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The documentary Twenty Feet from Stardom (2013) gave us a glimpse of how backing singers—performers who provide vocal harmonies and responses for featured artists—have contributed to twentieth-century American popular music.
Yoga isn’t only for adults. More American parents are introducing their children to the ancient practice which originated in India. Preliminary studies show it is beneficial for reducing stress and improving mood. Certified yoga instructor and author Susan Verde wrote I Am Yoga, a picture book which helps children explore mindfulness through relationships and movement. The book is one of several kid lit collaborations between Verde and the New York Times bestselling author and illustrator Peter H. Reynolds. His relaxed illustration style helps convey Susan Verde’s message of peace, stillness of mind, and tranquility.
Susan Verde and StoryMakers host Rocco Staino were joined by — via satellite — kid lit singer and songwriter Emily Arrow. Arrow has written and performed songs based on children’s books. Together, Verde and Arrow collaborated on a song and music video for I Am Yoga. Emily Arrow’s song lyrics draw heavily from the book. Arrow’s latest CD, “Storytime Singalong, Volume 1”, is a combination of songs based on popular kid lit and tunes for young readers.
Watch Susan Verde’s interview at the Westchester Children’s Book Festival.
We’re giving away three (3) prize packs including of copy of Susan Verde’s picture book, I AM YOGA and Emily Arrow’s STORYTIMESINGALONG, VOL.1 CD. The giveaway ends at 11:59 PM on May 25, 2016. ENTER NOW!
I Am Yoga Written by Susan Verde, illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds
Published by Harry N. Abrams
An eagle soaring among the clouds or a star twinkling in the night sky … a camel in the desert or a boat sailing across the sea yoga has the power of transformation. Not only does it strengthen bodies and calm minds, but with a little imagination, it can show us that anything is possible. New York Times bestselling illustrator Peter H. Reynolds and author and certified yoga instructor Susan Verde team up again in this book about creativity and the power of self-expression. I Am Yoga encourages children to explore the world of yoga and make room in their hearts for the world beyond it. A kid-friendly guide to 16 yoga poses is included.
ABOUT SUSAN VERDE
Susan Verdeis an award-winning children’s book author, elementary educator, and a certified children’s yoga instructor. Her books highlight the unique manner in which children see the world. Her stories focus on their interactions with their surroundings with emphasis on problem solving in a calming and mindful way. Susan’s books are used to teach children how to express gratitude and to support each other.
Susan became a certified kids yoga instructor and children’s book author, after several years in the education field. “Her stories inspire children to celebrate their own, unique stories and journey. Her writing also inspires adults to let their inner child out to dream of infinite possibilities… and maybe come out for a spontaneous game of hopscotch every now and then.”
Susan’s latest book, The Water Princess, will be published in late 2016. The book is another collaboration with he bestselling, award-winning, author and illustrator, Peter H. Reynolds. Peter and Susan have collaborated on The Museum, You & Me, and I Am Yoga. Susan lives in East Hampton, New York with her three children and dog.
Emily Arrow is the 2015 winner of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest in the Children’s Category for her song “The Curious Garden Song”. The song was inspired by the book THE CURIOUS GARDEN by Peter Brown. Emily was also a finalist in the 2015 Great American Song Contest and the 2014 John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Emily Arrow creates literature inspired music for children, cultivating an appreciation and love for singing, songwriting, literature, and art. She performs storytimes of her original music regularly in Los Angeles at Once Upon A Time Bookstore and Children’s Book World. Emily is touring in support of the album at schools, bookstores, and libraries around the country!
Originally from Ohio, Emily played the piano, read a lot of books, and led a neighborhood “kids only choir.” Fast forward to now and…she’s still silly, she still sings incessantly, and she still loves books! She is a graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston and earned her graduate-level teaching certification in Orff-Shulwerk Levels I & II. After graduating Emily became a K-6 music teacher at a performing arts-based elementary school in Los Angeles. During her time teaching, she found that her passion was collaborating with the library, art, and technology departments. Which led her to her current career as a kidlit singer/songwriter!
Yesterday I hosted a Bibliobop Dance Party at my library. I started Bibliobop (our baby/toddler/preschooler dance party) about four years ago. The program includes lots of music and movement, reading books about dancing and music and lots of fun. We use shaker eggs, instruments, parachutes, and scarves. Biblibop is hosted on Saturday mornings once every few months. This Fall, I also started a program called Preschool Wiggleworms, which is another music and movement program. The weekly programs are a bit more themed (we talk about certain types of dance or themes each week) but the general idea is similar to Biblibop. We dance, move, and have fun.
My mom is a music teacher, so I grew up surrounded by the arts. Singing and dancing were regular parts of my life. But the more I do these creative movement programs, the more I realize this is an aspect of early literacy that we really need to promote.
The more I host these creative movement programs, the more I am surprised by how many people don’t include music and movement in their daily lives. I think because I grew up with it’s second nature to me, but for so many people it’s not. At each of these programs, I have parents tell me “this is so great-we don’t do this at home!” When my son was born and I was singing to him as I changed his diaper, my mother-in-law said “that’s so neat how you sing to him all the time.” It wasn’t something she had thought about doing with a newborn. And I always have parents (and staff) who say they don’t know how to sing, they aren’t good singers, they can’t dance. But we all know the kids don’t care!
