The Newsletter
 October 1st, 2009                                                                  Find your natural dynamic speaking voice and maintain it!
Vocal Tip of the Month!
Battling the Common Cold and Flu Viruses

The media is currently bombarding us with the threat of the swine virus. Therefore, just in time for Halloween, I am back with the advice of keeping your body alkaline by staying away from sweets since bacteria and virus strive in acidic environments.  You can refer to last year's issue for more details on that:

Voice Yourself: The November 08 Newsletter

Hand Sanitizer

There has also been strong recommendations from health officials to wash our hands often and use hand sanitizer to protect ourselves again the common cold, the flu and especially the swine virus.  Being the health freak that I am, I am personally a little reluctant to use over-the-counter hand sanitizer because of all the chemicals it contains!  I was once told we should only put on our skin what we can digest...  I found an old homemade recipe that might be of interest to you: Thieves Oil!  Even though hand sanitizer has seen its popularity increase in the last few years, it is surprisingly not a new invention.  Thieves Oil dates from the middles ages and got its name from a group of 15th century European perfumers-turned-grave-robbers* who, as the legend wants it, used it as they would go around stealing jewelry from dead bodies, and never got sick.**  With their antibacterial properties, cinnamon, lemon and eucalyptus oils are the main components in the mix.  Add equal amounts of each to jojoba or olive oil that can be used to dilute the solution that might otherwise be too strong for your needs.  Try it on a small patch of skin before fully using on your hands to make sure your skin can handle it!  

Here are more words of encouragement from me to you!

Batteling bugs e-card!

Good luck and happy sweet-free Halloween!


Interesting Facts

The N1H1 Swine Virus  

I love teaching but I hate getting sick! Unfortunately, one of the downsides of teaching is that school can sometimes literally become breathing grounds for infections.  I try not to stress myself out too much with the H1N1 swine flu virus taking over the news right now yet it's important to know that it's out there in order to protect ourselves from it.  Just in case...  

As of July 2009, there have been 33,902 cases of swine flu in the US (including 170 deaths) and 7983 in Canada (including 25 deaths).  The bigger picture is 89,921 cases worldwide (including 382 deaths).*  That is alarming...

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently predicted that as much as 12 to 24% of the population would contract the new influenza virus this winter.**  Washing hands often and keeping them away from the nose, mouth and eyes is the most efficient way to prevent contracting the virus.  Good luck!



What's Happening?
My Music!

I have tried this summer to start recording some of the material I have been working on lately.  As you know, I love singing and playing my guitar and I thought it's about time for me to share some of my music with you.  The problem is that I'm still learning how to record and mix music properly and I get a little self-conscious about my work...  I am trying very hard to put my ego aside and accept that it will never be perfect!  Hopefully, I can put some songs up for you here next month.  I am making it a point to write about it now so that I have an obligation to live up to my word!  To be continued...    
Relevant Links

Voice Yourself in the Classroom

Valerie Bastien

The Voice Connection
Inspiring Quotes and Stories...

 Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner

A few years ago, a professional musician I interviewed recommended Kenny Werner's wonderful book Effortless Mastery to me.  I took his advice and read the book with great interest. The book is written with musicians in mind but Werner's ideas can be applied to any slices of life and inspired me very much in my teaching.  I was blown away by his philosophies about being able to let go of our fears to better perform.  Last summer, I had the opportunity to go to Kenny Werner's lecture.  I watched him play jazz and I later sat down with him for an interview.  I feel that fear often prevents students to take chances and get ahead.  I hope sharing this interview with you can bring you inspiration in a different approach to dealing with writing block, self-confidence and imagination.  Enjoy!


Interview with Kenny Werner (Part 1)

Valerie:  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself since some of our readers might not be familiar with your work?

Kenny:  I have been doing concerts for many years with my own group and I also performed with Ari Hoenig, Joe Levano and some other jazz musicians.  Also, some people familiar with Broadway might know this arranger and pianist for many years I’ve worked with: Betty Buckley.  I compose, I play, I teach and I do a lot of lectures about my book Effortless Mastery.

