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Practice

By Bridget deCourcy on April 6th, 2017

Do you groan when you read or hear that word? To pursue any vocation requires practice. And yet that word can make us freeze,
can awaken memories of well meaning parents who, keen for you to learn an instrument or develop your singing tell you to – for
goodness sake, practice! Half an hour, every day, now, not later or you’re wasting hard earned money, wasting loving expectations.

The music teacher for whom you can never “get it right” – You’re not counting, you’re not concentrating, you begin to dread scales and arpeggios, can’t see the point of them, of repeating them and learning more and more of them. That fuddy-duddy teacher of yesteryear who belittled you and your love of music; you wanted to sing the songs you love, to learn the piece you heard, to move, dance, sway and tap your feet, to feel rhythms and sounds in your body. The word ‘practice’ reminds you of list of ‘shoulds’, the worst being you should be more disciplined. lt brings back memories of rules, expectations, exams, sibling rivalry and judgement. You practice to please parents and teacher but rarely to please yourself; that is condemned as play. For many the judges in childhood cast long shadows.

Making music, singing story, dancing sounds is play. It’s about feelingcand expression, creating your own world through song.

My purpose is to entertain myself first and others secondly.

J.D. Macdonald.

You want to rediscover/develop your singing voice through taking
lessons, how and in what way do you practice?

To practice is to nurture, to discover and to play

Find a space where you can be alone, where, without feeling self-conscious, you can focus on releasing the singer within. Set aside a time each day and do your best to stick to it, create a habit so that when, for a myriad of reasons, you are unable to turn up to the space, you miss it. You feel “out of sorts”. This is your time, your time of nurture. Missing it you’ll return to it.

Discover. Record your lessons, listen to the suggestions given to you by your teacher. Placing your voice, practicing scales and exercises is the best way to warm your voice. You wouldn’t go for a run without stretching your leg muscles. Scales and exercises enable you to daily reacquaint yourself with your voice, to prepare for the creative work, to find the precision required to interpret the music as you feel it in your heart. There’ll be days when your voice feels heavy, when it
seems to do the opposite of what you ask of it, days when everything flows, when singing gives you a sense of freedom and joy. Be patient. vigilant but not critical. Stay present, try not to allow your mind to wander off into memories of yesterday or plans for tomorrow, ask yourself – what do I want from my practice today? Don’t allow the “judges” to hover over your shoulder. The judges are merely negative thoughts; they belong in negative space not with you. Do
your teacher/s suggestions work for you? Do you feel your voice is “connected” and supported? When you’ve completed your exercises
– what-ever they may be – does your voice feel stretched and
warmed? If it does, turn to the song both you and your teacher have chosen, to the creative work of interpretation. if it doesn’t, discuss your concerns at your next lesson. The exercises, like bar work for the dancer, should enable you to focus on technical challenges in the song, to have sufficient knowledge to find solutions.

Play. We sing, doodle songs when we’re happy and sometimes when sad. Sing the songs you love be they yours or someone else’s, be filled with wonder for the music, the lyrics and your ability to relate and experience your emotions through song; to, in which-ever genre, have annulled your ego through practice to interpret the wishes of the composer/song-writer.

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DO A LITTLE WELL AND YOU ARE DOING MUCH

By Bridget deCourcy on February 6th, 2017

You’ve found a singing teacher whose guidance you trust, you love your singing lessons – how’s the practice going? ls it difficult to find time to practice due to the demands of family and work? Do you have a room, a space where you feel comfortable singing? Or do you worry your neighbours or family will hear you? Knowing you can be heard is inhibiting.

Lack of time – you leave home for work at 7.30am and if you’re lucky, return at 7.00pm. And what with this and then that demanding your attention you’re beginning to wonder why you began taking lessons when your boss, your loved ones all demand chunks of you. The word ‘practice’ triggers panic – when, where, how? All you have to do devours all you want to do.

Yup, it does, if you allow it to. lf the niggle to sing, write, paint or dance has become an uncomfortable itch, stop scratching, attend to it. It won’t go away. We are not machines at the behest of others; we are creative beings needing to express ourselves through our chosen medium.

Whether you sing for your supper, for yourself or to join others, it’s the doing that enlivens the soul. To deepen that experience, to understand it more fully and grow through it, spend time with your voice. Practice, that’s what that sometime scary word means.

“My purpose is to entertain myself first and others secondly.”
John M. McDonald.

