With Open Hands, A Mantra For Living

by Guest Author
Michelle Markwart Deveaux

“There can be life and movement only when you no longer accept things as they are now, and look ahead toward that which is not yet.”
-Henry Nouwen

 

I have this habit of trying to control stuff. And of course, it’s always the stuff that I have no business controlling, like what other folks think of me.

I call this feeling the “Grasp Ghost”, for reasons that will come apparent in a bit.

This Grasp Ghost rears its ugly head most when I am trying to launch a new service or product for my voice students or voice teacher clients. It comes often when I am simultaneously working on a proposal for a workshop while telling my three year old to stop jumping on the coach.  The Grasp Ghost also likes to creep into client emails and try to make me defensive.

The good news is that I am familiar enough with this pattern that it does not shock or scare me anymore. It used to wreak havoc on my soul. It would throw me into a state of perfectionism and defensiveness. It would make me care more about my feelings than my actions, and make me forget that my primary joy is to solve the problems presented to me.

I now have a practice that I use to combat The Grasp Ghost. It’s a thought process and physical action that was deeply inspired by the late Henry Nouwen.

I shared it with Liz when we first met, and she asked that I tell you, her readers, about it too.

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Finding Freedom in Music, in Life

There are two fundamental aspects regarding the experience of freedom in musical performance that deserve more attention: practicing in a state of ease, and mastering skills.  These same ideas apply to all of life, and musicians give us a window into how we can experience freedom in our every day lives and practice as well.

State of Mind Matters

The feeling of freedom is closer than we all think.  It can be felt – right here and now – because it is a state, or a mindset.  A sense of more freedom can be achieved by sitting down and taking a deep breath, or thinking of something lovely, or hearing a joke.  Even a mild sense of relief in the moment can bring a feeling of more “freedom.”

That being said, in what state of mind do you practice your instrument or voice?  Is it filled with anxiety, tension, and fear?  Is it fun?  Does it make you feel better? Does it make you feel sick to your stomach?

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Making Room for Healing

#howthelightgetsin
~Kirk Schafer

Making Room in Small Ways

One way I’ve seen people heal from voice trouble is by letting their healing creep in one little bit at a time. They make little pockets of space for better thoughts, better habits, or better intentions.  They make room for healing in small ways that eventually add up to the end goal.

We are creatures of habit, would you agree?  So, sometimes trying to make all the changes all at once fails us.  (Not just sometimes, actually.  Most of the time.)  We benefit from making small adjustments toward healing in our attitudes or perceptions coupled with small actions because [small attitude adjustments + small actions + repetition + time] wins the race.

The people who succeed at “getting better” start by seeing a few things that are already going well, in spite of their current problems.  And to me, that is also a way to make a little room for healing.  We can all start where we are, and calm down enough to see all is NOT lost.  It never, ever is!

Lifting Weights

Maybe this is a good place to mention that I’ve passed the 10 month mark on my weight lifting journey.  May 11th marked 10 months of being in the gym 4-5 times per week.  And guess what? I’ve only lost around 5 pounds, depending on the day.

My old self, the one who loved punishing me for . . . well, anything and everything . . . would be having a field day with this tiny number.  “Only 5 pounds???  Seriously???”  I can hear that voice, that tone, and I can feel the guilt and shame a comin’ on me. Laaaawwwwd.  (My heart hurts just remembering when I used to speak to myself so harshly.  Not a fun experience that was, Jedi!)

But, now that I’m better at being kind to myself, I’m making more room for my healing.  Tiny, little places where I feel good about what’s happening which then allows to keep going with the plan.  In other words, I’m choosing to admit a few things.

  • I look a little different.
  • I’m eating better because of my new routine.
  • My skin is glowier.  (not a word, I know, but hang with me.)
  • I am physically stronger.
  • After 10 months, there are some fundamental changes in my musculature.

And, did I mention – I feel better.  Sweet Jesus and Brother Buddah, I feel better in my body.

Which, if I were only looking at the scale, would not be important.  I would have stopped going to the gym months ago. Fortunately, I’m learning how to make room for healing with these tiny thoughts and simple daily actions.  Which will get me to complete(r) physical healing in the long run.  (completer is also not a word, man, but i thought it was funny so again – hang with me)

What does feeling better have to do with it?

Feeling better is kind of everything.  Especially when it comes to the voice.  We owe it to ourselves to find little places where things are working and feel good, and build from there.  Otherwise it’s easy to just give up or go away.  Rebuilding vocal function is not always easy, and the road not always smooth or straight.  From what I’ve experienced with clients it is usually pretty bumpy and curvy, which is also why I decided to start lifting weights – to see what it feels like to work on a physical goal that feels “impossible” at the outset.

Some of my most successful clients are the ones who cling to their small victories, and avoid going down the rabbit hole when (on the surface) things are not so hot.  We all have times where we feel discouraged or hopeless, but if we can find ways to make room for healing – even with little, tiny, better feeling thoughts – we are on track.  And that might make all the difference.

 

 

 

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The Voice Can Do Many Things

In viewing the following video yesterday, I was reminded that the human voice is capable of so much . . . more.

Often in voice training, or when learning new vocal skills, we give in to the fear that we might hurt ourselves, or produce ugly tones, or worse – do something “outside of our genre.”  Gasp!

This limited line of thinking keeps us from exploring the range of textures and dynamics we are all capable of, and it also robs us of the inherent joy that comes with making sound.  All kinds of sound.  For someone as skilled as the following vocalist, we have to imagine the freedom with which he explored different parts of his voice!  What kinds of weird sounds did he experiment with in order to discover such different voices in the same voice?  How much fun are those sounds to make?  And how much fun is he having singing on different sounds back to back?

Before anyone gets their pedagogical thinky-minds in a bunch over his “technical issues” (should you be inclined to go there, teachers), take a moment to hear this voice for the magic it is – a voice full of ability, life, and a reminder that we are usually capable of more than we realize.  Especially vocally!

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Muscle Specificity, Exercise Science, and Jazz

“Specificity refers to the concept that strength training must be designed
to appropriately target the specific muscle or muscle group with the intended skill or task.”
(pg. 246, The Vocal Athlete, 2014)

On the heels of presenting at the Jazz Educators Network conference in New Orleans two weeks ago, I’d like to share some ideas about using jazz to train voices.

My presentation was called “Functional Voice Training Through Jazz Literature and Style,” and it outlined the benefits of using jazz rep and style as a training modality for commercial (or contemporary) singers.

Think: jazz lit and style as tools in the pedagogy toolbox.

In the 11+ plus years I taught university level jazz voice lessons, it (eventually) became obvious that jazz was good for voices.  I could use it to get a barely functioning voice to work like a charm, and even if a student wasn’t swimming in musical talent, a semester or two of jazz voice lessons could help him/her get control of pitch, range, harmonic awareness, rhythm, and basic levels of phrasing.  Jazz helped vocal function based issues.

Jazz is replete with opportunities for teaching, at least in my opinion.  And I don’t think we’ve even begun to plumb its depths as a vocal training tool.

So, let’s begin, shall we?

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