Friday, February 18, 2011

elliptical breathing

Tuesday February 8,  I had my first voice lesson with a professor from the university.  I felt such a flood of emotions and memories going back there, this time to sing.  Was really happy with our first lesson.  He talked to me about the Bernoulli effect.  You can click on that to read a more scientific explanation.  He showed me, as an example what happens when you blow through two pieces of paper that  are lying together.  They compress and ripple as the air pressure increases.  He compared that to the vocal cords.I'm not sure if this works for me yet. 

He talked about what he called threshold singing,  not referring to the practice of singing at a dying person's bedside, but rather, finding the place where the air is neither held back nor pushed out forcefully.  When a singer reaches the point of that threshold, the vocal folds relax, particularly the outer folds, the air he said, and I had to smile at this "without compulsory means."  The end result is a relaxed feel for the singer and a relaxed sound for the listener.  Withholding the air actually takes more effort than relaxing and letting it flow, which creates more tension throughout the entire body and makes the sound less resonant.

Today when I returned for my second lesson we reviewed the concept.  He showed me an exercise..what to call it.. He didn't have a name so I'll call it elliptical breathing.  He showed me how to use my hands and arms in an elliptical motion in front of my abdomen and brought them up to my chest as I inhaled.  I pushed them down slowly as I exhaled, moving in a slow, graceful oblong circle to visualize the inhale/ exhale process.

Elliptical breathing is different than the slow leak exercise that Roger Love teaches. I like that one for relaxation, particularly if I have insomnia.  It helps me become aware of how long I can extend a phrase and what the depth of my breath capacity is.  This particular elliptical breathing exercise doesn't focus on using the vocal folds as a valve like the slow leak does.  We were working on thinking about opening and relaxing the vocal folds and avoiding tension or withholding the breath too in a way it is an opposite approach. My guess is that the two exercises, which are both useful, could help a singer find a nice middle ground, which usually seems to be the best any aspect of life.

I enjoyed my lesson again today.  He doesn't use the piano at all.  For so many years I thought I couldn't teach without a piano.  But I must admit that I miss hearing it. I think that feeling of being "accompanied" is part of the therapeutic aspect of a voice lesson. Nonetheless, I really like digging into the technicalities of singing.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


I have had a cold lately. Not doing much singing, but spending a lot of time thinking about what to do now. I am slow to organize my recital. I tried to contact Dulwich today but I akm having trouble with Hotmail. If not at Dulwich then I'm not sure where to hold the recital. I will pray for inspiration. Rob got our Itunes account up and running again, so I need to buy some of my recital pieces and do more listening.

I practiced piano several times in the past few days. Easy Bach is rewarding. I am listening to David Lucas Berg again and loving it. I am going to write more about that next time. It is too late tonight. It feels good to be back to the piano. It quiets my right brain. I love it.

I'm feeling patient with myself these days. I am grateful for my family. I am grateful to be able to do whatever I can do each day...for the detours. They are rewarding at the end ofthe day.

Monday, August 24, 2009

what have I been doing

So I left Nashville, went back to Utah, and had a great time with Rob and the kids. We did a lot of travelling (you can read about that in the July archives on Our Nine). I didn't sing more than a few tongue twirls and lip rolls in the Provo townhouse. Maybe I missed the great acoustics in our Beijing house, maybe I just didn't want to wake up sleeping kids, maybe we were too busy eating great cheeseburgers, nachos, going to movies, shopping, chasing Grant.

Two Thursdays Rob drove me up to Centerville to have a lesson with a voice teacher named Katie Hill. She is an amazing person, a gifted singer, teacher, and pianist, an encyclopedia of facts and a fountain of insights. I studied with her for about a year or so when Rob was in Law School at the University of Utah. She is retired faculty from the U. We talked about singing into the hard pallette to sweeten the tone. We worked on Wie Melodien Zeit es Mir, talked about the translation and diction and making the notes smooth and connected. I was grateful for Rob and the kids' support with that.

