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.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Students: double check your CDs

Folks,

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.

Thanks!

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


Sleep.

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.

Repertoire assignments

Hi folks, Following are your repertoire assignments. As always, I welcome requests! Remember, I reserve veto rights, but knowing what inte...