Is it all finally coming together…?

All my life I’ve always felt that I’ve had to work twice as hard as anyone else. Perhaps I was too hard on myself but I feel that I rarely achieved the result or grade that I set out to achieve and yet my brother only has to look at a book and always succeeds or so it seems. When I was younger I always felt that it was unfair and that there should be extra marks for effort.

The only exception to this rule was my degree. I set out to achieve a 2:1 and I did. But I remember standing in line, waiting for my name to be called on graduation day and I felt nothing for what I had achieved. I’ve thought about it a lot over the years. After all that hard work (include a 10,000 word dissertation) why did I not feel anything? I still don’t really know the real answer. Perhaps I knew then that I had made the wrong decision and that I would never really my degree in the future.

Now, things seemed to have changed. When I applied to go back to university to study music their only requirement was Grade 8 Music Theory.   This was only confirmed in February 2016. The next exam I could take before a September 2016 start dated was June 2016. That left me with three and half months to prepare and do ABRSM’s Grade 8 Music Theory.

Grade 8 Music Theory is the equivalent of A’ Level and undergraduate level and I had three and half months. How was I supposed to do this? This was one task I felt was truly impossible but I soldiered on. What other choice did I have?

About a week before the exam I rang my dad telling him that I would fail. That there was no way I was going to pass this exam it just was not possible in three and half months. He talked me round., as he always does, saying that I was just tired and overworked but to take the exam anyway and see what happens. After all it was already paid for.

Come exam day I was starting to get a cold but luckily the exam seemed easier than I thought it would be despite that added difficulty of it being in a freezing cold old school hall.

In the end it was the wait for the results that was the hardest. My future was completely dependent on it. I couldn’t plan anything past September because I had absolutely no idea what I would be doing.

About a month after the exam the results finally came through. I felt panicked. What if I hadn’t passed? I think I was probably more afraid that I would have to take the exam again than I was of deterring for another year.

As the results popped up on screen I could barely read them. I had convinced myself completely that I had failed and couldn’t understand the pass mark that now sat in front of me. After a moment of squeezing my dog for comfort, it finally sank in, and all I could do was sob. Actually, I think I was more relived that I wouldn’t have to take it again!

It was a long three and half months but that pass mark made it all worth it. I finally felt what I should have when I received my degree. I felt that all that effort hadn’t been wasted; I had earned that pass mark.

I now only have to wait a little longer to see whether the university has a place for me this September. For the first time in a long time, I finally feel that it’s all coming together…

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How to Find a Good Singing Teacher

Over the last couple of weeks I have had quite a few people ask me “How do I find a good singing teacher?” Or ”How do I know whether my teacher is any good?” and my reply is, and will always be – “Are they a singer?” If the answer is “No” then there’s your answer!

Would you ask a stranger on the street to do some dental work on your teeth? No, because they are more than likely not trained to perform dental surgery. And the same applies to singing. A good singing teacher should be someone that is a singer or was a singer professionally. They will truly understand the mechanics (the inner workings) required to produce a good and correct singing technique.

Recently, I have seen many examples of non-singers giving singing lessons or advertising for singing lessons whereby all they seem do is teach the student to match their voice to the pitch of the piano. This is not singing!

Many people think that singing is just learning words to a tune. Trust me, there is more a lot more to it than that! Unfortunately as the industry is not regulated there are many (in my opinion) unqualified people teaching singing and probably destroying voices.

In fact, this does not just apply to singing; it applies to all musical instruments. A good teacher should have a very good understanding of their instrument and how to work it properly to produce a performance that it worthy of being paid for. Music is not just about playing or singing the dots on a page. There is more to music and only someone who really understands his or her instrument will be able to show you how to unlock that information and be a good singer and/or musician.

Do your research on potential teachers. There are numerous sites where teachers can advertise their qualifications to teach. Look for someone that has formal training at university level. Nowadays a university qualification is the minimum required to be a professional performer (at any level). You should therefore also be able to find evidence of their performing abilities either on their own website or on you tube or another site similar. If possible, also try and see them live in concert.

In my opinion, classically trained opera singers do make the best teachers (not that I’m biased!). Singing technique is the same no matter what genre you sing. Opera singers are judged heavily on their singing technique as well as their performance so if they want to succeed then they have to master good singing practices.

If you are still unsure, I would recommend having several lessons with several teachers before committing to one particular teacher. It’s important that you should be able to get along and work with a teacher and have a mutual understanding of your capabilities and aspirations.

So, what should you expect from a good singing lesson?

