Nera

Monthly Archive: April 2014

Once upon a time

You all know the stories, about princesses that are struggling because of evil stepmothers, witches, wizards, curses, you name it. It always goes the same way, then a prince in a shining armour arrives and saves the princess from all evil and they live happily ever after. Is there something wrong with these stories? Maybe… I am no expert, but from Cinderella to Sleeping Beauty, what they try to tell you is to wait for your prince to arrive and save you. Got that? Okay, now just sit patiently and wait.

I read an article the other day. You can find it here:

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/01/29/carol-dweck-mindset/

Basically the idea in it is that you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. In the fixed mindset, you believe that either you have “it” or you don’t. By it meaning you are smart and talented and “it” is fixed at birth. You are born with what you can have. In the growth mindset, you can learn what you need: “A “growth mindset,” thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.”

What does this have to do with Cinderella? The story tells you to accept what you have, be nice and daydream about the day that might or might not arrive in the form of Prince charming. But what if there is no prince? Just accept your “faith”?

I was brought up in an environment where they enforced the fixed mindset and I am pretty sure they did this without realising it. By they I mean parents, school systems, friends, almost everybody. Either you have it or you don’t. If you are born with a Stradivari in your hands great, if not, sorry!

I am not saying that the growth mindset is better, I am saying that I finally realised why all this confusion in my head. I do not have a fixed mindset. Trying to force me into it makes me dizzy and I start to question my sanity. Why?

In the fixed model you seek validation all the time from others, just doing the things you want and getting satisfaction from that is not enough. I learned that too, to seek validation from others. I learned to valuate my success by how much money I make. Hence I feel that my head is exploding. The hunger for approval is there. That is what has been encouraged in me. I am either smart or stupid and what I am learning has nothing to do with anything, it has no value. Plus I’d better stop, since I am not making enough money. Cause there is just no point in doing the things you love and learning new stuff. When do I get a decent job? How long am I continuing wandering around aimlessly?   These are monologues I’ve heard zillion times. They make me come apart.

I feel that they are attacking what ever I think I am and I need time to recover. Meaning that I have to go through an inner monologue of reassuring myself, of picking up the pieces and need to get back to doing things as soon as possible, to remember what is really important. It isn’t money. Countless times I’ve asked, why is it that it’s not enough that I sing or do whatever, why is it that most people measures success by money? Why isn’t the doing enough proof of your success?

Until now I didn’t understand why I am feeling the way I do, why I care about what people are saying and why do I seem to come apart. Finally I realised, that it’s all because of a fixed mindset vs a growth mindset. I believe that it is enough that I thrive on the learning experience and on the doing part. You can say that I’m terribly naive, people need money to live, true, but that’s not my point. I’d say that the world mostly operates on a fixed mindset. But I feel and hope that it’s changing. I guess I have no other choice but to believe that nothing is certain and you can change. Yes, it’s part of my mindset, part of being an idealist and all that.

So what now? I’ll just wait for my Prince charming to arrive. Any minute now…

 

What’s wrong with middle aged men?

Last week I was invited to a jam session by a friend of mine, here in Tampere, Finland. To my understanding the other guys knew that I was coming and that I’d sing a song or two with them. So I went, all exited and nervous to meet all these new people and to make some music. Yay!

What happened wasn’t really how I imagined it would be. I didn’t imagine the possibility to sit in the bar for about two hours waiting for my turn and walking away not singing.

What really happened? My friend introduced me to the guys at the break between the first two sets. They were all friendly and all that, no problem. Yet, nothing happened, I though that yes, okay, first set it first set, they don’t want an outsider, but surely by the second I’ll get the chance to get up there. Nope,  they didn’t invite me to sing. Yet my friend insisted that they’d need good singers. Really? That’s not how I saw it. Yeah, yeah, we all see what we want to see and all that. What I saw was that the guitar/saxophone player was just all fine and well doing the singing too and had no intention of changing that.

My friend said that they make you earn your way to the jam session, you have to prove yourself. I sort of understand that. Of course it is better to play with good musicians. The part that I still don’t understand is what am I exactly proving to anyone by sitting around for two hours? The fact that I have adequate butt muscles for sitting? I’d think that the thing to prove if anything, is can I actually sing. In my view, the sooner I’d get on stage and sing, the better. If I’d suck totally, they wouldn’t have to waste more of their time or mine. It takes only about three minutes of their life to find out, maybe five with the solos.

Anyhow, as the third set began, I still was hopeful. I figured, okay, now they play a song and then they ask me. Then the second song began and no I wasn’t invited. At that point, I  weighed the pros and cons. Do I still want to sit around for another half an hour or so for a chance to sing Sitting on the dock of the bay with people who clearly don’t want to play with me. The answer was no. I got up and told my friend that I’m going home. He said to wait, that they will call me soon. At that point I was already fed up and I didn’t see any benefits from waiting more.