You live in a house divided into flats. The only time you can practice is either before or after you get home from work and yes, the neighbours may hear you. Speak to them, most people are amenable. Some may even be harbouring a desire to sing or play an instrument thernselves, hearing you may inspire that person to follow his/her dream. If you’re surrounded by grumps, move. If you can’t move, leave for work earlier so you can have some alone time before anyone else arrives. Or arrange to stay 15 minutes later after everyone has gone home, you’ll begin or finish the working day enlivened.

A student of mine told me she practices in the well of the internal fire escape. Another student found a space in the basement during his lunch hour. Yet another bartered with a neighbour who had a room with a piano – use of the room in exchange for baby-sitting, walking the dog, ironing or mowing the lawn. Take an early walk in the park, across a field and sing. Writers walk their words, singers walk their songs.

Practicing in the family home can be inhibiting. Our nearest and dearest can feel threatened by your desire to take up a vocation lost over time. Your job is to focus on their endeavours. Gently but firmly remind them that love is enabling and encouraging everyone to develop their skills, to expand horizons. They will soon realise that the you who sings is happier and more fulfilled than the you doesn’t.

Vocalising can feel more exposing than practicing an instrument, the piano or guitar. Practice is not about so-called perfection, it’s about focus in the doing, sinking into the world you create through your singing voice.

You have a duty to your boss, to your loved ones but the greatest duty you have is to yourself. If, within your circumstances, you manage ten minutes here and another ten minutes there, you’re doing fine. Do a little well and you are doing much.

Alas for those you do not sing
But die with all their music in them!
The Voiceless. Oliver Wendell Holmes.

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When-ever I remake a song it is myself I remake

By Bridget deCourcy on December 14th, 2016

“I want you to tell me whether you think my voice is any good,” he said.

John is a sturdy man of medium build with closely cropped brown hair. I was recommended to himby another student of mine. Today is his first session.

‘Tell me about you and singing,” I say.

“I sing all the time, around the house, at work, any opportunity out with the boys. My mum’s ltalianso we all sang at home when we were kids. Except my dad. He played the spoons,” John laughs a big, booming laugh.

“And at school, did you sing in choirs or bands?”

“You’re joking. I tried to join the choir but the choir master threw me out.”

“Threw you out?”

“He said my voice was too loud, that I drowned everyone out.”

“Did he not suggest ways to help you to blend ydur voice with the others?”

“Nah, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. When I sing or speak you can hear me from one end of a football pitch to the other no trouble. I coach lads in our local football team in my spare time. I’ve never had to raise my voice, never had problems with discipline. They hear me,” he laughs.

His laugh is infectious, his personality, his love of life fills the room. After a few more questions and weather niceties we begin, I, briefly explaining what we will do to ascertain the type of voice he has – bass, baritone – and to check out his range.

“I’ve not done this before,” he looks apprehensive.

“I have,” I grin.

As expected John is a bass happy to wallow in the low notes but unsure in the middle and higher tessitura. Using imagery and story I “massage” and stretch his voice, explain through exercises how the weak areas will be strengthened. He laughs, delighted with the feel and sound of his voice.

Over the ensuing months he practices diligently following recordings made during his lessons. He tells me he’d like to sing some classical pieces as well as popular songs – especially those recorded byMatt Monro – and that he’d like to join a choir. It’s on his bucket list.

“OK, I’ve an ltalian song for you,” I say handing him a sheet of music, Santa Lucia, an abbreviated version arranged by Ruth de Cesare. ‘

“I can’t read music,” he says taking the music.

“No problem, I’ll teach it to you.”

John is very musical and follows easily. He sings the song with bravura and, a few weeks later, tells me, when asked to sing as he now often is, he bursts forth with Santa Lucia.

His singing voice matches his personality. But over time my concern is how to avail him the more subtle sounds I feel sure he has and will need when he decides to audition for a choir.

A few weeks before the summer break John asks me whether l’d like to see some photos of his children. l’m touched. Of course I would.

“They’re handsome, handsome and beautiful respectively. You must be very proud of them.”

“They’re great kids, both travelling, following careers. We’re very close,” he says.

Sensing a change in his voice I look up at him.

“l’m divorced,” he says quietly.

For a moment the only sound in the room is the soft tick of the hands of the clock standing on the piano in front of me.

The following week, handing him a sheet of music I say –

“l think you might like this. lt’s a renaissance song -‘Since first I saw your face’.”

