I’m singing a Solo Concert at First Presbyterian in Kzoo!

I will be performing a solo concert at First Presbyterian in Kalamazoo on Nov. 18! I’m very excited about this. It gives me the opportunity to perform rep that I’ve always wanted to perform and to show different sides of my musical personality. There will be a bit of something for everyone. I’ll be singing some solo music by Handel, Bach, Fauré, and Vaughan Williams, some choral music by Dan Forrest and me (an original piece!), and even some vocal jazz.

Most excitingly, I’ll be performing with some wonderful musician friends that I got to know at WMU. Western is a truly amazing place where you meet talented, dedicated, hard-working musicians who aren’t trying to compete with each other all the time. It’s a place that believes you can succeed by lifting each other up, not tearing each other down. Western isn’t even paying me to say that!

It will be a benefit concert, but I’m still working out some of the details on that. I’ll let you know once things are finalized. If you’re free on Saturday evening, Nov. 18, please stop on by First Presbyterian!

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Life Update October 2017

Well, it’s that time again: time to let the world know what is going on in my life. I’m excited about finishing several projects, some of which have taken years to come to completion!

Non-fiction Book on How to Sing

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I like to write and teach about singing. Helping students sing more healthily is a passion of mine. It is something I’ve worked long and hard at for several years. Through that time, I distilled the main elements of healthy singing into four easily understood categories. Most vocal problems can be reduced to one or more of these singing fundamentals.

Well, I finally put these awesome materials down in writing! I’m polishing some things in it and making helpful how-to videos that will make this book even more useful to the beginning singer. This book will enable the beginning singer to gain a clear understanding of the voice as an instrument. It will also help voice teachers who want to know how to teach beginning singers. My goal is to publish this by the end of the year.

Young Adult Fiction Novel

Yes, you read that right. I’ve been slowly writing my first fiction novel. I would have finished it sooner, but school and other priorities tend to take precedence. Thankfully, the book is nearing completion as well.

The book has it all: an evil conspiracy, monsters, hunters, lots of action, and martial arts! Ultimately, though, the book is about family, and how the choices they make impact their lives. I also plan to publish this soon!

Solo Singer Benefit Recital in November

I’ve wanted to sing a recital in Kalamazoo for a while. Now, I’ve made time to do it! I will be raising money for charity at the concert by singing a lot of different repertoire. There should be a little something for everybody. I will be performing jazz, choral, baroque, classical, and other styles of music. A lot of great musicians will be joining me for this event, so the music will be stellar. I will announce dates and what we’re raising money for soon. Stay posted!

Choral Extravaganza Next April

I have been working with several choirs in the south-central MI to host a benefit concert in April 2018. I’m really excited about this, as it accomplishes several things I’m passionate about. I love helping people, and I love collaborating with talented, motivated individuals. More to come on this as we get closer.

Regular Work

I’m also continuing to teach voice lessons and martial arts, conduct the West Michigan Homeschool Fine Arts Kalamazoo Choir, lead worship at Calvary Baptist Church in Quincy, and direct the Branch United Youth Choir in Coldwater. Life is busy, but good!

 

How to Choose a Voice Teacher Part 2: What Do You Want out of It?

In a previous post, I wrote about pitfalls to avoid when looking for a voice teacher. Knowing what to look for is very important, because there are a plethora of bad ones out there. Many teachers don’t know what they are doing due to either lack of education or experience. Some are lazy. Some find that it is easier to have low standards than than to push someone to excel.

It is incumbent upon a student to find the right teacher. This can be difficult, because the right teacher for someone else might not be the right one for the student. One of the first things to do is to decide what you want out of the lessons. Accordingly, here are a few questions you should ask yourself before you start looking:

Question 1: What Specifically Do I Want to Get out of These Lessons?

Many students go into voice lessons without a clue as to what they want to accomplish. This is a problem. How will you know the teacher can give you what you want if you don’t even know? Determine what you want to get out of the lessons.

Here are few beneficial goals: 1) You want to sing higher or lower than you currently do. Some teachers are very good at range extension. Ask them how they would teach this. 2) You want to sing with better breath control. Using breath properly is fundamental to healthy singing. 3) You want to sing that one song that you just can’t quite work up by yourself. A good teacher will tell you what skills you need to sharpen in order to perform it.

