Friday, October 4, 2013

Inciting and Encouraging the Imagination

Chapter Nine

Inciting and Encouraging the Imagination
   As children, we develop our imaginations by envisioning a variety of circumstances, Custer’s last stand, the triumphant raising of the flag on Iwo Jima, being cowboys, riding horses, driving a locomotive, and driving a car. The ability was inherent, easy to do, easy to experience, easy to believe. Belief is at the basis of imagination. One cannot imagine something they don’t believe. So, as we grow up, our beliefs are challenged. The biggest change in belief for me, was the wonderful belief in Santa Claus, and later, in Superman.   I have heard of kids jumping off their parent’s roof with a cape around their necks, believing they could fly. As grown-ups, we struggle with many beliefs, the existence of God, the responsibility of our law makers, and custodians of the public good.     What is the driving force that challenges our ability to believe in something? Of, course there is our knowledge gained and experiences lived which temper our beliefs. That is somewhat governed by influential people around us, and by events which happen that appear to be unsettling. How do we respond to such incidents? We adopt a critical posture. In fact, that seems so right, that we embrace our ability to criticize ourselves, and eventually, others. Naturally, since it is human nature to be right in our choices, we justify our criticism as being “constructive.” Universities around the world accept this as an effective means to teach students, and evaluate professors. Customarily, researchers and educators utilize a critical approach, “constructive criticism” to evaluate and assist students in the creative process. However, criticism actually impedes creativity. Creativity depends upon complete belief, commitment and desire to share a distinct point of view with others, the audience, and recipients of the communication.
   “Creation is the artist’s true function. But it would be a mistake to ascribe creative power to an inborn talent. Creation begins with vision,”(Henri Matisse). Imagination is a visual ability. Since creativity involves the development of one’s imagination, the question is whether or not the critical approach is the most effective method in encouraging and inciting the imagination. Criticism has been known as the “killer of creativity,”(Tony Haze).
   This chapter addresses an alternative approach, which is non-critical and allows the researcher/educator an opportunity to engender creativity and self-mastery of the student.
   Possibly, this heuristic approach is applicable to all teaching. The author’s experience is based upon teaching and performing, and developing professional and amateur performing artists, as actors and singers, who thrive on inspiration, not criticism. Inspiration engenders oxygen, which serves to bring about a state of enthusiasm, increasing belief.
    Imagination plays a vital role and is the most valuable asset that visual and performing artists have. An artist uses the imagination to portray a character or to interpret a work of art. It might also be vital to architects, engineers, businesses, educators, and politicians. 
    The author originally researched the imaginative process in London and Paris, where he observed artists as they copied the masters, and could not see an ounce of criticism in their eyes. Their process was gentle, evaluative, looking at what they liked about their work, of each and every detail. After they exhausted that, they thought to themselves, “What would I like to change?” Immediately, they had a burst of enthusiasm, and went from pallet to 
canvas with direction and verve. From this came the thesis that criticism in teaching could be counter-productive and actually inhibits a student’s ability to use the imagination, because it places attention on one’s lack of ability to perform well, rather than on the actual ingredients of the performance. If the talented student could be led to look at his/her work without criticism, their intuitive abilities would open them up to the beneficial change to be made in their creative/educational process. The teacher would thus be able to assist the student in their next level of achievement. In the case of the artist, he/she would be more able to get closer to the subject being created within their imagination, with more clarity and permission. Thus, a non-critical process works to improve the student’s attention, and enables him/her to utilize the rich treasures of their imaginations.   There are obstacles which reduce the effectiveness of our imaginations. To imagine an event, a situation, a communication of thoughts, ideas, and images, one needs to have an understanding of the composition involved. One also needs a complete understanding of the traps that prevent the mind from imagining something. There are four basic traps which inhibit a person from assuming a viewpoint of a character or an interpretation of a work of art, which is essential to delivering a specific communication. The basic fundamental is rooted in how one places his/her attention. 
ASSUMPTION: Should one make an assumption that the character is wrong, evil, misguided, misinformed or unintelligent, it will limit the performer’s ability to understand the viewpoint of that character. It is a well-known premise that people consider their thoughts and actions to be right, and rarely consider themselves as bad, sad, angry and negative, even though they may show that to others. Making assumptions impedes one’s ability to effectively use the imagination.
ATTITUDE: The second trap is to manufacture an attitude, which is pasting over the viewpoint something which hampers communication. It’s a barrier that imposes negativity between one person and another. It creates insincerity, and often, foolishness. It is an exterior fabrication that is in genuine. This barrier also distracts attention sufficiently to reduce the effectiveness of the imagination.
ASSOCIATION: The third trap is association. This occurs when a performer thinks “this character reminds me of so and so.” If one’s ever gone on a date and told the person they reminded you of someone, the impact is severe and unless the person is extremely forgiving, it would be the last date for you. Our imaginations operate on thought processes, and when you can imagine the reaction of the character (whom you are representing) would have, you would decide to hold that thought, and see something positive about that specific human being instead. We are all fragile creatures who want to find people who like, admire, and adore us for who we are. 
ARBITRARY: The fourth trap is arbitrary, which is why they are labeled as the “Four A’s”. Arbitrary is by definition, something that comes out of the air, without rhyme or reason. I have known performers who utilize this trap; because they think it makes it more interesting. There is a difference between being “interesting” and actually interested in someone or something. 
   There is a power of the positive choice, which improves one’s level of interest, which is far more dramatic and effective than drawing attention to one’s self. When a performer places attention on self, again it reduces an ability to imagine properly, because it introverts attention which can engender a form of criticism. Evaluating which of the four A’s is operating, will help one to alter the choice, and find a more positive one. 
   The entire process of getting closer to another person’s viewpoint is not radical, abusive, and indifferent. It speaks out that we need to see and admire qualities in others that draw us nearer to them. One needs to relate to them positively, from the subject’s viewpoint. 
   In addition, as performers and artists we need to experience something significant, which is at the center and purpose of communication. It is an object lesson in life, as well. Often a performer thinks they need to lie to themselves in order to assume a viewpoint. Perhaps an attorney may make that choice when s/he is in the process of representing that person, and there may be consequences of that. However, a performer’s mission is a higher calling, one to experience joy in a viewpoint, and share that joy with an audience. It is an act of creating a bond with a character, which instructs us well. There is much truth in this method of approaching the work. This is the bridge that may exist in other fields and disciplines, as joy is not limited to artists, but can exist in all human endeavors.

