About Elem Eley

Professional singer and voice teacher, living in New Jersey and loving life!

Some Ways to Practice without Phonating

A gifted and diligent student here at our program, Vienna: Language of Lieder, recently asked for ways to constructively use coaching times, even though the voice is inoperable (laryngitis).

A few strategies came right to mind, and here they are. I’ve suggested them before to others, and have used some of them in voice lessons (even with the voice in 100% condition).

This is not an exhaustive list of options. Surely, silent practice is always a good idea, with or without engagement of breath/support/appoggio or articulators. Consider.

1. Steady, non-pressured breath stream, through loosely u-shaped lips, one cycle per phrase. Always hear yourself in the inner ear, singing beautifully and freely. Obviously, let the entire breath cycle be full, engaged, fluid, yet balanced as you want your singing to be.

2. As music plays, let all your articulators – the entire vocal tract, not merely the mouth – organize your most beautiful, imaginary tone into language, with very gentle breath. As long as the breath is focused up onto the hard palate, you’re good, but don’t whisper.

3. Experiment with changes of pace, tempo, etc. – things that you might find more difficult if you were distracted by your vocalism.

4. Simply mime singing, with no thought to technique, putting face and body language in the spotlight. Lip-syncing with the best of them: Marilyn Horne, Kiri Te Kanawa, Dmitri Hvorostovsy…!

5. Combinations of the above.

Dealing with Risk

Here’s another statement from Yankees superstar, Aaron Judge, about how he manages to come up big in an important game situation. There is something here for artists to learn!

“Runners on in a big situation, getting a chance to throw a guy out, you hear the crowd getting excited. That’s fun. Don’t overthink it. Don’t think about pressure. Just go out there and have fun and make a play. What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

Game Savers

New York Yankees superstar, Aaron Judge, had this to say about one of his two vital, run-saving throws from right field in a recent Yankees win: “I’ve probably made that play a thousand times pregame. It’s just like practice. Keep a routine, keep it simple, don’t overthink it. The biggest thing is just make sure you catch the ball cleanly and keep an accurate throw. That’s the biggest thing. Just replaying what I did in practice. That’s all.”

Musicians and other athletes, this is why we practice. Technique is thus brought onto the playing field/stage.

Days before dress rehearsal

As you look ahead to your first performance (dress rehearsal), here are a few suggestions to help you enjoy a more productive hour:

1. Get a solid 8 hours of sleep, for at least 2-3 nights before the rehearsal.
2. Good nutrition (protein-rich) each day, and lots of hydration.
3. Find an hour on the day before the rehearsal to quietly perform through the entire program (seated or standing, but not phonating).
4. Write out longhand every word you will sing — even if incorrectly spelled/formatted — to deepen your memory.
5. Enjoy your regular practicing, including with your pianist.
6. On dress rehearsal day, do not attend classes/rehearsals that you can avoid. Obviously, you need to save as much of the day’s energy and voice for your performance. The practice of extended rehearsals on performance days that do seem to work for choirs, is not generally one for the solo artist.
7. Enjoy a generous, 20-30 minute vocalization earlier in the day, then around an hour before the rehearsal, you can sing briefly and be ready.
8. By doing the above, you will build yourself a foundation from which to perform with fresh and dependable energy. The joy that you find in singing will energize you in the hour!

C.S. Lewis Strikes Again

According to C.S. Lewis, “Symbolism exists precisely for the purpose of conveying to the imagination what the intellect is not ready for.”

Herein lies not only the truth about Symbolism in poetry, but the essential nature of art: Art communicates with the imagination/personality/soul/heart in ways that the intellect cannot. This is why meaningful interface with art cannot be based merely on analysis, historical context, or conscious thought. Also, the creation and the release of art live in the same realm; e.g., both the composition and performance of music are dependent on imagination. Granted, technical mastery enables effective work from either side of the equation, but the employment of technique in a creative vacuum is pointless. As the old question goes, if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, did it make sound?

News – UPDATE

[Update: the new CD, Forever Sing, was released on May 7 by Affetto Records (distributed by Naxos), and is available at iTunes, Amazon, and all other download sites.]

​I am relieved, gratified, and excited (don’t forget tired) as we completed all but one of the recording sessions for the upcoming CD – as yet untitled, but devoted to Psalms, with a short final group of Gospel music and hymns, to be captured next month with the help of Donald Dumpson. Last month, we recorded Sowerby, Freed, and MacDermid, with the wonderful organist Noel Werner. This week, my long-time, peerless piano collaborator JJ Penna and I completed Psalm settings of Dvoràk, Honegger, Rubbra, and Laurie Altman. The brilliant Sam Ward engineered the sessions for John Baker’s label, Affetto Records.

I’ll admit to bias, but this project is perhaps the most exciting of all, everything considered. I am so grateful to be in wonderful voice these days, better able than ever before to serve the art and imagination. Singing is surely a joy!

Singing Today

Sensations and levels of awareness must be constantly updated, as they change according to degree of energy/fatigue, emotional attitude, vocal condition, physical health, etc. What does not change are the essential truths of physiology and acoustics. Let your daily warm-up be guided by consistent goals based on those facts, and your most basic engagement of technique – not to over-control and create tensions.

Determine to be aware of how it feels to sing today. You will then be able to coordinate your vocalism based on today’s variables. Over time, you will gain more and more consistency and skill. You will also become a more effective and imaginative artist, less distracted by the struggle of wrongly applied techniques, due to operating on yesterday’s assumptions.

Eternity

A fundamental truth has brightened my mind and spirit in the last few minutes. I think I’ve known this for a long time, but now it seems so very clear. (Btw, I was listening to Al Green sing “Don’t it make you wanna go home?” when I was enlightened. There’s the singing reference that makes this post at home here on Kavbar’s Blog.)

As a Christian believer, gifted with faith, my long-term (if you call eternity “long-term!”) happiness and well-being are assured. However we conceptualize Heaven – we actually know little or no detail, based on the Scriptures – our eternity will be absolute joy and fulfillment – yes, Life itself.

In the meantime, the life we lead here is best and most joyfully carried out in service and love towards each other, and to the world as a whole. This is the fundamental basis for Christian mission, ethics, morality, et al.

I surely want to be reminded of this clarity of thought and identity, and intend to search the Scriptures for the countless references that lead to such an awareness. Now I’m on record, and want to be held accountable!

Please note: as one gains “chronological maturity,” essential and basic truths like this, that we’ve heard and read for so long, seem more simple and tangible.

Also note: a follow-up to this post could well explore the context and role of worship and its centrality to everything written here. Maybe later.

Float like a butterfly…

A fight is won or lost far from witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym, on the road, long before I dance under the lights. – Muhammad Ali

This wonderful and inspiring quote requires no explanation. We know that it speaks to practice, conditioning, spiritual and emotional centering, preparation on every level. It also assumes giftedness, evidenced by the desire to do. Your “need” to sing is evidence of your gift.

The fruit of thorough, consistent preparation is spontaneous and free “play” in the ring or on the stage. No boxer has surpassed Ali’s grace, skill, freedom, and effectiveness in the ring. We know why.