Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Nothing is Hard!

Today I had a friend whom I had not seen in some time ask me how my languages were coming.  I spoke truthfully and said that I am now conversational in Italian, French and Spanish as well as some Swedish.  This prompted a response which I get a lot and spend most of my time trying to refute:  "You have a gift - languages are hard (rough paraphrase)."  I responded to this as I always do saying that nothing is hard.

For whatever reason I always get strange looks when I say this to people, but let us reflect on it a bit.  According to the dictionary.com hard means "difficult to accomplish; fatiguing; troublesome."  While most skills might be challenging, I do not believe any of them are actually hard.  Take an example from the athletic world, if one wants to learn a particular sport or fundamental of a sport there is a process involved in acquisition:

1.)  Instruction
2.)  Practice
3.)  Application
4.)  Acquisition

If this sequence, or some rough form of it, is followed acquisition is unavoidable.  I have a friend who is a U-14 soccer coach.  One day he was explaining to me how he was teaching his boys to strike the spherical, showing me the proper technique.  Afterwards, I went home and for a week practiced the proper technique in slow motion making sure that every bit of the form was correct.  When I saw my friend again and was playing around pretending to strike a ball he exclaimed that my form was nearly perfect.  In fact, he mentioned that he wanted to take me to a practice to show his boys how the form looked!  This is huge for me, considering that I am not an athlete by any stretch of the imagination!  Now in reality I have not taken this skill to the next step of application, however I know that if I wanted to I could become very good at striking a soccer ball because I have already laid the groundwork through my practice of the instruction given.

I have unwittingly applied this same process to many skills throughout my life, from my basketball shot, to my billiards playing, to singing and language acquisition.  Overall the process is always the same!

The other mantra that goes along with the concept of nothing being hard is "Slow and steady wins the race."  Going back to the model of the soccer strike I only would practice the form for maybe thirty seconds at a time multiple times during the day and within no time at all I was able to have perfect technique.  In singing, I have never been one for marathon practice sessions, however I consistently put in time every day, multiple times a day.  In language acquisition, I only study for approximately 30 minutes a day and then speak to myself and others here and there throughout my day.  Do I make progress as fast as others?  Not always.  However, the progress is consistent and always forward.  My fiancée today remarked that my French has now gotten to a level that she doesn't understand what I say.  That is in only three months of steady work as compared to her four years of schooling!  Similarly, when I began the road to becoming a singer I was bad; not just mediocre but flat out horrible.  I even had people questioning why I was a voice major, but over time with my consistent and constant practicing (generally not in an actual practice room, but more on that in a minute) I eclipsed the majority of my graduating class and am one of only a few still following my career path.

The key to this mantra is to always be in a state of practice.  As a singer, I sing all the time.  That may seem like a "duh" statement to some, but let me expound a bit:  I literally sing ALL THE TIME.  I sing in the shower, when I get in the car, walking through the store, in the practice room, in my apartment, in my mother's house, in church, etc.  The difference between me and others is that I am always attempting to sing my technique whenever I open my mouth to sing.  This is how I have gone from worst to best in some circles of singers.  It is not always about the amount of time spent in the practice room, or in the library or on the pitch.  It is about the amount of time spent.  It is better to spend 5 minutes practicing 20 times a day then 1 hour practicing once a day.  If you want to learn a skill, any skill, learn the technique and practice it constantly.  Before long you will become an expert without even realizing it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Passion for Learning

I determined the other day that I have a problem.  As soon as I become interested in a topic I try to learn as much about it as possible.  Examples are as follows:

1.)  When I first became interested in the science of singing I read as much as I could get my hands on about the topic.  I covered authors spanning from Tosi and Lamperti up through Reid and Frisell.  I even read Jerome Hines book on pedagogy (not Great Singers on Great Singing, but his other book, The Four Voices of Man.  Overall, I spent about six years reading almost exclusively about the voice and the art of singing.

2.)  When I decided to truly become Catholic, I again went and obtained as much information as I could about the Church.  In my collection I own works by Thomas a Kempis, St. Teresa of Avila, Jean-Pierre Caussade, G.K. Chesterton, etc. not to mention having a catechism and Bible with me nearly all the time.

3.)  Now I have taken up an interest in running, specifically in barefoot running and the same pattern has followed.  I already have two books coming in through ILL and have an eBook in my possesion which I am currently reading in addition to the book that I have already finished.