    “Creative thinking is not a talent, it is a skill that can be learnt. It empowers people by adding strength to their natural abilities which improves teamwork, productivity, and where appropriate, profits.” (Edward de Bono, creativity writer)
    “I think, therefore I am!” It is true that our thoughts direct us in our actions. It has been said there are barriers which prevent fulfilling communication. Other than criticism, lying, and deceit, there is anger, which has its focus on stopping people, things, situations, and solutions. When a performer plays the emotion of anger, it drowns out the thought, and ends the communication. Anger removes opportunities to use our imagination. Instead, there are other emotions which add joy to the equation, such as antagonism, which has the point of attention on bantering back and forth, as a New York cab driver enjoys. 
    Once we put value on the thoughts we have, and on understanding how another person views the world, we are able to increase our level of joy in the work. It’s what attracts audiences, who are seeking relief from daily challenges and disappointments.
    As one realizes how important these actions are, we are humbled by the opportunity to spread joy among the people we work with, we share our tasks with, and our lives with.
    Our families are benefited and our relationships are nurtured. It indeed is a greater calling to contribute such joy and provide moments of enlightenment. 
   Performers, and indeed others, have a need to understand how they can achieve balance and equilibrium, by being able to heuristically solve their problems, without the distractions of external criticism, consulting their own evaluation which is intimately connected to sensory receptors. 
   We all have feelings that can guide us when we seek answers. As teachers, we can provide basic fundamentals which serve to direct the attention to details of each performance, as an artist uses paint colors, shapes, light and shadows, line, and content to tell a story. 
   Imagination is all thought driven. Emotions provide support, and thought monitors the degree of effort needed to achieve results. There is no difference between a performing artist and an athlete’s preparation and performance. When the artist and athlete achieve maximum thought and action with minimal effort, the whole process appears effortless and that fact increases the amount of joy we all experience. When one increases the amount of joy, one is inspired and incited to use imaginative abilities. 

   Only then can we have fulfillment, as we utilize the treasures of our imagination, unfettered by any negative influence. One increases the ability to find positive solutions and remove tendencies to create additional problems, by properly focusing attention. Instead of accepting criticism, one needs to ask ourselves what we liked and what we would like to change. That way, we can become more confident, secure, knowledgeable and effective.
   The challenge remains; how can we exercise this premise in whatever research or instructional methods we pursue? Certainly, demand is there for more effective methods.
   There are many areas which lack joyful pursuits, and joyful participants. It is possible to employ instruction and research without placing blame on the student or participants of the activity? Rather than rationalize failures, it might be wiser to investigate the heuristic alternatives. Once the reader investigates the possibility, further development in other fields may prove fruitful. There are many disciplines that may benefit, and it is the challenge many researchers and educators may enjoy investigating with a variety of applications and trials.
   Nevertheless, there are so many valuable uses employed with imagination, which creates more positive solutions, more beneficial results, and pave the way toward increasing knowledge, producing enlightenment, and culminating in joyful pursuits. Criticism rarely brings us happiness. Instead, it creates doubt, divisiveness, and divorce- separating one from another. Criticism is a bitter pill compared to taking in an imaginative image, thought, idea, or concept. Imagination restores beauty, harmony and unconditional love uniquely in all arenas. Art can only be created by artists who have vibrant, stimulating minds filled with compassionate intentions. Imagination is more a vitamin than a pill.

Friday, March 15, 2013


Chapter Eight

10 Reasons to Enter a Music Competition

  1. Increase and polish technical skills                                                                                                                         

  1. Rise to a challenge

  1. Develop and display musicianship

  1. Receive a written evaluation of your selections by a master musician

  1. Increase discipline

  1. Have something special for which to practice

  1. Have fun!

  1. Develop performance skills and stage presence

  1. Develop self-esteem and good sportsmanship

  1. Be recognized for a great performance

10 Reasons to Study Music

  1. Music study develops the areas of the brain which are responsible for language and reasoning

  1. Students who study music score higher of the SAT and other standardized tests, and receive higher grades in school over non-music students.

  1. With music study, students learn the elements of detailed work towards creating an aesthetic result. Students learn to overcome challenges and to break work down into understandable units.

  1. Discipline:  Through music study, students learn the value of sustained effort to reach excellence.

  1. Music provides an important avenue towards self-expression.

  1. Performing music builds self-esteem.

  1. Music study provides a gateway to appreciate, understand, and experience world cultures, traditions, and histories.

  1. Music study and practice encourages creative thinking and artful problem solving, as well as the ability to see a viewpoint other than your own.

