Nera

Monthly Archive: November 2013

Undercover

I never thought that playing covers as they were originally written is of much value. I do understand that there are cover bands that specify on sounding and looking pretty much like the original ones. Or singers that have like an Adele act and they make a living out of that. If that’s what you need to do or that’s what you are paid to do, that’s okay. I’m fine with that. It’s just not what I want to do with covers.

A while ago I wrote that you should tell your own story and in my opinion that’s what you should do with covers too. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t need to change things just for the sake of change. It has to come from within, from your need to convey something.

You don’t need to change everything or anything if you don’t want to and minor alterations are fine. What are those?  Like what word you stress, do you change the melody a bit, slow the tune down or play it faster. You don’t necessarily need to touch the harmony.

For example in Eva Cassidy’s version of Fields of Gold she seems to underline “will you stay with me”, when in the original it’s quite different, Sting seems to stress more the “with me” part. Plus she does change the melody a lot in the chorus and verses too.

This is Sting’s original, just listen how different it is.

Or you can go and change the song completely. Do you recognise this? I always thought it’s a great song and this version gives it justice:

Here is the original if you don’t know it:

I guess what I’m calling for is originality. Make the song your own. I do understand that it’s hard to reinvent the wheel, but you can put your own spin on every song. That’s the beauty of music and singing, you can sing the same tune in so many ways.

Maybe I should make a video of How to make covers your own 😀

It’s oh so quiet

You go to a concert, you enjoy yourself, the music is good, you go home all exited, and once you are in bed you realise the noise hasn’t subsided, your ears ring. Then you go thinking, it will be gone by the morning. In the morning you realise it hasn’t gone anywhere, but you don’t freak out, cause you know what it is, except you thought that it would never happen to you. You go to an ENT (ear, nose, throat) doctor and what he tells you is not pretty.  You’re hearing is, to put it mildly, not the best, you have lost part of it, especially the higher end and yet you still keep hearing this constant ringing. So what now? Now you just have to live with it. You will never hear silence again.

This is unfortunately not fiction, this is pretty much what happened to me about 10 years ago. I have what they call Tinnitus. I hear a sound in my head, a ringing tone that will not go away, ever. Don’t worry, I’m not mad, even if I was you wont catch it from me. Like they say on the Wiki page, it’s a condition, not a disease. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tinnitus)

The sad part is, there is only me to blame. I used rarely earplugs, if ever. I hated the things, the ones that look like a christmas tree. They hurt my ears. But things were getting loud and I didn’t protect myself until it was too late. I played the oboe for 10 years and steel pans about the same time. The oboe I played in anything, from a small ensemble to an almost full symphony orchestra. Steel pans, well, they are loud even by themselves if you want them to be, but I played in a band. I remember once we actually measured the decibels while rehearsing. If I remember correctly, it was a bit above 100 Db, and this from a band with about 20 people in it.

Now you might say, that has no relation to me, I don’t play the oboe or any steel pans and not planning to start anytime soon. Right. How about the concerts you are going to? How about every day life? How may hours you listen to music through small earplugs? You think it’s not loud? If I can make out the lyrics when sitting next to you on the bus, I think it’s loud. And even with singing it is loud. The rooms we practise in are too small most of the time. Be aware that you might get really loud no matter if you sing classical or pop. The problem for me is that I can’t sing with earplugs on. Just a matter of getting used to, have to practice.

Korva

I think the most famous person with tinnitus was Beethoven, the story has it that in the end he lost his hearing completely, but he could still hear his tinnitus. If you are interested, here is a more thorough piece on Beethoven’s hearing and tinnitus: (http://www.medicine.nevada.edu/wps/Proceedings/43/01-8-pwps43_Editorial.pdf)

I finally got proper, custom made earplugs long time ago and I take them everywhere with me. They are not cheap, but worth every penny, mine are from a company called Elacin:  http://www.elacin.com/intl/en/shop/product/8/music-er15

Maybe I’m getting old, but what I’ve found is that things are getting louder. Everyday life is loud. I sit here in the small rented flat in Brooklyn and what I hear 24/7 is noise. Construction work, people yelling, fire trucks. And it was the same in Budapest. Granted, if you live as a hermit in the middle of nowhere, there might not be any sound except from an occasional moose visiting you. Yes, there are regulations, but not everywhere. The small concert venues in Hungary for example couldn’t care less, they seemed to have this idea the louder the better. In my opinion, loud is not music, it’s just noise. And it’s not just about the noise part for me. I feel pain when it’s too loud. It’s like someone would stick a knife into my ears.

But it’s not all bad, I can still sleep at night, it’s not too loud. I don’t hear it when there are other noises and I try to keep it that way. I read some paper can’t remember where that they managed to grow back the small things in your ear. Until you and I can get a replacement for our inner ears, use protection!

 

Jaws

Sorry, but this post has nothing to do with the film, except for the poster below.

