Wednesday, June 22, 2016

20 Tiny Changes #7: Read First

This change may actually feel enormous.

Before you check Facebook or email or anything else, read. Read something uplifting first thing in the morning, before inundating yourself with the news or social media. Let your mind absorb something with substance before the demands of the day start trickling through your computer or smartphone. 

See how your frame of mind changes when you feed it with something good first. See how the lens through which you see the world is altered.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

20 Tiny Changes #6: count calories

OK, that isn't tiny at all. It can change your life. But just counting, whether or not you change what you actually eat, is not so hard with all of the apps out there. MyFitnessPal is free, and you don't need a FitBit to use it (though I confess I really like my FitBit). There are many apps like this, but I'll tell you about this one since I've used it.

A very wise friend once said, "You can't exercise your way out of a McDonald's diet." Sage words. Many of us greatly underestimate the number of calories we eat, and overestimate how many we actually need. MyFitnessPal calculates the number of calories you need based on age, height, whether you want to gain or lose weight, etc. The app was so helpful in keeping me honest, I once lost 5 pounds in a month while eating dorm food! It's also useful in that you can enter restaurant foods (which are often more than one portion, or very high calorie, or both), so you know what you're actually eating. And YOU don't have to do the math: it does it for you.

You can also enter your exercise, so you know how many calories you've offset. I confess to going to Dunkin' Donuts, then spending the required amount of time in the gym that day. I stayed long enough to be sure I didn't pay the price of my munchkins and coffee with cream.

Try using the app just to get a sense of what you're actually putting into your body. Worry about changing your diet later: just count for now.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

20 Tiny Changes #5: do something different

Breaking habits is hard. We all know this. So, instead of suggesting that you break a habit, I'm going to suggest that you simply try doing something slightly different every day.

It might be as silly as taking a different entrance into your usual parking lot, or holding your coffee with your non-dominant hand. Here is a cool article on the benefits of doing so. It might be pausing when you'd reflexively comment, or commenting when you'd normally stay silent. It might be a friendly wave to the guy that cut you off on the interstate rather than cussing under your breath. Try something different: it almost doesn't matter what it is.

But do something intentionally opposite from your habit each day...just to mix it up.

Of course, there is also value in doing things exactly the same every day, too.

Confused? Good.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

20 Tiny Changes #4: Constructive Rest

Lay on your back with you knees bent for at least 2-5 minutes a day, but no more than 20 minutes. I like to do it halfway through a practice session, to let my body and mind unwind a bit before tackling another piece.

Use a hard surface, such as the floor, rather than a bed or sofa. Use a few thin books to support your head if needed, rather than a pillow. This is active or constructive rest, rather than a nap, so many instructors suggest keeping your eyes open. This is an opportunity to be aware of what your body does--and what you do to your body--when you rest.

Here are some directions to give yourself as you rest. Here are some video and audio links to help, as well. Here is a six-week audio guide, which takes you through how Constructive Rest can have cumulative benefits.

A friend of mine said doing this daily changed his life. Give it a try!

Good advice re: summer programs

The following is from Carol Kirkpatrick, author of Aria Ready? The Business of Singing.

Can’t believe it’s time to start thinking about getting ready for your summer program. I want to help you get ready, really ready, for being able to take advantage of the opportunities that are about to commence. Once you are home, I want you to feel you have spent your time, energy and especially, money well. This needs to be more than another Program to add to your resume. You need to be seen, heard, and felt as a young professional at all times. This is business, not emotional. This is your job.
Here are several new ideas and ways you might want to expand your thinking, as you prepare for and eventually have this adventure.
  • First, ask yourself, what do I want and need from this program. What is my end goal? What do those running the program want and need from me. You can easily either do a mind map or make a list of the goals, intentions, reasons, and purpose you have in mind for having chosen this particular program. It could be you are interested in having the opportunity to learn about a different culture and language. Or perhaps there is a particular person you are interested in working with, or a role you have been given a change to perform, etc.
  • Go with all your music completely memorized. This shows you are prepared and professional.
  • Do your homework about ALL the people who are involved in running the program. Google them and get to know all you can about them. Go beyond their resumes and college bios. Find what you can about their lives outside of where they currently work. What books and movies do they enjoy; what food do they like; do they enjoy cooking, gardening, sports, crossword puzzles, dancing, etc. Do they have a family? This gives you a heads up with carrying on a real conversation with them and makes them more human to you, and you more interesting to them, instead of someone to only revere and fear. You don’t want to get intimate with them, but you need to come at this by being informed.
  • If you own my book, ARIA READY: The Business of Singing, bring it with you so you have a guide to know how to behave, what to do and how to do it in most any situation.
  • Once there, never, ever get involved in any gossip or politics. This is a job.
  • If you are in a foreign country, find out what the customs are. Especially when going out in the evening so you don’t become an “Ugly American.” Remember you are not only representing your own brand, but that of the Summer Program you are attending, the entire staff, and America as well.
  • When packing your suitcase make a list first. Then, once packed, walk around the block with whatever you think you need. This will quickly show you what you can leave at home because the getting there and back has become more of an event that you want or need.  Be sure to create a small emergency kit of things like: medicines for colds, upset stomach; even get an antibiotic prescription if you can. Be prepared!
  • Stick to your plan. Leave those running the program with a great impression of you the person and performer while you get what you want and need as well. How professional have you behaved on all occasions. It matters. And send hand written thank you note to everyone with whom you have worked in the program and those who are the administrators. You never know where they will wind up. It’s your job and always about networking.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Who are you bein' today?

