Sunday, August 31, 2008

For perhaps the first time ever...

... I find myself with basically nothing to say. I keep thinking about what I am going to write next on this blog and I don't really have much to contribute at this time. The past few days I've been fighting loneliness. I have rediscovered just how long the hours can be when you are lonely. At this point in my life I feel like the people I need, want and miss are basically inaccessible, because of either geography or timing. But I've also found myself clinging to beautiful promises, finding perspective and getting a bit of hope. These are cycles that repeat, sometimes in a matter of minutes. But honestly, all's well. It's kind of telling that I have so much freedom and so many resources that I have time to sit around and worry about the future. Many people on this earth don't have that luxury.

So keep those prayers going on my behalf and keep the e-mails and text messages coming my way. And, most of all, your presence, if possible.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


The following is a message from the ww opinion system.
*stepping onto soapbox*

It seems to me that most covers are pointless. The kind of cover I'm talking about is when someone re-records their version of a song. For example, the Carpenters did a cover of the Beatles' "Please Mr. Postman". The practice of covering is certainly not new, but it seems like these days there are more covers than ever.

Why do I think they are pointless? Because, in many cases, the cover doesn't add anything new to the artistic expression in the song. It seems like it's just an excuse to make money off a song that they didn't have to write themselves. For example, No Doubt's version of Talk Talk's "It's My Life" is basically the exact same as the original arrangement, except for a girl is singing instead of a guy. Likewise, Smashing Pumpkins' version of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" is, as far as I can tell, exactly like the original, except a guy is singing instead of a girl.

I remember asking my friends on Facebook what they thought of covers, and one of the responses that I got was like this: "I don't mind covers, as long as they stay true to the original vision of the artist and pay appropriate homage to them." I really couldn't disagree more. If you respect the original musician that much, why not let that person's version stand as the definitive version of the song? I have no doubt that it was her admiration for the excellent songwriting skills of Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot that caused Sarah McLachlan to cover "Blue" and "Song for a Winter's Night", but her arrangements, while layered with ephemeral voices, don't really add anything new to the song. The only relative consolation I feel about these kind of covers is that at least the original author of the song is hopefully getting some additional royalties to reward them for their excellent songwriting in the first place.

There is an occasional cover that is a completely different artistic interpretation of the song in question. I have no problem with these reinterpretations. For example, "Mad World", as performed by Michael Andrews, gives a completely different feel than the original Tears for Fears version. And there are certain good songwriters who are such bad singers that they beg to be covered: Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, to name a couple. There are great songwriters like Burt Bacharach who rarely perform their own songs but purposely write them to be performed by someone else. But Counting Crows and Amy Grant seemed to leave something out when they covered Joni Mitchell's playfully sarcastically serious version of her "Big Yellow Taxi".

This is my general message to those musicians who want to make a quick buck by covering a good song that was written and performed by someone else: it would be much better if you made your money off of your own creativity instead of someone else's.

And don't even get me started on remakes of movies.

*stepping off of soapbox*
You may now return to your regularly scheduled program.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I am SO entertained by this

I just used the site to create some pictures of what I might look like in yearbook photos from different years. Here are some of the best ones:


(I think I look a lot like my grandma in this one.)


(As I recall, my actual hairstyle in that era wasn't all that different.)

I just have one thing to say about this: BWAHAHAHAHA!!!


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Road trip update.

I accomplished my goal of going to the following places this weekend:
Logan, UT
Idaho Falls, ID
Jackson, WY

The following places were added to the list for future visits:
Logan, UT
Alpine, WY

Here are some examples of the amazing views I had the past couple of days.

Next direction: South, I think. :)

Friday, August 15, 2008

I've got the fever and I don't want a cure

Travel fever. I have it. Bad. Every time I learn that I know someone in a place that I haven't been before (or lately) I want to visit them. The more friends I make, the more traveling I want to do. Here are some places on my list, ranked in order of how soon I want to go there...

