Valentine’s Day?

Last year on Valentine’s Day, I was single, just as I was for the previous V-Day, and many before that. No matter how one slices it, it sucks being single on February 14th.

To everyone, whether you’re single, involved or just getting into/out of a relationship: cherish your family. Cherish your friends. Above all, cherish yourself. No matter what you think of this holiday, one thing is true: the world can always use more love.

I’m so thankful to all of my friends new and old, casual and intimate, near and far who’ve helped me through difficult times and celebrated with me during triumphant ones. I love my family: they anchor me and are my constants in an ever changing world.

This weekend, I will celebrate my first Valentine’s Day in over half a decade. I’ve been looking forward to it but also wish lots of love on those who need it.

“Spirited Away” still has its magic

One of my favorite movies of all time is Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, a film I feel to be Miyazaki at the height of his game. Natasia and I watched it over the weekend and marveled at the storytelling, the incredibly imaginative scenery/visuals, and the beautiful ethic driving the film. Spirited Away was a movie I remember anticipating highly in high school. I listened Joe Hisaishi’s soundtrack months before the film had released in the US, and several of the numbers tug at my heart strings with more vigor than classical music mainstays.

Like any good work of art, so many interpretations and angles can be taken from the movie, but one particular theme that resonated with me was that of loneliness. Protagonist Chihiro struggles with loneliness: she’s an only child,  is in the process of moving at the beginning of the film, gets separated from her parents, gets isolated in the strange spirit world she finds herself, and [SPOILER ALERT] has to say goodbye to all the friends she’s made by the film’s end. However, she seems to resolve many of her initial loneliness issues by helping others confront theirs.

One of the most heart-warming things about the movie is the cast of outcasts who help her in spite of a world and culture that demands the contrary. Not all are kind to her, but they are genuine. My philosophy is ever-changing, but something that has changed was that most of us as individuals cannot do much to make sweeping changes to the world around us. However, we do exercise a great amount of power in the way we conduct ourselves in our everyday lives.

A little bit of kindness and respect go a long way in making the world a better place. While it’s easy and basic instinct to blame others for the bad in the world, it’s much harder to look within, acknowledge our own faults, and live our lives in a way that helps the people around us. I feel that many people–myself included–are too quick to assume the worst from others or be weary of the trustworthiness, generosity, and kindness of strangers. Yet when we allow the fear of having that trust betrayed rule our lives, we further isolate ourselves and feel ever more lonely.

I elect we stick together and be a positive influence in our community, no matter how big or small.

Phoenix burned to the ground in an act of vandalism

This weekend, I performed as a part of the Phoenixville Firebird Festival which celebrates Phoenixville, PA’s economic turnaround. The day’s festivities were to culminate in the burning of a 30’+ tall, hand-crafted wooden bird as it always has in previous years. It’s a beautiful occasion for people to gather and celebrate.

Unfortunately, arsonists burned down the statue well before the festivities had even begun. In spite of all-day heavy rain, Phoenixville banded together and continued with the festivities. Musicians, artists, performers, and craftsmen all gave their all in celebration. Within hours, people had donated wood and helped reconstruct a scaled-down version of the bird so that the ceremonial burning of the phoenix could go as planned.

My thoughts are two-fold. First is being upset that people would consciously go out of their way to destroy something that not only took months of work but also symbolized something positive for a community. Second is admiration for how Phoenixville lived up to their name and carried the spirit of the festival, even despite the act of vandalism as well as the terrible weather.

On a personal note, this also felt like a revival of sorts for myself. I’ve been making some significant changes to how I’ll be approaching the business side of my music for the coming year, something I’ll be announcing soon as events unfold. However, this weekend’s show was a test run and proving grounds for part of what’s to come, and things felt good to me. Cryptic, I know, but despite trying circumstances, this weekend helped remind me that it’s important for us all to band together to support something we truly believe in, especially when that something is your community.

The Last Action Hero

Delete LAH 3

This past Thursday, Natasia and I decided we needed a good ol’ fashioned Chinese takenout & movie night for ourselves. I picked up the food after work and met her at home. We decided to watch The Last Action Hero. Neither of us had seen it. It came out around the time that I moved to Germany. I remember having an Arnold action figure from the movie and always wondered how it was (you know, because Arnold is so rangy).

Verdict: it was super enjoyable for 90’s action movie fans like us. Everything from the self-aware, gratuitous explosions to the tongue-in-cheek look at action movie cliches to Arnold’s PUNishing one-liners had us laughing with glee in between bites of orange beef and shrimp lo mein. This is one of those movies that I feel is more of a gem now than when it was released and is a total love song for kids of the 80s and 90s who love their cheesy action flicks.

Losing my voice

Over Thanksgiving Break, I lost my voice. I was able to talk a raspy talk, but singing was impossible. Over the week, I’ve been getting my voice back, but it’s been tough staying patient while my throat heals up.

Not being able to sing made teaching lessons hard. It’s funny when I think about it; when I first started teaching at my current school, I was afraid of singing and certainly wouldn’t sing in front of my students. Over time, I realized that singing is one of the best ways for musicians to connect with the music they’re playing, especially when developing one’s ear. This week, I surprised myself with how much of a handicap it felt like to have to teach lessons without being able to sing to and with my students.

Reality is setting in; I have a show tomorrow where I’m expected to sing for 3 hours. My voice as it is now is able to whisper out a tune here or there. Basically, the vocal singing styles available to me at the moment are Enya or Tom Waits, hahaha. I was looking forward to debuting some new covers and even some vocal originals, but I might have to wait another day.