  1. Making music is fun and rewarding.

  1. Music amongst family and friends bring precious memories that last a lifetime.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Chapter Seven

                How to Practice Singing

  1. Warm Up the Voice with Exercises that:
    1. Check the Breath
    2. Create Good Posture
    3. Thin, shorten, and loosen the vocal cords.

  1. Do Vocal Technique Exercises for 20-45 Minutes. Do Work that covers
      The following skills:
  1. Support:
    • Breath Control drills
    • The balance of the apoggio
    • Legato singing
    • Floating high notes
    • Exercises that work air flow
  2. Evenness throughout the range:
    • Positioning the throat work
    • More thinning and release exercises
  3. Resonance:
    • Balancing the vowels
    • Even vibrato exercises
  4. Tailor exercises to your songs

  1. Communication & Monologue Work:
    1. Use a cork
    2. Overdo consonants
    3. Focus attention on an imaginary viewpoint
    4. Expect a reaction or result from the distant viewpoint
    5. If applicable, monologue in both languages with a literal translation
    6. Use SRS, and write down the thoughts of the character
    7. Write down transitions on how one thought goes to another
  1. Research
    1. Find the story line and research the song by:
      • Looking on the internet to get a summary (
      • Go to the library
      • Rent the movie or buy the soundtrack
      • Find “side notes” about the characters
      • Buy the sheet music or the entire work, if possible

  1. Learn the Music
    1. Learn the notes on the piano or from a tape or CD
    2. Hum or “ZZZ” or sing on a vowel to get familiarity
    3. Notice & understand all musical directions: Use a music dictionary
    4. Mark where you need to breathe
    5. Get used to singing the melody with an actual accompaniement once you learn the notes
  1. Drill pre-determined section of the song to gain technical ability &       translate it into a “sensation” or feeling.
    1. Merge technical exercises into the song
    2. Incorporate communication into tech difficult sections ASAP, merging the “sensation” with a “point of view.”

  1. Sing and Practice the pieces a capella and:
    1. Check pitches along the way with a pitch pipe
    2. Use a metronome
    3. Use a cork
    4. Use the viewpoint of the character who is singing
    5. Sing with good, grounded posture, with initial use of the wall & then wean yourself away from the wall
    6. “Step up to the Plate” with Performance Energy

  1. Rehearse with an Accompanist and:
    1. Set Tempos
    2. Review the spots in the song that have tricky entrances & rhymes
    3. Stay in the viewpoint once the song is “set.”

  Additional Note:  Some beginning students may find it helpful to rehearse
  with the actual tape or CD from their last lesson.  Listening and/or singing
  with it will reinforce the learning process.

