Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Day 16: Man in the Mirror




In every voice lesson, Katie makes me sing while looking in the mirror. Like many students, I do not enjoy this. It makes me self conscious. I am supposed to notice the shape of my mouth and jaw while looking for any tension anywhere else in my face. Like most women, I find it difficult to not scold myself when looking in the mirror. Ridiculous, really. Today, because I wanted to make my practice really count, I practiced for 30 minute while looking in the mirror. I told myself I would not berate myself for any reason and I would look at myself in the way I would look at any other student. That is, without judgment. It took a few minutes, but after that, I was really working. The moment any self criticism came up, I reminded myself that I was practicing. And I always tell students that you are supposed to make mistakes when you practice, and then work to fix them, so what's the big deal? Finally, I am learning to take my own advice. 


It was interesting to examine myself as if I were one of my students. To look at myself and strip away the personal judgement was empowering. It was a successful practice because even though I made many, many mistakes, I didn't beat myself up over it. I told myself to try again, and eventually I got the sound I wanted. All it took was accepting myself the way I am in this current moment. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Day 15: Staying Present



I remember I took up meditation when I was very young, because I couldn't focus. Because I wanted to play the piano desperately and I couldn't focus, I had a problem. I worked at it, and over time, I became a very focused musician. With all the life changes that have happened to me over the past few years, it's more challenging to stay present. I find my mind wandering when I play the piano.
I once met a guy who could read books while playing old Jazz standards on the piano. I couldn't understand it, but now I too am capable of reading and talking while playing. It's just a sign that I have practiced for a long time. It doesn't mean the song sounds it's best. It actually sounds ok, but nothing to brag about. If my attention is completely on the music, it sounds amazing. Note by note is the only true way to play, and today I am getting a little closer to getting that old focus back.

Checking In


I'm still on a serious Tori Amos kick...


Gotta say thanks to all who sent me encouraging words the other day after my "Crucify" post. You guys are amazing! Thanks for letting me know you are out there.

Seems hard to get into the blogosphere on the weekends for me. I will probably skip Saturdays and Sundays and pick it up again on Mondays, but know that I am continuing to practice everyday! Oh yeah-- I have decided to stop calling it practice. I prefer the word play. I will post more tonight.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Day 13: Crucify


One of my biggest hurdles is my own inner critic. You know what I mean... the bitch in my head who tells me I'm not talented and that everything I create is terrible. She's awful. Everyone has an inner critic. They are usually a combination of every critical voice you have ever heard. Bits of my mean guidance counselor, a smidge of my parents, an ex-boyfriend here and there, a sprinkle of the verbally abusive theatre teacher from high school. It's like they all get together for a party in my head every time I sit down to write a song. I'm still learning how to quiet them down, and from what other artists tell me, this self criticism never really goes away. The inner critic is always there, trying to keep you from doing your work. Tonight I am kicking the negative voices out and I am just going to listen to the music and stay focused.

Thanksgiving

You may be surprised that I have kept up my commitment during this holiday period. I played piano and sang for about 3 hours each day since Wednesday. That's an hour more than our holiday/weekend agreement :) I've also spent a lot of time sleeping. I will post more later, but for now, I should say that this year I am grateful for music and my friends, books and comedy shows, sketchbooks and watercolor pencils.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Day 10: Losing My Religion



Today I practiced for 3 hours. It has been impossible to make the four hours happen everyday, but I am determined to make it work. No excuses tomorrow. After Thanksgiving dinner, it is straight to the piano. Even though I didn't complete the 4 hours, today was a good day. I was feeling incredibly bored during my practice, and as I was making tea on a short break, "Losing my Religion" popped into my head. I wonder if it is because I was watching videos of Christopher Hitchens on YouTube last night? Probably. I sang a little out loud and was surprised at how monotone the melody is. It doesn't really move much. This made my first thought at covering the song seem like a bad idea, but then I thought I would try improvising on it a bit, kind of Christopher O'Reily style, on the piano. It was nice! Everyone knows the words to this song, so playing the piano while singing the words in my head was really powerful. When I attempted to sing, it ruined the feel of the song. Maybe Michael Stipe is the only person allowed to sing these lyrics. I thought a lot about my own experience with religion as I played, and I found it to be quite therapeutic. It's really a beautiful song, but playing it thoughtfully on the piano is something special to hear. Maybe one day I will play it for you.