Logan, UT
Idaho Falls, ID
Jackson, WY
Ivins, UT
Tempe, AZ
Houston, TX
Eagle, ID

and some destinations that are a little more removed...

Czech Republic
Winnipeg, Manitoba
Fort Frances, Ontario
Laie, HI
Mexico City, Mexico

I guess that's good for starters... :)

Monday, August 11, 2008

"The grass is always greener..."

Is that true?  Because the grass on the other side of the fence looks pretty good right now... *sigh*.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Today I sang a solo in church and I tried to use the principles that I learned in Vocal Beauty Boot Camp.  Lots of people came up to me after the meeting and told me that they had enjoyed the musical number and that it was beautiful.  I sang "Guide Me to Thee", which I knew very well after having sung it all week at the camp.  My father had attended the meeting just to hear me sing and said that some of the notes that I sang were just "transporting".  That's a high compliment coming from him.  Thanks, Vocal Beauty Boot Camp, for helping me to bring beautiful music into the church setting.  While my performance was inconsistent in applying the new principles I have learned, I did a better job than I would have done, and apparently people enjoyed the performance.  I certainly hope that the performance helped to invite the presence of the Holy Ghost into the meeting.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Vocal Beauty Boot Camp: Day Four

Today in Vocal Beauty Boot Camp I finally learned how to get a legato line with my breath support.  Unfortunately my abdominal muscles were so tired that they didn't really hold out through the afternoon as much as I would have liked.  But I feel happy with the improvements I was able to make in the quality of my squillo.  Overall I am happy with what I have learned about breath support, legato line, vibrato, and squillo.  It remains for me to make my placements very consistent so I can have good intonation all the time and for me to find the absolute best ways to pronounce vowels.  I think I am going to give my abs a break tomorrow so I will hopefully be able to sing well when I sing a solo in sacrament meeting on Sunday.  Fortunately, I'm singing one of the pieces that we practiced in Boot Camp so I know it VERY well.  People were very tired today after having the intensive boot camp classes plus not getting much sleep in the dorms so today was a more laid-back day, but we also heard some of the best singing of the entire camp from just about everyone.  We also discussed how we can share what we have learned about beautiful singing with others, such as ward choirs.

The people at Vocal Beauty Boot Camp really jelled over the course of the short period of the boot camp.  Today a group of us all had lunch together at the Museum Cafe and we talked about our favorite hymns and really had a good time.  Apparently the instant friendship between me and  Shelley was noticeable enough that someone else at boot camp asked her how we know each other; we only met on Tuesday just like everyone else.  At the end of the day we took pictures with our "cocktail" faces and some of the people had the brilliant idea to get some cards for our teachers and accompanist, along with a beautiful bouquet for the accompanist.  There were hugs and I received a couple of invitations to stay with people when I visit their hometowns.  Afterwards I went back with Shelley as she got her stuff together and she drove me to my car, where we said goodbye with hugs and ideas about when we can see each other again.

Vocal Beauty Boot Camp is a really intense experience and I'm not sure that I could realistically do it for a longer time; a lot of stuff in my life has been put on the back burner while I was doing it.  But at the same time I wish it lasted a little longer.  It is nice to have an excuse to lay many of my responsibilities aside for a while.  I would love to have a longer time to work on my vocal technique and improve my singing, and also I would love a little longer time to spend with the wonderful people who attended the boot camp.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Vocal Beauty Boot Camp: Day Three

I was a little frustrated through much of day two until the little glimmer of hope I got near the end, but day three was great. In the morning I tried holding my tongue down while making the "fruit cocktail" face and it was pretty successful. I was able to get some "ring" into my sound by really stretching the cheeks up to lift the velum. In the afternoon we just stood around and mostly listened to each other sing and it was so great to hear such beautiful and pleasant sounds that were coming out of people. Everyone -- everyone -- has made progress. Not only are all the individuals in the group making progress, but we are also happy for each other's progress. On many occasions during the class today we broke out in applause and cheers for our classmates when they got something that they had been trying to do. I'm really excited for day four, but I also wish that the boot camp weren't quite over. I'd like to continue the opportunities to make progress! I finally feel that I'm starting to figure out the basic interactions between breath and the openness of the vocal tract -- I need more time to refine my vowel pronunciation and confirm what I have been practicing.