Truthfully this is not a problem, maybe a slight disorder especially compared to other people in my generation that I have witnessed.  The urge to learn, I believe, is one of the greatest determinants of eventual success.  How can anyone become an expert of anything if they are not willing to do research on their own.  A friend of mine who I was recently discussing this topic with commented that this makes almost obvious success.  In his professional world, as in many, the first step to proving a theory is to research and see what has come before the theory and what might make it plausible.

In our instant gratification world, so few of my peers even pick up a recreational tome, let alone an informational, non-fiction book unless they are being forced to do so by some class.  Why have we as a generation moved so far away from a true thirst for knowledge?  If anything, this trend seems counterintuitive to me.  We now have the internet and eBooks at our fingertips which can provide us vast information about practically anything we could want to know; and yet most people would rather spend their time on social networking sites.

I would still be a complete novice in all four areas of passion in my life were it not for my thirst for knowledge.  I submit that I still am a novice in some areas due to my relatively new discovery of them, however I can say without hesitation that because of my unquenchable thirst for knowledge that I will quickly surpass others who may have started down a particular path prior to me.

A prime example of this lies in language, one of the main purposes of this blog.  I am currently working on French, as you all know, and prior to this current time I had taken one semester at university and spent one month on my own working on the language.  When I decided to focus on this particular language I did what I do with nearly all of my passions:  I signed up on a forum concerning the topic.  From this forum I was able to ascertain numerous possibilities of ways to study and from there determine what I wanted to try.  The next step was to get materials I would need.  In general I attempt to get as much as I can for free or inexpensively.  In the case of French many of my materials came from the library and inter-library loan (ILL).  What I could not get for free I bought from a discount site, half.com.  After I get my resources it is just a matter of application and practice.  I continue to research new possibilities to aid me in my learning and acquisition and continue to watch my progress.  Approximately two and a half months after starting this focus on French I was able to list the language as one I can speak.  Now nearly four months in I am continuing to grow my skill and am nearing towards my final goal in this language, which is to be able to teach or give a speech comfortably.

The above process goes for any skill that I embark upon learning.  I have already proven to myself that I can succeed in picking up any skill because of my desire to learn and constantly improve.  Imagine the things we could accomplish in this world if everyone had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and did not just want to skate by on their undeveloped talents.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Frustrations, Progress and a Diatribe

In the past two and a half weeks I have had quite a few different emotions running through my system in regards to language, singing and life in general.  Starting with languages, I had a week of solid conversational French practice while I was in Kentucky on a mission trip with my friend Ernest.  For those who don't know, Ernest is from Cameroon and fluent in about eight languages ranging from Italian to Bengali.  After that week I jumped right back into my studying and am progressing at a very pleasing rate in French.  I anticipate that I should be able to call myself fluent in French by the new year.  That may seem far off to some of you and not long enough at all to others, but the truth is that languages can be learned quickly if the motivation is there.

The frustrations of my past two and a half weeks came in singing.  During my week in Kentucky I was unable to practice at all outside of singing for daily mass.  When I got back in the practice room the next week I felt like my voice was not doing anything correctly.  Then, luckily, I began to turn things around late this past week.  I also had a realization that I have been breathing far too shallow for far too long.  Now that I am taking completely full breaths I have found that singing is feeling much better again.  My current frustration now is finding the funds to get down to NYC for a lesson with JRL.  I posted an ad on my facebook asking for applications for a patron, but no one seems interested which is sad for me.

Now onto my diatribe which will take this blog of course momentarily.  This past evening I attended a "Teen Life Mass" at a nearby Catholic Church.  I had recently heard stories about these masses from traditionalist (like myself) speaking of various horrors inherent in this style of mass.  To my mind, these were all verified during the course of the mass.  The purpose of a Teen Life Mass is to reach the teens through more "accessible" music and encourage their participation.  However, to me, I was attending a protestant mega-church worship service rather than a mass.  The major problem I have with the music is not necessarily the music itself; contemporary christian music has its place, but not in the mass.  There was a huge disconnect between the upbeat, bubble-gum music and the solemnity of the rest of the rites of the mass.  Not only that, but the music had nil to do with the actual readings, which it is supposed to according to the general rules for the mass.  Also, the whole point of this music is to engage the teens and youth of the parish more, however I saw a very small percentage of these people actually participating in the singing!  There were other problems within the course of the mass liturgically speaking.  During the mass I vowed to never be at another Teen Life Mass in my life.  What this type of mass does is set up the youth of the parish to leave the Church!  I pray that the new missal and future reforms will save our youth from the horrors of the Teen Life Mass and bring back a sense of reverence to the Mass.