Fun: The Backdoor to Better Work

2016 Reading Challenge

2016 Reading Challenge
Jessica has read 15 books toward her goal of 30 books.

I can't believe I'm already halfway through my reading goal for the year! 30 felt like a very ambitious number based on the average amount of books I've read over the past several years. Once college started, I limited myself to books that I felt were directly functional/helpful in my life in some way...books that I "should" read. But the more I limited myself to what I "should" read, the more I struggled to read as much as I felt I should. But there was a big shift over the past couple of years for me, and now I'm reading more than ever.

This issue with "should" wasn't just present in my reading. It was everywhere. My housework. My practicing. My writing. My studio management. My eating. My exercise. I felt that every spare moment should be spent doing what "should" be done. However I was doing it had to be the "right" or "good" or "efficient" way. I was exhausted all of the time, and I was becoming more and more resentful of everything that needed to get done, while also resenting anyone who was getting in the way of getting things done (including myself). Meanwhile, I watched my partner Andy letting himself have fun while also being extremely prolific. It became more and more obvious that my approach was neither effective nor necessary.

Julia Cameron says you have to satisfy the inner child so you can get work done. Similarly, Jung said, "What you resist, persists." Brené Brown's research found that Wholehearted people prioritized playtime in their lives. Thanks to writers like these and the help of my wonderful therapist and coach, I've been working through the fears that had me dragging along under the whip of responsibility while resisting my playful, childish side.

When I'm resisting fun (which means I'm not really working, either), it often takes the form of mindlessly alternating between social media apps. My well of joy is running dry, and my inner child is refusing to let me work until I go play and refill it with something that's legitimately satisfying playtime...not just another game of Candy Crush. Once I stop resisting that need, I not only have a great time, but I can get work done afterwards with much better energy. I still have to deal with things that should get done, but I'm no longer too exhausted to deal with them. 

One of the best parts of more playtime? There's a new sparkle in my creations. When my notes, words, and rhythms emerge from a place of "Why not? It's fun and I like it!" instead of "I should do it this way because...," the work feels more like me and I enjoy it more. 

I've been using this approach more in lessons, too. When students find their own sense of fun and joy in self-guided projects that seem like a diversion from the path or approach I'm envisioning, the student almost always comes back to things they "should" be doing on their own later because the "shoulds" help them achieve the things that brings them joy. They still have "shoulds" to do in their assignments that they don't really consider fun, but when they have some joy and self-directed goals mixed in, they actually do more of the "shoulds." 

I would previously have labeled this "fun-first" approach "procrastinating," but I realize now that it's completely necessary. It's not just a backdoor approach to productivity. It makes me a more complete, less anxious, healthier, more joyful human being.

What are your experiences with playtime and productivity?


We teachers sometimes hit impasses with our students. 

I used to think students were lazy or had bad attitudes when they would suddenly become resistant to progress through different tactics, including not practicing for a little while. Then I learned something profound from Jeanie LoVetri: “Always assume they are doing their best, even when you think they're not.” At the same time, I was delving into The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. In it, Julia says, “Being blocked and being lazy are two different things...Do not call the inability to start laziness. Call it fear.”

Now when a student suddenly seems lazy, defensive, belligerent, forgetful, etc., I recognize that it may be because we've finally found the locked door we’ve been searching for on their journey of development...the door that has been preventing them from sounding the way they want. Chances are good that they’ve either tried to unlock that door already with no success, that someone else has told them they can’t open it, or that they’re terrified of what will happen if they do open it. It’s my job to help them craft a key and to help them believe it’s safe to go through. (Help is an important word here. Almost always, the student needs other support and knowledge to fully unlock the door. Help often means referring a student to books, activities, therapists, medical professionals, and avoided conversations that are needed for them to take the next steps after they get through the door.)

Assuming a student is doing their best forces me to keep asking questions that will help me create a better solution and forces me to keep believing they will ultimately choose to go forward, even if they don’t choose that today. It’s my job to lead them to the truth, but I can’t force them to swallow it. Trying to force progress prematurely only seems to amplify the voice of whatever is keeping a student from moving forward. They’re ready when they’re ready. In the meantime, there are always plenty of things we can do to work on other things that aren't so scary to them. (The value of working indirectly is another post for another time.)