“Renaissance huh, bit of a way from Matt Monro,” John grins.

I sing it to him and then we work on it together, he following me line by line. l’m right. He loves it.

After the summer break John strides into the room for his lesson.

“l’ve learned the song,” he says, “l’ve listened to every recording I could find. lt’s one of those songs you could listen to for-ever. I think l’ve got it now.”

I warm up his voice and, checking the changes that have developed during the break, work on and explain technical aspects needed through exercises. l’m impressed with his progress, the way he follows suggestions, there is an ease, a fluidity I hadn’t heard before in his singing. Then I place the sheet music of the song on the piano.

“ln case I forget the words,” he beams placing his copy on the music stand in front of him.

“OK?” I ask looking toward him. He nods.

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face is a simple love song deceptively difficult to sing because of the demands it makes on the singer. lt requires the technical ability to enable the singer to express both tenderness and vulnerability without which the song remains pallid and saccharine tainted. John’s singing has both tenderness and vulnerability. Deeply moved I ask him to sing the song again. And again, his singing has all the shades of pathos I heard when he sang it the first title.

He fulfilled his bucket list, joined a choir and continued to sing the songs through which he could express the joys and sorrows of his heart. ln re-making song he re-made himself.

Names and circumstances have been changed to protect identity.

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People Need Maps to Your Dreams

By Bridget deCourcy on September 17th, 2016

“I have a dream…” declaimed Martin Luther King. You too have a dream.

We share our dreams with loved ones and friends hopeful we will be both heard and seen. Sharing dreams creates maps through communication. A dream shared is one step closer to enabling us to create a plan to realise it, a dream to sing, to sing our story through song.

When I was a child I sang to create a world away from the one I lived. I sang like my life depended on it, I sang at school, at the dinner table and later, to keep a roof over my head. When I sand I was free, I inhabited a world more mine than that of the day to day, a safe space found in story, rhythm and sound.

When you hear a song do you have a “lightbulb moment”? a “that’s how I feel” moment? It isn’t just the lyrics that sets your blood racing it’s the combination of words, music and rhythm. It might be a classical piece, a ballad or a pop song. The song and singer might originate from Africa, from Lebanon, somewhere, anywhere in the world. You can’t understand the words but you resonate with the emotion. The memory of it stains the days, you must, you will sing that song. Because singing it more than merely listening to it enables you to inhabit someone else’s world, their reality, dreams, joys and pain. Singing that particular song enables you to hear, to feel the echo in your heart.

You find the song sheet, excited, take it home, pick the notes out on the piano, the guitar or ask a friend to play the piece. You begin to sing. It’s harder than you thought it would be. The timing is complicated, words on some notes are awkward to pronounce, a phrase is set higher or lower than you thought it was. Maybe you have enough experience to patiently work it out for yourself, to iron out challenging areas. Or you find someone able to enable you. Sometimes with or without help, it’s a struggle to come to grips with a song. You’re frustrated, exasperated with the difficulties you’re trying to surmount. Enter Negative Nelly slinking slyly to hover behind your shoulder –

You can’t sing, listen to yourself, why d’you bother, you’re insulting the air, she hisses all teeth, crimson lips and sharp, blood red talons.

For crying out loud, you mutter, singing is meant to be fun.

So leave it, counters Nelly, what’s the big deal. Go have fun.

But the song has you in its hold. You and it have a relationship. It won’t let you go. Then, finally, wonderfully, you ‘have it’. The hours of work, the sweat and the tears have metamorphosed into something magical, a union through which the unconscious mind of the singer, you, can express your emotions through song. In performance this perfect union expands to embrace the audience, sharing our humanity, our depth and lightness of being – a map to and of our dreams, our sorrows and joys. And negative nelly? She’s scuttled back from whence she came.

Might this be one of the reasons why you sing? Through your gifts, courage and perseverance you, through song, express the maps to and of your dreams. You create a world away from the oft time horrors, the some-time drudgery of the every day.

thank you for reading my blog. Dream big, enjoy the journey.

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The Benefits of Singing: Sing Your Way to Health and Happiness

By Bridget deCourcy on September 1st, 2016

Here I have a great infographic from the singing resource website called How To Improve Singing that is packed with information about the benefits of singing. The infographic includes information about the physical benefits, the psychological benefits, benefits of singing for children and benefits of singing for the elderly.

