In the state of Colorado, rain colorado rainis a welcome and occasional thing. We do pride ourselves (which is not ours to claim at all) on over 300 days of sunshine per year.  To our surprise we have now had 40 days and 23.46 inches of rain or snow melt, most of which has been in April & May.  This type of weather has an effect on CO residents who spend a lot of time out doors hiking, working, sleeping and having fun.  I know we are keeping our regular running schedule, even in the misty early evening conditions, as I am sure others have done.

I love that I am an eternal optimist, not a Pollyanna, because I see sunshine even in the rain. I don’t push aside the obvious or ignore the reality. I see hope and not failure. I get to use my KU Jayhawk umbrella, greet singers as they rush inside for a voice lesson, talk about how the water is carving grooves into the earth that weren’t there before and connect with others who have been pumping water out of their basements since Mother’s Day like us.

I encourage you to find the creative light within the dark day.  To go within to connect with your passions – draw, color, paint…  If the weather is making you sad, get a happy light to increase the Vitamin D you need and connect with others as a source of inspiration – not to find a comrade for complaining. Remember, you can always put on a raincoat and swing on a lamppost while singing at the top of your lungs.  This worked well for a movie shoot, even on the day that the big star had the flu.  Enjoy the rain, friends.

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The following writing was written by C. Hoffman – one of the wonderful Wednesday Writers.

GraceUpon entering the sacred and beautiful space that is Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. Once a week the Colorado Vocal Arts Ensemble gathers for two and a half hours in the space of Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in downtown Colorado Springs.  Every Tuesday evening each member of the ensemble slowly filters in, each at their own pace.  Some look up at the church as they walk toward it.  Some notice the solitary statue of Saint Francis of Assisi standing in the courtyard, and how the fountain surrounding it has been turned off for the winter season.  Some park their car a few blocks away because they want to enjoy the walk to the rehearsal.  Some arrive early to help carry the large wooden risers into the sanctuary for the rehearsal.  Some arrive
early and just sit and listen to the silence of the church space.  But we all assemble for one purpose: to listen to one another and to make a beautiful, unified sound as one voice.
The space of the church naturally lends itself to the beauty of the human voice.  It lets the sound travel upwards toward the heavens, allowing it to fill the rafters, bounce off of the stone foundations.  There are various halls and spaces within the church where the sound travels.
Our warm up time always has me imagining that our voices are a sort of collective oxygen flowing
through the lungs of the sanctuary.  When we sing we breathe life into the space we are singing in, we help and allow it to breathe and be alive with us.  In our silences, between measures and breaths, the space settles and waits. When we sing with full emotional capacity and supported sound I feel as if we could, and just might, burst through the stained glass windows, filling the courtyard and city streets.

Every Tuesday I am thankful to be a part of the moving, breathing and living entity that is CVAE.  I am a part of the alto section, a new member to the section.  I consider it a blessing and privilege to make music with the section and in the ensemble as a whole.  It is the part of my week that I look forward to the most.  It is the part that makes me feel human and connected to something bigger beyond myself.

crevasse everestToday, I am writing down my business plan for a 2nd adventure.  I have read many books and today I step over the great crevasse of fear to put my own words into the universe.  What a quiet thrill to see my future ignite before me.  Failure is possible….or not.  That is why I do it!
I share this because I know in business, fun, faith, music, life – we are all connected.  I need your encouragement and hope my ideas will encourage you.  Not encouragement in the form of a phone call or pat on the back.  But as an accountability.  If I post a goal out for all to see, I am starting the clock to make it work.  So here I go!

To follow a dream is to express myself.  I acknowledge the possibility of failure in its outcome but I don’t consider taking a leap of faith as failure.  If a project fails, stalls or succeeds, I count it all as a learning experience.  I do believe we need to feel the feelings of failure in order to understand our ability.  When I succeed, failure is still a central part of it.  It is my comparison, my reference. As I teach students to sing, I also let them know the risks, highs and lows.  But “risk” is another post topic.

Your work is not too much for you to handle.  Take it one step at a time.  Today, I began by finding the right pickaxe, the right latter and then I took 1 step after another.  That 1 step is success.