Assuming that the student is doing her best has saved me from wasting a lot of energy resenting my students and assuming the worst. They wouldn't be studying with me if they didn't want to get better on some level. Even if they are holding themselves back from success due to other reasons that they need to explore, I have to teach them under the assumption that they will eventually deal with those reasons, and when they do, they will need the tools that I am teaching them to use.

I’ve learned to look forward to those difficult “brickwall” lessons because it means we’re almost on the other side. They’re, by far, the most uncomfortable lessons, but some of my best and most rewarding solutions for students have been created there. If students never get through the door, they see these lessons as the worst ones, and sometimes quit lessons altogether if they’re exceptionally afraid of taking the next steps that would follow. If students do get through the door, they tend to see those lessons as profound experiences of clarity and hope about the progress they’ve made up to that point and the progress that is yet to be made. 

Eventually, if a student decides that they will not take the steps needed to finish forging the key to unlock the door, I have to let them go. It's very rare for me, but it does happen. There is a limit to the amount of solutions and help that I can give without the student putting their share of work into the process. It’s a difficult decision, but these students tend to sap more than their share of the limited energy and creativity that I have to give…energy and creativity that needs to be shared equally among all of my students. When I realize that this is happening, I have to let them go for the sake of my other students.

I’ve found many powerful solutions by first assuming that there’s more I can do, and the lessons where I see a student finally open the door make it all worth it. Do you have similar experiences? What were they like? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Journaling to Release Fuller Artistry

I'm a huge fan of The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. I've been using her tools since grad school, and I can't say enough about how much they've helped me. One of those tools is Morning Pages, which is about 30 minutes of putting stream-of-consciousness thought on paper first thing in the morning. No editing. No judgement. Just writing down whatever's on your mind. Morning Pages are for you and you alone.

The morning pages are the primary tool of creative recovery. As blocked artists, we tend to criticize ourselves mercilessly. Even if we look like functioning artists to the world, we feel we never do enough and what we do isn’t right. We are victims of our own internalized perfectionist, a nasty internal and eternal critic, the Censor, who resides in our (left) brain and keeps up a constant stream of subversive remarks that are often disguised as the truth. The Censor says wonderful things like: “You call that writing? What a joke. You can’t even punctuate. If you haven’t done it by now you never will. You can’t even spell. What makes you think you can be creative?” And on and on. Make this a rule: always remember that your Censor’s negative opinions are not the truth. This takes practice. By spilling out of bed and straight onto the page every morning, you learn to evade the Censor. Because there is no wrong way to write the morning pages, the Censor’s opinion doesn’t count.
— Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way

I was surprised by how helpful Morning Pages were when I first started using them. There was less mental chatter and clutter. I was better able to focus on the important things in my day. I could better separate the Censor from helpful thoughts. I was less stressed. I got more done. I got past hurdles that had been present for a long time, many of which hadn't been obvious to me until I started doing the Pages.

This past year, as I read researcher Brené Brown's book Daring Greatly, I constantly ran into data that strongly supported what I had been doing with Cameron's tools.

Though Brown has a different name for The Censor ("Shame Gremlins"), she confirms that those voices are paralyzing to our artistic work, and their weapon of choice is shame. Shame doesn't want us to connect with our truth, and it doesn't want us to connect with people. This is toxic to great art, which is all about connecting with people. Shame tells us that we're alone, that we deserve to be alone, and that no one wants to hear what we have to say. When The Censor creeps in, it tells us we need to either hide, run away, or put up our defenses...anything besides just being present and vulnerable.

I think a quick summary of shame vs. guilt is necessary here for those of you who haven't read Brown's research and may feel that shaming is good for us. Research says otherwise. Guilt is good for us. Shame is not. Our bodies and minds process shame differently than guilt. When we've done something that wasn't so great, the Censor/Shame Gremlins tell us we're inherently bad and unworthy of human connection. In contrast, the more rational Voice of Guilt tells us we did something bad, but that we're still worthy of connection. The difference is immense. Shame makes us want to hide or deny what we did so we don't lose the human connection we all need. Guilt allows us to take responsibility, apologize, and change behavior because we believe human connection will still be there when we do, and will likely be even stronger as a result. 

