The weekend before last I went to visit family in Shropshire, and ended up getting snowed in. Significant snow fall is a rare thing in the UK, so we thought we’d make the most of it.
The result was an epic snowball fight, and thanks to the power of the smartphone, a music video! I hope you enjoy this little glimpse into our weekend and the song too. It’s a cover of Cold War Kids’ ‘Hospital Beds‘- a song that I’d wanted to cover for the past 10 years.
Its a slightly left-field choice of song (very much my taste in music!) I didn’t write the song, but I’ve always felt it was about embracing life, through its ups and downs.
‘Vietnam! Fishing trips! Italian Opera! ‘- I feel like its a call to go and have adventures. Whether your adventures involve gondolas, fishing lines or snowball fights, I hope you enjoy this video…
Often our knee jerk reaction is to ‘fix’ the problem, but of course there is an irony here- you can’t force yourself to relax. You can only allow yourself to let go. Awareness is the first and most important step. The next step is the willingness and patience to go with the process.
Often we learn when we stop trying so hard. I truly believe that learning to sing is really unlearning all of those unhelpful habits we’ve adopted. None of us came into this word all hunched up and ‘wearing our shoulders as earrings’ (as my Pilates teacher once observed!)
If you look at babies, you’ll see that they breathe freely into their abdominal area, and engage these muscles when they cry. Let’s face it, your average baby doesn’t have problems with projecting their voice!
Perhaps its our western obsession with having flat stomachs, but often we hold ourselves upright and breathe shallowly into our shoulders, which is the first thing we need to unlearn.
Being suited. booted and poker faced might be necessary in the corporate world, but it can leave us alienated from our bodies and disconnected from our voices. Psychology aside, if you’re at a computer for 8+ hours a day, chances are you’re going to suffer from some muscle tension.
So, whats the answer?
In my opinion- the answer lies, in part, with movement. I don’t mean the hardcore kind of movement, where you thrash around, overriding what your body is telling you- but the gentle, mindful kind where you listen to your body. (Think yoga rather than high intensity workouts- which might be great for weight loss but not for this!)
Try this- next time you sing, try ‘unlocking’ your body. You could walk gently or perform with your arms outstretched. You could try leaning against the wall while supporting yourself with the palm of your hands. Observe if anything feels different. Is there a change in vocal tone? Do you feel more free? Try and incorporate this exploration into your singing practice.
When I was 12 years old I had an accident while riding my little brother’s bike- it was far too small for me, (my own bike had a puncture) and I was riding like a little speed demon at the time. One short attention lapse later, and I was unceremoniously thrown in the air after colliding with a lamp post. Not my coolest moment.
Luckily I was wearing a helmet and it was my pride that hurt more than anything. It must have put me off though, as I didn’t get on a bike again until I was 24.
I wasn’t sure I’d even remember how to ride, but it’s true you don’t forget! I rode 16 miles the day I got back on a bike- a big step towards making me a less nervous cyclist! I’m far from a ‘proper’ cyclist. I rarely ride on busy roads, or rely on my bike for transport. For me, riding a bike is about exploring and having fun.
and what better way to have fun than to sing? I have a feeling that some of you reading this may have done this already. Several of my friends have mentioned that they sing on their bikes (or while kayaking- hey why not?)
Needless to say, your primary focus while cycling should be on the road- always! If you’re not a confident cyclist I suggest sticking to the cycle superhighways or any designated cycle path. If you have any green spaces nearby, even better (ahhh)
A treasured sunny day in London
Then- let rip! enjoy the absolute freedom of motion and sound. There’s something so liberating about the independence being on a bike gives you. Add the joy of belting out one of your favourite songs and it’s the happiest feeling in the world!
It’s rare that you get to hear your singing voice out in the open air, amongst other people milling about. (Unless you’re super confident, or a musical theatre student- props to you!) and you can do this without having to soak up all the attention as- weeeeee! you’re off again!
Maybe its the playful, child-like nature of it, or the freedom it gives you- or the motion, but I have a hunch ‘singcling’ is really good for the soul. Give it a go!
Do you do this already? Are you going to try this out? Let me know how you get on!
Today I want to talk about size. More precisely, how big your voice is. How loud it is, how powerful it is. Can you do vocal athletics? Can you shatter glass with those high notes?
Whatever the answer to those questions, I hope you will realise there is a lot more to being a singer than how loudly you can belt the high notes.
After 15 years of talent shows such as the X Factor/ Pop Idol etc, I feel that the general consensus is that bigger and louder= better. Big voice, big performance, and possibly, but not necessarily, big hair.
This opinion is totally legitimate- having a big voice, huge range and vocal agility and athleticism is impressive. These performers dedicate hours to their craft, and work really hard too.
