Monday, May 16, 2016

20 Tiny Changes: #3 = HYDRATE

Yes, HYDRATE. I know you've heard it a million times, but it bears repeating.

Drink water, preferably more than you think you need. I know the studies are confusing: one day you hear that you need 64 ounces per day, the next day the news is plastered with some new research that says you don't need that much, coffee counts as water, blah blah blah.

Nonsense. You need water, and more of it, than anyone else. You're singers, and your vocal folds are mucus membranes that require HYDRATION to function properly. Is it possible to over-hydrate? I suppose. But I have yet to meet a physician who says that s/he has ever seen it happen. It's very unlikely and unusual. Much more common are patients who are slightly dehydrated.

There are a ton of apps you can get for your phone that will remind you to drink: iHydrate, WaterMinder, WaterLogged, etc. You can also do it through MyFitnessPal or your FitBit, which also monitor calorie intake.  Many apps allow you to enter your weight, so it more accurately calculates how much water you really need throughout the day. I use these because I get busy and forget otherwise. Nothing wrong with a little reminder now and then!

Aim to have about 64 ounces per day. When in doubt, have a glass of water instead of a cup of coffee or a soda. It's just better for you. If you find water boring, add slices of cucumber, lemon, or strawberries to add flavor. But really, boring won't kill anyone.

I once read that Queen Elizabeth never passed up an opportunity to use either a water fountain or the restroom. If it's good enough for the Queen of England, it's good enough for the rest of us. And she's 90+ years old, so maybe that helped her longevity, too.

Lastly, many of us eat when we're actually thirsty. So before you reach for food when you think you're hungry, have a big glass of water and see how you feel after 10 minutes.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Students: double check your CDs


Someone who borrowed my Mozart Lieder (Peters edition) did not return it with the accompanying CD. Please double check the CDs in your possession if you ever borrowed a Mozart score from me, even if you think you didn't keep the CD.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

On failure

My dear student Madison and I were talking about failure in her lesson. Not because she is one, mind you (far from it), but because it's a hot topic for students and performers especially. She mentioned that many of you beat yourselves up quite thoroughly after your juries, so I resolved to post a blog entry on the subject.

Why are we so hard on ourselves? My stock answer used to be: "If I beat myself up, at least I know it'll get done right." Being a smart-aleck about it revealed a grain of truth, however: sometimes we want to beat others to the punch. We think it will hurt less, somehow, if we do it ourselves rather than allow others an opening to injure us with their criticism.

I'd like to offer a few thoughts about this. While my opinion is just that--one person's opinion, nothing more--I hope some of this might help you. It also might spark some conversation. Feel free to post any responses here, because I'd welcome other viewpoints.

I believe that today's society does not help you deal with failure. Everyone gets a trophy. In school, A's are rewarded for "effort." Kids are allowed to quit a new endeavor if they are not immediately a star. The list goes on, but you get the idea.

The thing is, not everyone deserves a trophy. A's should not be a reward for effort: they should be a grade earned by exemplary work. Not everyone should make the softball team. And most importantly, everything worth doing well takes time to master. If you are beaten down by every setback, how will you deal with a mediocre job review, a layoff, a relationship ending? Failure is part of the process.

When I was on the junior high track team, I tripped over a hurdle during practice. I was wearing shorts, and the track was made of cinders. It was not a pretty sight, I'll tell you that much. Now, I was never a track star, but I did finish the season after that debacle. My leg healed, and so did my pride. Getting back on the track was probably the best thing I could have done for myself, and I actually was the anchor later that season for the 400-yard relay. Of course, not long after that I decided that music and theatre were where I wanted to spend my time, and that was the right choice. But I still learned by lacing up my sneakers after eating some dirt that day when I took a header over a hurdle.

My concern about some of my students is that I fear that some of you have never failed at something. Failure is important. How you handle it is even more crucial. Do you get up, dust yourself off, and try again? Do you evaluate whether or not you really want to pursue whatever you've just messed up? Do you explore other options for success? Or do you run home to your parents, and do they just tell you whoever "rejected" you was just misguided/stupid/deaf? Or even worse, do you hide behind a video game or other escape of choice, convincing yourself you didn't really care anyway? Do you just tell yourself that you never had a chance, so what's the point of giving it another shot?

I'd encourage each of you to make improvement your goal each time you do something musical, rather than simply doing well. Good is one thing; we can always do better, though, no matter how advanced or how much of a beginner we are. Here is a great article on the subject, from one of my favorite blogs.

