!!!!! Told y’all there was going to be another one!!!!!
!!!!! Told y’all there was going to be another one!!!!!
Here is my final In-depth post – ever! (At least I think it is, but I also said that last post too ?)
Over the last few weeks, it’s been hard finding time to practice singing, but that’s definitely not because I don’t have enough skills to work on! I met with my mentor Margo twice, and we once again covered a wide breadth of topics and exercises that I could go home and work on. First of all, we continued to sharpen and improve my breath support. She reinforced the fact that the breath is connected to nearly everything else in a well-developed voice. This week, Margo encouraged me to energize my voice with more support BEFORE I ever jumped to a high note (like exercise 1). This would help engage my upper abdomen area, and help me strain and ‘reach’ for high notes less often. She also asked me to sing louder on my exercises, because singing quietly is actually not a natural skill – but singing loudly is! It helps magnify what problems a singer has, and encourages better breath support. We also focused on my vowel shape, and making sure I continued to form vowels farther forward in my mouth, and used my tongue to make the vowels.
As for actual repertoire I was learning, I sang Concone #2 for Margo, and we worked on improving my phrasing and incorporating quiet notes (see above) to create a more varied and interesting interpretation. However, I had to make sure that even though I was singing quietly, I had to keep the intensity of my breath support, and not collapse in my chest area. This also applied to larger leaps (4th or more), because I needed to keep my breath support for the low notes in addition to the high notes. We finished off both of our lessons with Silent Noon, which I am still working on! We started to work on the musical aspect of the song, i.e. finding different emotions in different verses and phrases, while still keeping my vowel shape, enunciating clearly, and having proper breath support.
At home, the major struggles I encountered were mostly concerning consistently following what Margo asked me to think about. Sometimes, when practicing is difficult, it’s much more tempting to stop self-policing myself and revert to the bad habits that I’ve had ever since I started to informally sing as a kid. I know that this is wrong – and the way I’ve tried to combat this problem is by focusing on quality over quantity (this has helped with my piano practice too). By slowing the exercises/pieces down and making sure that I am aware of all the moving parts of my voice (breath, intonation, vowel formation, etc.), I can progress way faster than if I was just rushing through my exercises several times without paying serious thought to what I was singing. As for positives, I’ve definitely heard progress in my voice in all facets, particularly making sure that my voice is in tune.
Recently, I have been investigating my In-depth Contract (written in January) and comparing my goals to my progress. First of all, I have clearly met four of five of my objects (proper breath support, tuning, phrasing, and diction), but obviously only to the extent that one can learn these skills in four months – they are so difficult to learn and master!! The only skill that I haven’t focused on is ‘stage presence (maintaining proper tuning/breathing on stage)’, which I will discuss in the final paragraph of this post.
I also thought that I’d answer (briefly) some questions that I asked myself in the same In-depth Contract:
SO IMPORTANT!!!!! Breathing is the biggest reason why any voice sounds good, because by properly freeing our throat up so that we don’t have to stretch for high notes, our tone will inevitably improve.
First, by focusing on my breath support. Next, by making sure my vowel formation is near the front of my mouth and I am properly resonating.
I have not encountered this yet, because of the difficulty of the songs Margo has been me. As a result, I have only been singing with an instrumental version. I imagine, though, that the more confident I am in the notes I am singing, the easier it will be to play the piano at the same time.
So far, I haven’t been able to extend my vocal range, but by regularly practicing my exercises, I have become more comfortable in the extreme ends of my vocal range.
Very different! Projecting uses proper breath support and shouldn’t place any stress on the throat, while shouting and singing uses no support, and doesn’t sound good at all (trust me – I’ve done it).
Pretty important – as a secondary skill, though. Vibrato is natural for a singer, but breath support should always be a priority.
Finally, I reviewed the “expert” section of my evaluation plan in the Contract, and, well, I seem to be meeting everything so far!
“I accomplish/learn all of the skills I outlined in the “Objectives” section of this proposal, and to an excellent and noticeable standard by my mentor and experts in the field. All facets of my singing technique have definitely improved. When I meet problems, I have taken note of them and tried to confront them with help from adults and my mentor. My blog posts are introspective, honest, and a very good indication of my progress throughout the project. Most of my blog posts are accompanied by a recording of myself singing. My final performance is excellent and very successful, as I have spent multiple hours preparing for it.” – In-depth Contract
Despite stating in January that I wanted to perform for my final presentation, my mentor and I decided that 1.5 minutes was simply too little time to show my skills. Instead, by utilizing the recordings I made throughout the stages of my project and the final recording (which I will finish in a few weeks with my sister at the piano) of Silent Noon, I will make a progress video that will still fall within the allotted timeframe. Therefore, because I am not performing live, I will not need to work as much on the “stage presence” objective.