My exercise guru and dear friend, Eric (pictured here) relayed a story to me the other day. A friend had called him and asked, "Who you bein' today?"

He grinned and said, "I know it's bad English. But you get the point, right?"

With that, we launched into one of the typical existential/philosophical conversations that accompany our workouts. To be honest, it's my favorite part of working out with Eric: he challenges my thinking in addition to increasing my physical strength. 

Eric inspires me. He walks the walk with his job, his family, his spiritual life. I think differently after working with him for 6+ years. Because of him, I approach many things with more discipline. So when he asked, "Who you bein' today?", I took it seriously despite his jovial tone.

I've been pondering that question quite a bit over the past two weeks. After my college reunion at Westminster Choir College, I  have been pretty emotional. There were many tears shed during several of the choir concerts and at commencement. Within a few bars of Williamson Voices opening their mouths, I was pretty much a puddle. The weekend was filled with music and its accompanying flood of memories. There were friends I hadn't seen in 25 years, and we picked up where we left off. It was beautiful, wrenching, and fulfilling in ways I can't begin to describe. The embarrassing thing was that I rarely had enough tissues.

Everyone thinks their alma mater is special, and I'm no exception. Westminster is a profound place that molds young musicians through rigorous training and uncompromising values. When the choir regularly performs with the NY Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic (and the list goes on), there are very high expectations. When your summers are spent as part of the choir in residence for the Spoleto Festival USA and (back in my day) the Festival Dei due Mondi in Italy, you don't think of summer as "time off." It's time to further perfect your craft, and witness world-class performance up close.

Imagine being away from that for 25 years. Now imagine the personification of those expectations mere feet from you, singing their hearts out. It's one thing to listen to the CDs, which are naturally beautiful. It is quite another to feel their sound fill your being and vibrate in your chest. Seeing the commitment on these students' faces and the passion in their eyes made their gorgeous sound all the more incredible. These are college-aged people who aren't worried about the pitches, the dynamics, the phrasing, or the diction during their concerts. No, they worked that out weeks or even months ago. The building blocks of their music making were perfected during hours of rehearsal. The concert is the time to unleash the power of their emotion via the music. The concert is the time to find new nuances that they can bring to the music, because they know it so well. The concert is the time for them to mine their souls for authenticity, so that it comes out through their voices. Integrity, depth, immediacy. These are hallmarks of most Westminster performances.

I am (and all of us Westminster grads are) bound spiritually to all of those people who taught there, and to those with whom we sang, who saw something in all of us that we may have been incapable of seeing when we were young adults. As my dear friend and fellow alum Lynne said so eloquently, time and space are more connected than we understand, and the music we made at Westminster transcends time and space. Remembering this helps me refocus as I re-enter my life apart from that magical little place in Princeton.

Who am I bein' today? The answer came unbidden, and almost without thought. I told Eric that today, and hopefully every day, "I am Westminster."

In response to that, Eric said, "That is a huge thing to say." I guess it is.

The best part of being back at Westminster was feeling like I finally remembered who I was. The worst part is that I ever forgot, even for a moment. It can be easy to forget, I suppose, in the everyday grind. But Eric reminded me that I bring with me every day the dedication and focus that was forged in the cauldron of Westminster. Even the daily things that feel mostly automatic could be traced back to my roots at Westminster in many ways, whether it's how I practice, tend to my health, teach, study, or live. It's a huge responsibility to live up to that. 

There have been and there will be many days when I fall short of the bar that was set when we were just figuring out who we were. But if I aim for that bar, in everything I do, then at least I'm on the right path. Here is my public commitment to do so. My beloved teachers and mentors would have required it of me; it's my job to require it of myself.

Who am I bein' today? 

Kristine, of course. If I'm being the Kristine I am meant to be, I am Westminster.

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. Here's a great article on the benefits of drinking enough water.

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.