Monday, August 29, 2011

End of the Month Update

I am now more than 75% through my Assimil program and nearly as far through Michel Thomas.  I somewhat feel like I've stagnated a little bit as far as progress goes; mainly due to my slacking about the last couple of weeks in studying.  The bright side is that the Active Wave exercise today went very well and the majority of items just flowed out of me, which is a good sign.

On a note of wanderlust, I purchased Wheelock's Latin over the weekend and am going to read through it on the weekends when I take time off of French/German (after the new year).  I don't necessarily know what I'm hoping to gain from learning Latin, other than that I will inevitably have to sing in Latin so understanding the structure and language will be helpful in that regard.  Plus being Catholic, Latin kind of comes with the territory.

Vocally things are going very well.  I am feeling more and more comfortable every day.  I am going to be actually singing my first concert as a tenor in November at my church as part of an "Opera Hits" concert.  I will likely only be singing one aria and a duet, but this will mark my first public performance as a tenor!  As of right now my plan is to sing Alfredo's aria and the Parigi, o cara duet from the final act of La Traviata.  Hopefully, I can convince someone into video taping this performance so I can post it to youtube, and thusly on here as a mark of my progress.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Encouragement!

I just came back from a quick jaunt to NYC for a lesson with JRL where I received some great encouragement.  I'm pretty sure that I've posted here about how I always feel like I am never progressing.  Well, apparently my brain was wrong!  At my lesson I was commended on my marked progress and even encouraged to begin coaching repertoire and think about auditioning in the fall (next fall, not this one I presume)!  This is great news for me and really gives me a boost.  In addition to this I had just recently in practice session found some of my top notes and was excited to begin with before the lesson.  Now, before anyone reads too much into this, I still am maintaining my work ethic and still have the general concept that I am sub-par as a singer.  The thing is though, that sometimes we need that encouragement to push us onward.

I have had similar experiences with French, where I will go through a patch where I feel I am not progressing at all and then someone who is more knowledgeable than I am will compliment me on my progress between times that they had talked with me.  I think ultimately that this goes back to the idea of being persistent and having trust in the process.  As I made mention of before, all progress that is worth keeping will happen gradually.  The past couple of weeks have shown this to me more than ever.  Between my vocal progress and the books I have been reading lately, I feel that my entire outlook on life has changed to one of bigger time frames.  For the most part the long-term goal is what matters, not the short-term ones.  As long as you constantly check in and are working towards your long-term goal, then you will be on the right path.  My long term goal as a singer has always been to be able to support myself solely by singing.  It would seem that I have made large strides towards this goal in the last four months and I look forward to what is still yet to come.

Love the process and make it your goal!

Friday, August 12, 2011

You are what you do!

"We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."

Today I want to break down this statement by Aristotle.  I cam across this while reading ChiRunning by Danny Dreyer and I feel it really speaks to my life.  So much so that it has been my quote of the week.

Part I:  We are what we repeatedly do.

The great thing about this part of the quote is that it is a statement of unequivocal fact.  Michael Jordan became a phenomenal basketball player because he practiced so much that the game just became part of him.  Likewise, the cello is simply an extension of Yo-Yo Ma because of the endless hours of time put into learning and perfecting his art.  In all fields, one can find similar stories that all follow a similar path.  This same point that Aristotle points out so eloquently has recently been elaborated on through the 10,000 hour rule, which has been popularized in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers (a book which I highly recommend).  The basic premise is that if a person reaches 10,000 hours spent performing a specific skill or activity that they will be a master at it.  This equates to three hours a day over the course of ten years.  The truth is in the results.  Gladwell points out that the number of hours is not a magic number, and that one may become a master before reaching 10,000 hours, but that the process of constant, consistent work towards a goal will eventually reach its fruition.  

One thing that this rule, and Aristotle's original statement allow for is gradual progress.  The road to mastery is a long path and thusly progress will not be in large leaps, but in small steps.  Every once in a while there will be a "breakthrough moment," but these are really just a culmination of many little adjustments over time fusing together to create the current product.  This process of slow growth is not often embraced today, however the effects are considerably more lasting than quick fix practices.  

For myself, coming to realize this slow process has been a lesson in patience.  I first started my transition from baritone to tenor about two years ago.  Apart from my obvious issues of distance from my teacher, the process has been very slow as in not nearly done.  I have just recently come into possession of a high A and Bb, and they are still fickle at best.  The process has been, for me, one that seems to move at such a pace that I do not really feel like I am progressing at all, but feedback from others and those few moments affirm that I am on the right path.  Faith is a key component to this as well, for without faith that I am a singer, I would never have pursued this path this far.

Part 2:  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Using the example of Michael Jordan again, he practiced his shot so much over the years that it was second nature for him.  The same goes for Tiger Woods at his peak, or Michael Phelps, or Luciano Pavarotti.  This ties into my last post, but when we put the time in to make something a part of ourselves, we have no choice but for it to appear easy.  If we practice with the goal of attaining the highest level possible then excellence will occur.  It has no choice.  

Aristotle's quote as a whole is really an if-then scenario.  If we repeatedly do something to the point that it becomes a part of us, then excellence is to be expected.  There is a concept in endurance sports that essentially states:  If you want to be a better runner, go run.  If you want to be a better swimmer, go swim.  Excellence can only occur when you focus on a task.  What do you want to become excellent at?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A realization

I was driving home today and had a light bulb moment that for some reason had not yet occurred in my tiny mind:  I am getting paid to sing every week.  By definition this makes me a professional singer, my ultimate professional goal.  To be honest the true fulfillment of my goal is to be a professional singer singing opera, not church music, but that is simply a matter of definition.  The fact of the matter is that I am getting paid to act out my passion!  I am far from a complete singer at this point in my life, and singing is definitely not paying the bills on its own yet, but I am one step closer than I have been in the past.  I am averaging approximately one service a week at the moment and would love to be able to find more work.  This week I also have my first paid non-church gig in over a year singing for a NAVY retirement ceremony.  I am very honored to be singing for this as the ceremony itself is apparently steeped in 200 years worth of tradition, and most civilians do not get to witness this.  All this to get to the point of my post this week.  It is a combination of old mantras:  Good things come to those who wait.  Slow and steady wins the race.

I have been working towards being a singer for about 12 years, 8 of them have been spent in serious pursuit.  I have had a fair share of setbacks, including very discouraging classmates in college, and people who I consider to be within my circle who often doubt my path in life.  However through it all I have kept firm to my beliefs that I am a singer and that this is my calling in life.  Now after countless hours of work I am beginning to see some of the fruits of my labor.  I often tell people that I am not the most talented singer, in fact many of my friends have considerably more singing talent than I do, but that the reason why I will be successful is that I have a work ethic that comes from a lack of talent.  I have seen many talented people become mediocre due to a variety of reasons reaching from sitting on their laurels to an unwillingness to hear criticism.  So while they simmer and fizzle out, I continued my work quietly and mostly unnoticed, until one day I was better than they were, seemingly out of the blue!  The moral here seems to be apparent:  Work ethic and passion will trump talent every single time, without exception.