So here's why all of that's important to me as a performer and a teacher: an artist can't move forward with the parts of their work that have shame wrapped around them. Here are some examples of shame experiences I've witnessed:

  • I'm ashamed of being loud. Being loud is obnoxious and not ladylike. Being loud means I'm a failure as a woman. (This student resists singing loudly.)
  • I'm ashamed of being soft. Being soft is weak. Being soft means I'm a failure as a man. (This student resists singing softly and uses excess tension to make a "strong" sound.)
  • I'm ashamed of my body, or a particular part of my body. Being on stage draws attention to it. Moving it draws attention to it. Thinking about it draws attention to it. (This student can't feel that part of their body. They either move it too much or too little.)
  • I'm ashamed of having an opinion. My opinion isn't important enough to share with other people. It's selfish to say what I think and feel. (This student holds back their sound by any means necessary: shallow breaths, frozen body, constricted throat, etc.)
  • I'm ashamed of a particular idea being heard. That idea will make my friends and family turn their backs on me, and I don't want to be alone. (This student holds back their sound and avoids singing material with themes they fear will jeopardize their important relationships.) 
  • I'm ashamed of being wrong. I feel like no one will like me unless I have the right answer. (This student puts undue pressure on themselves to avoid mistakes. They rarely try new things unless they're sure they'll be good at it. When they're given feedback, the student will either deny the problem, run away to a situation where they think they won't have to deal with feedback, or try to hurt anyone who gives them feedback.)
  • I'm ashamed of being successful as a musician. My loved ones deserted me around the time I started experiencing more success in music. (This student self-sabotages so they won't risk being so good that their so-called loved ones desert them again.)

While I use many physical tools to help people with technical elements like volume, tone, movement, tension, balance, and alignment, I have found that shame is a wall that I can rarely break through with vocal exercises. In fact, as soon as an exercise I've created begins to deal with an area that has shame surrounding it, the student's body will often go into the fight-or-flight-or-hide mode. It's a tightrope act to guide a student through those moments. I take cues from the body and voice to determine whether the student is ready to experience a release from whatever is holding them back. Sometimes they are. Sometimes they're not. When they're not, the technical issue will often get worse or the student will shut down, in which case I know it's time to change focus. Once a student has started addressing the shame around that area/issue, gentle exercises will lead to a much-needed release in the body and sound rather than shutting down or armoring. 

Breaking through shame requires breaking our silence, and that's ultimately up to the student. As Brown says, "Shame thrives in secrecy." Twelve step programs have often said, "You're only as sick as your secrets." Research is proving this to be true. In fact, it's showing that keeping it hidden can actually be more damaging than the trauma that initially triggered it. Thankfully, the data also shows that people who break their silence about trauma and shame experience improved physical health, decreased doctor's visits, and significant decreases in stress hormones (Brown, Daring Greatly, p. 82). 

So what do Morning Pages have to do with all of this? Well, writing can be a great way for students to work through their thoughts and feelings outside of lessons.

Psychologist James Pennebaker and his colleagues have done research on the phenomenon of writing in relation to healing from trauma and shame:

Since the mid-1980’s an increasing number of studies have focused on the value of expressive writing as a way to bring about healing. The evidence is mounting that the act of writing about traumatic experience for as little as fifteen or twenty minutes a day for three or four days can produce measurable changes in physical and mental health. Emotional writing can also affect people’s sleep habits, work efficiency, and how they connect with others.
— James Pennebaker, Writing to Heal

Connecting with others is exactly what we do as artists, and when our shame gets in the way of connection, our artistry is muffled. Morning Pages (or whatever you prefer to call them) are a way to begin to break the silence of our shame and release a fuller experience in our artistry, and they are a great way to do that privately. I also highly recommend reading Cameron and Brown's books for working through shame issues. The books contain many other very helpful tools, as well.