We have so many great resources from books to CDs that can help parents host their own dance parties at home. When I host these programs, I try and focus on the Singing skill of Every Child Ready to Read and letting parents know why singing and dancing is so important. Singing helps us slow down, hear words in a new way, it grows vocabulary. Dancing helps kids move. As I write this, my 1-year-old son is dancing and singing around my living room with his dad to “Tooty-Ta”. His vocabulary has grown from listening to the song and he can recite the order of all the movements.
Even if you think you can’t sing or can’t dance, you can host a creative movement program. It’s lots of fun to put together and the kids and adults have a blast. Here are a few of my favorite songs and activities:
I Can Shake My Shaker Egg by The Learning Groove (shaker eggs)
The Apple Tree by Bari Koral Family Rock Band (scarves)
Happy by Jennifer Gasoi (scarves or parachute)
Country Classics Start and Stop by Hap Palmer (shakers or parachute)
The Freeze by Greg and Steve (it’s a classic must have!)
Bop Til You Drop by Greg and Steve
The Train Beat Song by The Sugar Free Allstars
Airband by The Pop Ups
Do you host creative movement programs at your library? How do you share the importance of singing and dancing with your patrons? Any favorite songs or activities?
Lark Singer is seventeen years old and already on the way to a brilliant music career. But as she and her band, Starlight, gear up for a competition, life seems to be throwing her a few curve balls. The mysteries of her past seem to be unraveling, and she’s no longer certain she wants to know those answers or how knowing about her past will affect her difficult relationship with her mother. And when her best friend, Bean, changes things between them, all her plans for a musical future are placed in jeopardy. How can she balance her complicated personal life to keep her musical goals on track?
BOX SET CONTAINS ALL THREE BOOKS IN THE STARLIGHT SERIES:
Lisa Orchard grew up loving books. She was hooked on books by the fifth grade and even wrote a few of her own. She knew she wanted to be a writer even then. Her first published works are the “Super Spies Series.” These stories revolve around a group of friends who form their own detective squad and the cases they solve. “The Starlight Chronicles,” is the next series that Lisa created with musical misfit, Lark Singer as her main character.
Lisa resides in Michigan with her husband, Steve, and two wonderful boys. Currently, she’s working on the next book in the Starlight Chronicles Series along with a few new ideas that may turn into stand-alone novels. When she’s not writing she enjoys spending time with her family, running, hiking, and reading.
Written by Juliette MacIver
Illustrated by Cat Chapman
Candlewick Press 6/09/2015
32 pages Age 4—8
“Yak and Gnu are friends dear and true. Yak has a kayak, Gnu a canoe. Down the river they go, singing:
“No one else But you and me Can float a boat Or sail the sea.”
But wait! What’s that? A goat in a boat, a calf on a raft, and a whole flotilla of gorillas! Now their song is all wrong. With so many other friends afloat, can Yak and Gnu still sing their sea song for two?”[inside jacket]
Best friends Yak and Gnu love to sail the seas. Yak rows a black kayak, while Gnu rows a blue canoe. Together, they row and sing their favorite song. But then, much to Yak and Gnu’s surprise, a goat in a boat yells hello. Yak and Gnu are no longer the only two who sail the seas. The happy-go-lucky pair of friends—best of friends—recover nicely, rationalizing that with the goat in a boat, Yak in his kayak, and Gnu in her canoe, there are only three who can sail the seas. They adjust their song:
“Yippee-ai, Yak! Who-hoo, Gnu! There’s nobody else Like me and you. (Well, only goat.)”
But then, there on a raft is a laughing calf and in that sail boat is a snail. What is going on? Yak and Gnu find more and more animals who can sail the seas, be it in a sailboat, a raft, an outrigger, cruiser, kayak, or canoe. Each new discovery causes Yak and Gnu to reevaluate and adjust their song. Finally, with the seas afloat with dozens and dozens of sea-worthy animals and their vessels, Yak and Gnu must come to terms with the fact that they are not the only ones who can sail the seas. But what about their wonderful song? What happens to that? You must read Yak and Gnu to find out.
Yak and Gnu is hilarious. Young children will love all the animals and the way each sails the seas. Along with Yak and Gnu, children can count the number of animals, helping Yak and Gnu adjust their song. The repetitive song will also help young children as they begin to read and phonetically sound out words. Soon, kids will be singing the song, without the book. More likely, kids will be asking for Yak and Gnu at bedtime, story-time, and most every-time it is time to read. The illustrations are beautifully rendered in watercolor and ink. The rhyming text has that sing-song quality that makes reading a picture book a joy. Yak and Gnu was authored by Juliette MacIver who loves to make young children laugh. Her previous book is entitled, The Frog Who Lost His Underpants (also illustrated by Cat Chapman). That title makes me want to read the book. Yak and Gnu is no different. This hilarious tale celebrates the simple friendships of childhood and the joy of laughter.
Full Disclosure: Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, by Juliette MacIver & Cat Chapman, and received from Candlewick Press and Walker Books, Australia, is in exchange NOT for a positive review, but for an HONEST review. The opinions expressed are my own and no one else’s. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Giovanni Battista Lamperti (1839 – 1910), one of the first great vocal pedagogues, is quoted as saying in his Maxims that the breath is the basis of good singing.
