What to do when you’re feeling off kilter

Sometimes you wake up and you don’t feel quite right. Some days everything rights itself within minutes, and sometimes there is something not quite right following you about for the day.

This may just be how you are that day, it might be that you slept a bit funny. I have been dealing with recurring “flare-ups” in my neck for almost 20 years and have come up various ways that I can deal with this without allowing my singing to be affected.

Generally a mixture of pilates / walking keeps most problems at bay, but whenever I get any symptoms of faulty wiring in my nerves I will go to visit my amazing physio, Eoin Naughton at Peak Physio. I also am a big fan of both the Alexander Technique (taking lessons from Seán MacErlaine) and The Feldenkrais Method (taking lessons from Mark Keogh).

Today I have been working in Dublin City Centre as part of Tonnta’s residency supported by Dublin City Council. Part of my work today has been to document some of the physical work I do to maintain my voice in top condition. I believe it is vital to keep freedom and ease of movement in the neck and shoulders to allow me to successfully navigate what might otherwise be exceedingly difficult music.

One of the books I often turn to is Samuel H. Nelson and Elizabeth Blades-Zeller’s Singing with Your Whole Self – written by a feldenkrais practitioner in conjunction with a vocal pedagogue – it presents short lessons that can be followed by anyone looking to free up their vocal tract. Today I have made 2 videos of excerpts from this book, to allow me to follow the instructions more clearly.

I have also put together a video of short warmups that I might do on days when my voice is not feeling the most healthy. Sometimes it is best just to rest and allow the voice to settle, but at times,it can be good to have a routine. I have been attending yoga and pilates classes with Susan Church for many years (sadly she has now moved to Spain), and, last year, I was lucky enough to audit some modules of her Advanced Yoga modules at The Elbowroom, run in connection with Orla Crosse – I try to bring many of the principles from this work into my own singing (particularly within this video), such as mindfulness, never going to your end-range, allowing your body to be where it is while still enabling change.



Saluting the Feminists

I’m delighted to be performing this coming Friday as part of the Royal Irish Academy of Music’s Saluting the Feminists event. I will be performing with both Paul Roe and Dearbhla Brosnan at 6pm. Tickets  (free) are available from the academy.

As a member of Tonnta Music I am rehearsing in a great space in town, and I’ve put together a short video about what I’m performing this Friday. Please have a watch and share with your contacts.

During the day there will also be

10am – Panel Discussion – Women and Music in Ireland in the 19th and 20th Century
Ita Beausang and Laura Watson in Conversation with Jennifer O’Connor-Madsen

11:11 – Coffee Concert with post-concert discussion
Thérèse Fahy, piano performs works by Gráinne Mulvey and Siobhán Cleary; Sylvia O’Brien and Dearbhla Collins perform a selection of songs by Irish female composers performed by Sylvia O’Brien and Dearbhla Collins

3pm – Panel Discussion – Past members of staff from the RIAM Keyboard Faculty
in conversation with RIAM Director, Deborah Kelleher

6:00pm – Evening Concert

Elizabeth Hilliard, soprano; Paul Roe, clarinet; Dearbhla Brosnan, piano

Tickets for the event are free, but should be booked in advance.

Listening to explore

Sitting in a train terminal / airport terminal can be such a stressful occasion. One knows that amongst those there, there are people making journeys of great joy, of excitement, new beginnings and also there are those that are travelling out of hardship, in an emergency or perhaps to seek vital  healthcare abroad. I find just sitting and allowing myself to observe as much of the sounds I can hear and the scenes I can see to really relieve this stress. To become one with the environment, to just allow the sounds and sights to wash over can be very energising and yet calming at the same time – one experiences a different sense of time in these situation. At every moment in an airport someone is rushing / late / not going to make their flight, wishing time would slow down, while at the same time someone else is sitting / waiting / standing at the gate, wishing time would speed up and take them to their journey’s end.

I’ve long been interested in how we experience the sound all around us, and in the last few years have discovered the music of Karen Power. I am fascinated by the various layers of sound that surround us all the time, those we notice and those we choose / try to ignore. There are so many layers in our life and through art I try to find a satisfying way of sifting through different ideas and making sense of what can seem like chaos in the world around.

Karen’s use of the the unheard or ignored sounds that she amplifies in her work really resonates with me. I have found this video she produced after a trip to Arctic – stunning video footage and fascinating commentary and music.

Composing the Nation

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about women’s representation in music. It is staggering that out of almost 200 pieces being played to celebrate 100 years of composition in Ireland, merely 23 pieces are by women.

I have never consciously chosen to programme music by women. In fact a lot of the time when constructing concert programmes choices are made for a number of reasons: style, music, personal taste. I have looked through the list of works perfomed by myself and David in our programmes for the Irish Canon – we performed 3 recitals for this: the first songs by Bodley, Clarke, Barber, Moran, Bremner and Cleary – 3 women, 3 men. In our second programme we performed Bremner, Bodley, Cleary, Moran, Molloy, Lane – 1 women, 5 men. In our third programme we performed: Mulvey, Bremner, Cleary, Mulvey, Sholdice – 2 women, 3 men. In total we represented 6 men and 4 women.

In making our programme choices we agreed that it was important to choose repertoire from a wide variety of compositional style and background and also to represent different generations of composers. There was no intention to specifically include women composers. It just happens that half the people alive are women. One fifth of the composers represented by the Contemporary Music Centre are women. Music is a subject I would imagine studied in equal numbers by women and men and I think I know roughly the same amount of women composers as I know male composers.

It would seem to me that in choosing repertoire for a centenary of music, it would have been difficult to choose so few works by women. If there was an attempt to include more works by women, but for various reasons it was felt that the selected works represented Ireland better, it would I feel be right for those reasons to be spelt out. Unfortunately the exclusion of women composers not only colours my feelings about the event, but makes me think perhaps this is a reflection of the society we live in today when people will march on the streets to celebrate Ireland’s treatment of women.