Tonight the boot camp participants along with participants in some other music conferences at BYU went to Temple Square in Salt Lake City. We attended a rehearsal of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and we got to sit in the choir seats with the choir and sing along with them a bit. They didn't anticipate as many of us as there were so some of us sat in extra chairs that they put out around the conductor, which actually gave us a pretty good view of things.

While I was waiting for my friends to show up at Temple Square on the bus, I took a few pictures of myself. This is a portrait of me making the "fruit cocktail" face that I make now when I am singing.

I'm going to be sad when boot camp is over.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Vocal Beauty Boot Camp: Day Two

Today in vocal beauty boot camp was intense. The trust among the participants is growing, as is the vocal beauty of the group. Spirits were high this morning as we heard some increasingly beautiful sounds coming from some of our classmates during the morning video-recording session. (I was going to be up next, but then we sort of ran out of time.) Apparently the room we were in needed to be worked on in the afternoon so we transferred to another room, which I actually liked a little better; it was a little bit of a better size for our group. During the breakout sessions in the afternoon at one point three different people were shedding tears at the same time. I had some hope when Dr. Robison promised me that my voice would blossom like others when I got the pharyngeal openness right. He had me speaking the words to the song in a dramatic, spooky voice to teach me what to do. In fact, he wouldn't allow me to sing at that point because every time I tried to sing it I was closing up, but I would stay open when I was speaking dramatically. Anyone who was observing from outside wouldn't know what was going on. By the end of the day, Dr. Robison asked if we could offer a closing prayer to give thanks for the things that had happened. There truly were some great changes today. In fact, at one point a woman started singing behind me, and I had to turn around to find out who it was because her voice was so different (and gorgeous!).

I didn't stay for the hymn sing they had tonight; I just went home. I expected the Utah County rush-hour traffic to be pretty crowded but it wasn't very bad. I felt pretty good when I got home, but also a little tired. I came home and started reading the scriptures, then fell asleep for quite a while. I think I'm going to need a good night's sleep to be ready for boot camp tomorrow.

A few more gems that I learned today:
Being like a little child. Little babies, when they are learning to walk, don't just get frustrated and give up if they can't do it the first time, nor do they give up if they fall down after they walk a little bit. They just keep going forward. We adults can be the same way. In boot camp, for example, people get it sometimes and lose it other times. Instead of being frustrated about the loss, we should look at the potential we have and keep moving forward. Likewise, when we sin, our attitude should be one of moving forward and trying for better, instead of repeatedly wallowing in past sins.
Worshiping through hymns. Since hymns are a form of prayer, it is "vain repetition" if we sing hymns without bringing out the sacred meaning of the words. Adding the meaning makes the hymn much more beautiful, exciting, touching, and musical, for both the performer and the audience.
Why am I doing this? As I look inside myself and look at my motivations for attending Vocal Beauty Boot Camp, I have to admit that my motives may not be entirely unselfish. I am well-known in my ward as the person that everyone can hear in sacrament meeting, because my voice carries over the singing of the congregation. But at vocal beauty boot camp I have discovered that I have a lot of work to do to reach my full potential. I'm afraid that if my goal is to get more acclaim and attention by improving my singing, the improvements probably won't come in the way I want. If my motives are more pure and I desire to sing beautifully because I want to worship and help others worship, I think I will be more blessed with the improvement I want. So I must make sure that my intentions are appropriate if I want to sing very beautifully.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Vocal Beauty Boot Camp: Day One

When the alarm went off at 6:30, I wasn't particularly excited about getting right up, especially since I hadn't really gotten to sleep until around 12:30 or 1:00 the night before.  (Serves me right for not memorizing my pieces earlier!)  But anyway I did get up after pressing the snooze a few times and got ready pretty quickly, telling myself that, as long as I got there during the registration period from 8:00-9:00 I would be fine.  I parked in Lot 49 of the BYU campus as instructed, which is kind of way over on the side by the stadium and the Marriott Center, and walked to the Harris Fine Arts building, near the north side of campus.