Day 9: Shake It Out



I realized something this morning. I don't need to work on focusing when I sing, I need to work on singing in order to un-focus on this crazy life. Singing is the most beautiful distraction. If I could add dancing to the mix, I would be on the ultimate trip.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Day 8: Feelings




I love this video of Nina Simone. There is so much vulnerability in her singing and her facial expression. When I sing, I think so much about the technical side of things that it can be hard to let go and feel. Why is it so hard to feel when we play music? For some it is not hard at all. For many, it is. For me.... sometimes I have it and sometimes I don't. Today I did not. The worst part is I want to feel it. There is feeling inside of me, trapped in a little cage, waiting to burst out. David tells me if I keep practicing with the intention, it will be automatic one day. I believe it, but in the meantime, it is frustrating to want to feel the music, and feel the learned habit of holding back. 


When I was 15, I was in love with a boy who was on anti-depressants, against his own wishes and at his parent's insistence. I remember he told me that he couldn't cry anymore. The medicine left him unable to feel strong emotions. I could tell this bothered him a lot. I thought that was the saddest thing I had ever heard. It broke my heart to see him feel sad with no way to release it. The sadness just stayed inside. We may not all take Zoloft or Prozac, but how many of us cover up the sadness with repression, anger, drugs, denial, alcohol? When I watch Fox News clips on the Daily Show, I am amazed at how callous so many people have become. The joy we take in watching people mess up American Idol auditions (or X Factor... whatever the show is now) instead of feeling bad for them and their crushed dreams, the giddiness that overcomes us when we pass the tabloids at the super market. My own vice is watching the Republican debate follies. You could say it is my own version of the American Idol auditions. 


And even if we are not participating in the callousness, it effects us. I know for myself, I have learned how to guard myself and keep my feelings hushed in order to avoid embarrassment. A musician can't guard herself. The music will suffer. This is true for any artist, but it is most important for a performer. A performance that is not real and emotionally honest is a waste of everyones energy and time. A good actor believes he is the character he is playing and a good dancer believes she is the violin playing the melody in the song. A good singer becomes the lyrics and a good piano player forgets that he and the instrument are two separate entities. I must make it a habit to feel everything. 

New Week: I Shall Be Released




It is morning on the west coast of America. The weekend was a good breather from my intense practice last week, but I'm really looking forward to another week and the challenge of keeping the commitment going. Have you read the book "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield?  In it he talks about resistance and how resistance takes on many forms in the life of an artist. It can take on the form of personal drama, illness, a messy house, and basically any distraction. Over the weekend, I found myself being distracted by things I can't control and I take comfort in knowing that Monday is here and my piano is the number one priority. No distractions. Just focus. I can't believe I am taking comfort in Mondays. 


Okay, here I go.  

Friday, November 18, 2011

Day Five: A Change Is Gonna Come



Last night I drank a tiny glass of cheap white wine but still paid the price all night as I struggled to sleep. I kept thinking about things in the past that have nothing to do with the present, and I couldn't get warm. I am afraid to calculate how much sleep I actually got, but I made myself wake to my annoying alarm so I could practice for an hour before my voice lesson. I made my coffee and sat at the piano, staring at the keys for a good 10 minutes before I put the cup down and started playing. I decided to improvise in G Major. I find the key of G comforting. One black key makes things more interesting than C Major, but easier than the other Major keys. I was not awake enough to think too hard, so I let myself play a simple drone in the left hand and my right hand improvised on the scale. I was surprisingly calmed and energized by the time my 20 minute timer went off.

Soon it was time for my voice lesson with Katie, which was wonderful and challenging all at the same time. A beginning voice student was still singing as I waited outside her studio, and I remembered how hard those first years can be. It takes a lot of work to train your ears to hear pitches and then send the information to your voice. In high school, instrumental students scoffed at the singers, stereotyping us as brainless half-wits, but they had no idea how much work it takes to produce a good piece of vocal music. Oh well. There will always be haters. What can you do?