“Singing is hard. But so is life. The difference? Singing’s worth it.”
Since my last in-depth post (nearly a month ago), I’ve been busy at work singing. I met with Margo on the last weekend before spring break, and we shifted our focus away from breathing and proper support, because I was feeling more comfortable with it. My main goal of the session was to learn intonation and how to sound vowels the right way. First of all, we added a new spin to the second exercise I’ve been practicing for more than two months. Instead of singing “lo-la-lo-la-lo”, I am now singing “la-li-la-li-la”. This is because I was having trouble forming my “o” vowel, and sounding it too far back in my mouth. This would create less resonance, and also affect my tuning in a negative way. In contrast, my “a” vowel sounds much better, because I naturally form it further forward in my mouth. Margo repeatedly stressed to me that the tongue makes vowels, not my mouth, and I needed to keep my “o” vowel further forward in my mouth, around the roof area (hard palette). She asked me to experiment with forming my “o” sounds, suggesting that I find the position where I can resonate “a” well, and then keeping that same position for my “o” vowel. So far, it has been working very well for me in practice. Also, for the first exercise, we went back to sliding 5ths, and Margo suggested to me that I should focus more on my slide mid-range, and also that I need to keep my “a” vowel at the end of the phrase, rather than shifting my mouth position and relaxing. Finally, she asked me to also sing “ma-o” for the first exercise, so that I could practice keeping the same vowel shape from “a” to “o”. The last work we did was on “Silent Noon”. Similarly to the exercises, she really wanted me to articulate my vowels and every syllable. Then, by articulating and keeping a proper vowel position, I could resonate more. She also made a small (but important) change in the music: the “e” vowel. Since the composer of “Silent Noon”, Ralph Vaughan Williams, was an British composer, he would have intended all the “er” vowels to be pronounced as “e”. Therefore, “scatter” would become “scatteh”, “fingerpoints” would “fingehpoints”, and so on.
I asked Margo to send me a few practice studies that I could work on in my spare time over spring break, so she sent me a few exercises that I could use the “e” or “a” vowel instead of words. Below is a recording of the 2nd exercise, performed by me (with the accompaniment from a Youtube video).
At home, I’ve definitely seen and heard big improvement on m vowel shape, although “o” is still tricky to nail all the time. I am finding that the exercise where I create a resonant “a”vowel”, then keep that mouth position while switching to “o”, is very helpful.
I am also starting to prepare for my presentation at in-depth night! I recorded the first version of “Silent Noon” a few months ago, and recorded another version today that is below. I plan to make one more “in-progress” recording before I formally record the piece. I actually recorded an instrumental accompaniment version with myself at the piano so I wouldn’t have to play as I sing. For the real recording, I plan on asking my sister to accompany me. Listening to this recording, I’ve definitely improved my intonation in some places, but I still need to work on consistently resonating every vowel. Also, my breath support is faltering in some very long phrases.
Below are my responses to Ms. Mulder’s questions:
Aprilmayjune, HERE WE GO!!
Am I afraid of high notes? Of course I am afraid. What sane man is not?
Since my piano exam ended last week, I’ve spent around 3-4 hours on in-depth every week, and am starting to see the fruits of my labour. I also met with my mentor twice, and we worked more on my exercises and repertoire.
Below are some of the subjects and skills we started to cover:
At home, I scoured the internet for recordings of my song that I chose, Silent Noon by Ralph Vaughan Williams. This one, sung by John Shirley Quick, is becoming a favourite of mine, as is another by the great bass-baritone Bryn Terfel (who I once saw in concert at the Orpheum a few years ago!). I also read a few more chapters of Singing for Dummies, which focused more on the larynx and proper breath support. It was very similar to what I was learning from Margo in my lessons, and having labelled diagrams were also enriching as well. A few difficulties I’ve had recently include finding proper tuning! I knew that staying in tune would be challenging from the start for me. I have been using an electronic tuner to check my pitch, and plan on discussing the topic with Margo at our next session. I have also found that having my mouth in a more vertical shape helps as well. Another challenge I’m having is incorporating Margo’s advice about the breath cycle into Silent Noon, as the phrases aren’t as robotic and predictable as my exercises.