”What is your approach to breath?” is a simple question, but the answers to this question are anything but simple. Master singers have varying ideas about breath control.
Breathing may be natural or unnatural, free or controlled, depending on the singer. Lawrence Brownlee speaks of “naturalness” and Nicole Cabell warns against it because “what seems natural could be incorrect.” Joyce DiDonato speaks of “freedom” of breath and Stephanie Blythe of “release”. Thomas Hampson advocates a conscious control of the breath.
Moreover, there are also various vocalizing techniques to command the flow of breath. Denyce Graves suggests using a hiss to control the breath flow. Another idea is the use of sirens, which helps to give a seamless sound throughout the range. An interesting suggestion from Eric Owens is to think of the inhalation as a note, an unwritten note, but a note. When the singer thinks of the inhalation as a note in the phrase, it becomes more natural and legato.
Indeed, singers may find lessons from many other areas of music. Although we are admonished that there is a difference in the more rigid support needed for the instrumentalist as opposed to the vocalist, Christine Goerke and Gerhard Siegel were thankful for their instrumental training because it helped them with their breath support. They reiterated that the singer needs flexibility in breathing or, as many say, a feeling of release, which is different from the instrumental breath support.
One recurring idea for breathing is that the breath is felt low in the body. According to Ana María Martínez, there “…is nothing high about the breath,” the breath fills the lower back with air while keeping the “…diaphragm low.” Joyce DiDnato says that one lets the air “drop like a weight”. With a certain amount of humor some suggest that the breathing is down and low, in the “bikinis,” or the belly gets “fluffy.”
But the true lesson from these masters is that each approach must be unique as each potential singer’s voice is unique. As Lamperti reminds us: “as a swimmer doesn’t fight the water, so should a singer not fight the breath.”
The Illustration Friday prompt this week, vocal, and the CBIG prompt for this month, friends, worked well with an old color sketch I did of a moose and girl. I made a few changes and polished up the art, and here it is.
The girl and her moose friend love to sing and dance!
From inside jacket: Little Crow loves to sing, and Papa Crow loves his song. But when Little Crow shares his crow songs with the other birds at the big old tree, they laugh and scatter. Maybe the Amazing Mockingbird can teach him to sing songs with the finches, flycatchers, and cardinals—and help him make some friends. But Little Crow should be careful what he wishes for . . .
Using Mockingbird’s tip, Little Crow becomes the most popular bird on the block. But, in a moment of danger, he learns that singing someone else’s song can have terrible consequences and that his own voice—and his father’s love—is of the greatest value.
Little Crow so desperately wants a friend he will do most anything to get one, even if that means fitting in to the point of losing his own identity. When he begins to sing like the other birds, he is welcomed, becomes part of the group. What Little Crow does not realize is the cost one incurs when making a major change to fit in with the crowd.
For Little Crow, singing the other bird’s songs to fit in and have friends could cost him his life when a hawk appears overhead. Little Crow is in danger and sings out, Papa Crow does not understand it is his son singing out—he no longer recognizes Little Crow’s singing.
Little Crow said, “Per-CHIC-o-ree!”—Heelllllp!
“Poor Finch,” said Papa Crow.
Little Crow sings out, “Fee-beeee!”—Help me!
“Poor Phoebe Flycatcher!” said Papa Crow.
Like Little Crow, kids do not like being different, they want to fit in with the crowd and be accepted. Those that do not dress as the others dress, speak as the others speak, or act as the other act are often shunned and ridiculed by those that do meld into one. But the group looks, speech, and actions often do not have room for individuality, originality, or creativity. That can be hard for a kid to understand when all they want to do is fit in, have friends, and not be teased.
Little Crow had lost his identity. His Papa no longer connected Little Crow’s singing to Little Crow. In a time of need, Papa Crow could not reach out. As a social worker, I love these types of books. Kids need to know it is okay to be themselves; to act, speak, dress like themselves and not anyone else. Fitting in with the crowd is not always the best idea. I have seen smart kids trade their intelligence to fit in and lose much more than they ever gained. Kids who are different for any reason will lose what may be the best part of themselves simply to fit in.
I like Song for Papa Crow because it can open up a dialogue between parent and kids. The story can help kids understand that fitting in may not always be the best thing to do.
The illustrations, also created by the author, are beautiful collages. There are many birds, depicted in their wonderfully layered shades of color, on every page. On Papa Crow’s head, the feathers are short and look soft. The feathers making up his tail are long and smooth. You can see the strength in the hawk and the sudden fear in Little Crow.
In addition to a good story about preserving one’s identity, there is a short primer on North American birds. I really like this book. Song for Papa Crow is a beautiful book, with thick pages for the younger kids, interesting bird facts, and a good story that can teach kids to stay true to themselves.
Teachers, school social workers, and others who regularly work with kids will find this book immensely helpful. Parents can use the story to open a dialogue about fitting in and being true to one’s self. Kids will like the illustrations of the birds and can use the book as a guide to the birds in their neighborhood.
Song for Papa Crow is a good story for any time or reason. For collectors, the illustrations are beautiful and this is the first complete book by now author and illustrator Marit Menzin.
