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!

Fabulous function AND performance!

LOVE Sheri Sanders! Her Rock the Performance classes are a must for anyone seriously into CCM Music Theatre styles!

I have been thinking since I returned from the United States in January about the amazing educators I have met and what they have contributed to my teaching and learning. I have blogged before about how I believe in lifelong learning. There are always things to learn, if you take the time to listen and assume that there is always more to be discovered than what you have experienced. I have been teaching CCM (Contemporary Commercial Music) and Music Theatre voice 16 years now, and I am so thrilled to have many things I’ve learnt along the way confirmed, as well as being able to ask great educators their ideas and opinions on issues that I have encountered in my studio.

My latest experience in training with fabulous teachers has been doing the Rock the Performance online class with the incredible, inspirational Sheri Sanders. WOW! This is an online course where we meet up online for eight classes of about three hours over a period of eight weeks, exploring a different contemporary voice style each week and learning how to apply this to music theatre auditions. I have been stretched and challenged and enhanced my skills every week. I have been imparted with boldness and a new sense of wonder and appreciation for the time periods which birthed the music we have been studying.

In San Diego at the MTEA (Music Theatre Educators Alliance) conference I discovered a group of people who are passionate and excellent at what they do, and the care and attention that they take in their student selection for their courses was profoundly moving to me. Of course students need to be talented and skilled, but they looked at the person,  the individual. The care and thought that goes into the education of these young performers was inspiring and left me the feeling that it was more of a mission than a job to these educators. I loved the acknowledgement of the need to equip students to be prepared for the industry as it moves into more digital platforms, synthesised with the incredible importance of the individual’s ability to perform at their peak though education, training and support. The incredible encouragement between professionals, an arena of acceptance, where each person is worthy and each opinion or idea is valid can only bring a strength to the learning institutions they represent. It was a rare environment.

I found a similar sense of encouragement and acceptance at Jeanette LoVetri’s CCM Institute at Shenandoah Conservatory in Virginia last July where I was certified in levels I, II and III of Somatic Voicework. The excellent training and course content, Jeannie’s personal warmth and teaching style combined with meeting voice teachers as passionate about their work as I am made this a time of incredible fulfilment for me. I have found my ongoing lessons with Jeanette to be of great value both personally and professionally and am so grateful that she continues to work with me on my skills. I love training singers and emerging singing teachers and am thrilled to be taking some fledgling teachers back to Shenandoah to the new course this July. While the excellent Jeannette LoVetri has moved on to new and exciting horizons (stay tuned, Australia! So exciting!) the new course looks to be a strong training ground for these young voice teachers, and I am excited to be going back to beautiful Winchester, Virginia. I am hoping my students have a similar transformative experience with the new program.

With Jeannie, voice functionality has been my major focus, whilst also getting an even stronger sense of my own abilities and strengths. With Sheri’s classes, authentic and engaging performance has been the main event. And it has been AMAZING! My Masters (Voice Pedagogy – Contemporary focus) was mainly about voice science and its application in both the studio setting and on my own voice. It is challenging, being a student, but I believe it makes me an empathic teacher. I know what it is like to be always learning, and growing, even with a mature voice and tons of experience. I am  so excited to be teaching my amazing students and to see their successes in both the music industry and the music theatre world.  I teach the person, not just the voice (tell me how you can remove the voice from the person??!!) and I love that we all keep learning and growing and discovering ourselves in our voices and our songs.