woman50Susan waited outside the door of my studio for her lesson time as another woman finished singing “I Dreamed a Dream.” When I opened the door to let my Fantine out and let Susan in, she w

as crying. She had waited 30 years to return to a voice lesson and now the time had arrived. Susan was a voice major in college and after graduation, life stepped in to steal her away for a job that would give her security, respect, and a predictable life.

Now, 30 years later, she was exploring the person she had left behind, set on the shelf and the anticipation brought tears to her eyes. When you hear the true sound of your own voice singing….It opens a place within your soul that either – you didn’t know existed or didn’t know could be re-found. Try a lesson and you will be overwhelmed with the possibility of a MORE abundant life that is waiting for you to step in.

“Using my voice to help others find theirs.”

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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.

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.

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.

C.W. Hoffman

Reflecting on my 22 years of singing I still wish that someone along the journey had told me this: “While you have been gifted with this wonderful identity of singer and vocalist it is wise to remember that it is only a part of you and not all of you.  If you find that you have other passions, pursue them.  You may find that music and singing will stay with you in your life or you may find that music will only be with you for a season.”

Being identified as a ‘singer’ at the age of ten was both exciting, ego-boosting and frightening.  I felt it as a burden and a blessing all at once.  My parents were excited to have me start private lessons.  I honestly don’t remember asking for them.  They were excited that I had a talent that was new and ‘out of nowhere’ from the family gene pool.

Throughout my high school years all of the students were required to take career aptitude tests.  I remember my results included: photojournalist, psychologist, artist, photographer and professional musician.  Because I was already taking voice lessons I kept after music as it was the easiest and most known craft to me.

I rested my entire undergraduate career on the fact that I was a singer.  Period.  My parents, while supportive of me going to college and pursuing ‘my dreams’, were just excited that there was a person with musical talent in the family.  My younger brother is also quite gifted with music as well, but was never pushed into lessons or pursuing it as a career.   Music for him was always, and is still, an enjoyable hobby.  For me I saw music as something I had to do, not necessarily something I wanted to do.  I managed to wrestle with this concept throughout my 7 undergraduate years of college and I finally let it take hold of me while pursuing my masters degree in voice performance.

My first voice teacher was a Juilliard graduate and retired opera singer.  She drove an hour and a half to teach lessons in the area where my family lived.  She must have loved teaching voice that much to drive so far.  She always had high hopes for me, as she often publicly announced.  At my high school junior recital she claimed that my name would be in lights someday.

Now, twenty years later, I still feel a pang of guilt, though, as my name and those lights have not yet appeared.  That was not my path as a singer and I have accepted that. My identity has become one of a whole person, one who still enjoys singing and performing.  One who was able to make a little bit of a living while singing at the same time.   Perhaps those lights looked different for my career, rather than being publicly displayed on a marquee.  Perhaps they shine differently and in a different way.

My advice to younger singers would be this: “Take personality tests, take career aptitude tests.  If you’re unsure as to what music means to you, what singing means to you, then consider your options regarding other careers and passions.”

I am not writing to discourage you, rather to encourage you to grow yourself as a person and singer.  Look beyond what you already know and see how you can use your talents to positively impact those around you.  If music speaks so loudly to you that you must sing or play your instrument, that’s an amazing gift to share with the world.