5 Stars Silly Frilly Grandma Tillie Laurie A, Jacobs Anne Jewett Flashlight Press 32 Pages Ages: 5 and up Inside Jacket: Sophie and Chloe are lucky that their Grandma Tillie knows how to be royally silly. To their delight, whenever Grandma Tillie babysits she seems to disappear, only to be replaced by a parade of [...]
You know that stress dream that everyone has at one time or another? The one where you’re standing up in front of a giant group of people and something goes horribly wrong? You forget your speech, your voice cracks, you’re not wearing pants. Well that dream became a recurring reality for me my senior year of college (not the pants part thankfully). Mine was the singer’s nightmare. The one where you open your mouth to sing and the voice that comes out is not your own.
As a child and an adolescent I loved to perform. Singing wasn’t something I thought about; it was something I just did and as a result I was totally fearless. When I got to college the concept of thinking about singing as a science was entirely new to me. My teachers taught me to release my jaw and tongue, to inhale into my back and belly, to use muscular antagonism of the inspiratory and expiratory muscles, to keep my larynx low and stable, to lift my palate, and many other mechanics of singing. At first this new focus on technique was interesting, but eventually all of the technical language resulted in confusion. Every time I opened my mouth to sing I was afraid I would do something wrong. The result was a voice that was only a shadow of the one I used to call my own.
What happens when we’re afraid? In his article “The Anatomy of Fear,” John A. Call discusses the body’s reaction to fear: the heart-rate speeds up, our muscles tense, and the breath becomes fast and shallow.
The implications of this for a singer are huge. In singing the first rule of the inhale is release low. When a singer releases and expands through the lower body (belly, low back, and intercostals), it allows these muscles to work in tandem on the exhale. This gives the singer the ability to manage the air much more efficiently than if he/she had begun by expanding through the chest and clavicles. If a person is experiencing fear, the ability to take a low and relaxed or released breath becomes quite difficult.
Certainly singers need to learn proper singing technique, but sometimes I wonder, what is all of this focus on the physical costing us as artists? There was a time in my life when I operated solely on musical intuition. But as I learned more and more about the mechanics of singing I began attempting to operate on facts and science instead of artistic impulse. I don’t mean to suggest that I didn’t need to learn the mechanics—I had plenty of technical issues. But perhaps there is a more holistic approach to teaching singing that could facilitate proper technique without the loss of instinct.
After I graduated from college I took some time off from singing. When I decided to return to it I knew I needed a different approach. I had been practicing yoga as a form of exercise for a few years, but I felt confident that with the right guidance it could really help me as a singer. So I sought out a voice/yoga teacher.
Yoga session at sunrise in Joshua Tree National Park – Warrior I pose. Photo by Jarek Tuszynski. Creative Commons License via Wikimedia Commons
My new teacher, Mark Moliterno, taught me that yoga recognizes that tension in the body is often a result of physical or psychological blockages to the breath. The practice of yoga seeks to release tension and free the breath. When properly implemented in the voice studio, yoga can be a pathway to efficient vocal technique and artistic freedom.
Mark pointed out that all of the confusion and fear that had built up during my college studies had caused me to physically disengage from the lower half of my body. So we set to work using yoga to reconnect me with my lower body and help me feel more secure in my singing.
We used postures like Tādāsana or Mountain Pose and Vìrabhadrāsana One or Warrior One to release tension in the body and connect me with the ground. Feeling my leg muscles engaged and my feet planted firmly on the floor helped me to feel more secure. We used pranayama or breath exercises to release tension within the muscles of the respiratory system. We used hip openers to release the tension in my jaw, and shoulder openers to release the tension in my tongue.
We did yoga and made music. Not once in this entire process did I think about any of the mechanics of singing. My technique improved because my body was open and the breath could function naturally and efficiently. Yoga was like this miracle that freed my voice and allowed me to trust myself again. But it isn’t a miracle, it’s a science that takes into account all parts of the person, and not just the anatomical.
Carrie -Yoga shoot #002. Photo by Joel Nilsson. Creative Commons License via Wikimedia Commons
When singers start trying to function as anatomical machines, seeking after flawless technique, we can lose the ability to sing authentically. Yoga helped me to learn to sing with good technique without focusing on it, and dissolved the fear that kept me from trusting my musical instincts. It released the tension in my body and mind, unleashing the breath, and offering me a pathway to artistic freedom.
Mezzo-soprano, Laura Davis, is a singer, conductor, and voice teacher. She holds a Master of Music degree in Voice Pedagogy and Performance from the Catholic University of America and a Bachelor of Music degree in Sacred Music from Westminster Choir College. Recent performances include Suzuki in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Dina in Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti, and Third Lady in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. After spending 10 years on the east coast conducting, performing, and teaching, Ms. Davis has returned to her home state of Colorado where she is in the process of opening a voice studio based on a holistic approach to singing.
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Soul’s latest incarnation comes in the guise of St. Paul and the Broken Bones. St. Paul is not really a saint. He is Paul Janeway of a new band that is hot on the rise. When you listen to him sing it evokes memories of a time past. But the most impressive part is that he does not look the part. People wonder how someone who looks nothing like Otis Redding can sound just like him. So how is it that this Drew Carey look-a-like ended up sounding so soulful? The answer comes from his early childhood.