Monday, February 4, 2013


Chapter Six
How to Monologue

   Why do monologues? To establish a communication between one viewpoint and another. Any text information falls under the classification of communication, including texts from stories, plays, films, and SONGS. All communication occurs between viewpoints, whether real or imaginary. It is the performer’s job to create identities and points of view, so that communication can occur.    What is a monologue? It is an imaginary viewpoint creation from a source to a destination, and requires imaginative abilities to create those viewpoints. It is also more of a telling than a reading, as you are telling someone something, usually of increased importance, in order for something else to happen, a desired result of the communication. There is a point to the communication, a reason you are telling it, and a consequence of getting the message across.
   What are the steps in a monologue? There are three steps: First, the act of SEEING what is in a text, independent of your own thoughts about it. See all of the thoughts and understand what they mean. Next, there is the step of RELATING the information to what you know about the communication, the situation (which you may have to imagine), the person you’re talking to, and the reason why you are communicating the message. The last step is to SIGNIFY, or to attach a degree of importance to the communication, usually dealing with why you’re delivering the communication. To add significance to the thoughts makes them special to a viewpoint, and to match your viewpoint to an imaginary character’s viewpoint is why you want to monologue your songs. The more you monologue them, the more certainty you receive, and the more you groove into the viewpoint of the character.
   Once you have completed your initial investigation of the script or song, and have applied the SRS approach, you need to write out the thoughts to gain more understanding of the communication. I suggest you use a separate piece of paper to write out the thoughts that come to mind as you read the thoughts from the script or sheet music. Take advantage of each of the three steps, seeing, relating and signifying in this process. Essentially, you are getting familiar with the character’s viewpoint, what absorbs his or her attention, and what thoughts arise from that. 
   The next step is to isolate the thoughts from the music, especially in terms of rhythm, timing, rests, accents, and other musical demands. You need to approach the monologue from a timeless, even slower rate of absorption so that the thoughts have room to breathe and your understanding can occur. William Charles Macready, a well-known Shakespearean actor, in preparation for the leading role in Macbeth, secured his head to a wall by using rawhide nailed and hooked to the wall to restrict any motion that might distract his attention. He knew that having the correct focus was required to assume the viewpoint of the character. We don’t know if he wrote out his own thoughts, or if he just thought about them as he began the procedure of “monologuing”(a made up word for performers). Shakespeare’s language is often melodic and in a certain rhythm, and it’s wise to initially ignore it, for the sake of understanding the components of the communication, as we do with musical theatre. 
   Naturally, once a performer attains command of the communication, music and rhythm, and even rests can be added. All too often this step is either unknown or ignored by performers and the result is as Shakespeare said in the Scottish play, “…a poor player, acting his hour on the stage, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” In other words, we hear a singer or actor who has attention on the sound of the voice rather than on the meaning of the communication. 
    It is preferable to start the process of “monologuing” quietly, even a whisper as if you are introducing the thoughts to the situation. After twenty or thirty times, the whisper will evolve to normal speech. Over the years, students have asked how many times they should monologue a script or song, and my response is “only you know.” The process is done by you, for you, and not for anyone else. It is similar to the process of getting to know someone, even dating someone you are attracted to. You start by taking baby steps, little moves, small talk, and feelings. The secret to this is letting or allowing the thoughts to come out, not forcing, pushing or demanding.
    It’s a gentile process, as it is when you’re learning and experiencing a new person, one you’ve been drawn closer to. You want to avoid the interpretative traps we’ve discussed, anything which causes you to dislike the person, or be critical in any way. The true test of thought is, “If I said or thought something negative or bad about you, how would you feel? What would you do?” Chances are, it would repel that person from you so much, they would want to leave.
   Once you’ve “monologued” (another made up word) several times (Anthony Hopkins has said the best way to learn a script is to read and speak it up to 250 times!), you can experiment with ways to communicate the thoughts. I am a firm believer in shouting the thoughts as it raises the bar and often the importance of what you are saying when you shout or scream it out. It is an excellent way to increase vocal production and range, as well. You can try a variety of emotions, as long as you choose more than one emotion, because no one communicates in one emotional tone, even when a person is angry and full of hate, they go up and down the range of emotions according to the thought and what absorbs their attention. Angry people often have their attention on wanting to stop something or someone, and the only way to stop them is by summoning forceful means. Physical abuse starts this way, as the abuser is reacting to someone who is upsetting the situation and they feel they need to stop the upset. 
   Again, the purpose of monologuing is to discover how the three steps, seeing, relating and signifying contribute to the communication. You are working to achieve a state of unconscious competence, which happens by multiple sessions of monologuing, until you can feel the presence of the character, assuming his or her viewpoint, and focusing your attention on whatever is causing the character to respond. Acting is chiefly the process of reacting to something. The only reason we are not called “Reactors” is we don’t want to be confused with nuclear installations, although it may be helpful to consider ourselves explosive at times. However, nuclear reactors are unthinking entities, and we certainly are thinking and feeling beings.
   After completing these steps, you need to evaluate the experience, asking yourself “What do I like about this communication?” Be thorough, and pull out everything you like, as it helps encourage you to continue. Once you’ve done that, ask yourself “What would I like to change?” Usually, you know because you feel something’s missing or just not right. It may be on account of one of the four A’s present, causing you to be critical of the character, yourself or the situation. Find which of the four A’s is active, as there may be more than one, and address each of them one at a time. If you try to address more than one, the chances are you will become overwhelmed and think you need to quit or withdraw. If that happens, whatever you do, realize it’s a temporary feeling, and, just like a relationship, you don’t want to say or do anything that will make it permanent. It is wise to take a walk when that happens, get out, breathe fresh air (if you live where you can do that) or get on oxygen if you need to. But confront it, don’t simply shrug it off, because it will come back to haunt you. Treat this work tenderly as you would a serious relationship with someone you love. It’s difficult to maintain your composure at times, but know it is required of performers to keep a steady balance and control of your thoughts, emotions and effort expended.                              

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Chapter Five

Be Prepared

    I realized, as a young performer, that the best thing I could do was to develop a workable technique, one that would produce reliable results, so that my work would not be left up to chance or intuition, and that I could be trusted to deliver a valuable contribution and product to the project at hand. So I prepared myself by moving to New York City, and studying with Uta Hagen, and later with Mira Rostova, and Robert Lewis. As wonderful as those years were, I was unhappy and unprepared for the work I would do in the coming years. So I looked around for more training, especially with professionals who also were educators. I understand that many actors do their craft and may or may not know exactly what they do, but rely on their imaginations and intuition. My experience showed me that my intuition was not always accurate, and that for certain roles, it didn’t help me find the special significance that helped me get the message across. In the middle of a run in New York, I discovered that the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art was holding auditions for their one year postgraduate course in the classics. That was the major turning point of my life, when I presented seven out of nine monologues to them, only to be surprised that they would invite me to join them in London! I was truly prepared for that moment. So my advice to performers is have an entire resume of audition pieces on hand. Be Prepared! You never know when someone will want to see what you have to offer.   That motto has stayed with me my entire life, and has helped me deal with criticism, disorder and discouragement.

Dealing with criticism and discouragement
   One encounters all of these in high school, college, graduate school and in the professional arena of stage, film and television. Rather than react to discouragement, criticism and negativity, one largely ignores them and the people who present them. It’s best to consider such people non-existent. One should prepare for the occasional criticism, discouragement and negative reactions that can come along. It is one’s sole responsibility to protect oneself from anything or anyone who would act to suppress or discourage us from doing what we like and love. It’s best to have control over destiny as our thoughts and reactions shape our futures. 
   I had spent much time trying to understand why people would be critical and try to discourage me from living the dream I had as a young man. I read books, attended lectures, sought out others who had experienced setbacks and were confused and even dismayed. There was a time, when I was in the Navy, that I adopted two identities, one as a sailor and another as an interested college student, pretending to attend classes and doing homework.
That deception eventually caught up to me, and a wise man from a local church said I didn’t have to do that. He said all I needed to do was to confront the person or people and disagree with the premise that they were right! All I needed to do was to stand up for who I am, and know what I believed, and just live my life based on that belief, and eventually the “naysayer” would believe me and either ignore me or acknowledge me for who I am. It didn’t matter to me that everyone would not like me. I had to live my life unfettered by the concerns of the few who were critical of me. I had to learn that there would be those who were attracted to me, who agreed with my unique viewpoint, and were interested in finding out more.

