice” and “head voice.” Ideally they come together in a “middle voice” that is expressive and flexible.

Adolescents use one of these registrations naturally in singing, depending on a host of variables, such as the child’s basic personality, shape of her torso and head, the music and language she’s heard growing up and even the religious tradition from which she comes. (Compare the African-American gospel music tradition to the boy choir sounds of the Anglican church, for example.)

Chest voice or “chest registration” incorrectly produced is either forced or the voice “bottoms out” in a whisper. Head voice or “head registration” in its underdeveloped stage can be breathy and weak. Some teachers insist that singers use one or the other of the registrations exclusively which results in disturbing differences and “breaks” in the voice as it moves up and down the scale. Neither is complete, healthy or beautiful singing UNLESS it is a DELIBERATE choice such as in yodeling.

Learning to “sell” a song and sing well involves a sustained, coordinated activity of both registrations. This process involves physical, mental and emotional coordination that require time, patience and the “P” word—practice. This can be frustrating for an adolescent especially if she can still manage to sing the way she did as a child.

A good teacher makes it fun and interesting and knows when to develop this coordination and when to leave it alone. Singers can systematically build “one voice” which combines the best qualities of both chest and head resonances AND gives them the flexibility to chose what they need to sing in the musical styles they prefer. Each registration is meant to assist the other in developing tone, range and consistency.

However, it a appropriate for you child to feel a little frustrated occasionally. Remember the old adage, “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.” A good teacher can recognize when your child is feeling frustrated and communicate with her and you about the whys.

Q: My child sings along with the radio and CD’s all the time and sounds great to me. Any comments?

Imitating favorite singers is a great way for children to develop musical style, but it is not the best way to develop their own vocal instrument. Parents, students and educators should realize that:

Recordings are often the result of a sound engineer and producer electronically manipulating perfection. Even live performance these days often features an immediate electronic manipulation of sound, which is what the audience hears.

Many of your child’s favorite popular or classical singers have studied and coached singing and continue to do so throughout their careers. Most credible teachers of pop and musical theater music insist that students master basic fundamentals of healthy singing before branching off into differences of vocal style and technique that are required for those crafts. This does not happen in a few lessons or months, but develops as the child matures, practices and has the guidance of good teachers.
There is a connection between children who are pushed to fulfill their parents’ creative aspirations and adults whose voices can not fulfill the promise of their youth. Trained teachers can hear when the voice is stressed, no matter how much acclaim a singer is getting on TV or in contests. A child singer is not an adult. You can always find voice teachers and coaches who will take your money to fulfill YOUR dreams, not is what in the best interest of the child.

Q: What is my role as a parent in helping with practice?

Be realistic about time before you commit to lessons! Practicing efficiently is a skill. It is reasonable to expect that the teacher will help your child learn to practice. Here are some hints from my dual roles a professional voice teacher and the parent of two children who are studying music privately.

I recommend recording lessons. Both student and parent can listen to the recording once, just to remind students what went on in the lesson. My children and I used to listen to practice tapes in the car, before CD players came along. Teachers need to jot down practice hints weekly in a student notebook. Beginning voice students might practice only 10-15 minutes, three or four days a week, gradually increasing practice time. Feel free to ask questions of the teacher, but please do not ask right after a lesson. Ask either at the beginning of the lesson (where is will count as part of the lesson), or send an email.

As a parent, I have learned that children view us as part of the “practice problem.” If you are a musician or have performing experience, resist the urge to correct or comment unless your child asks for help, and, even then, start by asking, “what would your teacher say about this?” Of course, you still must insist that practice does occur! Singers may be sensitive to practicing when the family is around, so make sure there is some privacy where they work. I used to set a timer for 10 minutes and then help my children say focused on the lesson plan their teachers wrote out. There were power struggles with my own children that I do not have with my students.

Even though your child may be talented and love lessons, children do not normally practice on their own. Keep in touch with the teacher about what you are hearing. Occasionally ask your child what a certain exercise does for her or how a piece of music makes her feel when she is singing. Ultimately, practicing is up to the student, but there are interim years where your guidance is necessary.

Your adolescent can blossom before your eyes and ears in the hands of a good voice teacher. Singing involves the whole person, which is why parents need to stay tuned. Happily, it’s a task that can bring joy, health and beauty to your child, to you and to many others. What a great way to live!!!!!!