Last week I got the chance to be a student again. I spent the week in Salt Lake City at the studio of Dean Kaelin (http://deankaelin.com/voice). I worked with him on my voice of course, but mostly I tried to understand how to teach better. It was a long, yet rewarding week. It was even better than I hoped it to be. It was interesting to see different approaches to teaching, besides me, there was Mathew from Singapore, who was studying to become a teacher as well. In total we observed more than 30 lessons. Besides observing and theory about teaching, we got the chance to put it into practice, I got to teach Mathew, and vice versa, he taught me.

So what really happens when you get a new student? First of all I find it important to ask a few questions, in the lines of what do they like to sing, are there any vocal issues that they know of like for example, just had the flu or do they have a performance coming up or basically anything that might relate to their singing.

Then it’s time to sing. If you’ve never heard your student before, you usually do an A vowel on an 1-2-3-4-5 scale, or doremifasolfamiredo, and you take it(or at least you should) past a few bridges. I’ll get back to the bridges later. And you listen. For what? For how does he or she connect through the bridges, do they let go or “hang on” too much,  and mostly what you like and what you don’t like in their voice, what you think needs fixing. And watch as well, of course, do they breath too high or have a funny posture.

Back to my lesson. Oh man, old habits really die hard… I do the A on the scale, I keep connected, I try not to go too wide. (meaning to open my mouth sideways, but keep it in a more O like position) And slowly I feel a tension creeping in. I have enough time to think about the fact of how much I hate this exercise and if there is another way to assess voices. (yes, but the A reveals a lot in a short time) I try not to analyse it too much, since this time I’m the student not the teacher. We go higher and as we pass the second bridge and going for the 3rd I feel terrible. I think I sound awful, but I try not to worry. After all, if I’d do it perfectly, he would not need to teach me. We keep going until I have nothing, I am so tense that it just stops a bit above the C6. Compared to the week before this is not the limit and I know it. Oh well. And then we come back down.

I hate the A vowel, cause it’s the hardest for me and from what Dean says, to most people.  Try it. Say Aaaaaa.  How many ways can you say an A? For me, well, I think there are plenty versions depending on the language I speak. The Hungarian word alma, (means apple) is different from the Finnish Alma, which is a female name, and also completely different from the A in amazing. There you have it, easy job…Since I teach, I know what it is that we are looking for with the A exercise, so I try to sing it as good as I can.

Now the funny thing is, what I don’t realise is that my jaw wants to help me out, again. I used to do that a lot, I sang with my jaw. For some reason I thought that that will help me. Try this, sing any song that pops into your mind, or just do Amazing Grace and move your jaw as much as you can sideways, up and down and anyway you can think of while singing the words. Now sing the same song, drop your jaw before you start and think of an O like position, no matter what words you are singing. Which one was easier? There is no right and wrong answer (well technically there is) but right now it depends on what you are used to do. Do you help yourself out too much with your jaw even as you speak?

jaws2 Anyway, Mathew “diagnosed” that I pull chest and have a high larynx. He got one out of the two right. In teaching the next thing should be asking the question, what causes it? In this case, what causes my larynx to rise too much? I don’t know what was his insight on that. I can tell you what I felt and thought. As I went higher, I got freaked out. My inner dialogue was going: “Oh my, this is too high, I need to do something, I need to do something, I sound so bad. ” Sometimes consciously, most of the times not, I do something. In worst case scenario and in this particular lesson I did the following. I engaged my tongue. As a result my tongue blocked my throat, dragged my larynx too high and my jaw also chimed in to “help” with some silly looking maneuver.

The “worst” part of it all is, that the key is to do nothing. And I perfectly know that. Hah! It’s easy to say that. But we all want to do something. So how to fix that? How to fix that tongue that tries to help? The larynx that wants to reach to the sky? The next step would be an exercise to help relax and lower the larynx. Try saying gigigi, or gugugu might even be better. I also found these exercise below helped me a lot. They look funny, but they work. Especially the ones where you stick your tongue out. Now, just a word of caution, your jaw can move, but we want it to move in a natural way, so do not try to forcefully lock it into one place. Try to think of it more like, you have no jaw.

 

 

Heroines

I woke up today at 7, I think I’m still jet lagged a bit. Anyway, I made coffee and opened FB. Big mistake. For the past two days I’ve gotten angry while reading the posts. Well, lesson learned, no FB before coffee. So what I’ve gotten angry with today? This:

Swedish cinemas take aim at gender bias with Bechdel test rating: (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/06/swedish-cinemas-bechdel-test-films-gender-bias?CMP=fb_gu)

For those of you who don’t know me, I have an MA in Film Screenwriting, that I haven’t put into much use, but hence my interest. This post does not deal much if at all with singing.

I wanted to save the topic of this post for women’s day, but no time like the present. In short the article is about a rating: “To get an A rating, a movie must pass the so-called Bechdel test, which means it must have at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man.” Wow! Seriously!

Gender equality. Okay, in theory that’s a great thing, in practise it is also a great thing. For example it has given women the rights to vote. It is a good thing, but not a simple thing. Again it’s not just black and white. I can’t help but think why should we be equal to men? We are women. Yes, I do agree that for the same job we should get the same salary, but I do think that anyone or anything should get the same salary, no matter what’s in their pants.