Making positive choices
    As a performer, this operating basis became valuable to me, and to the people around me. Making positive choices is the only way to proceed as an actor, because people (characters) naturally consider themselves right, no matter what they do. Critics may have harsh words for them, but from their unique and interesting viewpoint, they believe themselves and their actions as true and righteous. Even Shakespeare’s Richard III believes, because of his deformity and ill fortune, he had to assert himself by killing others in order to gain popularity and control of his world. It’s a matter of viewpoint.

How to start a professional career
    Whenever a young performer asks me for advice on how to get started, I say the same thing, over and over, “You need to develop a workable technique and a body of prepared songs and monologues that you can perform at the drop of a hat.” Once you gather those audition pieces, you’ll want to find your way into auditions for work, and it doesn’t matter much where the performance will take place, in a theatre or a church or a store front, as long as you can perform in front of an audience, any audience, even if it is in a retirement home. We recommend you perform as often as you can, because your improvement is dependent upon the number of performances you do. Performances prepare you for the many eventualities and situations that are possible, including sickness, accidents, conflicts and discouragement.
You need to become a master over any and all distractions in order to be a valuable contributor to the industry. Being able to focus your attention amidst chaotic events makes you into a leader that people can follow and emulate. That takes a lot of preparation to achieve that status.
    Some performers go from one venue to another, from theatre to film and television, from one theatre to several others, and there is no special way to build a career. A good friend of mine, back when I started my career at Berkeley Repertory Company, stayed with the company for ten years until someone from Los Angeles spotted him and invited him to audition for a television series, "Hill Street Blues."  That jump started his career. I was too impatient and bounced around from theatre to theatre until a director saw me in Richard II and asked me to play R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which started my professional career.

Dealing with the issues of talent
   Preparation comes in many ways. When one has talent, having discipline can be a problem. One can also lack diligence and perseverance, as it is easy to consider oneself invincible and can do no wrong. One feels it’s easy to get away with more things, being special and unique, and therefore more difficult to replace. That is an assumption one should not adopt. Having too many assumptions can be dangerous, as you can “burn your bridges” easily in this business. It is just too risky to let something like that happen and wind up “black listed” by the director or producer. Use the talent as a wonderful gift that can be shared by many people. Place attention 
Be a problem solver
   Being a problem solver is important in any team activity, and performing is certainly a team sport. It takes an entire company of performers, coaches, technicians, designers and producers to create a wonderful performance. Everyone needs to contribute by being supportive, helpful, and keenly aware of the role you play in creating the whole story. We are story tellers par excel lance. In order for the story to be told, each valuable part must be delivered without incident, without errors, mishaps and miscues. Part of our preparation is to understand the rhythm, pace and meaning of the work. We need to understand the desired message we are sending out, bearing the right degree of importance and significance. Whatever we do, we need to prepare ourselves for the task, bearing in mind that we are not there to create problems, but to solve them.

Find a good mentor
   There are many situations we will not have answers for, and it is beneficial to find a mentor or person who can be trusted to help. Not everyone is eager to help, however. Seek out those helpers in every company, and usually one or two of them will be there to ask for guidance. It is not easy to ask for help, but it is often necessary. It is a humbling moment when you need to ask for help, but know we all need help from time to time, and there is no shame attached to asking for it. If someone shuns you when you ask for help, find a willing participant who wants to contribute to the production, no matter what position the person holds in the organization. I recall asking a stage hand for help making an entrance, as I saw no way to get around the moving scenery in time to make my entrance. That man went out of his way to alter the motions he made to provide me with a clear path to the stage. Again, some people know it is a team activity and respond amazingly well.

Read as much as is possible
   Preparing your mind is another area of growth which is important to the performer. Sir Lawrence Olivier was told by Dame Judith Anderson to increase his abilities as a reader, that he needed to read more, especially histories to develop his mind and imagination in order to succeed as a performer. He discovered the world of research! He became one of the world’s finest actors ever after that. He realized he had to prepare his mind to understand the variety of roles and viewpoints he would adopt. Even as Hamlet, a role often laden with criticism and disgust for his uncle and mother, Olivier found positive choices to guide him through the process of “setting the world right.” 
   Read historical accounts and read philosophy. Read to discipline the mind as one fills the stomach. Ponder all the thoughts as they come up. Gain a full understanding of the situation.
    Ask how such thoughts might be interpreted and communicated. Study and appreciated the stories available. Delineate the thoughts by writing other thoughts prompted by them.
   It is the thoughts we have that shape our futures. Thoughts attract vibrations which alter the nature of the physical universe and create new realities. By preparing our thoughts, we protect ourselves against adversity, falling into deep traps, and failing to produce the desired results we want to achieve. Use the thoughts to prepare for the tasks ahead.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Beginning Student

Chapter Four
The Beginning Student

   What’s the quickest, surest way to get competency from the “rank beginner to professional?”
   Beginning singing students are from all walks of life: children, high school kids, adult recreational students. They may even be professional actors or dancers who need to sing competently for an impending performance. As a community school for the arts, voice instructors at Utah Conservatory have to work with scores of beginning students, and find the challenges of the “community student” are unique. Usually, they are “recreational singers,” that is, they are looking for enjoyment of a new skill that enhances their quality of life, reduces stress, or accomplishes some personal goal; yet, their quest is not usually the central focus of their vocational goals. These students are part of our new “consumer mentality.” They are looking for maximum results from their “professional trainer” without a whole lot of leisure time to study at the “professional track level.” If they spend their time exclusively with vocal drills and exercises, they feel progress is too slow, as they have not “product” or songs to show for it. Conversely, if they only work on their favorite songs, they may not experience the essential basics of technique that the drills and exercises have to offer. At any rate, we usually find that they need to feel quickly that there is a change in their abilities for the better.
    These issues have brought us to put our heads together and pose the question: what have we, as a faculty, seen as the consistent methods, strategies and techniques that contribute to solid progress and competency for the rank beginner student, particularly the voice student who practices less than 45 minutes a day? And, when they do practice, they are usually double-tasking.
    The Answer for us is in “synergistic principals.” 