I found a randomly lain (how do you spell that) (is that even a word) magazine at the checkout line at Smith's Yoga and Joyful Living. I thought it must be my destiny to buy it. I was fascinated. Aside from breathing and yoga techniques it had so many interesting articles about Indian culture and philosophy and religion. I read them and was impressed by how their beliefs helped give me a new way of looking at my own. I think developing a peaceful, quiet mind is so important as a singer. I want to spend more time practicing yoga and meditation.

So now the kids are back in school. I'm back to singing in my acoustically live kitchen and practicing with Jessie. We meet today. And, oh dread, back to facing the recital that I have been planning for too long. It just has to be okay to do it myself and not worry about it getting a stamp of approval from someone to be ready to share it. Jessie and I have an approximate date in mind. Next we need a venue.

Friday, July 17, 2009

pink skies

My last morning in Nashville. I stayed up until past midnight surfing reverbnation and thinking about the lessons. I think that and the long walks I took yesterday helped me sleep past the 3:30 am mark. It is about time to be over the jet lag! What a great thing to wake up to a pink sky at 5:45, a respectable time to be up and about.

It is exciting to have completed the first chapter in what I think could be a fascinating, entertaining, albeit expensive plan, to travel all over the world and meet with all the voice gurus that I can and then put things together for myself and dare I years to come, become one myself. Is it bad to aspire to guru-dom? I am grateful that Rob is excited about my plan and supportive. He kept reminding me that this trip didn't need to be the end all be all, and that I should just go and have fun. That took a lot of pressure off.

So now, not as criticism but in terms of evaluation, and because I have given Singing Success quite a bit of free publicity to this blog's huge fanbase of three...thank you Mari, thankyou Mitzi Jo, thank you Mom, I really need to begin a more indepth briefing of my experiences. This may be the point where anyone reading decides to click next blog.

A trip to Nashville is always a fun idea. Everyone who I came in contact with at the airport along the way seemed to smile when they said 'going to Nashville today.' It just makes you think about fun times. Music Row is so pleasant, a kind of old-fashioned neighborhood setting, gently rolling streets, lilacs, big trees, songbirds, interesting buildings, historic and new. If you have stumbled upon this blog and you don't know that I have pictures on the Our Nine blog, I do, see Nashville post.

Brett Manning studios is a very friendly environment. It's very friendly and I won't say though I'll just say and clearly everyone is pre or more than pre-professional about a profession where image is almost everything, but still very kind and friendly. I can't stress the pleasant and friendly enough. I would even stress kind. And I would also stress image, again.

When I teach I always think about trying to give my students the most value from their lessons. (I have a lot of room for improvement in that area.) It makes sense that the pre-professional students at BMS would go in there looking for a commercial sound. In Nashville there is a lot of buzz about labels, producers, contracts, I would say a pre-occupation with them in this digital age of greater artistic freedom. But everyone wants to make money, even me with my nine lunch-money-needers, so I agreed that 'when in Nashville' looking for a commercial sound, for myself, would be a good place to focus during my five hours of lessons.

My teacher told me I had a great head voice, but that it wasn't a commercial sound. So, we spent a lot of time using the exercises to "find my more legitimate chest voice" and stay in it all the way up my range. That time was valuable, because whether or not I decide to abandon my head voice, don't worry mom I won't, I still have a desire to master as many vocal coordinations as I can, both for my own artisty and for teaching. So my objections, if any, were more philosophical than technical. I think if I really have a great head voice than I should never abandon it to have a more commercial's me... it's who I am as a singer. Who says I'll ever get paid a dime to sing? So I'd better sing in a way that I enjoy and that I feel expresses who I am. That's not to say I won't continue to explore and more edgy and contemporary sound. I just won't have "commercial" be the goal. Never, no, never.