Today was day 5, and I can feel the change a comin'. When a sudden life change happens, it is normal to freak out. I now empathize with people who develop drug and alcohol problems after going through a sudden change like a divorce. Your whole world gets shaken up and it is tempting to grab at the easiest fix to make it through the day. I can tell I have made the right choice to put all of my energy into music. Music is the greatest alternative to chemical abuse, bad relationships, or TV watching, and it is just as addictive. For the first time in 8 months, I can say confidently that this was the best week I have had. It was challenging to get the practice done, but the results are already showing up, not just in my voice, but in my state of mind as well. So glad it's the weekend.... I'm only required to do 2 hours on Saturdays and Sundays. David's cutting me some slack.

See you guys tomorrow. Listen to some inspiring music for me.

Time After Time



Where does the day go?? Today, I practiced for 2 hours and 20 minutes. I regret missing the rest of my practice time. I am really beginning to enjoy the discipline, but I find it difficult to manage my time wisely. I am afraid I will have to wake up early tomorrow and begin practicing during the time I would normally drink my coffee while staring at the wall. Gotta make the most of every moment.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Day Three: You Can't Always Get What You Want


I was so glad to fill up my first hour of practice with Katie, my voice teacher, at USC. The thing that amazes me about Katie is that she seems to have this amazing understanding of Eastern Philosophy, but she has never even taken a yoga class. Today, we worked on my high notes on the "Ah" vowel. Even though this is the easiest sound to make in the upper register, I struggle with it. Katie says I try too hard to control the sound which creates tension in my jaw, which creates a tense sound. She says that we have to learn how to let go of the need to control everything, that our voices are not truly controllable because they are always changing. My voice will be different tomorrow, and there is nothing I can do about it. The trick is to let go of the expectation and need to control every little detail. I told her that she sounded like a Buddhist and that I was going to name her "Yoga Master of Singing." She laughed but didn't totally know what I meant. I told her about the Buddhist concept of non-attachment, how every moment passes and nothing is permanent and the secret to happiness (according to Buddhists) is to learn how to accept that fact of life. Once I gave up the feeling of needing to be in control, my high notes began to soar clearer than ever. 

After yoga, I mean singing class, I ran on my favorite trail in Elysian Heights near Dodgers Stadium. Running has helped me feel stronger when I sing, and I am pretty sure it has helped me increase my breath support. After running, it was back to the studio to practice. I am happy to report that I fulfilled my 4 hour requirement today. I'm exhausted, but calm. 

I want to carry on the deeper message of my voice lesson into the rest of my life. You really can't control everything, but if you show up and do your work, there is a good chance you will have a positive outcome. Frustration is the real killer - acceptance makes you resilient. You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need. :)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Day Two: So Lame

Due to a little personal drama, I only had time to practice for 2.5 hours. I sound like one of my students.... Tomorrow, I will practice more than 4 hours to make up for the lost time.  The good news is that I can now hold my singing notes out for 2 seconds longer than before. That means my breath control is getting stronger. My range has also increased by 2 half steps. My highest note was C, 2 octaves above middle C, just a week ago, and now I am up to a D flat. Hard work does pay off! Need to sleep and wake early for my voice lesson. I promise tomorrow's post will be more exciting.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Day One of Practice Bootcamp

I am going to make this quick, because I am so tired and I have to wake up at 6 am in order to get a head start on tomorrow's 4-hour practice requirement. I started at my normal 11:00 time today, but I can tell I will have to plan better for some days. I was able to get 2 hours of consistent song practice done in the early half of the day, but I had to get the other 2 worked out this evening, after my lessons. Does teaching piano lessons count as practice? No... unfortunately it does not.

I kept track of my practice in a word document to make sure I was really practicing for 4 hours. I broke everything up into 20 minute intervals. 20 minutes of vocal warm-ups, 20 minutes of piano improv, 20 minutes of each song. It's exciting that I have enough material to fill up 4 hours. Since I went through 5 out of the 6 original songs we have this morning, I decided to spend an hour singing a few of the songs a cappella. A cappella practice was David insistence, um I mean, idea. I resisted it at first. Mainly because I find it boring. I don't know what to do with my hands, so I did some wrist exercises while I sang... I'm such a multi-tasker (or am I just A.D.D?) Turns out he was right. A cappella singing forced me to fine-tune some of the melodies I have been singing.

Ok, that's it for tonight. I'm so tired.... need sleep.