Here are some of our guiding strategies:

Extrovert the student’s attention and strengthen their focus.
Insist on Perfect Posture:
   Why? Because perfect singing posture get the student out of his/her own way. 
    It will prevent the student from overcompensating in other areas. This includes: feeling tall and loose; sensing broadness on both sides of the sternum with a high torso; teaching skeletal alignment, feet balanced and shoulder width apart, a feeling of “roundedness” and a “synergistic balance.”

Breathe with the Student in Solidarity:
   Proper breathing can be led by example. As we all recognize that correct breathing is foundational and synergistic to the rest of the singing process, the example of our breath with the student will help to re-pattern their habits. 
We recommend the instructor put her on own hand on her own abdomen while the other hand plays the scales. Let the student always see you breathe move and they will do the same.
   Some basics: Keep the energy low, talk about the “pelvic floor” and the feeling of breath energy flowing through the body and into the floor, allow no tightness to come into the posture during the breath, practice long slow breaths, pant, “plie” with the inhalation, or prop the students entire back side, knees bent, up against the wall, and have them bend down while inhaling. Encourage them to practice low slow breathing while laying in bed with a dictionary on their abs, or when walking or driving.
   The fastest way to get new students to progress is to really get them to support, even if the high sub-glottic pressures might cause them to over-sing a bit. We find that the over-singing can be quickly resolved by just noting to the student that their voice is doing a little more work than it needs to, and that they can release their voice through more air flow. We are so afraid of damaging beginning voice students with over-singing, that they go for months, even years, with unembodied, wimpy tones, never really finding out what their “real” voice sounds like. Conversely, teaching the student about the apoggio and its ability to build the voice is the key. The sub-glottic pressure can first be felt with bubbles and lips drills, then a little feeling of pressure with arpeggios on “ZZZZZ,” followed by the [u] vowel and then some sirens. Sirens get them to feel the way that the air pressure can raise their voices without any vocal work. Last, and perhaps the most controversial, we find that the student who know how to shout, can transfer than sensation to the torso strength that it takes to sing on the breath. We recommended lots of speech-to-singing exercises. We even recommend that students monologue, loudly, their pieces, and then sing them. 
Lesson Structure: A Balance approach in a small amount of time
  • Basic drills and exercises (5-10 minutes)
  • Sieber or Concone (5 minutes)
  • Classical Style Song of teacher’s choosing (5-10 minutes)
  • Contemporary song selected by Student with teacher’s approval (5-10 minutes)
  • Taping the lesson as a pattern for practice
  • Keep explanations concise so that the student is singing for most of the lesson
  • Keep focus on actual learning time (reference)
  • Stay Socratic and positive
  • Avoid critical evaluations
   Immediately focus the student’s attention, and work to extrovert their attention. Most beginning students have introverted attention, which manifests in low energy, over-intellectualizing or processing, confusion, or constantly “judging” or “criticizing” themselves. It is the teacher’s first job to get the student singing and feeling the result, rather than listening to their voices. Listening to their voices is the surest way to introvert attention, reverting to an under-energized and unsupported tone. Direct the student to identify singing with communication. That will also increase their energy. Have them monologue their pieces several times (50 to 100) to a teddy bear, photo, tree, or another person. It is preferable that they use their imagination, rather than an actual person, but using a person is an acceptable gradient step in the process of developing communication skills. The ability to communicate is synergistic to their success. When you require the appropriate energy in performance, it is foundational to good singing. At all times, synergistically match your energy with what you would expect from the student. Even when the student is singing alone, pattern your energy to match or exceed what is required. Such involvement is synergistic, the solidarity of which keeps the student on task. If you lose this “matching energy, watch how the beginning student will quickly become introverted and critical. Conversely, as they gain more ability to extrovert their attention and send energy to a specific point of communication, you can help them to “feel” the success of the energy versus their mistaken postulate that singing is exclusively about listening to their own voices. 
So, to recap
Extrovert the student’s attention, put their attention on communication, and get the student to non-threatening performance opportunities: master classes, friends at lessons, rest home, etc. The students who perform make the best progress.      

Friday, December 14, 2012


Chapter Three
The Basics

    So, I say to you, learn how to focus your attention. Do exercises in attention and communication, because if you’re not communicating to someone you know, even if it’s only in your mind, then your attention will be dissipated, and you’ll be lost in the moment, because without an understanding of who you’re talking to, what you’re saying, and what the importance of the message is, what the point of what you’re communicating, no one will get what or why you’re saying it!