Janeway grew up hearing gospel music and went to church on Sundays. His parents made a conscious decision to not allow him to hear anything but gospel and soul music. Church also contained quite a bit of gospel. He sung to a number of records and was immersed in this genre of music. He continued in his life and was actually almost ready to graduate from college when the opportunity to sing appeared once again. His band began to receive praise for their singing and the rest is history.
Like Paul Janeway, I also grew up with a childhood music that I would come to rediscover many years later. During my childhood summer trips to Mexico, I would often listen to music. One of the most famous pop singers in Mexico was Roberto Carlos, a native from the northeastern part of Brazil. He had some success in Brazil but nothing like the huge following he had in Latin America, where his accent sounded exotic in Spanish sung songs.
On one of our record hunting excursions in the Mission District in San Francisco my dad found a record that looked just like the one I had at home, except that the cover was white not pink — Portuguese version of the record I already had. My curiosity piqued, I began to listen to these songs and soon enough I was singing them with a very thick Spanish accent. I probably sung to the record for about a year or two before I grew older and took on other musical interests.
That very thick Spanish accent remained for me when I took Portuguese as a college student and it did not go away during my first few months in Brazil. However, over time the thick accent disappeared entirely and I came to speak with the accent of a Paulista, as those from Sao Paulo, Brazil’s economic capital are called.
Many years later I decided to sing a Brazilian lullaby from that Roberto Carlos album to my son Nikolas. And the day I sung it my accent in Portuguese stood in strong contrast to the Paulista that I had grown accustomed to as an adult. I realized that I sounded like a northeastern Brazilian, the same accent that Roberto Carlos had sung with in my childhood. All those years later, the early memory of that song had persisted and it surprised me when it came out. Like Paul Janeway, my exposure to an early set of sounds had created a vocal imprint that reappeared many years later.
People often ask if earlier is better. Well, there is one case where this is almost always true and it has to do with our accent in a language. So if you want to sound like Otis Redding or Roberto Carlos it is better to start working on it earlier in life.
Arturo Hernandez is currently Professor of Psychology and Director of the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience graduate program at the University of Houston. He is the author of The Bilingual Brain. His major research interest is in the neural underpinnings of bilingual language processing and second language acquisition in children and adults. He has used a variety of neuroimaging methods as well as behavioral techniques to investigate these phenomena which have been published in a number of peer reviewed journal articles. His research is currently funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development. You can follow him on Twitter @DrAEHernandez.
That’s a long title, but it says it all…kinda. This is one of many hidden picture puzzles I did this past year for Highlights. What a challenge, to hide 30 objects in a spread! Some are hard to find, others… obvious (Can you find some…?). But this is a fun story to tell in one picture–a children’s choir/production underway with parents, siblings and teachers helping and enjoying the show! There are little stories within the story so I hope that makes it much more enjoyable for kids to linger over as they try to find the hidden objects!
This is one of many hidden picture puzzles I did this past year for Highlights. What a challenge, to hide 30 objects in a spread! Some are hard to find, others… obvious (Can you find some…?). But this is a fun story to tell in one picture–a children’s choir/production underway with parents, siblings and teachers helping and enjoying the show! There are little stories within the story so I hope that makes it much more enjoyable for kids to linger over as they try to find the hidden objects!
If you are a singer who has a degree in vocal performance, then you are ready to stop doubting your greatness and start living an awesome life by singing in the world now. If you are a voice teacher or coach, you will recognize the need for your students to make a difference in the world with their singing and even make some money. Singing gigs and projects for classical singers are not just in opera, symphony orchestras, and churches anymore. In fact, most of the more meaningful (and lucrative) destinations for the vocal arts are not on the traditional stage, but out in the world helping people.
The key is to sing for people who want to hear you for their own reasons, and who value what you have to offer. If you are willing to gain new skills that you may not have acquired in school, you can find meaningful and lucrative places to sing. There is plenty of work out there for everyone.
Here are the top five tips to get you started:
Get familiar with what is already working in the world. Peruse the arts news and blogs daily to see what is happening with classical singers all over the world. You’ll be surprised to see how classical singers are making a living these days as teaching artists, wellness performers, cultural ambassadors, corporate consultants, independent artists, etc.
Learn how to market yourself as a performer and your products. Marketing just means having the ability to interview well, pitch your ideas, audition well, create great materials, and get them to your target audiences, fans, and employers. Take a class.
Create products that you can offer to both employers and fans. You’ll need videos, CDs, MP3s, streaming events, download cards, or anything you can hand to a prospective fan or employer to introduce yourself and your art.
Tailor your repertoire for a specific purpose. We all know that different repertoires evoke different types of responses in the listener. Offer a repertoire that is calming, joyous, enthusiastic, or patriotic, etc. and the audience will choose whatever he or she needs.
Know yourself. Every singer is an artist but may not know it. To develop your own “voice” so to speak, you’ll need to turn inward. If you know why you are singing you can develop your own authentic vocal art that will have tremendous power to transform your listeners. I recommend meditation.
