I’m not one of those die-hards who plans their lives around watching the Olympics, wrapped in nationalistic fervor, but I’m always glad to catch glimpses of the events. Last night, in a restaurant, I was mesmerized by men’s figure skater, Adam Rippon. Pure strength and pure beauty. He won the bronze.
Then I think, “How many hours, days, months, years has that man spent on the ice?” Every Olympian has their story of what it took to get there, but I often, selfishly, think of it from our perspective, the viewers and fans. What a gift these athletes share with us. They do all the work, and we experience their incredible feats. Witnessing an Olympic athlete is a thrill.
I don’t care what they say, being at the top of the game is reserved for those with an over-the-top level of dedication. Billy Jean King, former best-in-the-world professional tennis player, said, “No one changes the world who isn’t obsessed.” If it were easy, we’d all be medalists. No, instead, we reserve the honors for the ones who did what no one else was obsessed enough to do.
Then there’s the rest of us, ranging from total schleps to moderately successful at whatever our game happens to be. For me, it’s my voice.
I’m guessing you know that professional vocalists train their voices, but in case you thought that Adele or David Bowie can (or could) just show up at a gig and belt it any time of the day, you’re wrong. Granted, even at their worst, the pros sound great, but that’s because they work at it.
I was lucky to start on a fairly healthy road when it comes to voice training. I had excellent early childhood singing experiences and benefitted from a great public education system that cared about young voices. However, I didn’t start privately training my voice until I started recording.
I’ve learned a lot in the past few years. First, space. Singing is about making space when and where you want it for the resonance you desire. I’ve learned how to feel and create unique spaces using the soft palette at the back of the roof of my mouth, my tongue, my jaw, my mouth shape, and, obscurely, the space behind my eyes.
Combinations of lift and openness offer different sounds and timbres that enhance my delivery. Cleverly dubbed things like “angry cat” and “bite the apple,” I drill over and over the specific placements I’ve learned. If I want airy and ethereal, it’s one combo. If I’m channeling my inner gospel singer, it’s another combo. For songs that move from one voice style to another, and that’s most of my songs, I practice moving from one combo to another so that it becomes seamless and automatic.
Second, air, essential for life and for not passing out on stage. I work hard to increase my capacity and control of air flow. I practice capturing full breath and releasing it from exactly where and at precisely the rate I want it released. Since most songs have spots where there’s not a huge break to refill the reserves, I also practice filling up efficiently, sometimes in the space of less than one beat.
Third, discipline. If you’ve been a fan for long, you’ve heard me share that me and discipline ain’t on the same page most of the time. There’s no way I would keep to a tidy vocal training routine. So I cheat and pay someone to make me do it. I work with my voice coach weekly, most weeks, for an hour.
Since December, my voice coach has been on maternity leave. Attempts to secure an interim coach were waylaid by sickness, hers, then mine. I wish I could say that I’ve been a good little student and kept up my studies independently. I did. Some. But, I’m no Olympic singer.
And now the deadline looms. I step into the studio on Monday to track final vocals for the last four songs. I’m feeling less than strong, less than prepared. Here I go again, off the cliff without a paraglider, or maybe with a paraglider, but one I only tested a couple of times last year. It might be risky, but there’s a chance it’ll all work and I’ll remember how to land.
This week, after fighting a sinus infection, I’m putting in the work. I know, you might not believe me after all my confessions about me and discipline (that b****!) You do believe me when I say I really do care about the product I’m bringing to you by the end of this year. I’ll put in the work so that you, the listeners and fans, can experience the thrill.
My moment on the ice comes Monday morning, and I’ll be as ready as an amateur who dreams of the gold. Luckily, I’m a recording artist. This isn’t a one-shot chance in the Olympics. Worst case, I come back the next week and try again.
Feeling like cheering me on?
Throw some flowers on the ice for me, in the form of a comment below. Thanks!