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.

1 comment:

Laverna said...

Way to go! Coming from the perspective of an instrumentalist that sings, I am surprised that so few singers know how to breathe and support their tone properly, even though it's an integral part of singing.
When woodwind and brass players start playing, there is a HUGE amount of emphasis put on proper posture and breathing and support. That emphasis never ends, either. You're always hearing band teachers get on their kids' case to sit up and give it more support.
There are all sorts of crazy conducting exercises you can do to foster independence of the hands and such. My favorite is walking around conducting a beat pattern with one hand and doing normal daily activities with the other -- getting a glass of water, etc.
I love the fact that they are videotaping everyone's progress. It is hard to remember how far you've come (and to remind you of what you've learned) when you don't have something like that.
Keep it up, soldier!