Question 2: Will I Get Along with This Teacher?

Due to the one-on-one nature of voice lessons, the student’s personality must click with the voice teacher’s. If the student or the teacher is not comfortable, the lesson will suffer. The voice is a temperamental instrument, and it will close up if there are personality clashes.

Question 3:  Do I Want a Teacher Who Will Push Me or One Who Will Make Me Feel Good?

Some teachers are better a pushing their students to new heights of skill. They know what the student needs to learn in order to be a better singer. Some are very talented at affirming. You feel good after a lesson. Figuring out what you want in this regard is crucial.

The pushy teacher might not be warm and fuzzy, but she will not be lazy. You will grow in skill in a short amount of time. On the other hand, the warm, affirming teacher might be able bring out more emotion in your singing. You will grow as a singer, but it will take longer to master skills. On the other hand, you will possibly feel more confident.

It should be said that this is more of a spectrum than a firm set of categories. Still, most teachers will fall more on one side or the other. Deciding which you want is crucial to choosing the right voice teacher for you.

Conclusion:

I would like to end with a personal anecdote. I find that I learn best from teachers that are not as affirming, but are good at increasing my skills. I like to know that I learned something in my lesson. I once took from a teacher that was emotionally warm, and yet this teacher failed to teach me specific, attainable skills. Because this teacher was more emotional, this teacher was sometimes emotionally unstable. This was highly destructive to me as a singer. I found that I was dreading my voice lesson, which is a horrible place to be. A little while later, I took from a teacher who was emotionally stable and focused on building my abilities. Through her wonderful training, I mastered singing in my high range and low range. She helped me seamlessly transition from my high range to my low range, as well as a bunch of other skills that I needed.

How to Choose a Voice Teacher Part 1: Pitfalls to Avoid

As someone who has spent a lot of time on both the student and the teacher sides of voice lessons, I thought it would be good to share with you some of my thoughts concerning what makes a good teacher. I am always amazed at the large amount of “voice teachers” who want to take your money. With so many voice teachers/coaches out there, students have a difficult task ahead of them. In coming posts, I will be detailing what you should look for. First, however, there are several pitfalls you should avoid:

Going with The Piano/Instrumental Teacher Who Is Teaching Voice on the Side

I have seen this happen too often. An instrumental teacher realizes that she can make more money if she also offers voice lessons. Her justification is that she took a semester of voice lessons back in college, so she knows something. Unfortunately, this does not mean that she is a good voice teacher. Like any other instrument, singing has its own skill set, a skill set that requires a long time to master.

Blindly Going with the Teacher that the Local Music School Recommends

Most people don’t know what they are looking for when they decide they want voice lessons. Consequently, they call up a local community music school. The assumption is that the music school has done its homework. This might be the case; it might not. Going through a music school does not absolve the prospective voice student from carefully considering a voice teacher. He still needs to do his own work.

Going with the Cheapest Teacher You Find

Many people don’t know if they want to take voice lessons, so they choose someone cheap. The old adage applies here: You get what you pay for. Sure, the prospective teacher might be inexpensive, but maybe there is a reason. He might be a greenhorn right out of undergrad. He might not know what he is doing, which means you just wasted time and money.

Going with the Most Expensive Teacher You Find

Sometimes people go with the assumption that if something is more expensive, it must be the best. In certain cases, this may be true. However, some teachers will charge exhorbitant rates and fail to deliver on the promise of quality training.

Going with the Teacher Who Lets You Sing Whatever You Want

Healthy vocal technique can be applied to different genres of music. However, people often decide they want to be better at singing only their favorite style of music. The problem arises when that particular song you want to sing is outside of your range or current ability. A good voice teacher will tell you this. A teacher who only wants your money won’t. She will let you sing the song even though you are hurting your voice and singing the song out of tune. This is not to say that you should have no say in the repertoire you want to work on. You should have a choice, but please be open to trying a song in a different style that will build your skills rather than exacerbate your problems.