Finally, I believe it's important to say that while I think Morning Pages and books like these are a great place to start, I believe that finding a good, trusted therapist is extremely important if you're going to make good art. If you're thinking, "I don't need a therapist. I not crazy," please know that just like trauma and shame, therapy isn't just for people who've been through extreme experiences. We all need an unbiased guide who has a bird's eye view on our journey, who can support us when we're terrified of feeling our emotions, and with whom we can celebrate when we emerge on the other side. 

Have you experienced beneficial effects in your life and art from Morning Pages / Journaling / Writing? I'd love to hear about them in the comments.

Dropping the Chicken

Today's walk was accompanied by an episode from the podcast On Being. It features Yo-Yo Ma. Two sections in particular really hit me. I'm sharing with my students in mind, many of whom have some big performances coming up. 

MR. MA: Yes, a lot of artists will say, oh, you know, I have to make myself so vulnerable. And that is absolutely true. If you’re well defended, you know, I’m going to show you how strong I am — then that precludes the idea of saying, actually, I’m very weak. You know, because weakness can be a strength as a form of expression. So if you only show strength, you’re showing a one-dimensional aspect of something that you’re trying to describe. If you only show weakness, obviously, one thing. But if you show both and you show the variety in between, you’re describing a multi-dimensional world. Which is what we are, I guess. So I think, another state that I’m fond of describing is, you know, when I come to Minneapolis, I’m a guest in your town. But when I’m on stage, all of you that are in the hall are my guests. So, you know, I’m the host of a wonderful party. You’re all my guests, because, I have the floor. While I’m on stage, you’re all my guests, because that’s sort of like the unsaid agreement. So while you’re my guest, if something bad happens on stage, I often think of Julia Child, you know. Oh, the chicken’s fallen on the floor! Yes. Oh, well pick it up and put it right back. And, and you know what? Everybody’s with you. Because — and even if nobody’s going to touch the chicken, they’re not going to let that moment spoil their evening. They’ll remember, oh, yes, you know, oh remember when Julia dropped that?

MS. TIPPETT: Oh, that’s so great. That’s such a great image for life.

MR. MA: [Laughs] Yes, exactly. So, you know, it’s like, oh, well, this happened, you know? Boom. But, actually, that’s not why we’re here, to watch the bad things that happen. And so it’s — so whatever you practice for on the engineering side that fails is all right, because we have a greater purpose. The greater purpose is that we’re communing together and we want this moment to be really special for all of us. Because otherwise, why bother to have come at all? So it’s not about how many people are in the hall. It’s not about proving anything. It’s about sharing something.
MR. MA: And, as I love to say to people that want to listen to me, is that, if you’re going to perform someplace, please don’t fall in love with what you’ve constructed. It’s like in the Marines, don’t fall in love with your plan. Because the plan’s always going to change. And you need to make sure that the audience is the most important person in the room. Because, if you want to make something that’s, you know, that’s memorable for somebody else, as well as for yourself, — the purpose of playing — of doing live music, is that it’s like a communal witnessing of something.

Listen to the entire interview below. Wonderful.

What is a "natural" sound? Part 2: Language and Dialect

What is a singer's natural sound? What makes it natural? Why is it important to know what it is and to seek it out? Over a few posts, I’m covering several things that contribute to a “natural” singing voice.

1. Physiology

2. Native language(s) and regional accent(s)

3. Singing emulated during formative years

4. Emotions

Last week I looked at physiology. Today, let’s talk about language and dialect, which, after your physiology, has a huge influence on your natural sound. 

The first sounds we make are a “blank slate” with no language involved. We instinctively know we should make loud sounds when we are born, but that’s it. The sounds of our first cries are determined only by our instinct and physiology: lung size, breathing muscle strength, vocal fold shape and size, and mouth and throat shape and size. Parents quickly learn to distinguish their child’s cries and sounds from other children’s thanks to the ways their child’s body makes their cries unique. Before speech begins, babies express a variety of emotion in their cries, and parents learn to tell the difference between a tired whine and a cry of fear or panic. We’ll talk about emotion’s influence on the voice later.