The building had quite a few people and a lot of energy going on because there is an organ workshop going on at the same time as Vocal Beauty Boot Camp.  I checked in, where I got my official BYU water bottle (it's green, by the way) and my folder of information about the camp.

The name boot camp is an okay description of the intensity of the experience, but not necessarily the overall tone.  Dr. Robison warned us that he can be exacting at times, but he actually makes corrections in such a sincere way that they never seemed to me to be over the top or offensive.  The morning session consisted of some warm-up and then each of us took turns singing in front of the class with Dr. Robison.  There was a video camera to the side of us and a TV in front of us, so that during each of our turns, we could see ourselves on the video screen.  Watching ourselves while singing is an important part of the learning process.  Also they recorded each of the sessions on our personal videotape so we can watch ourselves later and learn from that.  As others are singing, we are supposed to pay attention to what is happening with them and learn from it as well.  During each person's turn, Dr. Robison stands near and makes comments or corrections if he thinks it will help.  After lunch in the afternoon we had a breakout session with our TA, Jason.  During this session, we did a lot of singing as a group and also worked again with the video camera.  The closing session of the afternoon was all of us working together again with Dr. Robison singing together as a group.  Sometimes he would indicate that one person was to sing alone and we would all listen, then usually on the next verse we would all join in again.

Today I learned some things that have already made some major improvements in my singing.  The first one is the proper position of my chest.  I learned to lift my chest but later on today I learned to lift it even more.  Then I learned about the breath energy that is coming from the lower abdomen.  Finally today, I learned the importance of relaxing my jaw instead of closing it in the upper range so that I can use my breath equally through the head voice as well as the chest voice.  When I got home tonight I watched my video and learned even more about just what a difference those adjustments made.  I'm excited to retain those as habits and build on it from there.  This was just day one; I am looking forward to what will be happening on day four!

Tonight we had an optional conducting class where we learned some principles behind getting a choir or congregation to add expression and musicality to music.  This was done through a number of unconventional activities, such as mirroring the movements of a partner and also singing while we were performing a number of unconventional body movements.  It seems fruity, but it got the point across.  Dr. Robison's teaching methods remind me of the teaching methods of a professor in my department who is often criticized for being unconventional: it seems that students either love him or hate him.  Dr. Robison allows the students to teach themselves through experiencing and observing, only "getting in the way" when necessary.

Before I made the postural adjustments that I made today, I would normally have a very tired voice after the amount and strength of singing I did today.  But lifting my chest into the right position helped me to feel so much freer and makes my breathing easier and my singing more comfortable.  At the end of the day I felt like I could sing a lot more.

The day was made that much more special by the lunch that I shared with my good friend R.  Believe it or not, although we have exchanged e-mail and even talked on the phone we haven't actually seen each other in about two years.  Unfortunately my lunch time was restricted to an hour but it was really great to see her.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Vocal Beauty Boot Camp: The Night Before

A few people have expressed interest in finding out about my experiences about Vocal Beauty Boot Camp. For those who don't know, VBBC is a four-day program where a group of people learns to sing beautifully. It's basically like a four-day group voice lesson, held at Brigham Young University. It is administered out of the division of continuing education, which means that anyone can register.

I first heard about VBBC when I saw the program called "Beautiful Singing: Not Just for the Chosen" on BYU-TV. It's a short program that is designed to demonstrate the principles of beautiful singing, as shown in the improvement of the students at the camp. I really enjoyed the program and wished I could go to the camp. However, shortly after I found out about it, I learned that the main professor, Clayne Robison, would be going on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with his wife, and therefore would not be holding the camp that year. I was sad to think that I had missed my chance. Therefore, when I found out that Prof. Robison is offering the camp again this year, I signed up.

