Monday, July 28, 2014

Allergies and Singing in Summer! Do you feel like you 'suddenly have allergies'? Is it affecting your singing?

"I am sick again" or "Is it me or are allergies just awful this year?"  I keep hearing these questions from my students in voice lessons.  Many don't think they have allergies because they have not had them before.  Maybe they are just more sensitive to allergic tendencies now that they are singing regularly and depend on their bodies as their instruments.  Others know they do and for some reason the way they have dealt with them in the past is not working this year.

I was astonished when I read an article in my May 2014 Self Magazine entitled "Are These Making You Sick?".  I too have been feeling my allergies act up and actively starting using a Neti Pot to help combat my symptoms, but here was actually proof that we are not nuts!  Skyrocketing allergen levels may be to blame.  Why?

Climate conditions have changed making plants like ragweed pollinate earlier and die later according to Leonard Bielory, MD, professor at Rutgers University.  If pollen is being produced earlier and last longer, there is more time for it to bug you.

Think about all of the severe types of weather we have encountered in the last couple of years:  in the Northeast we have had many severe thunderstorms, a weird hail storm, an extremely cold and wet winter, Superstorm Sandy last summer, the weather abnormalities keep adding up. In the case of Sandy, Dr. Bielory says "the storm saturated the ground and provided extra nutrients that acted like steroids on many pollen-bearing plants."

In cities, now urban planners are adding trees to the environment which shed lots of pollen.

In summary, more (quantity and types) of pollen are being added to the environment for longer periods of time so you may find yourself with itchy eyes, running nose, and congestion (the number of seasonal allergy sufferers has DOUBLED in the last 2 decades according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America).

Crazy but true, so okay, now what can you DO to help yourself?

Pay attention to your body and its signals.  If you are starting to feel your allergy symptoms respond to them by:

- Wash your hands (and hair) frequently and don't rub your eyes

- Minimize outdoor time at peak pollen times (first thing in the morning)

- Eat well  (salmon and walnuts, arugula, kale, cilantro, onions, radicchio may help prevent immune cells from releasing histamines which may reduce your symptoms)

- Drink your H20 and try a little green tea

- Pay attention to any foods which make your throat itchy or irritated. What is in the food may cross-react with the allergens in the air.  (ragweed allergy- may be sensitive to cantaloupe, zucchini, cucumbers or birchwood allergy you may be sensitive to carrots, celery, parsley, apples)  Food allergies are a completely different subject but you may be sensitive due to your airborne allergies!

- Find your triggers (either by paying attention to when you sneeze or get that allergy test!)

- Be vigilent about cleaning  triggers can be indoor airborne allergens or things brought in from outside)

- Use saline nose spray or a neti pot to rinse out allergens trapped in your nose.  Find an allergy medicine to help you if that alone does not do the trick

- Get lots of sleep and try to reduce your stress levels.  Meditation or yoga may actually help reduce inflammation!

Allergies when not taken care of slowly turn to colds or sinus infections which cause even more problems.  Take care of yourself from the onset of your allergy symptoms so you can continue to sing with ease!  Also, rest assured, you are not crazy if you feel like you 'suddenly have allergies'.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Analyze This! Musical Theater (or Opera) is Not My Passion. WHY Should I Learn the Music? What Analyzing the Music Can Do for You!

There are so many styles and facets of singing that people often wonder, "Why should I learn this style of music?  Why will it benefit me?"  I often get asked that question when I present a young student with a musical theater or folk song piece.  Many jump at the chance to do Broadway but balk at the concept that it is 'legit' or from the Rogers and Hammerstein era or a song that they have never heard before.  It is not what they are familiar with, so why should they learn that style?  I like to re-phrase the question to be 'Why Not?' and 'What can I learn from it?'.

Specifically, one can learn so much from working on a song from musical theater.  Not only are we learning the notes and lyrics, but we delve into character development and what we are trying to convey or communicate (dramaturgy)!  It is often an easier avenue to approach these concepts through musical theater than folk song or art songs or opera.  It is often a great caveat to operatic study as the voice develops, matures, and helps the student to understand the value of the study of the opera as a whole not just their individual aria.  We dig deeper than just the notes on the page and make the difference of "mediocre and truly great performers" (in all realms of musical performance). (Classical Singer, 10/2009)  If we start with our own native language when studying character and historical study of a song (or aria), we can start a complicated analysis process with something that is easy to relate to for a beginning student.  We just have to carefully select the repertoire so that it is vocally and age appropriate.