Valerie:  I absolutely loved reading your book Effortless Mastery in which you talk about being able to let go of the ego in order to unite with the Divine and give the best of yourself.  Within the first few pages, you mentioned something about being just a drop of water in the ocean, which I instantly recognized as a Sufism principle…

Kenny:  When I wrote the book, I started out with my own ideas but when I started to go back and read other philosophies, I realized that these philosophies were as old as humanity itself.  I just applied them to something it hadn’t been applied to yet, which is performance improvising… and now any other arts.  The spiritual side is entirely optional because it depends what your belief system is.  There is one thing we all have in common with though:  If you can’t surrender your need to sound good, you’re not going to be able to go with the flow and get that creative flow.  That can be a problem. 

Valerie:  Did you come up with those philosophies based on your experience then or did you actually research them?

Kenny:  No, I wasn’t much of a researcher!  I actually researched it after the fact!  I wanted to have a little bit of scholarly background.  It was great to do that just to see how firm and universal these are.  I was teaching for over ten years before I wrote the book and I was just teaching those steps without thinking anything of it!  I thought everybody knew this stuff.  When I was teaching, I could actually see the anxiety.  I could see the blocks.  I could see what was in their heart.  I would comment on it and then people would be just like, “What?  How did you know that?”  And then I would just come out to them and meet the need of that moment.  So by the mid-90s somewhere, I was doing lectures and workshops.  And a lot of what I was saying is the same thing because in real time, you test the most effective things.  When you see how they communicate, you keep going that way.  It was just cool advice that I thought—and people would follow me around with tape recorders, so I started thinking, “This stuff must be hot!  I should write a book before somebody else does.”

Valerie:  In your book, you talk about how fear paralyses.  Fear-based learning and fear-based teaching:  Can you tell us about that?

Kenny:  Fear-based learning is not practising with good focus and being in a whole because of this fear that you’ll never become good.  It drives you into a diluted state where you’re to yourself being toxic, skimming all these things and hoping something works for you.  That will be one of the main reasons why you won’t achieve your goal…

Fear of practicing is practicing things in bulk and just skimming the surface because you’re afraid that you will die before you achieve your thing.

Fear-based playing is playing and being afraid of how well you’re gonna play by questioning.  There is absolutely no room for questioning during a performance.  All the questioning should be done during practising.

Fear-based teaching has to do with teachers that suppress something in others.  Some people are not secure in their musicianship and hide behind the teacher.  In that way, not only the teacher doesn’t enjoy but the students are not well-served. 

Valerie:  In our society, we have a tendency to focus on our weaknesses rather than celebrate our strengths and diversity.  Why do we do that?

Kenny:  I don’t think I’m qualified to say why we do that but we do do that!  I think it’s a battle of the mind.  If you can surrender the attachments when the mind is talking to you, it’s not going to quiet down necessarily, but the question is whether you allow it to answer.  Do you realize that it’s just trying to complement the day or do you take everything it says and try to do something about it, which is like purgatory?  Listening to your mind becomes like a parasite.  When you’re working from your mind, problems arise and the mind seems to like to chew on it.  When you work from the space, problems dissolve because they don’t really look like problems.

But our society is more mentally based.  If we were all operating from that space without solace then every religion wouldn’t fight for a name for that space.  If we were operating like that, it would be heaven on earth.  Generally, certain aspects of Western religions promote that we are damaged goods but somehow, if we’re sorry enough we can be forgiven.  I like the Eastern concept:  “You’re perfect; your only sin is you don’t know it!”  I wrote that!  That’s what I started working towards.  That is the truth.  That is the sun and those limited thoughts we sought, that are the clouds.  The analogy is good because cloud formation changes every day, and sometimes it seems like it disappears, but the sun is always there.  We can be as away of the sun on our own being rather than so bewitched by the cloud formation.  That would be detaching from the mind, detaching from the delusion.