Receppacntly I joined the Pikes Peak Arts Council Board of Directors to connect and see a different angle of the arts organizations in Colorado Springs.  So far so good.

I am passing on 2 Collab Ops to you today is hopes that it will inspire you to connect with other artists.  Art, music, business, life…. are all better based in a relationship.  Use these 2 Ops to start a relationship with not only other creatives, but within yourself.

1. Link: http://pikespeakartscouncil.org/event-1918414
Creatives Class – A class next Thursday which is a partnership between the Pikes Peak Arts Council & the COS Small Business Development Center.
I will attend because I like connecting with other creatives, business people and want to know the best way to make a living at this thing.

2. Link:  http://pikespeakartscouncil.org/join
Join PPAC – I want to pass on to you the opportunity to get connected, receive info about events, arts, micro loans and opportunities. This is not an expensive commitment.  Please check it out.

VegasThis week I am in Las Vegas at the Rio Hotel. I am sharing a room with Kathryn, a wonderfully progressive piano teacher from Hollywood, CA and a regular member of this event for 50 years.

When musicians get together at an even like this, we remember that our lives are more then student after student, required repertoire and hurried or late dinners. We remember that we started this profession with hope and excitement, wanting to teach the next generation of great musicians. Some of us started teaching because we were born to. And others out of a need to find themselves.

In any case, we gather here this week to find something that will ignite, renew or keep our lives going. The Vegas lights and bling will not be the most captivating feature. I am looking for the inner heart that will be found and renewed in so many of us.

musician doorWhy do we perform?  Why do we put ourselves on the spot, sweat, combat a dry throat and risk forgetting foreign words? Because in some secret way, we are adrenaline junkies.  And we live for the thrill of the performance.  I tell students, the only way we can get over the fear….AND learn to love the rush of the moment, is to put themselves in the light.

That place we go when we perform is a special place.  A zone. A tunnel. A field of wheat on the hillside.  Whatever it is for you, it must be a place you go to find the magic of who you are as a performer.  Wait, did I just call it “magic?” Yes. I use this word because that is what it is.  And if I jump right to words like “life changing” or “freaking amazing zone of constant euphoria” – it might be a bit much.  But really, that is what it is.

What lies behind the Musicians Only door is both glamorous and not glamorous at the same time.  There are some days I enter the door with a heavy sigh and some days I am light on my feet.  But every time I enter that door, I enter with every passionate musician in my heart.  And I step onto the stage to connect with anyone who comes to hear me sing.  That is why….

snow branchesAll week the weather has been beautiful, in the mid-50’s.  It has been somewhat unusual for mid-February.  But, with winter always comes a chance of snow – and a lot of it!     In Colorado, we like snow.  We also like dogs, Subaru’s and micro brewed beer.  So when the meteorologists predicted a large amount of snow equal to the label, “Snowpocalypse,” everyone headed to the grocery store.  We did too, passing partial empty peanut butter & spaghetti sauce shelves.  Now as I write this, the snow is falling with a gentle sleepy ease and the secret hope of monster accumulation.

I prepare for every gig as if it were a gigantic snow storm.  Maybe over prepare and usually very thankful.  I practice the music ahead of time, even if it is a song I have performed before.  I photo copy the music, tape it together and practice it from there.  I plan my outfit, dress and heels,  so I look great AND so that I am able to carry my Korg keyboard about 1/4 mile.  I prepare because my reputation precedes and follows me.  I must think with integrity and use my quirky experience to be the best musician in the room.

One year, on May 25th, I sang for a memorial service deep in the Black Forest east of Colorado Springs.  A lovely family who’s father passed months before hired me to be both the pianist and the cantor for a Catholic Mass they set up in their back yard.  Because of my years as a Catholic liturgist, I was able to play the mass parts, a psalm, 1 hymn, prelude and a postlude (Fantin’s solo at the end of Les Mis when her father is raised to heaven). I brought the keyboard, bench, stand, mic and mic stand, music, cables, a speaker and clothes pins to hold the music in case it was windy.

The only thing I didn’t count on….was that it would snow.