I think we women have somehow lost our way in the discussion about equality. Some women have become men and think that’s the only way to success. I disagree. I think we are far better off staying women and using that fact to our own advantage. I don’t want to be a guy.  We blame men for so many things that are actually our fault.  Maybe before we really get into talking gender equality we should take a good look in the mirror and talk about equality among ourselves. Let’s face it, we are more too often bitches to each other than loving sisters. Pardon my language.

I have never ever been mistreated intentionally by anyone else than women. It doesn’t seem to matter if I’m 10 or 30 or something in between. All the lies, the exclusion, the plotting behind my back, “stealing” the guy I liked and so on, all this from women. You can say that it’s all my fault, because I’m like this or that; could be. I am opinionated, strong willed and I know what I want. And no, I’m not a saint, I have done most of those things to others as a teenager. But I did learn my lessons and I choose to do otherwise.

I am not that naive, I know that the world is tough and even tougher for women, but please could we leave India or the muslim countries out of this discussion for a minute. I am talking here about women who have no issues with survival, who don’t have to struggle daily for their living.

A few weeks ago I was talking about work with a few friends of mine. Briefly, the guys said that there is nothing worse than working with females. And I agreed. My female friend was surprised. She didn’t seem to know what we were talking about. Or maybe she didn’t want to see it, but that’s not my point. My point is again that why is it, that the women are the backstabbers, who block the way, who are jealous beyond reason of each other? I don’t have an answer. I figured it has to do with self esteem issues, but that doesn’t explain everything. Why do you want to crush me when together we could be so much more? I guess for some it’s hard to see that. I don’t know.

Luckily enough I have known also other kind of women, the ones that are there for you, who are comfortable in their own skin and are not threaten by anything. They are a great example for anybody.

So, instead of pointing the finger at men, because we feel bad, we should take a look at ourselves. Why are we feeling bad, is it really because of men? Or are we the ones to blame.

Forcing the above kind ratings and rules are not helping. Yes, I am aware that Hollywood movies have become formulaic and they use a lot of stereotypes, I don’t deny that. But as Benjamin Franklin said: A man(or woman) convinced against his will; is of the same opinion still.

And as from a screenwriter point of view, the hero or heroine and all other things are there to serve the story, actually they are the story, meaning the hero defines what is story you are writing. Sometimes we choose them, sometimes they choose us. I’d say that if we want more stories with women in them, we gotta find those stories. Btw, I have one in my drawer, anyone wants to buy it?

Yes, I am not blind, men still rule the world. Fine. So what? If you are not a man, BE a woman. Be the best woman you can ever be. Be your own heroine. And be kind to your sisters.

 

You’ve come a long way baby

A few hours ago I had a singing lesson at New York Vocal Coaching (http://www.newyorkvocalcoaching.com) with the founder, Justin Stoney. Briefly, it was great. Justin really knows what’s he is doing.

I will not go into details of what exercises he used or what he did in general, every singer is different, what I need might not be what you need. But this goes for each one of us singers and non singers. We should remember that we can learn new things and new ways of doing things. It’s not about age, seriously it’s not! I am a living proof of it. I am 35, that is not young (no matter how people are saying the 30 are the new 20s, no they are not). I can feel it in my bones and even more in my way of thinking. What I am really trying to say is this, you can always learn new stuff and develop.

For the past 2 or so years I’ve been studying with a great vocal coach, Aija Puurtinen. (http://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aija_Puurtinen) I have been very fortunate to be able to attend her classes. When I went to her I had a lot of issues. My voice was breathy, my vocal folds didn’t close properly, I mostly used my chest voice, had no idea how to connect to my head voice or mix and so on. She helped me fixed most of them, one thing at a time. I will be eternally greatful for that. I’ve seen her work with others as well and I can only say positive things about her and how she teaches. The groundwork we did together got me here, to write this post and to what happened today. But before that I have to go back to last week and Finland.

I had a lesson with Aija, I still go to her whenever I am in Finland and our schedules allows it, or take Skype lessons. Nothing out of the usual happened, except I hit a G#6 with a long scale lip roll exercise. That’s high. Now some of you might say, so what, it’s with lip rolls, useless when you really sing a song. True, but today at the lesson with Justin I hit an A6 with a vowel. (I think, have to listen to the tape, anyhow it wasn’t lip rolls or tongue trills.)  And here is the good news, it wasn’t in whistle register, but flageolet. To my understanding whistle and flageolet are in the same range but it’s a different mechanism. You can correct me if I’m wrong.  It wasn’t strong, just a tiny voice, but it’s there!!! As a comparison when I went to Aija’s lessons for the first time ever, I didn’t sing anything beyond a C5, that’s an octave above middle C and an octave and a sixth below that A6. (You can see what I’m talking about here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Piano_Frequencies.svg )

All that I did before today got me here. I see it now. It is possible to learn new things at any point of our lives. The only issue is, are you willing to do so and be open to new things? Or are you stuck in old beliefs and ways?

And now what to do with that A6?! I guess I better start practicing this 😀 :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9C-K4VisOA