January is not a holiday month!

Dale with Elizabeth Benson and Auburn Music Theatre students.

I have been having the most magnificent time in the United States and thought it might be update time. As I write this I am sitting in Starbucks at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music after watching a “Vocal Athlete” class with the incredible Wendy LeBorgne. I am staying with Wendy in her beautiful home for the next few days and shadowing her (lucky me – right!) at work. For those who don’t know, Wendy, along with the wonderful Marci Rosenberg, authored The Vocal Athlete, which is a fabulous pedagogical text for contemporary voice teachers. Seeing her in action with sophomores applying the principles of exercise physiology and motor learning in practical and specific ways to ensure triple threats voices are not compromised by the incredibly physical work they do onstage in music theatre was such a privilege.

I arrived in an extremely cold New York on the 28th December and proceeded to do a music theatre binge – 7 shows in 7 days. Three of those days had no performances – so it was intense! I saw Dear Evan Hansen, Come From Away, Hello Dolly, Hamilton, Spongebob: The Musical, The Band’s Visit, and Once on This Island. A truly diverse range of productions with incredible performers. I am so fortunate. There is nothing like seeing these shows live. Every performance I attend changes me just a little bit and informs my ideas about what the marketplace is doing, what singers are sounding like.

I was hit by the massive snowstorm and was stuck in New York and extra night but managed to arrive in Orlando at Central Florida University for the magnificent Music Theatre Educators Alliance (MTEA) conference. Amazing educators, information from Broadway producers, artists, and a fantastic panel from the cruise ship industry discussing what it takes to get employed! I was lucky enough to present on the final day, after some shifting around (my presentation was originally designed for the first day), and I have made new connections and friends from this great event.

My flight to Orlando was not without drama and I arrived in Savannah with a full blown chesty cough and cold. I worked from Savannah (which had snow on the ground – a rare event) then visited family in North Carolina who promptly tucked me into bed until I was well enough to continue on!

Next to North Greenville University where I conducted a masterclass for contemporary and worship students. Voice teachers Luke Browder, Seth Killen, Mark Eshenbaugh and Cheryl Greene (Head of Department) were so welcoming, and it was great to work with their talented singers.  My next day was to include speaking with the pedagogy class and another lecture in the afternoon but a snow fall meant roads were impassable and my day was cancelled. I soldiered on, getting to Auburn in two days – allowing for ice on the roads (very scary!).

Elizabeth Benson, Mary Sandage and Dale in the Auburn voice lab!

Once in Auburn I was lucky enough to visit with Mary Sandage, amazing voice scientist working out of Auburn University. Then it was off to the music theatre department with friend and colleague Elizabeth Benson who heads up MT Voice. I lectured and masterclasses with students, as well as observing Elizabeth in the studio. It was a wonderful couple of days.

And so, here I am at CCM. For those in Australia who don’t know , this is a very big prestigious school. The graduates experience extraordinarily high placement rates upon graduation, either on Broadway or in touring productions. I’m looking forward to an afternoon observing classes, and I am very grateful to the wonderful Wendy LeBorgne, and her husband Ed, for their hospitality. Lets hope we can get Wendy in Australia someday – she is a powerhouse!

And now for the practical. I’m back in Australia early February, lessons will start either Friday 9th / Saturday 10th, depending on my recovery after the flight. I’m SO keen to get back to teaching. And study – of course – the doctoral work is never far away! Please contact me email if you need to speak before I get home – I have had some texts come through, but the time difference means that these might be coming in at awkward times! Thanks!

Mindfulness and Singing

Mindfulness is a very trendy word and practice at the moment. It is a tool used for anxiety, depression and coping with the hustle of modern life. It comes from Buddhist meditation traditions and is now the subject of much research within the academic community. It is being used in such diverse areas as police training to high level sporting performance. How do I use it in my studio?

Many students arrive rushed to their lesson. Occasionally traffic has been bad, or they have had a bad day at work. A busy week at university. A stressful time dealing with their friends at school. They may be concerned about their voice, or lack of practice over the previous week. There may be problems at home in their family. I don’t need to know the details. I am not a counselor, that is not my role. But often students share what is happening in their life, and as their teacher, I am genuinely interested in them, not only their voice. Many of these stressors have an affect on their mental and physical capacity to sing with freedom and to be attentive to what we are about to do in the lesson. As a result of a week of heavy study, or intense work pressures, they may have tension in their necks and backs. This is what stretches are for, to give physical relief, but what if a student is so mentally wound up they cannot begin to sing.

Mindfulness can help adjust both my student, and my own, focus back onto the job at hand – to teach a singing lesson with a positive and specific outcome. I must admit, I sometimes forget to use this tool. But I am always amazed when I do apply this in the studio at the start of a lesson how much more focused the student is, and how much more we accomplish in the lesson.

Last year I was lucky enough to listen to Professor Mary Sandage from Auburn University discuss mindfulness at the Australian Voice Association conference. I felt like there were light bulbs flashing in my head. I use mindfulness myself, but I am not good at daily practice. I try! But like so many students and their singing practice, life gets busy and in the way. Those days when I DO start my day with some mindfulness (I use guided meditations from YouTube – I get too easily distracted with my busy mind without this!) are really productive and ENJOYABLE days. Lessons where we begin with a very short mindfulness practice (bringing attention back to the body, breath and generally noticing your thoughts and environment) are usually productive and enjoyable lessons. It doesn’t always work. But it very often does. It helps us to focus on exactly what we are doing in a non judgemental way. It helps us notice what our body is experiencing when we sing, what we are hearing when we sing, and how we feel about these things. Noticing then leads to adjustments which can have positive functional, stylistic or experiential impacts on our learning.

Here is a link to some interesting research on mindfulness and singing.

Want to study mindfulness? Check out the amazing program at the Centre for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts. This is on my wish list!