But what about the individual with an incredible voice who doesn’t have the size? They may have beautiful tone, real artistry, honesty and vulnerability, but they would probably raise an eyebrow at the concept of a ‘sing off’ on national television.
What about these singers? Yes, they’re out there!
Laura Marling, Thom Yorke, Bjork, Birdy, Bat for lashes, the late Billie Holiday and Jeff Buckley…
Even mainstream artists like Alicia Keys are considered vocally featherweight against their big voiced counterparts ( like Beyoncé or Adele)
Rather than strain to emulate others, these artists have embraced their voices, and their power lies in their tone, communication, honesty and vulnerability.
First Aid Kit by Renee Barrera (cc)
Whether it’s the heartbreak in the voice of Sinead O’Connor, or the fragile purity of Birdy’s cover of skinny love, these voices can cut to the core of you. Not to mention the hugely emotional voice of Jeff Buckley, who often walked the tight rope- he sang with such passion and commitment that there was a certain messiness to some of his live performances, at least in terms of technique. That did nothing to blunt the beauty of his work.
Billie Holiday used her haunting vibrato to deliver possibly the most powerful protest song of all time- Strange Fruit. Vocal acrobatics were not needed, Lady Day was a natural storyteller.
So whether you have a ‘big’ voice or a gentle voice, be kind to it. One is not better than the other. The truth is, listeners are as diverse as singers. Whitney Houston may have made the powerhouse vocal de rigueur when she took the world by storm in the 80s-but even Whitney doesn’t do it for everyone!( even if her talent was indisputable!)
So please embrace whoever you are, because there is only one of you. There are so many different vocal tones and ‘textures’ you can experiment with- from breathy to belt-y. The key is to sing in a way that feels authentic to you. It all comes back to communicating honestly with your audience, whatever the sound and style! 🙂
..I borrowed that title from a collection of short stories by writer Miranda July, (which I still haven’t read!) but I’ve always loved it. How many of us have needed to hear that now and again?
Today I want to talk about imposter syndrome, a silent epidemic of self-doubt that effects many performers, both professional and otherwise. It’s the belief that you don’t really deserve the success you’ve had. Perhaps you feel that you’re going to fail publicly if you take a risk?
I probably don’t need to point out how counterproductive this is to giving an honest performance. It’s impossible to be truly present in the moment when we are second guessing ourselves. I have witnessed this phenomenon with singers who freeze when they hear their own voice through a PA system. It’s so easy to over-listen to your voice, and fall down a rabbit hole of analysis- this distracts us from (our true task) of communicating with our audience!
This is true for all of us– life is a pitch after all! Perhaps you need to give a presentation in your office job, but you freeze, cotton mouthed while you have an out of body experience (and not in a good way!)
Harvard professor Amy Cuddy describes imposter syndrome as feeling like a fraud. “impostorism causes us to overthink and second guess. It makes us fixate on how we think others are judging us (in these fixations, we’re usually wrong), then fixate some more on how those judgements might posion our interactions. We’re scattered- worrying that we are underprepared, obsessing about what we should be doing, mentally reviewing what we said five seconds earlier, fretting about what people think of us and what that will mean for us tomorrow.”
Phew. sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s a link between perfectionism, performance anxiety and impostorism.
Ironically, those who feel like frauds are often the most successful!
However, external markers of success do not make you immune to feeling like a fraud.
Writer Neil Gaiman suffers with impostor syndrome and has shared this anecdote with a fan who also suffers with impostorism. He talks about how he met Neil Armstrong:
“Some years ago, I was lucky enough invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.
On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of,” I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”
And I said,” . But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.
And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.”
Famous sufferers of impostor syndrome include Kate Winsley, Emma Watson, Sheryl Sandberg and Neil Gaiman
If this is something you’ve ever felt, I hope you will find reassurance that you’re not alone.
About 6 years ago I was offered a place on a group training program for music leaders. This was great news- but as a singer that couldn’t read music I was racked with self doubt.
Despite my anxiety, I went along, made friends, and had the best time. Most of the musicians there were from leading conservatoires, and could play multiple instruments. I initially felt intimidated, but then I realised I wasn’t alone- there were other singers like me in the group. Singers from pop, rock and gospel backgrounds who learnt to sing by ear.
We were split into small groups, and asked to devise a short composition together. To our surprise, many our formally trained classmates were in awe of our ability to improvise and create melodies out of thin air (even if we couldn’t say what those notes were!).Of course the admiration went both ways- but I learnt a valuable lesson from it.
That’s not to say I won’t ever have those moments again- but I now know that it has a name, and that I’m not in terrible company either!
So what is the solution?
Well, the first step is realising your not alone- there are others feeling just like you, but most people don’t like to share their insecurities. Being aware you have imposter syndrome can help you to ignore those doubts in the future.