There were a number of assignments that I had to prepare in order to attend the Vocal Beauty Boot Camp this year. Here they are:
1. Watch the program "Beautiful Singing: Not Just for the Chosen".
Well, I'd seen this program at least three or four times already on BYU-TV, but I decided to watch it again with the perspective of preparing to go to the camp. It was pretty fun to look at what they were doing on the video and say to myself, "That's gonna be me!" By the way, the DVD is available at the Salt Lake City Library.
2. Read the book Beautiful Singing: "Mind Warp Moments".
This was an interesting book. It is actually a collection of pretty disjointed chapters. If I had to summarize the book, I would say it's basically everything that Clayne Robison has to say on just about any subject. It includes autobiography, scientific studies of vocal acoustics, voice pedagogy, spirituality and even a discussion of the relationships among the voice faculty at Brigham Young University.
3. Memorize and prepare to sing the following songs from the collection Sabbath Song II: "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty", "Guide Me to Thee", and "Weepin' Mary".
This is an assignment that I unfortunately put off until tonight. It's a good thing that I have at least heard all of these pieces before. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the only arrangement of "Weepin' Mary" that I've heard before is the one that I will be singing. I started with "Guide Me to Thee" because I thought it would be relatively easier than "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" but actually it took me much longer to work on that one. I think it's because the words of the latter are more familiar, I guess. Both are in the hymnbook that we use at church but I suppose I hear/sing "Praise to the Lord" more often. All of the arrangements are relatively simple, but all also have quirks like different rhythm or key changes that you have to be careful about. The book is supplemented with a CD of the accompaniments to all songs in the book so you can practice singing along with the CD. This is helpful. Perhaps needless to say, my memorization of the words of the pieces is still pretty shaky. "Weepin' Mary"'s words are the easiest because there is only one line that is different in each of the verses. I ripped the three tracks from the CD and put them on the memory card on my phone so I can practice them on the drive down to BYU tomorrow. So if you hear about a Corolla that caused a wreck on southbound I-15 tomorrow because the driver was distracted, that would be me. :S

Here are some questions you might be asking about my boot camp experience:
Are you going to stay in Provo the whole time?
No, I am going to drive back and forth. I know that with today's gas prices, a 45-minute to one-hour commute to and again from BYU every day isn't going to be light on the wallet, but I'd much rather sleep in my own bed than in some BYU dorm or on one of my friends' floors for three nights.
How long does the boot camp last?
Four days, Tuesday through Friday, August 5-8. The boot camp is 9:00-5:00 on all these days, but tomorrow there is registration/breakfast at 8:00 that I will have to show up to. We get a lunch break from 12:00 to 12:55. Also I am allowed to go to a conducting workshop on Tuesday night, a hymn-sing on Wednesday night, and a field trip to a Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearsal on Thursday night. So far the conducting workshop is the only one that I think I will attend.
Where can I see videos of what happens at Vocal Beauty Boot Camp?
As already mentioned, you can see the program "Beautiful Singing: Not Just for the Chosen", which is available on DVD. Also, on Prof. Robison's website,, you can see a few interesting videos that appeal to both the musician and the phonetician in me.
How much did you pay to attend Vocal Beauty Boot Camp?
Tuition was $325, plus I bought copies of the two books mentioned above. I kind of doubt that I'll get my act together to pack a lunch or dinner tomorrow either, so I guess I'll be buying some kind of fast food at the BYU campus.
How much money to you have in your checking account now?
Let's just say I'm gonna have to be careful when I put gas in my car to make sure I have enough for lunch tomorrow too. But it's gonna be worth it. And I think I'm getting paid tomorrow, or if not then then hopefully in a couple of days.

I plan to post about my activities at Vocal Beauty Boot Camp every night after the day's learning. If I understand correctly, each student will get a video copy of his/her progress in the boot camp. Awesome.