Since I’ve been working on singing for almost two (!) months now, I took a quick look at my proposal, and reflected on my progress. I have been working a ton on breath support, and proper posture/the way that my body should look and feel physically when I’m singing. Additionally, I’m starting to work on vowels, diction, and tuning! Hooray! One noticeable deviation from my plan is the timing of when I’m learning my skills. Although I’m not completely following my schedule, I’m still reaching all my goals and benchmarks.
Ms. Mulder’s questions for us:
I have found that continuously incorporating what Margo is teaching me into every single note I sing is quite a challenge. There are countless things to think about – the physical feeling of singing, breath cycle, how I look, what the sound is, how I’m breathing, and several more! She does a great job of explaining concepts, but it’s obviously a struggle to combine everything for my exercises. What I’ve found useful is slowing down my practice, and really making sure I’m singing every note the way I want it to sound and feel.
My progress is incredibly so far – we’ve covered so much. Margo even said that it took years for some of her students to reach the level of progress I’m at after four lessons! She has essentially taught the basics of 80% of what I wanted to learn, and now I can really focus on them and actually (try to) become an expert singer! Also, our communication and feedback loop is very clear, and there have been no major misunderstandings so far. I’m taking detailed notes, recording her discussions, and Margo is being very clear with exactly the sound and motions that she wants from me. Finally, I believe I’m benefiting from the exercises she has given me, which are simple but force me to pay attention to the mechanics of my singing.
Probably the biggest improvement I want to make during my mentor sessions are learning how to ‘social-ly’ and comfortably respond to Margo’s jokes. Occasionally, when she uses more dramatic or self-deprecating humour, I struggle to respond other than laughing, and I actually believe that improving on this issue will also help our interactions! I have found recently that connecting with her when she makes jokes about her piano/teaching skills by referencing my own struggles have often helped make the conversation less awkward!
“If I cannot fly, let me sing.”
– Stephen Sondheim
Two more weeks have passed, and I’m pleased to report that I’ve made a large amount of progress! First of all, I read the first four chapters of Singing for Dummies, which focused on proper posture and breathing techniques. Also, I learned a few characteristics about my singing range (strength is chest voice, weakness is head voice), and the names of some famous baritones such as Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Gerald Finley. More significantly, I met with my mentor Margo for one hour, and we had a long discussion about singing technique and posture in addition to learning a lot of new skills and exercises. Here are some of the main takeaways from our lesson:
To put all this theory and methodology into play, Margo created a practice plan for me for the next week, which included four exercises to help me build my singing muscles and technique. I practiced 10 minutes a day for the next week. Some major difficulties I encountered were mostly about actually making sure I was following the proper singing procedure, and I often caught myself stretching my chin or not properly breathing and pausing after. To help overcome this obstacle, I placed a mirror in front of my piano so I could monitor my singing, which I found was quite successful!
A photo of my practice plan.
My next task was to choose a song for my final product. Margo sent me four songs, all in English. They are:
As of right now, my favourite song is “Silent Noon”, and I’ll talk with Margo when we next meet to nail down our final choice.
Below are the answers to the questions Ms. Mulder asked us:
First of all, I thought that we were able to cover a very large amount of breathing and posture technique in one hour. This was a result of Margo being very clear with her instructions, with helpful analogies, and me being able to synthesize her teachings and use the correct technique. Also, I was able to properly feel the muscles I was supposed to be singing with, and use them independently. For example, I would feel my latissimus muscles, and oblique muscles properly before taking a breath in, and then I would make sure that all of them relaxed after I exhaled. Moreover, Margo created a list of “dos and don’ts” so I could make sure that my practicing was effective. This list included making sure I was following the breathing cycle, using my chest and not my chin to gain energy, and making sure my facial muscles were relaxed.
Since, obviously, I am new to singing, all the skills Margo were teaching me were pretty hard to pick up at first. I found it particularly difficult to make sure to keep my chin relaxed, and also to pause after my breath. Also, finding time to practice was difficult, as my grade 10 exam was yesterday! But I was actually able to practice 5 out of the 6 possible days I could have practiced.