To Sum up

Quality voice teachers will do their best to help their students succeed. Their goal is to strengthen the singer’s ability to sing healthily and accurately. If you are not learning new skills and growing as a singer during your voice lessons, then the teacher is not doing his job. He is taking your money, having you sing for 30 minutes, and then throwing you a few pointers. Don’t let this happen to you. It is incumbent upon you to research the teacher. Ask her questions about her training and experience. Get to know her philosophy of teaching. If you do this, you will get much more bang for your buck.

Six Interesting Facts about INTJ Musicians

I recently posted about being an INTJ. This Myers-Briggs personality type is often maligned and frequently misunderstood. Writers usually make them villains, typically because of their inscrutability, seeming lack of emotion, and their emphasis on strategic thinking. “Knowledge is power,” as the old saying goes, so I thought I’d do my part and list a few interesting facts about INTJ musicians.

  1. INTJ’s don’t crave applause or being in the limelight. It’s not a matter of not wanting it, but rather of not needing it. This confuses many because they assume that someone either wants it or they don’t. INTJ’s instead want freedom to accomplish their goals. The limelight is useful only insomuch as it can enable this freedom. INTJ’s know full well the downside of the limelight-constantly being around people. It is very exhausting for INTJ’s to be around people for extended lengths of time.
  2. Because they don’t need to be in front of people, INTJ’s are perfectly fine with someone else leading, provided the other person knows what they are doing and are willing to consider feedback. Incompetent or vision-less leadership in an ensemble or organization is incredibly frustrating to INTJ’s, especially when the leadership won’t listen to the INTJ.
  3. INTJ conductors want their musicians to pull their own weight in the ensemble. No drama, just fix the mistake. With an INTJ who hasn’t been developing his people skills, dealing with an emotional colleague in this straightforward way can come across as bluntness. This is because INTJ’s have a hard time figuring out someone else’s emotions, much less how to best deal with them. Emotions aren’t logical. Someone who fixes their own issues with minimal emotional outbursts will instantly put an INTJ at ease.
  4. INTJ’s perform the same way when in front of an audience as they do when in their dressing room. They aren’t dependent on others’ energy, so their performances are very consistent.
  5. An INTJ musican’s relationship with emotion is a mistrustful one. INTJ’s know that emotions are necessary for good performances. However, they also know that overactive emotions can get in the way of prudent decision-making. INTJ’s channel the precise amount of feelings they need to in order to communicate effectively.
  6. INTJ’s love to be in positions where their plans can come to fruition. They always have a master plan or vision. In music, this appears in many different roles: directing ensembles, teaching classes and lessons, making a character come to life in an opera or musical, etc. It’s not really the vocations that are different, but the approach to the vocations. INTJ’s approach what they are doing very strategically. They ask themselves the following questions: What am I trying to accomplish (i.e. the goal)? What are the important pieces I need in order to complete the goal? How do the pieces fit in order to accomplish the goal? How do I get the pieces to work together in order to accomplish the goal?

Projects, and life in general, look like a giant chessboard to an INTJ. To some, this way of thinking and behaving might seem completely alien. Perhaps this is why you’ve had conflicts with that INTJ in your life. Hopefully this answers some questions you might have. Maybe it raised a few. In any case, now you know this type a little better.

When to Change a Tradition

As someone who is on the opposite end of the spectrum from traditionalists, I sometimes become restless. When I go to a restaurant, I like to try new foods. When I’m in a class, I seek out a new seat in every session.  Repeating old projects verbatim-to me, anyway-is boring. Can I do or try something new? This is part of the reason I enjoy the arts. It is project-oriented (e.g. the concert, the recording, the fundraiser, etc.).

In the past, this has sometimes caused friction. People like tradition, and tradition isn’t inherently bad. The problem comes when tradition transmogrifies into traditionalism. Tradition becomes an end in and of itself. It hardens into a mindset. The tradition is “the right way” to do something. Why change the tradition if it still kinda sorta works?

What does tradition provide? Tradition provides continuity and community for an organization or individual. At Western Michigan University, the choirs often sing the alma mater before concerts. The college students link arms and sway back and forth as they sing. While to some this may seem cheesy to some, the students like it. It is something distinctive and special. It gives them a sense of belonging. It connects choral singers-past, present, and future.