Babies start trying to recreate their parents’ language sounds quickly. At first, the movements are uncoordinated and weak, making sounds that are adorable, but don’t quite get the message across. Even in these early stages, though, we can already hear the lilt of a regional accent and the accept pattern of the native language. Children instinctively choose throat and mouth movements that create the sounds they want to make, usually without guidance or awareness of exactly how they’re making the sounds. When you were a kid, you probably didn’t think, “I’m going to press the back of my tongue against the roof of my mouth in order to make this [k] sound.” You just did it. Maybe it took many rounds of trial and error, but you eventually did it. You practiced very specific and difficult patterns of movement for several years, and they eventually became easy and natural. Every child in the world imitates their parents’ language and accent extremely well, even when speech impediments are involved for the child. This is true of children who grow up in homes with more than one language. They perfectly imitate the sounds their family members are making, even when there are multiple sets of sounds alternating in their daily communication. It’s pretty amazing how we each learn such complicated and specific movements. Once the tongue and other mouth and throat muscles are trained to move in a certain way, they move easily and unconsciously. The movements are “natural.” 

The kinds of singing that feel most natural to us are often similar to our language and dialect. If the mouth movements and throat shapes of a singer we want to imitate are close to the ones we’ve been making our whole life, we’ll probably be able to get better at singing their songs faster than those of a singer whose sounds are really different from our speech. This is because our muscles have a head start on making movements that are similar to our language and speech. For instance, even though I don’t consider Bluegrass, Country, and Southern Gospel to be genres that I specialize in, it’s pretty easy for me to imitate and settle into them because they were born and raised in the Appalachian mountains and in the South, just like me. I didn’t really like singing in those genres for a long time, but as I started listening to and imitating them more over the past couple of years, I’ve been astounded by how easily they “sit” in my voice after years of studying classical and jazz music. Even though my speech no longer sounds like that of my hometown friends and family, those formative years were extremely powerful and the sounds will always remain “natural” to my muscles when I want to access them. 

What kinds of music developed in the area were you grew up? What famous singers grew up there? What sounds that other singers make remind you of the language(s) and dialect(s) you speak? These might be good places to start if you want to find music that will feel natural to you and sound natural to others when you’re performing. In addition to the vowels and consonants being made similarly to the ways you learned to speak, chances are good that the words and their content will connect to personal experiences you’ve had, making it easier to communicate those songs in a way that feels natural (genuine, easy) to yourself and your audience. (Side note: This doesn’t mean you should limit your entire music world to these singers and songs. Listening to and imitating music that feels and sounds unnatural is important for many reasons. More on this in another post.) 

So what do you do if you don’t really like music that sounds similar to your speech patterns? What if the words and content that you connect with are in a genre that feels totally different from your speech? Well, thankfully, we can train our muscles to do a lot more than what we learned through talking, so our options for natural-sounding singing can be expanded. It takes time, though. Remember how many years it took you to learn how to speak your native language in the native dialect? Yeah. Change won’t happen overnight. But it is absolutely possible with practice. You'll have to become aware of the movements you've been taking for granted since childhood. You'll learn that your tongue really does touch the roof of your mouth when you say [k] and that it has to sit a little higher or lower during one way of saying "ah" as opposed to another. Things will probably feel funny and difficult and uncoordinated at times, like you're learning to talk all over again. In some ways, you are. Be patient and persistent. Old habits die hard. Some people are faster at learning new throat and mouth movements than others, so they may end up with more natural-sounding possibilities in the long run, but everyone can add to their choices. You may even be one of those people who can completely fool others into thinking you're from a totally different part of the world than where you were born. 

Finally, it's worth saying that in some cases, including mine, the singing voice can be a better indicator of what’s “natural” for a particular body than the speaking voice. Through singing study, I eventually learned that my tongue, jaw, constrictors, and laryngeal elevators were constantly tight while I spoke and even while I was at rest. I'd never noticed it before because it was a pattern I'd had for as long as I could remember. The tension was limiting my singing options, so I used awareness and bodywork to release those areas of tension. My speaking voice deepened and warmed, and my singing pitch and volume range expanded, which told me everything was being used in a way that was more natural for my physiology. If you feel that your speaking voice isn’t a good place to start in terms of finding music that feels good to sing, you may be a good candidate for using singing or bodywork to discover what your throat feels like when everything’s relaxed, aligned, and “happy.” Honoring your physiology is always the most important part of finding your natural sound. 