To solve my technical issues, I placed a mirror in front of my piano so I could observe my chin. Also, personal reminders were effective, as I repeatedly told myself to focus on the pause after I inhaled. As for practicing, I set a consistent time every day to practice, and created an alarm on my phone so I would be reminded to practice.
Margo and I ‘hit it off’ pretty quickly, as we are both classical musicians and enjoy listening to the same composers. The main challenge we faced concerning communication was that she was using more complicated and scientific terminology when referring to muscles and body parts, and I had never heard of some of the muscles she was speaking of. However, she used a lot of gestures and visual indicators so I would be able to understand. As for communication outside of our sessions, I originally had to go through a secretary at the music school where Margo gives lessons if I wanted ask her a question or send her a message. After our first session, Margo gave me her personal email, so we could email each other much faster.
Margo and I are cross-generational, cross-racial, and cross-gender, but that wasn’t a roadblock at all during our session. Since we were both very open to each other and gave background info about ourselves, I felt more comfortable already. Most of our conversations were about singing, but after the session, she asked me about my upcoming piano exam and we had a short chat about that, too!
The only thing better than singing is more singing.
It’s nearly impossible to believe that In-depth is one month over! I’ve only had a chance to meet my mentor once, but I think that I’ve laid some very important groundwork and foundation in order to create a successful project. This includes the following progress in the last two weeks:
Most importantly, I had my first mentor session with the wonderful Margo LeVae! We met for 45 minutes, and were able to fully discuss the scope of my project in detail. Margo also tested my singing range (see above), and I sang a bit of And So it Goes for her. After our lesson, I answered the the first set of questions below that were mentioned by Ms. Mulder in her blog post.
The second set of questions are discussed below:
I’m really excited to continue exploring the realm of voice, and will be sure to continue to report on my progress!
When one teaches, two learn.
To be honest, I haven’t really been giving this project much thought recently, but after taking a short look back at my In-Depth posts from last year, and listening some jazz piano recordings of myself, I have reminded myself of the exciting adventures waiting to be found in this project. This year, for my project, I am going to learn the art of singing!
Florence Foster Jenkins (as portrayed by Meryl Streep), a notable singer I aspire to be unlike.
It took me much less deliberation than last year to choose my skill; although I had jotted down no less than 20 ideas throughout the summer and fall, I’ve come to realize how valuable singing can be for me and my future endeavors. First of all, I want to become a better overall musician, and learning how to sing can possibly change the way I approach playing piano – I can understand how to play a melody in a more ‘song-like’ manner, and shape phrases accordingly. Also, as I am starting to perform at Gleneagle events and other venues such as senior homes, learning how to sing will help me in those areas. Currently, I have no knowledge about how to actually sing – of course, I sometimes belt out Billy Joel tunes at home (much to the chagrin of my family), and sang a duet from La La Land with Melissa (her blog is here) at Coffee House 2017. I listen to opera occasionally if it’s on the radio, and listen a wide variety of vocal music (from John Lennon to Frank Sinatra to Ed Sheeran)!
Here are a few of my goals I want to achieve and learn by the end of the project:
My search for a mentor has been fairly exhaustive; I contacted three different vocal coaches to discuss times that they were available, but two were unavailable. So, although I am still in the process of deciding a time for mentor sessions, I have found my mentor: Margo LeVae, a voice teacher at the Tri-City School of Music! Below is a section of her biography:
Margo’s past operatic roles include Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni (2008), Fiordiligi in Mozart’s Cosí fan tutte (2009), The Mother in Hansel and Gretel (2010), Ciesca in Gianni Schicchi (2010), and Lady Billows in Albert Herring (2011) all with the UBC Opera Ensemble. In 2011, Margo appeared as Gianetta for The Vancouver Island Opera Society’s production of L’Elisir d’amore and as the Brothel Keeper in the world premiere of Shadow Catch—a newly commissioned chamber opera for The City of Vancouver’s 125thAnniversary Celebration.
Margo was a winner in the 2010 Vancouver Women’s Musical Society Vocal Competition and finalist in the 2009 UBC School of Music Concerto Competition. She holds a Master of Music in Opera from the University of British Columbia where her studies were made possible by a University Graduate Fellowship.
I’ve done some research on my own about singing, and am planning a trip to the public library tomorrow to find some books. Here is one great source I found about singing:
The resource has a large variety of techniques that I’ve already started to try for myself, and I’m excited to see all the new adventures I’ll embark upon for this rendition of In-Depth!
The only thing better than singing is more singing.