Brett Manning has developed an amazing set of exercises. I think those execises, designed to keep the voice out of head voice and stretch the chest voice into the head voice range, using more compression on the vocal chords, actually do amazing things for the head voice. Once you decompress and allow head voice the voice feels amazingly flexible and effortless. I love the squeaky basketball shoes is so helpful for accuracy on staccato notes.

I give a trip to Brett Manning Studios a big thumbs up, but it is not the last stop, and I would say go but take your own brain with you. Keep thinking. Keep being yourself. Enjoy the great atmosphere.

So now my goals are to go back and songwrite a bit. Dave Brooks promised it didn't need to be good, just do it to find out what my style is as a contemporary singer. I like that advice. Other goal: to continue using the Singing Success CDs and keep finding that contemporary sound.

Third goal: keep applying the technique to my classical songs, (third and a half: keep thinking about breathing..really honing that breathing technique) and fourth and most exciting start thinking about the next future adventure.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

here I am in Nashville

This is a picture of the new symphony in Nashville (sorry I forgot the name.)
So here I am in Nashville. This all started when I went looking for voice lesson-related blogs on-line. I googled. I found many, mostly very dry. I found the Singing Success web-site. My first impression was...hmmm, looks pretty slick and commercial. But I kept looking. I forget what exactly impressed me the most. I was intrigued that they promised to increase your range by an octave and a half. I was impressed by the testimonials, from well-known names in the music industry, other things as well, the underlying philosophies. You can go read them for yourself. I chunked out the money and waited for the package.
In the meantime I began using my audio studio to record with Jessie. I did notice a difference in my songs as I listened to the CDs. Use less air I think was the most helpful suggestion. It is intriguing to me how the exercises designed to help more contemporary styled singers avoid using head voice actually made my head voice feel more free and effortless, when I returned to head voice singing.
So one day Rob started talking about an work-related trip to Xi'an and I started to feel like I needed the chance to do some exploring on my own too. It had been thirteen years, nine pregnancies, do I need to go on? Rob was immediately supportive. He has always encouraged me to find what made me happy. All our happiness can't be totally wrapped up in the family. That's too much pressure on them.
I was so enthusiastic about this Singing Success method that I wanted to come see where it all began, meet these guys, find out if I was following the method correctly. And I've never spent time in Nashville. I had thought about going out to meet Roger Love in LA but I've been there many times. I was more intrigued by Nashville.
So I have been to three out of the five hours of lessons that I bought with Dave Brooks. He is very kind and encouraging, and an extremely talented singer. We have worked on some interesting new exercises to bring my voice in to a more commercial sound, that is less vibrato and more chest voice in to the higher notes. We haven't approached at all the classical pieces. We've focused on my more com temporary sound...however we should call that. Do I love the very commercial compressed sound? I'm not sure. But I am happy to be able to learn how to do what other singers do. I've always wanted to be able to be versatile. I'm not sure that my popular sound is really that good. Dave suggested I write my own songs to find my voice and my style. Finding myself as a singer has definitely been on my mind. Writing songs...that's big homework.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I am grateful to my friends and my family who went to my reverbnation page to listen to my recordings. Rob found reverbnation on-line. We used it to power my songs for my blog. I wasn't concerned about chart positions. But after we made the new recordings I felt ready to invite friends to see the page. It's been fun to watch my position go from about 450 to number 65, today. I'm not sure what to do that I've troubled my friends to go listen. Wait for inspiration, I guess.

I've been preoccupied with getting ready for our trip, both packing and thinking about preparing for the lessons in Nashville.

Tuesday Jessie came out to Shunyi. We are still rehearsing our songs for our recital in the fall. They are starting to feel more polished. Memorizing is a trick for my brain!

I was grateful that Rob sent the my invitation e-mail around work. His co-worker, and friend from church, suggested that we prepare an evening of folk songs to sing for Chinese college students. So Rob and I need to start working on that. We can gather some material in the States.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

mr. xu's studio

One of these pictures doesn't belong here, but it was too cute to delete.