Next time, we’ll talk about how the kinds of music you grew up listening to can contribute to a “natural” sound.

Getting to the root of procrastination

I don't know about you, but "procrastination" and "laziness" are words often used by my students when we're trying to get to the root of why they aren't spending time with their instrument. 

Procrastination was a personal favorite of mine for a long time. "I'm a procrastinator," I would say, very matter-of-factly. I didn't say it proudly, but it didn't feel much different than saying something like "I have feet." It was part of my identity. And whenever I would procrastinate, deep down I began to fear that I was innately "lazy," like a genetic mutation for which there was no cure and whose symptoms could be temporarily lessened only by shame and guilt. 

Thanks to Raleigh-area voice teacher Joyce McDonald, I was introduced to The Artist’s Way after grad school. It was life changing. Two of the most important ideas I took away from the first reading (of three, so far) were about the words procrastination and laziness. I learned to start calling them what they actually were: fear. Author Julia Cameron also calls these fears "blocks." She says, “Blocks are seldom mysterious. They are, instead, recognizable artistic defenses against what is perceived (rightly or wrongly) as a hostile environment.” 

I uncovered fears like...

  • If this can't be amazing/perfect/the best, I don't want to do it. 
  • There are already so many people better than me. What’s the use? 
  • There’s already someone doing the same thing as me. What’s the use? 
  • I’ll be abandoned by certain people if I fail.
  • I’ll be abandoned by certain people if I succeed.
  • Since there will be people who don't like it no matter what I do, I should keep it to myself. 

I started recognizing these fearful patterns in my students, too. The closer we would get to a solution to their practicing woes, the more they would want to wave it away with some version of "I"m just lazy/incapable/hopeless." To take a solution and run with was initially scarier than hiding behind those words. Real solutions mean we have to face our perceptions of hostility and be willing to experience a paradigm shift. Ultimately, I learned it's much more painful to be blocked than to just do the art, no matter the potential hostility. Some of the hostility is real. Some is not. We each have to learn how to deal with both kinds and move forward. 

Some of the most helpful practical ideas for me and my students have been...

  • Stop setting paralyzing, impossible, perfectionistic goals. It’s okay to take baby steps. They’ll take me a lot farther than I think, and they deserve rewards when they’re accomplished. 
  • The only way to get better is to do it, not to sit and stress about it. Any bad sounds I make are a necessary step to the good ones. 
  • The process is the point, not the product. As soon as I start focusing on the hypothetical audience’s reaction, the process loses its joy. My art will connect with the people who need it. Trust that this will happen. 
  • There is helpful criticism and damaging criticism. Learn to tell the difference. It’s helpful if it makes me think, “Yes! That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out!” It’s damaging if it leaves me with a general sense of shame and no specific next steps. Seek out helpful criticism. (Side note: The more I connect with full-time artists, the more I learn that they are often the most skilled in knowing how and when to provide helpful criticism.) 
  • Distance myself from people who use damaging criticism or yell at me in general. There is nothing admirable about being motivated by cruelty. Identify hurtful inner voices/thoughts and where they came from. The critics I fear the most often turn out to be more blocked than me. Learn how to defend, protect, and heal myself. Reclaim power by replacing cruel words with loving, encouraging words. 
  • Find ways to make the work feel like play. Play keeps me coming back to my music with a cheerful heart. Be wary of people who mislabel this as being silly.
  • Find people who already do all of the above and spend more time with them. 

What experiences have you had in regards to fear in your creative life? Share some helpful tips in the comments section.

The Photo Shoot

I thought I was just getting a couple of headshots when I contacted Jesse Hyde and Andi Roberts back in the fall of 2012. These two run Hot Tomato Pinup Academy, a body-positive photography experience. The retro look they create so well seemed like it could be a fun theme for some headshots. 