So keep singing, and know that no-one belongs here more than you!
So, today I want to tackle the concept of mindset and how it relates to us as singers.
I’d previously heard of the term ‘mindset’ in relation to positive thinking or being strong willed. i.e.. something you were told you should have- a kind of inner strength or resilience. So far, so good- however, what does that mean in practical terms? How does someone acquire this illusive ‘mindset’?
According to Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck, there are two types of mindset, a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is where someone believes that their nature, talent and abilities are fixed. The problem with this is that it becomes far too easy to write off yourself and others. A fixed mindset is a powerless place to be. It leaves little or no room for development.
For example, if you believe you were born with a finite amount of talent, you’re probably going to take it a lot harder if you mess up on stage, than you would if you believed that you can grow your talents. Instead of being useful, mistakes will feel like a threat to your very identity as a singer, perhaps even as a person!
Generally speaking, those with a fixed mindset struggle to push themselves out of their comfort zone more than their growth mindset counterparts. If you believe you can’t grow or improve, you’ll be less likely to risk failure- because that failure will be interpreted as you being a failure.
The truth is, we all need to fail in order to grow.
According to Daniel Coyle, author of the Talent Code, ‘talent isn’t born, it’s grown’. Developing our talents takes commitment and persistence, and this is the only way to improve.
Recognising that you have a choice can be hugely liberating. You decide- do you believe your talent is fixed? Or do you believe it’s grown? Which of these beliefs would you prefer to steer your creative path?
Creating takes a great deal of humility. You have to get comfortable with operating at the edge of your ability. There really is no place for perfectionism or ego in creation. Give yourself a break from these tyrants and get to work!
The below video will give you more insight into Carol Dweck’s research into the ‘growth mindset’.
If you’d like to learn more about this topic, I highly recommend reading the following books:
On Saturday I went to a friend’s wedding. The bride sings in a barbershop quartet and her friends, the incredibly talented ‘Hannah & the Hurricanes’ performed. I was blown away with their impeccable timing, perfect pitch and memorising performance.
Hannah and the Hurricanes
Hannah & the Hurricanes are a mixed quartet, comprised of Andrea Day, Hannah Braham, Tim Briggs and Duncan Whinyates. They won the silver medal at the World Champion mixed quarter championships in 2016.
After telling Baritone Tim Briggs how impressed I was by their performance. he kindly invited me to join them for a sing-song! I was given a melody to sing while the group sang beautiful harmonies. The harmonies moved around the melody, creating a gorgeous clash and then resolution! (a process known as ‘tagging’)
It was a LOT of fun and thanks to H&TH I’m now officially a barbershop fan! Check out the below video of Hannah, Andrea, Tim and Duncan smashing it!
Before studying vocal technique and becoming a teacher, I was a film student. I still love film, and enjoy getting lost in a great movie. Art has always crossed over with music, and veteran film director David Lynch has had an extraordinary influence on music! His influence is not only heard, but seen in countless music videos.
Lynch’s cinematic style can be summarised as twisted, dreamy Americana.
Bat for Lashes’ latest album and accompanying music videos are littered with Lynchian imagery. Lana Del Rey even covered Blue Velvet, a song ubiquitous with Lynch’s film of the same name. Lykke Li and Karen O have both worked with David Lynch on tracks. Watch the videos below to see what I mean. 🙂
A few years ago, I spoke to David over Skype at a live Q&A session at the photographer’s gallery . I only had a moment to speak to my hero, but I was able to ask him how he stays so creative. (The answer apparently lies in his passion for transcendental meditation!) I’m always curious to learn more about his process and I got another opportunity last week when a new documentary about Lynch premiered in UK cinemas.
As always I found his commitment to creativity and following his gut motivating and inspirational. Here is what I learnt…
David talks about how he ‘sucked at painting’ when he started out (his first medium before film) but that he just carried on and on until he got better. He worked hard and stayed committed to the process of refining his craft, even on bad days. Amen to that.
Lynch is known for being a bit of an enigma, and he rarely talks about his personal life. During filming he opened up about the experience of being a young artist- he recalls showing his father research for an art project (decomposing fruit and insects) and that his father believed him to be deeply disturbed as a result. He describes his parents as supportive, kind people. Despite this, they doubted the legitimacy of his career as an artist. On fathering his first child, his father and father in law put pressure on him to abandon his art and take a steady office job. David was heartbroken but channelled his desperation into making his first film a success. He went on to make one of the most celebrated TV shows of all time (Twin Peaks) and direct several critically and commercially successful films including Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive.
Dedication to your craft and your purpose, even when others doubt you? Dedication to your craft and purpose even on days when you don’t feel like it, or you realise you suck at painting (or dancing, or singing)- and doing it for the love of it anyway?