Valerie:  Can you tell us about some strategies to find that space and detach ourselves from our playing or our writing?

Kenny:  Basically, people can try to relax your mind.  Meditation is like that, Tai Chi is like that, yoga is like that, mountain climbing is like that…  People do these things because the mind gives up and that’s the high—the runner’s high.  It stops thinking and all they hear is in-the-air anorexia.

My strategy is an ancient strategy in your life that you practice on your instrument.  As you start to attain that space, all you have to do to be free with your instrument is literally go in the space and touch your instrument.  Keep learning not to lose the space as you touch the instrument.  I’ve met people that were so spiritually aware and committed but when they get to their instrument, they lose everything; they forget it all.

We are such a web of delusion that somehow with music, people think that no matter what they believe in, it all goes away and they’re just not worthy.  Then they try to play some music and they forget who they are.  They forget the things that they have been practicing all their life because they were spiritually motivated.  What I say in the book is that it doesn’t matter how you get in the space.  There’s a CD in the book that can help you get there but that’s for people that haven’t even thought about how to get there.  Many people have their own way now with meditation, prayer, yoga…  They don’t need anything from me.  They just need to know that however you attain that space, welcome your instrument and play your notes.  If that takes you out of that space, take your hands off the instrument.  Really train your mind to stay in that beautiful space and not lose it because it’s time to play your instrument.

You would think that’s what you would go into by playing your instrument but again, we complicate things.  So instead of the instrument being the liberation, an escape, it becomes just another way where we can beat ourselves up.  So the way to do it is literally to find the space with whichever discipline you like, go with the instrument, play a note or two—this is what I call the first step in the book—and if you already feel yourself contracting, take your hands off the instrument until you remain expanded.  Then you begin to play your notes.  Then with the second step is that, of course, you can expand what you can do.  In the first step, you can actually practice such difficult things with such efficiency that you still never leave the space.  Everything attained from the space is the only thing worth practicing.  If you can practice something and you play it with no mistakes, it means it plays itself.  Some people would say that’s impossible, some people would say “that’s my aspiration.”  I would say there is no other option because music doesn’t really resonate until you achieve that.  That is why so many people are dry when they play because they’ve never really experienced that kind of ownership of anything on the instrument.  It’s always on the outside looking in.  Aspire to achieve that realization in a one or single two-bar phrase and know that you can own it that way is what you have to do instead of skimming all your life.

There is another play going on here:  We are all dealing with our career, our families, money…  It really is inappropriate in our playing.  That is how much our mind has control over us.  It is how much we are able to free ourselves from its limited vision.  That is really the core.  A lot of people are unaware of that.  They need to make a commitment to that play or else the exercise will just seem minimal and nothing else.  The whole point is staying in a really expanded space and letting the hands play whatever instrument you get ownership over.  If you don’t know what the space is, or you just think it is dropping your fingers on the instrument, then you won’t get any of the magic of it.

The most important thing is to find the space.  Whenever anyone is in the space, it’s the greatest moment of their lives.  They will remember what they want but they can’t access it when they want.  It’s the concept of practicing it so you can depend on it.  It’s so relevant to musicians.  Musicians that play from that space play profound music.  People don’t realize—they think that some of us have it and some of us don’t.  They don’t realize that there is a way to get it, to tap into that space and touch your instrument.  You can become more of a delightful presence than you presently are.

There is a whole new age movement that is predicated on that.  With certain exercises, books, this information, whatever, you can take your life to a whole new level of enrichment.  Why haven’t musicians figured that out?  Well, we have and I think this book helps that.  As you do this work on yourself, the feeling of a note vibrating inside you is something that increases that awareness.  It doesn’t have to be done in relation to music.  You can do it on something else and bring that to music.

Things to Note
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Have a wonderful month!

-Valerie Bastien