    Let’s clarify with some basic definitions:

Acting – Representing a unique character by assuming the point of view of that person to serve the character in the best, most positive light imaginable, understanding the exact situations a character is involved in. To serve an imaginary character as a spokesperson, believing all that he or she stands for.
Attention- Mental concentration, looking toward someone or something, placing one’s mind and gaze on someone with an expectation of giving and receiving information, with the understanding that something will occur between two or more viewpoints.
Classify- The act of arranging things according to subject matter, putting them into a particular category.
Communication is the act of relaying information from one viewpoint to another viewpoint which includes the attention, intention and willingness to share data from all parties, originator and recipient.
Intention – Having one’s mind strengthened by a specific important purpose.
Objective- Something someone is trying to achieve or reach out for from a specific viewpoint.
Responsibility- Having to account for your actions and recognizing the validity of your character’s and your own choices. 
Specify- Isolating details which describe something to be done or made, clearly distinguishing a unique choice deemed to be important. Finding a special item which emerges significantly within a particular classification, defined exactly, which increases its value.
Note: Several schools of thought on the subject of performing encourage you to focus on objectives, the purposeful goal, but they don’t delve into the source of the attention, which is the imaginary character’s point of view. Ask yourself, “Do I ever focus on an objective?” Usually you focus on your thoughts, and the message you’re trying to communicate. The practice of focusing on objectives may work, if the character is doing that. Most of the time, characters and people are unaware of actual objectives, but they know what their attention is on, how they need to respond to the situation at hand. It is an immediate attraction which leads you to understand the nature of the viewpoint.
   The entire act of creation is two-fold. Initially, when developing a character you need to place him or her into a classification, a category which allows you to see clearly the details and boundaries of the viewpoint. Next, you need to discover something specific about the particular, unique viewpoint given to you by the thoughts and considerations of the character, expressed in the script or song.
You need to first CLASSIFY the situation, and then to SPECIFY something about it; that is, to “specify,” is to make something more important than anything else. By classifying and specifying, you open the door to creative endeavors. You may have to repeat this process until something emerges more important than others.
   I would say the vital task is to expand your ability is to imagine things, imagine situations, imagine character traits, and imagine new thoughts and new ideas. One exercise I’ve found useful is to go to a large shopping mall, and watch people shopping, coming and going to and from stores, and imagine what’s on their minds, what they’re thinking about, what their attention is on, and take notes from you act of imagining what absorbs their attention. It doesn’t matter what you imagine, as long as you don’t fall into the traps of interpretation: This process helps the performer focus his/her attention on the possible negative traps that may come your way, and find out how to reverse them to positive items grasping your attention.
    There is a sequence, that if placed out of order or if the steps are ignored, will hinder the accurate interpretation of a song, and produce little or no effect. In turn, it will leave an audience without an opinion of why you sang the song at all. That’s where the traps come in. They take us away from positive choices, and we become cynical and doubting, rather than positive and reassuring.    You see, as people, we naturally look toward the hopeful, positive, and beneficial paths, those which lead us toward solutions, rather than into the mire of problems.
The Trap of Adopting Criticism
   Our world loves criticism as it pervades the media, our universities, our schools, and our workplace, as well as in our homes. In many ways, it is easier to be critical of someone or something, than it is to take a positive outlook. Performers, as James Earl Jones recently said, “Have the responsibility to breathe life into our characters.” It’s hard to breathe life into an imaginary person when you’re critical of him or her, just as it is hard to love someone when you criticize that person. Performers are challenged to find the most positive viewpoint of the characters they represent in a scene, a song or a movie. That’s why we always look at the good things we do, what we like about our work and our choices.
   I found there are four “A”s which serve as traps, as they hinder our ability to imagine and interpret a viewpoint. 
Attitude: Is a pasted on group of thoughts or actions which we feel are part of a character’s viewpoint, but are not really, because a character’s attention is absorbed with the problem s/he faces, not by attitude arising out of the problem.
Attitudes are not real, but are nevertheless destructive to the process of assuming a viewpoint, as by striking an attitude, you lose the character’s genuine attention on what s/he is doing. It could also be the actor’s attitude toward the character.
By plastering ourselves in an attitude, we drive ourselves away from that viewpoint, because the character as an entity would reject that focus of attention. That creates distance from the location we need to be in, so that we can SEE what has our character’s attention.
Assumption: This is the false act of assuming things are true when they are not, but imagined to be true out of an idea that you are obligated to make it true. If the character was aware of it s/he would separate him/herself from you to prevent being false. We are assuming that our character would react is a way that s/he may not.
The key to discovering if we are making assumptions is to:
  • go over the text of the song, find out who the character is directing the message to
  • imagine the person receiving the communication and viewpoint of your character
  • what reaction would s/he have?
  • Choose the most effective means to communicate your character’s viewpoint. Such means will be designed to get your character’s desired reaction from whomever s/he is talking to. 
  • When that is done, no assumptions will be present.

Association: This is the false act of finding someone or something that is similar and adopting that in place of the true character, deciding that our character resembles “so and so.”It’s thinking “S/he reminds me of … and I know s/he is just like that person.” What effect will that have on our character? The result is alienation, the same thing happens when a person, attempting to create a bonding experience, uses an association to create familiarity, but it backfires because the other person is unique and special and s/he knows it’s not true. S/he wants to be seen as an unique individual, unlike any other person. Your attempt to pigeon hole them will only make them individuate from you, just like a real life friend. They know you’re not sincere if you make an associative comparison.
Arbitrary: This is the result of one’s spontaneous imagination and bringing in something out of the blue, without relevance or regard for the character’s true viewpoint. It often takes shape in emotions and actions you bring to the role. They are destructive to keeping the character’s attention on the actual reality of the situation. Arbitrary is something that comes out of the blue, without rhyme or reason, but just added as a substitute for communication, to make it “interesting or compelling”, but results in a showing that is neither.
Emotional outbreaks are among the arbitrary choices I’ve seen performers make. Excessive emotion has the ability to drown out the thoughts, which confuses audiences as they can’t understand why or how the emotion could fit in with the thought. Remember, performing is mostly thought-driven, and thoughts require accurate attention, from moment to moment.