  1. Posture – correct posture means good breathing. Good breathing means good vocal support and projection. If you have bad posture, the first thing the teacher should do is correct it. Even if you have good posture, a good teacher will monitor each lesson for any bad habits creeping in.

For more on posture see – http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Backpain/Pages/back-pain-and-common-posture-mistakes.aspx

  1. Breathing – is the key to singing! It is the foundation and the support for your voice. I cannot express enough the importance of good breathing technique.

It does take time (and we’re talking years) to master good breathing technique. A good teacher will spend a considerable amount of time each lesson working on this with you.

  1. Voice placement – the voice should sit comfortably in the resonating pockets of head or chest. A good teacher will know when the voice is placed correctly or not and know how to correct it.
  1. Music – song choices should be chosen based on your ability and to suit your voice. A teacher that’s giving you pieces outside of your range (in the hope of expanding it) or that are too demanding is not doing you any favours. They are more likely to be destroying your voice. Singing should feel effortless. If it doesn’t then there’s something wrong!
  1. Time – good singing technique takes years of practice. A good teacher will never push you or your voice and will let it develop on it own, in its own time.

I understand this more and more everyday. My current teacher, a professor of voice, is working to correct many bad habits that my previous teacher neglected. In order to go forwards I have had to take 10 steps back. As frustrating as it is right now, I know how important it is to have good singing technique, because once the voice is destroyed there’s no repairing it. 😦

Reflection – 2015

I started this blog at the beginning of the year with the intention of writing regularly so that I could keep track of my progress. Hands up – I haven’t been very good at it. Apologies! But things have been quite chaotic to say the least.

The year started with a job change and just when I thought things were starting to settle I got promoted and it’s been non-stop since – not to mention the four desk moves so far!

On top of that, there are the usual mundane domestic tasks that never seem to end, the pooch that needs to be walked, feed and cuddled, and a halfhearted attempt to exercise.

Musically, I’ve achieved ABRSM Grade 7 Singing, completed a weeklong stint as the wife of the King of Siam in The King and I and participated in countless fetes, festivals, performances and concerts with Newark & Sherwood Concert Band.

More importantly, over the last few months I have been looking to 2016, practicing for Grade 8 Singing, Grade 8 Music Theory, Grade 5 Flute and Grade 1 Piano, securing performance opportunities and preparing for future projects yet to be formally announced.

Needless to say that this year hasn’t been without its difficulties, financially, mentally or emotionally, and I know that 2016 will be even busier with tougher challenges ahead.

I still have the same goal, that hasn’t changed. I just need to be more focused and organized because I know all the hard work brings me another step closer.

Merry Christmas! And you’ll definitely be hearing from me more in 2016!

Day 13 – Industrial Hazard

So the picture is a little dramatic…hey I wanna be an opera singer! But I do feel like a walking disaster this week. Last weekend I decided as part of my mission I would cut out all fizzy drinks (Hello, my name is Rebecca and I’m a coca cola addict). I didn’t think it a good idea (or safe for anyone around me) to go cold turkey. So, I’m doing it slowly. But I’m proud to say I haven’t cracked this week so far!

As a side effect I do feel tired, lethargic and a little more irritated than normal (reluctantly admitting), but I know I gotta push through to meet, not only my weight target, but to save the pennies. I gotta just keeping going…

As an addition to my week, I’ve also been preparing to submit my tax return…irritation alert…irritation alert and the evening hours have all but evaporated so guess what someone will be doing this bank holiday weekend?

And to top it all off, with the weather turning warmer, and my new “be active” moto I seem to be suffering quite badly with my sinuses/hayfever. Hayfever is a relatively new thing for me (only starting a couple of years ago) but I dose of antihistamine usually keeps it at bay. Not this year! It’s like a tank that’s been leaking for years and you’ve managed to patch it but now the tank is ready to explode. That’s pretty much sums up how my face feels right now.

I’ve pondered as to why it’s much worse this year (or seems so) and then it hit me! What have we been focusing on in my singing lessons? Resonance. A key part to singing opera is to place the voice in the cavities in your skull to create resonance and enables you to project your voice and produce a lovely clear sound that has a ring to it. Where are we currently working? The middle voice. and where are the resonance pockets for the middle voice? The sinuses! Crime solved. Now off for some sleep and recovery…a lot of work to do tomorrow. Night x

Day 11 – Paperwork

With the good comes the bad. Today has been a busy day in the office, followed by a busy evening sat at my home office under a mountain of paperwork. I can’t stop my mind from wandering to when I was younger and I couldn’t wait to grow up, get a job and have my own house. I thought i’d have loads of money and could do whatever I wanted. And the reality is?…I want to be a kid again!

