News

Yoga and Singing

Some exciting news – I start training as a Yoga Teacher this Saturday in Yoga Dublin, it is an intensive 200-hour programme which I will complete over the next four months.

I have been practising yoga on and off for about ten years. I started taking beginner classes with Luna in Yoga Dublin on Dartmouth Lane. I then started studying with Colm Walsh, and for a period was attending a mixed level 2 hour class on Friday morning. This was an amazing experience. As I remember I was pretty much a beginner and this Friday morning class was regularly attended by me and a couple of yoga teachers – it was always a very small class so had fantastic individual attention.

I think I then got busy for a while but at some point (possibly c. 2011) found myself again looking for regular classes and was often taking classes on Tuesday morning in the new building on Dartmouth Road with Michelle. It was in her classes that I was introduced to the concept of yoga nidra, which I have really taken on board and have done some reading around and listened to various types online.

Again, however life kind of took over and while I stopped attending regular classes I started buying the Yoga Journal most months from Reads and would tend to read through and explore various of the ideas within. Then in August 2013, I attended a week-long retreat with Kanta Barrios in the Burren Yoga Centre. This was in yoga and meditation with some walking also. It was my intention to build up a daily practice and also to really try to remember as much as I could of the cues – on the last day I drew a picture of various of the postures, including the spirals that Kanta was cueing, and the various modifications that Kanta she had specifically suggested I might work with.

From then I was more dipping in and out of various classes, but with this work and the reading I was doing in Yoga Journal, I was beginning to get a sense of the benefits that my yoga was bringing to my work as a singer in particular. I started to integrate my practice within my singing practice and my singing practice within my yoga practice. I started to explore various different options with the breath, rather than dogmatically sticking to the one favoured by pilates teachers in pilates classes, by that favoured by yoga teachers in yoga classes, by the ones favoured by singing teachers when singing – I suppose I was influenced by Feldenkrais also with the suggestion to explore a myriad of different ways of doing things to give your brain something new to do. Often singing practice can be like trying to perfect the exact way of doing something precisely through honing in on the specific skill and improving it all the time, whereas what I was starting to do was to forget all that to try lots of different things and just play around with the idea of just singing.

At the time I was as well as having an active performance career teaching singing and piano to mainly children and teenagers in one-on-one lessons and started to play about with introducing new concepts of mindfulness and interoception into my teaching. For many years I had been teaching with therabands and spiky balls in the class, but I was now starting to introduce more of this new way of practising with my students.

In summer 2016 I took a career break from all of my teaching due to having far too many commitments and starting to have a sense that I was somehow dividing myself in half and was not allowing myself enough headspace to see what was going on in my professional life, which obviously had a knock-on effect in my private life. Also, with music your professional life is truly part of your personality, at all times you are that little kid who got so taken up with creating magic and life out of sound that when that life come under stress and close to cracking point you get this sense of being lost and somehow outside oneself.

That year I decided to book in with The Elbowroom to study advanced yoga and anatomy, a module of the yoga 500 course run by Susan Church and Orla Crosse. I initially thought I would do part of one module on the pelvis / leg and walking, but ended up loving it and I also took part in the weekend modules on the core, the spine and the shoulder also. It was through discussions with the yoga teachers taking the course as well as the two tutors who all seemed to think it would be a viable option while I was not remotely thinking about it.

In early 2017 I took the decision to take a second year career break from teaching music. While I had had a brilliant year with lots of singing, I felt I could do with discovering more focus and to perhaps find something to make my music teaching really connected with the remainder of my work. It was suddenly I think over the summer that I started to really think about the possibility of training as a yoga teacher. For so many years I have been combining my yoga practice with my singing but now was contemplating the possibility of really engaging with the practice so that I can help others. I began reading a lot of different books about fascia and yoga – by Chaitow, Myers, Avison, Sabataini as well as Anat Baniel’s book – Move into Life which I had long intended on reading.

Ultimately I want to bring the sense of fun and enjoyment that I have experienced through both yoga and singing to others in a safe and helpful way. Doing this in both one-on-one sessions and also in group situations, working with budding professional singers, but also with people who just really want to sing, and for whatever reason find that there is something that is making that difficult.

I feel I have the skills to help people to find their authentic voice, to find the place where the sound is just effortlessly flowing and the singer feels at one with nature. The realisation that this isn’t somewhere magic or outside of one, but wholly grounded within you and the possibilities that are contained within you. I have seen the joy on many people’s faces, when they have felt unable to sing, and somehow with some guidance from me and assistance from them something transforms inside them and they produce what to them perhaps is something they thought they could never access. This is what excites me about teaching. Bringing something out of people that they never knew they had within them.

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.