I hope that you like this singing benefits infographic and please share with your friends on social media.

The Benefits of Singing: Sing Your Way to Health and Happiness

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10 Surprising Benefits of Listening to Classical Music

By Bridget deCourcy on August 4th, 2016

Here I have a fantastic infographic from the people at the USA music teacher finder website called TakeLessons that provides information about ten of the surprising  benefits of listening to classical music. Some of the benefits include decreases blood pressure, fights depression, boosts memory and relieves pain.

We hope that you enjoy this classical music benefits infographic and please share with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc.

10 Surprising Benefits of Listening to Classical Music

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Help! I’m Looking for a Singing Teacher

By Bridget deCourcy on August 1st, 2016

Confusing isn’t it. You’re browsing the internet looking for a singing teacher, sitting on the bus, in the office, in the bath scrolling down websites wondering who will transform your life. You have a dream – a darkened Theatre, every seat taken, breathless hush, you, in a spot light on stage sinting your heart out. The song finishes, the orchestnlband/piano/ guitar play the final chord – thunderous applause. You are Adele, Pavarotti, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan. You know you can sing as well as anyone you’ve seen or heard. Or you used to sing at school, you joined choirs, sang in a band, sang for your supper then bang, life and all its demands swamped you. Your passion to sing evaporated, nibbled away into a dull ache. Until today. Today you know life is too short to have regrets to fulfil your dreams. Today you are going to begin the search for a singing teacher, someone with the magic key to release or bring back the feeling, the sound that made your heart spin – your voice; someone to help you to take that first step. Who-ever you are, what-ever your experience or lack of it, there is a teacher for you.

What are the qualities you want in a singing teacher? Experience, empathy, enthusiasm, imagination, communication skills? Of course. Beyond those qualities the answer to that question is dependent on why you want to take singing lessons. Huh, you respond, I wouldn’t be browsing the web if I didn’t know that. I want to improve my singing voice. Great. What sort of songs do you sing? What type of songs do you want to sing? Pop, jazz, musical, classical, contemporary folk? You don’t need to know the answer. Singing is a journey of discovery through music, a journey about you. But if you know which style sets your feet a-tapping and your heart spinning, look for someone who specialises in that area.

You’ve been asked to sing at a wedding you have an audition, the song you want to sing has a few awkward areas, you need help. You want to shine the piece to performance standard. Your voice is “rust/. You are looking for someone who can give you exercises to warm your voice and accompany you. Maybe you’d like to extend your repertoire or just take a few lessons toward the occasion. Some teachers accompany many don’t. An ability to play the piano or not has nothing to do with the ability to teach singing. They are different skills, often combined to a greater or lesser degree. I would not advise singing to a pre-recorded accompaniment. The style and tempo might force you to sing in a way that doesn’t suit you. Look for a teacher who has the skills to meet your goal within the time limits.

Technical help. Every voice has its strengths and weaknesses but some require more help than others. Problems can arise from singing incorrectly, from poor advice, from imitating others. There is a list of questions on my website. Check them out. Do any of these questions resonate with you? If they do, look for a teacher who has sufficient experience to recognise the “problem”, someone able to help you understand how it happened and how to correct it. When you’ve found the person you want to contact, email or telephone and do your best to explain your vocal concerns. This may take time. A bit of “suck and see”. Be patient. Be vigilant.

Who-ever you are, what-ever you’re experience or lack of it, you are looking for a teacher enabled to enable you. To communicate clearly the processes of thinking required to support and thus “hee” your voice. A professional, experienced teacher who, although you long to sing like Billy Hollday, Pavarotti or Adele, can open avenues which help you to find out what sort of singer you are, your unique sound as individual as your thumb print. The teacher you can entrust with your gifts and dreams.

Guiding principle – if during or at the end of your singing lesson you feel either confused or discouraged, this teacher is not the right one for you. lf you feel discomfort or pain either during or after your lesson, again, this is definitely the wrong teacher for you. At the end of your lesson you should feel encouraged, re-energised and happy, endorphins pumping round your body. You have made an appointment with a teacher to help you sort out difficulties in singing & you should leave the session clearer about the “how” than when you came in. How it happened and how it will be remedied. The exercises and explanations given make sense.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I hope you have found something to stir your thoughts, to encourage you forward.

ln future blogs I will focus on teaching. I will delve deeper into aspect of developing and nurturing the singing voice.

Good luck and have fun.

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