With all of that said, I think there are several reasons to change a tradition:

  1. Perhaps the old way is not as effective, and needs to be tweaked. The results of doing the tradition are diminishing, and it needs updating to be more effective. Maybe you should use technology to speed up the process. Maybe a certain step in the operation is redundant.
  2. Perhaps you’ve found a much better way. You went to a workshop, and they showed how the such-and-such Master Chorale of someplace does this awesome thing in their rehearsals that will make your life as a choir director better. This new thing might work for you; it might not. You will never know until you attempt it.
  3. Perhaps you want to put your own stamp on an organization. The organization just does not feel like it is yours. It feels like the old director’s. You know that if you do this new thing, then you will establish a new tradition, your tradition. The danger with this lies in trying to change things too fast, particularly if the previous director was popular. If you change things too quickly or flippantly, there will be a backlash against you.
  4. Perhaps the people in the organization have become complacent. They do the same ole, same ole. Because they are content treading water, they are not going anywhere. The organization is not growing, and is often shrinking. As someone once told me, an organization that refuses to change refuses to live.
  5. Perhaps you want to prepare them for a much bigger change in the future. People tend to do what is comfortable. In order to prepare them for a big change, maybe a smaller change will help them accept the larger one.

To be clear, I’m not talking about completely jettisoning tradition. Throwing out a tradition simply because it has been done before is foolish and arrogant, and will likely cause problems. It will make you look like a dictator. However, methodical change, when wisely implemented, will enable your organization to grow.

 

How to Perform as an Introvert

We live in a day and age that consistently exalts extroversion. In some senses, this has always been the case. Because they gain energy from being around other people, extroverts are usually the life of the party. They often volunteer for people-oriented tasks. This affinity for being in contact with people allows extroverts to easily gain attention and accolades from the world.

Yet, introverts offer much as well. They give off a quiet warmth and are usually good listeners. Because they lose energy when around others, they are often overlooked. Unfortunately, assumptions are made concerning their skills and abilities. One of these overlooked areas is the ability to perform in front of others. Many assume that introverts are shy wall-flowers who cannot perform well. Yet, it can be done. Introverts just naturally cannot perform the same way extroverts do. Introverts won’t be stereotypical, overly-dramatic performers.

Extroverts will naturally gain energy from the crowd when they perform. This is usually a strength. They can easily read the energy of the audience and other performers in the room, feed off of it, and even re-energize it if it begins to wane. The downside is that if the audience or other performers are low energy, extroverts will struggle to find their own energy.

Introverts will have the same energy level regardless of the energy in the room. However, Introverts must consider certain elements if they are to perform well. While I cannot speak for all introverts, I will let you in on some of my own methods for performance. These recommendations are for solo performance only. A director or conductor needs to make other considerations before he or she leads.

First, I don’t worry much about the energy level of the room; I concentrate on my own performance. Is my own energy level sufficient? Is my interpretation of the song/character good? Is it authentic? Are my technique, artistry, and musical precision communicating this authenticity?

Celebrated novelist Ray Bradbury once stated that great works of literature have “pores” in them. By this, he meant that great works of literature speak to the universal human condition (e.g. love, joy, death, sorrow, etc.). The stories feel real. So too, must great performances have this same level of intimacy. If I concentrate on my own performance, I find that I don’t lose energy, my interpretation and technique are consistently good, and the audience and other performers are energized and emotionally moved.

Second, I strive to stay completely in the moment. Introverts (especially intuitive ones) are often stuck inside their own heads. I use this head-stuckedness to my advantage. During the performance, I  focus on the work as a whole and where I currently fit. This allows me to chart where I’m going and helps me to be precise. It also enables improvisation, which is necessary for any good, truly moving performance. Improvisation ensures that no two performances will be exactly the same, the performer will take artistic chances, and that he can adapt when other performers mess up or if something unexpected happens.

Doing these things keeps me centered during performance. Being centered offers a lot of positives. Most notably, I don’t really get stage fright. This should help you perform as well.