Accomplished, hard-working artists capture the hearts and imaginations of their audiences. Sing for the spirit of the song. As a singer, you can put your voice to good use making the world a better place. Sing out in the world for a specific and meaningful purpose, and a simple evening of entertainment can turn into a pathway for enlightenment.
Headline Image: Microphone, Music. CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay.
In late 2014, one particular video of a singer became immensely popular on Facebook. At first I thought my perception of its popularity might be skewed; I’m a singer, and have many friends who are singers, so there’s probably some selection bias in my sampling of popular posts on social media. But eventually I actually clicked on one of the many postings of the video on my feed, and with its 7.4 million views, it seemed likely that it was more than just my singer friends who had been watching it:
Overtone singing, defined in Grove Music Online as “A vocal style in which a single performer produces more than one clearly audible note simultaneously”, has been in existence for thousands of years, most famously in east central Asia. But I had never seen this much attention focused on it at once. The video is jaw-droppingly cool, in part because what’s happening doesn’t seem possible. But then, not that many people understand how singing just one note at a time actually works.
Simply trying to explain everything that happens when we breathe and phonate (i.e., make a vocal sound) requires discussion of various complex, unconscious physical phenomena. As the Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments article “Voice” puts it:
Phonation takes place during exhalation as the respiratory system supplies air through the vibrating vocal folds, which interrupt and break the air stream into smaller units or puffs of air. The resulting sounds are filtered through a resonator system and then transmitted outside the mouth. Singing, speaking, humming, and other vocal sounds usually involve practised regulation of air pressure and breath-stream mechanics, and balanced control of the inspiratory (chiefly the diaphragm) and expiratory muscles (chiefly the abdominal and intercostal muscles).
Even after understanding all that, it’s clear that what’s happening in the video above is not a typical vocal performance. So when you hear those overtones coming from Anna-Maria Hefele, just what exactly is happening?
Fortunately for all of us, Hefele also made another video which addresses the physics of this phenomenon:
When you sing different vowels, your mouth changes shape to form those vowels. You pull your lips to the side to make an “eee” sound, and your tongue arches up in your mouth; when you make an “ooo” sound, you purse your lips and your tongue flattens out. When you do this, you’re actually changing the shape of your instrument, which in turn changes the harmonics that are stressed above the fundamental frequency (the pitch at which you’re speaking or singing). This is why the vowels sound different from one another. This is clear in Hefele’s training video, where the loudest overtones change from vowel to vowel.
Stress of different overtones is one of the ingredients of timbre, or the quality of a sound beyond its pitch and amplitude. Timbre is what allows us to distinguish between, say, a flute and an oboe playing the same pitch. They simply sound different. This is partially (no pun intended) dependent on the stress of different overtones due to the varying shapes and materials of each instrument.
The neat thing about the voice is that, while we don’t usually change the material, the shape is very flexible, and we can manipulate it to change our timbre. Overtone singing like Hefele’s takes an element of vocal sound and turns it into a new sort of instrument, inverting the typical relationship between instrument and timbre.
Anyone who’s listened to master impressionists or Bobby McFerrin (beyond “Don’t worry, be happy”) can attest to the versatility of the human voice. Vocalists are the shape-shifters of the instrument world. But comparing the 52,251 views of Hefele’s visualization video with the 7.4 million views of her performance video, it seems like we also appreciate the masters of timbre-bending the same way we appreciate magicians; most of us would rather watch the trick than see it explained.
In the newly published second edition of the Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, the voice is called “The quintessential human instrument.” But while almost all of us have voices, very few of us understand what is happening when we use them. Every once in a while I think it’s beneficial to see something extraordinary, if only so we remember to look at what seems ordinary a little more closely.
Headline image credit: A Sennheiser Microphone. Photo by ChrisEngelsma. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Throughout the month, we’ve been examining the myriad aspects of the human voice. But who better to discuss it than a singer herself? We asked Jenny Forsyth, member of the Sospiri choir in Oxford, what it takes to be part of a successful choir.
Which vocal part do you sing in the choir?
I sing soprano – usually first soprano if the parts split, but I’ll sing second if I need to.
For how long have you been singing?
I started singing in the training choir of the Farnham Youth Choir, in Surrey, when I was seven. Then I moved up through the junior choir when I was about 10 years old and then auditioned and moved up to the main performance choir at the age of 12 and stayed with them until I was 18. After this I studied for a Bachelors in Music, then did a Masters degree in Choral Studies (Conducting).
What first made you want to join a choir?
I had recently started having piano lessons and my dad, a musician himself, thought it would be good for my musical education to join a choir. We went to a concert given by the Farnham Youth Choir and after that I was hooked!
What is your favourite piece or song to perform?
That’s a really difficult question – there is so much great music around! I enjoy singing Renaissance music so I might choose Taverner’s Dum Transsiset. I also love Byrd’s Ne Irascaris Domine and Bogoroditse Devo from Rachmaninoff’s Vespers.
I also sing with an ensemble called the Lacock Scholars, and we sing a lot of plainsong chant, a lot of which is just so beautiful. Reading from historical notation – neumes – can give you so much musical information through such simple notation; it’s really exciting!