That said, I’m still able to compose and put new ideas to paper, so I haven’t truly lost my voice in a meaningful way. : )

Why can’t I sing? 7 easy tips to become a better singer

I’ve been receiving a lot of feedback from an article I posted in a little while ago titled Overcoming fear of singing. If one thing has become clear from your E-mails, Facebook messages, Tweets, and face-to-face conversations, it’s that I’m not alone in these fears and insecurities. Since then, people’ve been asking to relay some tips. Here they are!

 

Singing

 

1. Go on a date

… with your voice. Be engaged, good-humored, and listen to everything it says. Get to know it.

Similar to learning an instrument, a big part of improving singing is becoming familiar with your instrument, in this case, your voice. Find your limits (how low/high can you sing?), the ranges your voice sounds best (somewhere between your limits), and the tone/volume/style that seems to fit you. More on the last bit later.

A lot of people get discouraged because they try to do covers that never quite sound very good. Many times, the cover falls short because they’re trying to sing like the artist and not like themselves. Learn songs in different keys (basically higher or lower pitched from the original recording) and see which keys feel comfortable for you. Don’t worry about how it sounds, rather, become familiar with what your body wants to do. If you listen, it’ll tell you.

 

2. An audience of me

Ever heard your voice through the phone and hate the way your voice sounds? (“Do I really sound like that?”) The reason why this is so shocking is because when you talk you’re not hearing your voice, you’re hearing the vocal vibration in your head. In other words, we all hear voices in our head: every time we talk! Don’t worry: you’re not going crazy, especially if that voice tells you to give me all of your money.

The voice you hear when you sing sounds different from the voice that people do. Using a mic and PA allows you to better hear what audiences will hear. If you don’t have access to that, you can simply record yourself over your phone and listen back to it (if you’re an iPhone/iPad user, this is a fantastic option). If you don’t get used to the sound of your own voice, you’re going to spend your entire life fighting it instead of forming a partnership. 

 

3. 10 minutes of heaven

This is a singing tip from one of my favorite singers, Bobby McFerrin. Set a timer and sing for 10 minutes straight. No accompaniment, no instruments, no breaks. Just sing. Make things up. Make sounds. Make-up your own scat vowels. Don’t prepare anything or think about what to sing. Improvising for 10 minutes straight is harder than it sounds, but you’ll be surprised with what you come up with.

Do this on a regular basis (once daily for me during my commute to teach), and you’ll gradually come to see improvements in your flexibility as a singer. This is a great opportunity to incorporate a new technique you’re focusing on whether it’s falsetto, vibrato, beat boxing, scatting, etc.

Because you’re the sole musician for those 10 minutes, work on breaking down your fear and reservations; try something goofy and different. The point of this exercise is not to sound amazing for 10 minutes. It’s to work on your instincts as a singer by setting aside time to be a purely instinctual singer.

Think of this as the equivalent of having a giant piece of paper, closing your eyes, and scribbling randomly until a timer goes off. It’s not going to look like the Mona Lisa or much of anything really, but you will become aware of how you hold the pencil in your hand, what direction scribbling feels comfortable, how fast or slow you can draw, how hard or soft you can press. That awareness will become your singer’s instinct.

 

4. Get down with it

Mechanically, a singer is a lot like a bagpipe–every girl’s dream, I know. As a singer, you’re a wind instrument. Without the proper airflow, your singing won’t reach its maximum ability to … bagpipe. My point: posture is important. Try this out: lie down flat on the floor on your back. This position will force you to have a straight back which is good for airflow.

Take a deep-bellied breath sing, “Laaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh.” Your belly should go from looking darn-near pregnant and deflate like a balloon (disclaimer: if you actually are pregnant, your belly will still look pregnant). Repeat this 5 times, taking care to stay relaxed and not rush through the exercise.

You should strive for a similar airflow when you sing. Sing an easy song (still on your back) and see if you can recreate the sensation. Repeat until your girlfriend comes home to find you singing “Mary had a Little Lamb” on your back and institutionalizes you.

 

5. The jaws of a snake, the face of Jim Carrey

A lot of beginner singers lock their jaws when they sing and don’t let their mouths drop past what it normally would while talking. Try exaggerating mouth, jaw, and face movements. Watch any good performance of the Star Spangled Banner. In the closing, climatic notes of the song the singer’s mouth is probably wide open. An open jaw drastically opens the sound of your voice. You might not like it right away, but it sounds better to the listener. Like with any practice method, you want to practice by exaggerating desired results so that instinct will eventually override bade habits.

 

6. Go international

Sing with an accent. You might be surprised with the results! By consciously adopting a different manner of enunciating, you’ll immediately become more conscious of your spoken syllables. When you sing in your usual way, it’s easy to fall back on sloppy speaking patterns. You don’t have to be convincing, but you do have to be consistent and sincere in your effort as goof as you might feel. It can be fun, and in the process, you might stumble upon more poetic elements to the language in your songs.

7. Don’t go it alone

Go to open mics. Watch singers sing. Try it for yourself. Most open mics I’ve been to have very positive and supportive vibes; they understand that many people there just want a low-pressure outlet to be musical in a setting outside of their bedroom. You can also join a choir or amateur singing group. The main point being to get experience singing with other people. You’ll learn good habits from the bad and can often get direct tips from those you admire.

 

Have any singing tips that’ve worked for you? Want to see more posts like this? Disagree with something in the article? Write it in the comments below!