Our first meeting was over sushi. Apparently the mutual love of raw fish rolls was a good omen for both me and them. After we chatted and joked long enough to know we were a good fit for each other, Andi proceeded to walk me through a series of questions (what colors do you love? what time of day? what settings? what clothes?) that at first seemed simple enough, but ended up being hard to answer. I had never really allowed myself the luxury of dreaming up my ideal photo shoot. I'm much better at figuring out how to make do with what I have. Andi and Jesse set up a Pinterest board for me to start pinning visual inspirations. (Pinterest is an amazing inspiration collection system. We used it heavily to dialogue about the shoot. I highly recommend it.) At first it was difficult to pin down the things that reflected me as a singer. Slowly, things started materializing. I allowed myself to dream bigger and bigger in terms of images, colors, and ambience, but I still couldn't bring everything together into a cohesive vision. Thankfully, this is one of Andi's greatest talents.

At our next meeting, which began with a hike around McDonough Park and a private yoga session by the pond with the lovely Lori Woodyard of Full Circle Yoga, Andi presented her thoughts to me based on my pins, and I could finally start to picture the shoot. It would have two scenes: the reflection scene and the performance scene, both of which would be part of a Moroccan-themed private party. Rachel Hyde, librarian/author/costumer/creator extraordinare, was then brought on board for costuming, styling, and general awesome idea help. Andi also wanted to bring in Caroline Eels Waller of Passiflora for some flower arrangements. I had been wanting some of Caroline's amazing arrangements in my life, and having them permanently in photo form was a thrilling idea. 

Over the course of a couple months, these ladies worked with me continuously to make sure that I not only felt the vision was what I wanted, but that I also felt as comfortable, beautiful, and genuine as possible within that vision. The process became so much more than just a photo shoot. I began the process with a list of all of the flaws I wanted to camouflage, but I ended up seeing myself more beautifully, not in spite of the imperfections, but often because of them. I felt my body and voice make some positive changes. A few areas of long-held tension in my body released. Some new vocal colors were added to my sound. You sing and perform differently when you have less to apologize for.  

The shoot itself couldn't have been more perfect. My friends the Lazers offered their back patio as the setting, and the Hot Tomato team transformed it into an amazing Moroccan garden party. Rachel and makeup artist Valerie Crabtree made me feel like royalty as they helped me get ready. Dear friends came to be party guests/models, and my colleague Steve Heffner arrived to play acoustic bass. What was supposed to be a rainy day turned into a perfectly magical evening. 

And if all of that awesomeness wasn't enough, my partner of 6 years asked me to marry him as soon as the last shot was taken that night. (I said yes! Andi captured my face at that moment --->)

I received my final edits last night, and I couldn't be more pleased. Click here to see the pictures!  

Andi photographs in both the Marietta, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan areas through Roberts Family Photography. Jesse runs Hot Tomato Pinup Academy out of Belpre, Ohio. My sincere thanks to them and the rest of the team for making the shoot such an amazing experience. 

Why do we resist changing the way we sing?

The following possibilities for our resistance to change have been freely adapted from Ethan Kind's "An Alexander Technique Approach to Singing Technique" by my colleague Justin Petersen. I've seen every single one of these issues in my studio, and have dealt with some myself. The sooner we can come to terms with our blocks and deal with them gently and lovingly, the faster we can move on to free, beautiful singing.

Why would a singer RESIST changing the way that they sing?

1. You Fight Change: You're just settled in that way of singing and you don't want to deal with your singing technique ever again. You are DONE with it.

2. You Get Worse at What You Change: As I rework technical issues with singers they crack, or make sounds that they are not accustomed to making. This can cause the defenses to come up and they begin to retreat into the old "familiar way of doing things". The fear of "getting worse" in order to get better prevents a lot of singers from lovingly reworking the way that they sing.

3. It is Too Hard to Change: "I've got my Doctorate in Voice, how could I POSSIBLY think about retraining my singing voice? I know everything about it already!" This is the ULTIMATE manifestation of the ego saying "NO CHANGES, PLEASE!" This keeps a singer TRAPPED in themselves and prevents greater and deeper learning.

4. The Way you Sing is YOU: The sound that you make has now been ingrained into your neuromuscular system and you have "identified" with the vocal sounds that you make. Letting go of inefficient ways of singing would threaten your "core self".

