Singing in the Summertime

Contemplating nature and each other

Is it just me, or does nothing kills a perfectly good practice routine quicker than an unlimited amount of sunshine and free time?

I’ve spent this past week revisiting my family in my childhood home, free from virtually all obligations, free to spend my hours sitting on the back porch, basking in the mild sunshine, watching Bill the cat chew catnip and Whiskey the pitbull chase bumblebees, without a single concert on the horizon to kick me back into singing gear.

And it’s therein, I think, lies the problem. Even though I dream all year of all the amazing vocal breakthroughs that will take place in the summertime, when I have seemingly infinite time to practice my exercises and learn new songs, somehow it never happens. More often than not I find myself cruising through summer sales at our sleepy local mall, running in circles around the garden, and making creative snacks out of all the random food my parents keep in their fridge. All this when I could be updating my web site and reviewing audition repertoire, not to mention finding an apartment in Milan and learning Italian.

Truth be told, I don’t actually feel that bad about my carefully selected songbooks gathering dust in my suitcase. It’s not easy re-establishing a routine when the world around you changes. And what with the boys kicking their soccer ball across the living room, my Dad on the phone with his law clients, and the dog thinking my vocal sirens are a call for help or an invitation to play, the distractions are endless.

Still, as my tabla teacher used to say, somewhat ominously, leave music for a day, and it will leave you for forty. Almost all the great singers and teachers agree that daily practice is necessary for vocal improvement, and while a full vocal rest can be wonderfully rejuvenating, it takes constant discipline to stay in tip-top vocal shape. So here are some fun ways to keep your voice in shape all summer long:

Watch master classes on YouTube, or better yet, a local live performance. Nothing like hearing someone else sing to rekindle the singing desire! On YouTube, American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato’s master classes are some of my favorites.

Make a small, simple singing goal. Nothing too serious, just something robust enough to keep you on track. It may be to sing a particularly challenging song with ease, or to review old songs, or something more “administrative”, such as organizing music in binders or making a repertoire list.

Sing a poem. Whether scripture or secular poetry, chanting is one of the simplest ways to get back in touch with the voice. Take any text and try singing it to life, either on a single pitch or with a full melismatic improvisation.

Learn a folk song. Generally easy on the voice and on the mind, folk songs are open enough to interpretation that you can sing them in any or many styles. The Contemplator, an online folk song directory, will give you a lot to choose from.

Embrace simplicity. When you’re really at a loss for what to sing, try singing single pitches or very slow scales. Focus on one thing at a time. If you have my singing guide (which you should have received when you subscribed to the Warbler, if not then email me) you can do these exercises while mentally reading through my singing checklist.

Play with para-singing exercises. Lip trills, rolling the tongue, or playing around with certain consonants (such as v, n or ng) help keep the voice in shape and can be done virtually anytime, anywhere.

Go for a swim, a jog, or practice Pilates. These kinds of exercises will keep your body, postural and breathing muscles toned for singing.

Buy a cool singing notebook. Hey, every extra bit of incentive helps! And a notebook dedicated to singing can help you gather and organize your thoughts, especially if you find yourself drawing a blank for warm-up exercises. I always keep with me a running list of all the exercises I know and like.

For more practicing inspiration (commiseration?) and ideas, check out my original article, The Practice of Practicing.

Dave and Whiskey


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