    These are the Four A’s: Attitude (pasting on ideas to yourself, covering your identity or the character’s identity with fabricated ideas), Association (uniting the viewpoint with someone you know as in “you remind me of such and such”) Assumption (taking a thought that it should be for this purpose by assuming that it is true, when most likely it is not) and Arbitrary (coming from nowhere, from a wild tangent or a “fun idea”). If you fall into any of these traps, your proximity to the viewpoint will enlarge, because the character, the imaginary character will be offended and won’t have anything to do with you, especially since your job is to represent the viewpoint to the best of your knowledge and wisdom. And in summary, that is why you are a performer, so you can take on the viewpoint of an imaginary character, find what his/her attention is on, locate that focal point, speak with all the feeling you have inside you, letting it come out naturally, as the breath from your soul.
    Use the Four A’s to help you locate the trouble spots. Sometimes they are illusory and difficult to perceive. If you feel something is not effective in your communication, and you’re “Not in the zone” so to speak, check yourself by evaluating your thoughts about the character, the situation, other characters and the entire scene. You may have an unknown critical thought which propels you into a void, like falling into a deep hole. You need to isolate the origin of that thought and acknowledge its presence. Once that “A” has been identified, you can discard the critical thought by changing it to a positive choice, then rehearsing it over and over again to remove any residual negative effect.

Positive Choices Enhance Imagination
   I looked at assumptions that I had made and realized that it was a trap, one that drove me further from the viewpoint, rather than closer. It became apparent that these traps would hamper, if not kill the communication process, and would also reduce my ability to use my imagination, which I feel is the most valuable and important tool a performer has.
   As children, we imagine everything, the Wild West, the presence of Indians, the battlefield with cannons and guns, the railroad trains and trucks; in short, our imaginations got us through childhood. So why as adults, do we lose the ability to develop our imaginations? 
   What is this process? I call it the SRS method, short for SEE, RELATE, & SIGNIFY. I have found this process to be very workable, and if used consistently, will produce great satisfaction and enjoyment in your performances. 

The first step is to SEE what is there.
SEE what thoughts are there 
SEE the transitions between the thoughts
what brings on the change of thought
how that change from one thought to another is used to create a desired response?
What is actually happening in the music?
SEE the rhythm, tempo, and pacing of the piece, and any changes & transitions
SEE the instructions written on the music: dynamics markings, phrasing & articulation.
SEE how the composer integrated the text with the melody, and identified what kind of vocal line it is. Are there skips, scales, recitatives, etc?
Note what the accompaniment is doing in contrast to the vocal line.
SEE and hear the harmonies and dissonances.

The second step is to RELATE, that is, to:
compare one thought to another 
compare how the thoughts are connected to an overall point of the communication.
Compare your thoughts to that of the character if you were in the same situation. Would you say or do the same thing? Why? Why not?
How do the character’s thoughts and works and actions originate from a positive place; where even an antagonist is making decisions because they feel it is the best path for them?
Often, this step is used extensively when a performer monologues the song, wherein the communication is enhanced, and discoveries about the character’s thought processes are revealed. With the monologue process, you , as the performer, understand how the “cycle of communication” is present.
  That leads to the third step, to SIGNIFY, to find something important in the communication that focuses your attention, that gives you purpose for the communication. The important thought that you choose as being significant can absorb you full attention and involvement, and will help bring in the emotional support for your communication.
   The whole use of SRS is to take advantage of your creative abilities to classify and specify.

Being a performer is different from being a person. Performers must “step up to the plate,” in terms of their energy and communication. They must be like tigers ready to pounce, and must have an antenna out for opportunities to find significance.
   The most successful auditions I’ve had happened when I found something significant in the song or scene, something I could rally behind, and something that put me into the viewpoint of the character instantly. Most of the unsuccessful auditions lacked that clarity of purpose, and therefore reduced my ability to energize from that specific viewpoint. 
    Performers must also be excellent perceivers of human thought and emotion. I recommend going to a shopping mall and watching people, SEEING, RELATING and finding SIGNIFICANCES. It is a good, worthwhile activity to prepare you for this work. Performers should be positive role models, people who are problem solvers, not problem makers. Most of our activity involves groups of people, and whenever one of us becomes a negative influence, the result is disastrous.
   Our lives will impact us, and we need to develop our techniques to survive as performers, to not dredge up bad times to artificially energize ourselves, but rather to use our imaginations to place us in the moment. 
    So, how do you get setup for a performance? You start by imagining what just happened five minutes earlier, and you place yourself in that viewpoint, so that when you begin singing or acting, you are already in the MIDDLE of the scene or song, so that you are involved and communicating, rather than BEGINNING to communicate. 
   I realize that to prepare performers one needs to direct their attention and energy to mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual realities, which are brought about by clear and present thoughts. This demands much from a performer, inasmuch as mental work can be as trying as physical work. Yet, this mental work is a known necessity and requirement of the performer.
    Much of this discipline lends itself to the task of living. I encourage performers to overcome adversity, illness, laziness and apathy. By challenging ourselves to remove criticism from our lives, we set our sights on finding positive choices, which edify our families and friends. We set a standard of living which is higher than life itself.
It is the secret to living a life of joy.