One thing I have learned since I became serious about my health and exercising regularly is that every day I get into the gym is a triumph. Some days will go better than others, and sometimes I "fail," if you can call it that. Maybe I don't do as many sets, or I poop out after 45 minutes, or I do a long walk around the track when I'd planned to do an hour of weights. I do know that if I'm in there regularly, I can increase the weight on each machine every few weeks as I build strength. Each time I move up the weight, or do an extra set, my self-esteem grows. Every goal I achieve in the gym or on the bathroom scale is one that precipitates a new and improved goal...and that's the point.

The funny thing is, the more I work out in the gym, the more objective I can be about my own singing, my auditions, and my work in the practice room. I am clearer about the fact that all of this is a marathon, not a sprint. I will practice regularly for the rest of my life. Hopefully, you will too: it's not just about that jury, that gig, or that grad school. Likewise, I will work out regularly for the rest of my life. Achieving my weight loss goal doesn't mean I now eat pizza every day and somehow think I'm "done." It's a lifestyle, and while I won't be doing the same things when I'm 70 that I'm doing now, I'll be doing something, every day.

Moreover, it's not all about music, either. My singing (and even my teaching) is not all there is to my life, and that helps with perspective. Having hobbies or pursuits that are not musical can help you in ways that you might not imagine.

I encourage each of you to get out there and fail at something. You'll survive, I promise, and you'll be better people for it, especially if you keep hammering away at it until you see progress. What's more, your performing can only be better for it, because you'll have a sense of freedom knowing that it isn't all that you are.

Monday, May 2, 2016

20 Tiny Changes: #2


Most of you are probably doing that pretty well, as you crash from a long semester.

Are you making sleep hygiene a non-negotiable in your life? Make this your tiny change, and stick with it. The long-term benefits are huge. The long-term risks of not tending to your sleep habits are equally enormous.

It may seem small, even babyish. It may seem that, in your busy lives, you have no control over how much you sleep. The truth is, you do, and you must, if you wish to lead a healthy life and to reach your potential. Don't take my word for it: all the experts agree. The article embedded in this paragraph lays out it clearly.

Here is another article from the Mayo Clinic with tips to help you get a better night's sleep.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

On risking failure


I've promised a few of you a post on failure, and am still formulating it. In the meantime, here is an interesting article to get you thinking.

20 Tiny Changes

HI folks,

As promised yesterday during our opera viewing, I said I'd revisit my Tiny Changes theme, first posted in 2014. Between now and when classes resume in late August, I'll post 20 Tiny Changes that can, over time, change your life for the better. And they really are tiny...but you have to do them. Since they are tiny, they're also fairly easy and painless. 

Here's the first: eat breakfast. Every day. For the rest of your life.

I know some of you don't, and some of you think it isn't important. Here are some reasons why it is:

Better memory and concentration. If you have trouble focusing in 8am Theory or a 9am voice lesson, the reason is probably because you haven't eaten. Don't just blame it on the early hour!

Studies have linked eating breakfast with lower "bad" cholesterol. This will make a big difference in your life over the long term.

Skipping breakfast throws off your body's rhythm of fasting and eating. Skipping breakfast often means you'll overeat later in the day.

Your moods will be more stable if you eat regularly. Blood sugar spikes and crashes can be responsible for feelings of depression, anxiety, or even anger. Ever feel "hangry?" You know what I'm talking about.

Weight control. This article from the Mayo clinic tells you why it helps. 

It doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. A protein shake, Greek yogurt (you can add fruit, nuts, or granola to make it more of a treat), eggs (they're cheap, and you can hard boil a dozen ahead of time to get you through the week if you don't like to cook in the morning), instant oatmeal, or even cereal (go for a low-sugar one with some protein, like Go Lean, which is pretty delicious). A fruit and granola bar can work in a pinch. You'll note that I've mentioned some sort of protein for most of these options: including protein is important, as it gives your breakfast more staying power. For now, consider it a triumph if you eat any sort of breakfast at all. You can always aim to improve it over time.

I say it again: eating healthy DOES NOT have to be expensive. It just takes a little planning and thought. Start this habit this summer and see how differently you feel throughout the day.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Jury sheets available

I'll be on campus Thursday late morning-early afternoon and Friday (time TBA). If you'd like your jury sheets, please email me and we'll arrange a time to meet.

Great work, everyone! I was proud of you.