I’ve recently recorded an album of new commissions for the centenary of World War I with a choir from Oxford called Sospiri, directed by Chris Watson. The disk is called A Multitude of Voices and all the commissions are settings of war poems and texts. The composers were asked to look outside the poetical canon and consider texts by women, neglected poets and writers in languages other than English. I love all the music on the disk and it’s a thrilling feeling to be the first choir ever to sing a work. I really love Standing as I do before God by Cecilia McDowall and Three Songs of Remembrance by David Bednall. Two completely different works but both incredibly moving to perform.
However I think my all-time favourite has to be Las Amarillas by Stephen Hatfield – an arrangement of Mexican playground songs. It’s in Spanish and has some complicated cross rhythms, clapping, and other body percussion. It’s a hard piece to learn but when it comes together it just clicks into place and is one of the most rewarding pieces of music!
How do you keep your voice in peak condition?
These are the five things I find really help me. (Though a busy schedule means the early nights are often a little elusive!)
Keeping hydrated. It is vital to drink enough water to keep your whole system hydrated (ie., the internal hydration of the entire body that keeps the skin, eyes, and all other mucosal tissue healthy), and to make sure the vocal chords themselves are hydrated. When you drink water the water doesn’t actually touch the vocal chords so I find the best way to keep them hydrated is to steam, either over a bowl of hot water or with a purpose-built steam inhaler. The topical, or surface, hydration is the moisture level that keeps the epithelial surface of the vocal folds slippery enough to vibrate. Steaming is incredibly good for a tired voice!
I’m not sure what the science behind this is but I find eating an apple just before I sing makes my voice feel more flexible and resonant.
Hot drinks. A warm tea or coffee helps to relax my voice when it’s feeling a bit tired.
Regular singing lessons. Having regular singing lessons with a teacher who is up to date on research into singing techniques is crucial to keeping your voice in peak condition. Often you won’t notice the development of bad habits, which could potentially be damaging to your voice, but your singing teacher will be able to correct you and keep you in check.
Keeping physically fit and getting early nights. Singing is a really physical activity. When you’ve been working hard in a rehearsal or lesson you can end up feeling physically exhausted. Even though singers usually make singing look easy, there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes with lots of different sets of muscles working incredibly hard to support their sound. It’s essential to keep your body fit and well-rested to allow you to create the music you want to without damaging your voice.
Do you play any other musical instruments?
When I was younger I played the piano, flute and violin but I had to give up piano and flute as I didn’t have enough time to do enough practice to make my lessons worthwhile. I continued playing violin and took up viola in my gap year and then at university studied violin as my first study instrument for my first two years before swapping to voice in my final year.
Do you have a favourite place to perform?
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all around the world with the Farnham Youth Choir, with tours around Europe and trips to both China and Australia. So, even before I decided to take my singing more seriously, I had had the chance to sing in some of the best venues in the world. It’s hard to choose a favourite as some venues lend themselves better to certain types of repertoire. Anywhere with a nice acoustic where you can hear both what you are singing and what others around you are singing is lovely. It can be very disconcerting to feel as though you’re singing completely by yourself when you know you’re in a choir of 20! I’m currently doing a lot of singing with the Lacock Scholars at Saint Cuthbert’s Church, Earl’s Court, so I think that’s my favourite at the moment. Having said that, I would absolutely love to sing at the building where I work as a music administrator – Westminster Cathedral! It’s got the most glorious acoustics and is absolutely stunning.
What is the most rewarding thing about being in a choir?
There are so many great things about singing in a choir. You get a sense of working as part of a team, which you rarely get to the same extent outside of choral singing. I think this is because your voice is so personal to you can find yourself feeling quite vulnerable. I sometimes think that to sing well you have to take that vulnerability and use it; to really put yourself ‘out there’ to give the music a sense of vitality. You have to really trust your fellow singers. You have to know that when you come in on a loud entry (or a quiet one, for that matter!) that you won’t be left high and dry singing on your own.
What’s the most challenging thing about singing in a choir?
I think this is similar to the things that are rewarding about being part of a choir. That sense of vulnerability can be unnerving and can sow seeds of doubt in your mind. “Do I sound ok? Is the audience enjoying the performance? Was that what the conductor wanted?” But you have to put some of these thoughts out of your mind and focus on the job in hand. If you’ve been rehearsing the repertoire for a long time you can sometimes find your mind wandering, and then you’re singing on autopilot. So it can be a challenge to keep trying to find new and interesting things in the music itself.
Also, personality differences between members of the choir or singers and conductors can cause friction. It’s important to strike the right balance so that everyone’s time is used effectively. The dynamic between a conductor and their choir is important in creating a finely tuned machine, and it is different with each conductor and each choir. Sometimes in a small ensemble a “Choirocracy” can work with the singers being able to give opinions but it can make rehearsals tedious and in a choral society of over a hundred singers it would be a nightmare.
Do you have any advice for someone thinking about joining a choir?
Do it! I think singing in a choir as I grew up really helped my confidence; I used to be very shy but the responsibility my youth choir gave me really brought me out of myself. You get a great feeling of achievement when singing in a choir. I don’t think that changes whether you’re an amateur singing for fun or in a church choir once a week or whether you’re a professional doing it to make a living. I’ve recently spent time working with an “Office Choir”. All of the members work in the same building for large banking corporation, and they meet up once a week for a rehearsal and perform a couple of concerts a year. It’s great because people who wouldn’t usually talk to each other are engaging over a common interest. So it doesn’t matter whether you’re a CEO, secretary, manager, or an intern; you’re all in the same boat when learning a new piece of music! They all say the same thing: they look forward to Wednesdays now because of their lunchtime rehearsals, and they find themselves feeling a lot more invigorated when they return to their desks afterwards.