Washington Parent Magazine
November, 2001

Child singers who are students of Cate Frazier-Neely include those who have sung in Broadway roles appropriate for children: Kurt in The Sound of Music, Chip the Teacup in Beauty and the Beast, and in regional theaters: Oliver in Oliver!, Young Cosette in Les Miserable and Tootie in Meet Me in St. Louis. Children’s roles in opera include The Cunning Little Vixen in Washington National Opera’s The Cunning Little Vixen and singers in the Washington National Opera’s Children’s’ Chorus. Several other child singers are touring with Disney and Bella Thorne, and she recently ushered a high school gospel senior to first place in the Maryland Distinguished Scholars’ Talent-in-the-Arts’ Award.

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 said 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.)

A Year Since Diagnosis of Vocal Fold Paralysis

IMG_0669Sometimes you look back on the passing of a year and think, “Wow, that went by fast!” But the year since the medical diagnosis and subsequent therapeutic work has felt very, very long to me.

If you’d like to read about the journey so far, medical diagnosis and what I decided to do, please read the posts listed HERE.

I’d like to reiterate that any progress that I’ve experienced (which the medical community would tell you was not possible,) is due to the extraordinary and cutting-edge expertise and care of Singing Voice Specialist Jeanette Lovetri and Healer/Therapist Dr. Robert Sykes. My own personal tenacity, courage and willingness to persevere was a pre-requisite. And my husband reminds me frequently that some of the world’s greatest athletic coaches either have never played the game or are not currently playing their sport, which lets me know he gets it, and that means a great deal to me.

The work of reestablishing neurological connection from brain to vocal folds is pain-staking and certainly doesn’t include any music-making. The mental focus of coordinating muscles and function is exhausting. Also, there is the “cha-cha” effect of two steps forward improvement, only to have one step back.

After my last session with Jeannie, via Skype, she wrote this post on her blog at The Somatic Voice Work tm: The Lovetri Method Teachers’ Association–Coaching An Injured Pro Back to Singing.

There has been tremendous improvement but this is relative.”Tremendous Improvement” actually means that I’ve been able to reestablish chest voice and head voice registration, which means I can phonate on pitch again with some tone and accurate pitch, as opposed to a strangled hiss. But it takes 25-30 minutes to find this registration via specific vocal exercises and mind/body visualizations. I started out needing an hour to find it, and had to rest frequently.

Evidently, we are doing some of the exercises following ideas put forth by Silverman Technique for Parkinson’s Disease, practiced by qualified speech pathologists.

Right now there is limited ability to “Sing,” as in,’string sounds together in a musical manner.’ Singing five tones together on one vowel is still very difficult. Every once in a while, a full sung note of great beauty and strength will escape and make me hop up and down with tremendous excitement.

And also every once in awhile I sing two or three phrases together that actually feel better than anything I was able to sing from 2006-2013. Jeannie thinks I may be able to sing a simple song straight through in 6 months or so. If this is successful in that way, I will become part of a team of singers, lead by Jeannie, who have gotten their voices back after the medical community said it was highly improbable, and we will present our results to the public. Cutting edge stuff!!

Students have noticed the vocal improvement, but it is still bittersweet. They do not know me as a performer. Some of them are surprised that I had 27 successful years performing as a singer of classical music since I have only a few recordings for posterity. I did not allow recordings my last 4 years performing, because I was not singing well–now I know why.

But after the past 13 months of voice therapy and counseling, I felt it was time to move forward with my work as a teacher of singing and musician. How could I best be open to Inspiration and be inspiring to others while finally letting go of my identification as a working singer?

As I moved through the emotional and psychological quagmire of the situation, I began to feel ready to work with more groups of singers on a regular basis. Seasonally, I lead choral workshops (click HERE for a list of clients) but regularly week to week, I have worked with only one group–The Maryland Women’s Chorus of Levine Music.

And, like magic, when I was truly ready to work with more groups, (and still keep my most excellent private studio!) I was appointed Conductor of all three of the Adult Programs’ Choirs at Levine Music. Even though I have conducted choirs since I was 13 years old–yes, 13 years old! the change in perspective and letting go of the old gave me joy to move into another kind of work with purpose and clarity.

If you build It, It will come. Astonishing, really!

PS. My Etsy shop, which features some of my hobby of refashioning jewelry from vintage pieces, features the last of my Earring Quartets on a Canvas Jewelry Holder. Click HERE if interested! The studs are real topaz and classic pearls.)