To understand the seriousness of this kind of study, let's visit the practice of dramaturgy in opera houses.  If an opera house is very lucky, they have their own dramaturg coach.  If not, a very good director who understands the process.  Study of this nature helps to identify questions of who what , when, where, why, and how, and place each singer's role in the context of the opera as a whole.  If you look at the music from all angles- music history, socio-cultural context, and where the material comes from (a poet or original libretto) you can fully 'inhabit' their characters.  Read more about this process at "Analyze This" Classical Singer, October 2009.

This is a brilliant concept!  Full research of a musical piece give the most benefit to authentically perform any role or repertoire of choice.  If you get under the skin of the text and make it second nature and part of you physically, it catches the whole audience (even the squirming 10 year old!). Through research you find the true roots of the music and then can add your own interpretation.  It is the ultimate to prepare a role (opera or musical theater) or song in general!

In operatic study, we read the libretto (full script), translate it word for word (or interpret the older English translation), study the composer's true intent of how he set the words to the music, form ideas of the character and stylize and characterize the music (of course after we have learned all of the pitches and rhythms).  Why not do this with other repertoire before our voices are developed enough to sing opera?

If we start with our native language we skip one step but still need to interpret the poetry and lyrics. If we start this study with more contemporary literature or literature that has topics that are easy to relate to, we can create a process of how we learn vocal literature and authentically perform it- make the difference between an okay performance and a GREAT performance.  As voice study progresses and the repertoire difficulty level increases we then can apply the process and be motivated to research and understand music and repertoire history of long ago that might be difficult to understand in early study. Think of it this way, we don't start reading Shakespeare as we first learn to read, but read stories of young girls and boys that we can relate to.

In today's world, opera is a regarded as musical theater because 'just stand there and sing' doesn't exist. You must act and do it well to get that role!  So by doing dramatugic study of all of our songs we are doing ourselves and our audiences a favor! Not only do we learn the ins and outs of what the composer really was trying to communicate, but we can deliver it to our audience with full gusto!

If you can learn to fully inhabit a role by this kind of study it 'adds another layer to the onion' that unfolds to the audience as an outstanding performance!  Give it a try and see what happens to your performance!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Should I Sing in the Next Voice Recital? Benefits to Doing it!

"Should I sing in the next voice recital?" I often get asked.  The answer is a resounding' "Yes!"

Why Sing for my Voice Studio's Recital?  There are many benefits!

- An Opportunity to Share With Others: You get a chance to share the music you have been working on. - Learning Attention to Detail: You go through the process of fine tuning a piece to the point that you are comfortable singing it in front of others.
- Communication Skills: You learn how to truly communicate the meaning of a song in performance.
- Memoriziation:  You learn HOW you best memorize and truly internalize a piece of music.
-Performance Anxiety Relief: The more you perform, the better you learn to adapt to your body's response to nerves and therefore the easier it gets.
-Your Happiness:  You did it! It felt good to sing in front of others!  You saw your mom smiling and your dad clapping for you!  Your teacher was proud!
-Hearing others voices lifted in song:  It is so good to hear and watch others singing.  You are exposed to new music or hear an old favorite.  You get to see the joy others have in singing.  You may hear a song you know you want to sing in the future (tell your teacher).
-Historical and Cultural Understanding:  You learn the history of the song you are singing, the culture of a variety of different styles of singing, and learn from others performances.
-Community: It is part of the community of the voice studio in which you take lessons. Be a part of it as you learn something from every performance.
-Preparation for the future:  Singing 1 or 2 songs on a group recital now prepares you for a future recital that is just yours or singing a solo song in the next musical theater production.
-It is fun!  Admit it, even if you are a little nervous.

Why Not Sing?

There are few reasons not to, but if you are brand new to the studio and in the beginning stages of voice lessons, maybe you forego this performance.  If you have had a recent vocal injury and are taking voice lessons to rehabilitate your voice. Attend the recital anyway to reap the benefits of listening to others doing the same thing as you and to meet others in the studio!

You love to sing, so go out and do it!  Happy Singing!