Lastly, singing in a choir is a great way to make new friends. Some of my closest friends are people I met at choir aged 7!
Header image credit: St John’s College Chapel by Ed Webster, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr
Sully’s Topsy Tale is a wonderful rhyming story about a solo singing snake with laryngitis. Children will be thrilled as Sully’s friends all try to help him with his problem. In the end Sully recovers and discovers in the process that it is good to have friends as they make beautiful music together..
Donna J. Shepherd’s rhymes are delightful and have a wonderful message about friendship. Kevin Collier’s illustrations are colorful and humorous, and will definitely make children giggle. Donna and Kevin are a winning partnership.
This is the third book in the Topsy Tales series. This book is suitable for children ages 3 to 7. The back cover includes definitions of musical terms used in the book. The book is endorsed by a licensed and certified speech-language pathologist for use in articulation therapy for the letter “s”.
I’ve recently read a few new books that aim to teach our children Spanish the old-fashioned way: with songs and nursery rhymes. There are a plethora of computer programs that can be used to learn foreign languages but many language teachers will tell you that vocabulary and practice are the only real ways to learn a foreign language. What better way to learn new words and practice them over and over again, but by learning catchy songs and nursery rhymes?
Following are some recently published books that caught my eye:
by Heide “Pina” Madera (Author), Christina Spangler (Illustrator)
Reading level: Ages 0-3
Paperback: 14 pages
Publisher: Sing-A-Lingo (2009)
Source of book: Publisher
Buenas Noches, Amigos by Heide “Pina” Madera is a “singable” book that can be incorporated into a child’s bedtime routine easily since it follows a little boy, his cat, and a mouse on their journey from bath to bed to sleep. The book comes with printed music and words for two songs and–in a more modern twist–these can be downloaded from the publisher’s website to accompany the bedtime routine.
by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy (Authors), Rosalma Zubizarreta (English versions) and Vivi Escriva (Illustrator)
Reading level: Ages 2-7
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins (2010)
Source of book: Publisher
Muu, Muu! Animal Nursery Rhymes by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy is a collection of traditional Spanish nursery rhymes and their English translations. The book is full of beautiful Latin American-inspired illustrations with lots of colorful images.
Just got this note: "Congratulations! Your ebook has been declared a finalist in Dan Poynter's Global eBook Awards."
This is my favorite of the Topsy Tales. I'm so glad Sully's Topsy Tale received this recognition!
Have you read this book? Rate it:
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Video courtesy of MacmillanChildrens: “Watch this book trailer video and see The Babies on the Bus sing la la la! The Babies on the Bus is a picture book for children by best-selling author and illustrator Karen Katz. Follow along as this adorable children’s picture book comes alive in this video!”
Platform: iOS 4.0 or later, Also available in the Android Market.
Launched on January 12th of this year, SoundCloud is not the first sound recording app, but I would argue that it is certainly the most polished. SoundCloud gives users the ability to record sounds, with the choice to then share them publically with friends and followers or keep them private. When you first employ the app, you will be prompted to create a free account by designating yourself a username and password along with the option of adding a photo to your profile. The next step is to choose sounds or people to follow. By searching for people, you can find your favorite music artists and the new sound bites they record. Just like with Twitter, real bands have the “Official” seal of approval on their account so users know that it is, in fact, the actual artist or band behind the account. This is a great way to hear new music that hasn’t even been released yet. Fans can get a sneak peak of what is coming down the pike and musicians have the ability to get their music out before the album is released.
Not only does this app have excellent features for music fans, but it’s also, ideal for aspiring musicians. SoundCloud is the perfect way for budding teen artists to record their sounds and share them with the world. The sharing featuring links to Facebook to help the user locate friends who also use the app as well as to post sound recordings, for others to hear. Within the app there is a tab called “stream,” where you can look at recent activity within your follower community. From there, you can also listen to new sounds complete with timestamps noting when they were originally posted
The app is not even a month old, but I can foresee this being a very useful tool for teens who are into GarageBand, YouTube, and many of the other music-inclined apps available for mobile devices. The social networking angle will be most appealing for teens who wish to get “discovered”. For tweens and teens who may not have a Facebook account, the option to keep your sounds private is most appealing. Recording your sounds and keeping them private is like a new spin on journal writing for teens. Instead of writing down lyrics or poetry in a diary, they can now be recorded with or without instruments. Youth librarians may find this app inspiring in creating a variety of programs with children and teens. I’m personally anxious to find out if and how teens are using SoundCloud.
Someone sent me a link yesterday in my email and I opened it but didn't take the time to watch the video because I was tired or busy--doesn't matter. What does matter is that while my life would have been enriched last night, it wasn't until this afternoon that I felt the rush of excitement and empathy during the watching of this video. All I could think was: Never judge a book by its cover or a person by their appearance. OMG! What a gem the world has finally uncovered. Continue reading →