Cracking the Whip

Today, I have to begin practicing for 4 hours a day. Even if it is 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours at night. For the past 4 months or so, my daily practice goal has been 2-4 hours. Now, David has made it clear that I need to work 4 hours a day. I agree. At some point in any artist's work, you have to become more committed and spend more time on your craft than anything else. That means that everything else gets scaled back, including the blogging. My posts will be shorter, but because I am putting less pressure on myself to write long posts, I will be able to update the blog more often. That could be good news for this blog. I always wondered how other bloggers are able to post everyday.... I always thought it would be nice to be one of them.

So... look forward to shorter but more frequent updates on my thoughts on music as well as the progress of my practice. I will try to check in tonight to let you know how day one of practice bootcamp goes.

Peace & Music,
Bella

Monday, November 7, 2011

Someone Save My Life Tonight

If I didn't despise the taste of alcohol so much, I would be addicted to AA meetings at this point. Instead, I have decided to drown my worries and concerns in music. I have listened to Funeral by Arcade Fire four times, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music by Ray Charles two times, Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys once, July Flame by Laura Viers twice... and I think that's it...  all since yesterday afternoon. I am afraid to remove my headphones. I even tried to wash my face with them on, but then I realized that it would be impossible to not potentially ruin a very nice pair of Marshalls, so I took a 2 minute break in the name of personal hygiene.

There are moments when I just want to scream. There are moments when I feel alone and sad. Most days, my go to fix is an old Sarah Silverman episode on Hulu, but I was really beginning to think the TV watching was becoming problematic. I remembered my high school days when life seemed to permanently suck, and I remembered the many, many hours I spent in my room absorbing music. I thought it was time to revisit that era. Wow. Big difference. Reality seems to change once the headphones are on. Like really change. Normally I listen to music through regular speakers and the only time I use my headphones is when I am running. To sit down and really listen to music with headphones is a completely different experience. There is no division between you and the sounds. They are literally going into your body and vibrating with you. Why don't I do this all the time???

Once again, music is saving my life. No matter what is going on, I always have music. If my ipod is dead, I have my piano. If my piano is far away, I have my voice. No matter what happens, there is always, always, always music.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Still Here, Just Waiting

I hate it when a whole week goes by and I don't have an idea for a blog post. So far I have had nothing to say for two weeks. I have been quiet in my personal life too. Lately, I find it easier to listen than to speak. I find myself unwilling to use my voice unless it is absolutely necessary. In the past two weeks, I have only written one song. Something is definitely up, but I am not sure what it is.

I remember when I was a kid, I found inspiration everywhere. It was a rare moment when I had anything critical to say about any particular song or artist and I loved all forms of entertainment. I could spend hours in the woods pretending to be an explorer and then go inside to play fashion model dress-up with my sister. As time goes by, I have become so particular. It's too bad, actually. I look around and I see so much to be inspired by. In Los Angeles I can be hypnotized by the street fashion alone and I have to say music is getting more interesting, especially with Pandora and satellite radio so easily available.

I had a conversation last night with a casual friend. It was one of those conversations that make me believe in angels, because the timing is just so perfect. He told me that when you are in a transitionary period it is normal to feel blah but one day, the passion comes back and life is exciting again. I'm skeptical, but I want to believe him. Since I started the transition from legally attached person to liberated adult, I have dealt with a lot of ups and downs. I have weeks where I write 2 blog posts and melodies jump out of my head and onto the piano and I feel enthusiastic about life and the future. But then there are weeks when I have to remember that eating is necessary for human survival and that even though it seems like a burden, sleep is important too.

Something happened a few days ago. I was singing and David was in the other room. He told me that something was changing in my voice. It was hitting a nerve in him that felt different from before. I can feel it too. My voice is growing up and I can feel that the pain of a dramatic life transition is finally fading away. If my life were a movie, I think this would be the part when the musician finally begins to get crazy productive again, discovering singing techniques that had been difficult before and becoming confident in ways she never imagined. Of course, that is *if* my life were a movie, because right now I am just sitting in a Starbucks listening to the new Feist album, trying to get some inspiration.

I seriously hope this transition moves quickly. Lack of blog inspiration is definitely equal to lack of songwriting inspiration. See you guys soon?