 

Recently, I was asked by a fellow singer to be her back-up for a wedding.  She was on the edge of the flu and didn’t know if she would be able to sing the next day – on Valentine’s Day.  The music was 1 hymn and The Lord’s Prayer.  Easy enough for a days notice.  I got all the info and asked both my friend and the accompanist what the compensation was for this gig.  The answer from both were more like justifications for not getting paid. They said that this was a second marriage, only about 10 guests would attend, the bride and groom were both in their 70’s and finally, they were both good church friends.  Let’s be honest, at some point in a musicians career, the type of request and $$ become the deal breaker, a choice between “yes” and “no”.  As singers find their niche and performing community, time with family, friends, for rest, work and performing, becomes very valuable.

With this information, I declined as her sub but thanked her for thinking of me.  Within 30 minutes, I got a phone call saying the bride would compensate the singer with $150.  This, I feel is an average fee for a wedding singer.  A rehearsal of any kind, $200 is not out of range.

My point is not to talk about my fees or my ability to say no to a gig.  It is to support fellow musicians in their ability to ask for what they are worth.  Saying yes or no to a wedding, hotel entertainment or other gigs that might call your musical integrity into question, must include:

– the date of the gig – time involved at and before the gig – music required – equipment necessary – other musicians needed – other non-musicians such as the wedding couple family members involved – other musical tasks you might be expected to oversee like the soundboard or mics for the service – and your compensation delivered before the event begins. Know your ability to fulfill the above mentioned possibilities and suggest options if you can’t or don’t want to do something. You are a valuable part of this event so please step into it as if you believe that fact.  They are compensating you for your experience, education and ability.  Coming in to sing for a beautiful wedding is enough.

The first thing any singer or soon to be singer needs to do is take a long hard look at their breathing.  Learning to breath is disregarded by most, but not singers.  As I think about it, most musicians, dancers and actors think about breathing as they advance in their work. All one needs to consider is the stress and fast paced life we try to keep up with.  This life causes us to “breathe high.”  Our shoulders lift and our lungs only inflate to a fraction of their capacity. I probably don’t have to tell you that this is not good.  “Breathing high” keeps us in a fight-or-flight state.

To escape the race and the confinement of a “normal” person…take some time to breathe.  Sit in a comfortable way on your chair or stand. Place open palms on the rib cage, right on right/left on left (4 fingers front, thumb facing back) and close your eyes.  Then imagine expanding your rib cage into your hands. Exhale slowly on a “hissssss.”  Now you are breathing with a fuller capacity of your lungs, allowing your rib cage to expand, internal organs to be pushed out of the way, abdominal muscles are expanding and your breath is beginning to slow. Your diaphragm, a crescent moon shaped muscle under your heart will expand and do its full job.  This is a “low breath” and what you mean when you think about “singing with your diaphragm.”

Take three “low breaths” – open your eyes – and know that you are ready to sing.  YIMG_1443ou are ready for a better view and more settled way of your own life.

saint statueSuch a harmless word, all lower case letters, humps and curves.  If it desires, music, has the power to cut through the soul of every single person.  music ignites a cold space within where a flame once roared with passion. Some days, I think music is a friend.  I have been seduced by music as if she were a beautiful Italian woman enjoying gelato on a sunny afternoon.  And I have been discarded by music as if he were a foe, taking me deeper and deeper into the guilt of not practicing enough as I suffer through a German choral piece. Either friend or foe, I know this relationship will go on.  I know I have to make a choice each day to grab the handle on the music train or call it quits.

Music – seductress, knife or gentle friend, it is none and all of these things at once.  It is a mode of enjoyment, employment, strife and bliss.  One thing I know for sure, music is no respecter of persons. It can only be its own element, curving its way through the lives, and concert halls, and memorial services of anyone who dare invite it in.  I know I must allow music to be.  To live and to burn.  And I must summon it in so I can continually become the person I am to truly be.

Beethoven believed that, “music is mediator between spiritual and sensual life.” And Debussy, “I wish to sing of my interior visions with the naive candor of a child.”  Both of these composers fought to release the music within them to to world. We all negotiate, beguile, ignore, test and sometimes trick what we believe to be a piece of paper containing notes, rhythms and tempo suggestions. I may believe music is no respecter of persons, but it is a living thing that is moving even now.  I doesn’t need to respect, but I must – in order to live.