You can call me naive or whatever. Who am I to demand that the people on stage would somehow acknowledged my existence? I am nobody to them, they don’t know me. That’s true. But, in my understanding a jam session is open to everybody, regardless of gender, skin colour, age and all that silly stuff. This one wasn’t. Here people played with their friends and that’s it. Sure, they did change the players, but no outsider was let in. That’s also fine, just stop calling it a jam session.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. I know that it is possible to play with people you never met before and it is possible that they welcoming. While in Japan, I went to the local live music joint called Half note. There was a half Aussie, half Japanese band and before they started I just ask one of the lead singers if I could sing a song. He said yes of course. They started and in no time, after the fourth song or so, they invited me to sing with them. Once I finished they asked me to sing another. It was fun, they enjoyed it, the audience loved it and yes, I enjoyed it too. I was that easy.

The Finnish experience got me thinking. I do understand the cultural differences, Finns just aren’t that open and you need time to get to know them and so on. And I can be mad at the guys for not letting me play, but that’s just a waste of time. The answer to the question in the title is, it depends on the middle aged men!

What I really want to say is, how many times do we discard opportunities? Instead of saying yes, we say no.  Probably a lot more times then we realise. Why? I think mainly because we are scared to disturb the status quo. What if things change, how can we handle it? Better just stick with what we know, so we have this illusion of control. I’m not saying be more open or say yes to everything, it’s fine to weight the pros and cons. All I am saying is that look at yourself from time to time and try to see when you are saying no to opportunities for no other reason then fear.  Hope in time that will change and you start to say yes.

Sitting on the dock of the bay from last summer, with Adrián on the guitar:

Every breath you take

I think I wrote earlier that focusing on breathing exercises is not taking you anywhere. I still have the same opinion. There is just so much confusion about this topic that maybe this will help to clear a few things.

Breathing is an involuntary reflex. Tempering with it is usually not a good idea. What I’ve found that the moment I start to think about it, it goes wrong. I actually make my life more difficult. What happens is that I take in too much air, instead of letting my body know how much I need. I try to use logic in the sense that I’m trying to figure our how much air do I need for this phrase and lo and behold, it fails me, every time.

I had a strange experience a few years ago. In my first ever class with this teacher she told me to do the following exercise. Take a stopwatch, lie down on the floor or sofa and time my breathing, that is how many second can I let out a small hiss.  And to do this every day and keep track, write it down. I think I was looking at her with the question on my face are you mad?! Why fix it if it’s not broken? She gave me this exercise before she heard me sing anything. Why? Was she a bad teacher? Can’t say and that’s not the issue here anyway.

If I think that teaching breathing exercises is futile, why so many teachers do that? I don’t have any answers, my guess is they don’t know any better. Breathing is the easiest thing you can teach, said Dr. Hubert Noé, (Austrian ENT doctor, voice teacher) You can spend the whole hour teaching breathing exercises and continue doing that for the rest of your life. Why? See the quote above. Even THE vocal coach to the stars, Seth Riggs said, (think Michael Jackson) that some of the worst breather are really good singers and vice versa. So why so much emphasis on breathing? It really beats me.

Now I am not saying that everybody breaths properly and you should never speak about it or spend time on it. Sure, you can talk about breathing, you can do exercises too. But spending too much time on it is pointless, especially if breathing is not the root of your problems. If you want to breath better, do something else, go running, do yoga. I am serious, do some exercise to open up your body. Let it relax and the breathing will work on your own.

What I’ve found is that beginners have this idea that you should take a huge amount of air in before you start singing. That’s not true. The other thing they usually do is release all that air on the first syllable. So the “trick” is to release the air slowly. But again, this should happen automatically. Maybe this helps. Think about a burning candle in front of your mouth. The flame doesn’t move much when you sing. That’s the amount of air you usually need to release, believe it or not. Try it!

But what to do if your sound is breathy? First of all, realising that most likely it is not caused because you breath wrong. Most likely it is a result of insufficient cord closure. Or letting go, which is actually the same thing, not enough cord closure. Doing breathing exercises wont help you fix it.  Try singing the same passage, but substitute the words with an ä, yup, the Finnish ä. And let is be bratty and to sound nasty. Do this for a couple of times, then sing with the words. Does it sound different? If you did it right, it does.

Here is a good video from the American opera singer Joyce DiDonato about breathing. I pretty much feel the same way as she does about breathing. She says “The freer I am in my mind, in my body the freer the breath is.”

But if you really, really want to do breathing exercises(yes, you can do all of them, all the parts):

 

In the end, I encourage you to do your warm ups and forget about breathing.