No one tells you the reality is in fact you spend more time at work than anywhere else…sometimes doing things you don’t want to do and sometimes socialising with people you don’t really like! Or that you work hard all month and then all your money is all gone within a matter of days…on bills not even fun stuff. Then there’s the money worries…unexpected bills…and you wish money grew on trees because you would have a whole bloody nursery full!

It’s just another thing getting in the way of my musical pursuits. I know that’s all part of being a grow up but in an ideal world I need a housekeeper (willing to do washing and ironing), a chef, a dog walker, a personal trainer and PA…any offers?

Day 10 – Decisions, Decisions…

I’m a self confessed neat freak! I like things tidy; my kitchen cupboards…tin labels facing outwards, towels neatly folded and arranged in alternating colours. Wow, when you put it in writing, I sound like I have a problem!! Anyway, to me, having a clean tidy space around me equals a clean tidy mind. I’ve always functioned better that way.

Today has raised many questions…what do I need to achieve my goal vs what I have time and finances for. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day and money in the bank for me to do all that I want/need and deep down there are going to be some difficult decisions make.

I’m normally quite good at making decisions. I don’t normally avoid them, I like to sit and figure them out, so that everything is neat and tidy and I know where I am. These decisions may have an impact on future prospects so care is needed, which makes me worry, which makes me loose sleep, which makes me tired, which makes me grumpy. Sometimes I wish there was a fairy godmother that could solve all your problems without them even popping into your head. Actually if i’m wishing for something, I might want to make a better decision than that!!! Night all x

Day 9 – Practice makes Perfect

Balancing a full time job with what I refer to as my musical job in waiting, isn’t easy. Yet despite working full-time, running a house, running my own business, exercising, caring for my dog and cat and caring for myselfI I always manage to find/make time to do some practising; even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Why? Because I have to! You can’t get very far without putting the work in.

So my evenings usually consist of walking the dog, cooking, a bit of cleaning and washing followed by singing, flute and piano practice. It’s a good thing that 1.) I’m super efficient and 2.) have good time management skills.

And yes it does come with a price. I don’t deny it. I rarely just sit down and just watch TV. All my spare money goes on music lessons and books. I don’t go out or buy new clothes and a Holiday is a foreign word to me!

But you know what, despite the fact that it is a high price. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I will practice till my fingers, lips and throat bleed if it gets me a career in music!

Day 7 – Sing like no one is listening

I can’t explain how singing makes me feel. All i know for definite is that I have to do it. I’m not sure whether it’s an addiction of sorts or a sense of my true purpose. That probably makes me sound crazy…

I know it’s difficult for most people to understand that singing is more than just opening your mouth and hoping something comes out. There’s actually a whole network working to put that sound out…and a very specific network for opera.

This is what I love about my singing lessons now. It’s not just about how to produce the correct sound but it’s also about feeling the right sound. That might seem a little strange but it’s true. You know when it’s right because you can feel it. So you’re always feeling for the note rather than hearing it…does not make sense?

And for me, it’s also important to understand the why behind it all. Understanding all this is invaluable as it means that when you come across a problem, you have the tools to resolve it. It means I don’t have to rely on anyone but myself.

Day 6 – Music of the Night

My normal Friday night entails cleaning, washing and ironing. I know rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, right? But tonight I had a concert. It’s gruelling work. Especially when you’ve been at work all day. And no matter how exhausted you feel afterwards, you just can’t sleep. I love it!

I can’t believe that for so long I denied the feeling I get from music. Talk about ignore the signs. I know I have my reasons for placing music in a box for tens years but I’m just really glad that I found my way back. Music is a huge influence in my life. I don’t where I would be without it.

I just can’t wait to finally start a career in music!!

Day 5 – Average Thursday

Well today was average. Sorry, there’s no other way to describe it. Nothing exceptional happened. Nothing special to report. It was just a typical Thursday.

I did, however, think about my reasoning for doing this whole project and decided that I needed a clearer plan of action, a timetable so to speak. Something to keep me on track on my way to my goal.

I do have to remember to be realistic. I have tried timetables in the past and they have left me feeling depressed and frustrated, but I think I wasn’t being honest and realistic with myself. I do work full time. I have numerous musical activities/commitments on top of lessons and daily practice as well as caring for Jesssie and Bellatrix, eating and cooking, cleaning, sleeping etc etc.the list seems endless. I also need to remember this time to make sure that I leave time for fun and relaxing…equally important!

I have scheduled this little task for Saturday afternoon…wish me luck, I think i’m gonna need it!