5. You are Addicted to the Struggle: Sometimes, it's just more rewarding to hold on to the fact that singing is a struggle for you. It gives you a sense of "pride" to have to struggle with something that is "so hard". No one says "You know what would be cool? To live my live doing everything the hard way." When you struggle to get things done, you feel a great sense of accomplishment.

6. You have a "Not Good Enough" button: No matter what anyone says, you have a deeply felt sense of inadequacy in your singing, and making changes to sing better threaten this low sense of self.

7. If You Become Too Good, You'll Lose Control of Your Life: What would happen if you were to transform into the singer of your dreams? Will you be overwhelmed by the demands of being a great singer? This also keeps most singers from changing the way they sing: they don't want to "stick" out in the crowd.

8. You are Holding On to Technique that Doesn't Work: The fact that Madame X or Signor Z taught you to sing the way you do (despite the fact that it is functionally not working) causes an immense threat to your ego, and you don't want to move vocally against the instruction that you have received. It's THREATENING to move against everything you know and have been taught to embrace an easier and more loving approach to singing.

9. You Are Being Loyal to Those Who Set Your Limits: Your parents said, "You have a nice voice, but don't think that you can sing for a living." Or a teacher said "You have a nice voice, but it's not really professional quality"....and you BELIEVED them. You are being loyal to those people that you loved and respected, despite the fact that there ARE NO LIMITS on anyone's development or growth!! If you want to remain loyal to those who say "You can't," then you will struggle with developing your voice.

10. If you Tell Yourself You're Limited, You Get to Be Easy On Yourself: If you can ONLY BE SO GOOD, then why bother? If everything is up for assessment and evaluation in your technique, then you get to develop a technique that never fails, because you will know what "feels right" and what isn't working in your singing. These limits will not threaten you, but will expand you!

11. Discovering that Singing is Easy can be a HUGE Threat to What You Believe: If you've got that opera degree or considerable stage experience in Musical Theater and you have struggled with your voice - it can be VERY hard to convince yourself to work in a way that is fluid, simple, and loving. You might have to work through a lot of anger and grief over the struggles that didn't need to happen vocally, and the years that have been lost singing in a hard, dysfunctional way.

12. You'd Rather Be Right Than Happy: All limits that you put on your singing are psychological in nature. When you play this card, you ALWAYS lose.

13. You Never Want to Go Through What You Went Through EVER Again: If you worked like a DOG to put your voice together and you struggled, cried, sweat, and bled to be better, it can be a really really HARD thing to look at revamping or reworking the way that you sing. You may "run away" because you don't want to face that "struggle" ever again. Your perfectionistic mind will just not allow you to "let go" and learn a new way to sing.

14. You Shouldn't Have to STILL Be Dealing with Technique Here and Now: Here you are - you've got that music degree, or you've sung in the church choir for 20 years, and are STILL struggling with singing on a daily basis. The basic component of this is ANGER. You are ANGRY at teachers, directors, coaches, friends that have made singing such a laborious enterprise. This is very common in graduate students, and long-term singers.

15. You Aren't Taking Responsibility for How Well you Sing: You aren't taking the time to "put in the work" to be the singer you want to be. You are not "in control" of your singing, and thinking about gaining control FREAKS YOU OUT.

16. Being Complete is TOO Scary: Being the singer you've always wanted to be is scary. So much of society wants us to conform, fit in, don't rock the boat. This cultural attitude could keep you "in place" and prevent you from finding the open heart of singing freely and with the maximum amount of love.

17. You Don't Want to Admit that what you've learned as a Singer ISN'T TRUE: If you have taught singing and are re-evaluating how you think about singing and learning more about pedagogy - it can be a VERY threatening task to say to yourself "What I have learned and am teaching is WRONG." If you can learn to sing with more freedom, more ease, more love, and more flexibility , why can't your students?

18. You Tell Yourself It's Too Late, and You're Too Old: If you are 90 years old, and you find a better way to sing that is free, easy, and liberated, doesn't that make it worth it to find that? You are NEVER too old until you're dead.

Thanks for sharing this, Justin. Great thoughts.