Tuesday, January 24, 2017

"Sing Out, Louise!"

Loved the clouds and mist--and this was the non-foggy day!

What an amazing weekend at Kripalu!!  So much to tell you about my singing workshop and the weekend itself.

Way back in fifth grade, as we prepared to enter sixth, I considered joining the junior high school choir because I loved to sing.  But a friend warned me off, saying you had to sing alone in front of the whole choir.  That did it; I signed up for art and spent months drawing a single bottle with a pencil.  Blah.  I tried singing again in Chicago in the all-women Artemis Singers but didn't stay with it too long because I was too self-conscious.  (And practices were far away.)  And so, as an adult, I've fulfilled my love of singing at home with the family casually, in the car to the radio, at church for 2-3 hymns a week, and as a Girl Scout leader.  I'm a great group singer--I just follow along, with more enthusiasm than talent.  I'm terrible with lyrics but very good at inventing them.

And I sing to my hospice patients.  Once patients pass a certain point on their dying journey, they don't really respond to conversation anymore.  But they like to feel a visitor's presence and so I sing.  I try to sing soft things--"Amazing Grace," if they are religious (there are sometimes rosaries or prayer cards and the like on the nightstand), or familiar songs like "Simple Gifts" and "Love Me Tender."  I carry the lyrics around in case I forget.  Sometimes I sing for 30 minutes or more, moving into lullabies, folk songs, and various simple chants.  And I repeat.

When I saw that Kripalu offered The Natural Singer workshop, I decided to take it--to boost my confidence and to acquire some singing techniques, skills, warm ups that would stand me in good stead.  And it did all that and more.

Of course, when I signed up way back when, I had no idea there would be a Woman's March (much less not a woman president.)  Sigh.  Marching isn't my thing, physically, so I didn't cancel the class.

The Workshop
Saw lots of fun patterns for Zentangle
There were 30 people in our group, ranging from little singing ability to professional (albeit ones who desired improvement); only three were men.  I was definitely one of the youngest, with maybe two or three others--the rest were in their 50s and 60s.  Almost all white.  (So, very much like Kripalu itself--middle aged, white, female.)

Our teacher was Claude Stein, an industry professional who has worked as a vocal coach, producer, and now, in addition, teaches these workshops to encourage non- and budding professionals.  He says he tried his hand at writing but found he could make a career out of vocal coaching.  His ear and his skill with impromptu piano playing were impressive!

I don't want to say too much about the class itself, knowing that he offers it several times a year and earns his livelihood from it, in part.  Besides, I'm not really qualified to accurately describe the theories and practices.

So, the class was organized around warm ups and exercises AND personal vocal coaching.  For the first two of ten hours, we learned ways to improve our voice, our instrument.  Mainly, we focused on lowering the voice box, checking pitch, loosening our jaws, etc., through "nyawn," "MMMmmmm," "bum bum bum," "eh-gah-eh," lip thrills, etc.  We also did a lot of call and response, repeat-after-me singing.  And we even paired up with another person and sang directly to them.

Together, we sang alleluia, "We Shall Overcome," "This Little Light of Mine," "How Could Anyone?," and, one of my new favorites, "It's in Every One of Us."  Yes, lots of relatively liberal, feel-good songs that we sing at my Unitarian Universalist church, too--perfect for the day of the inauguration and the day of the Women's March.

We started each session with some exercises and some group singing.  And then we had vocal coaching.  I sang "Mama Loves Me," by Deidre McCalla, the lullaby about two mothers and their rainbow-color kids.  I know it backwards and forwards and thought I could sing it without panicking. I'd considered "Water is Wide" and "Summertime" but wasn't confident of the lyrics under pressure.

Oh, the pressure.  I was so nervous.  And it actually got worse as I sang, so that my voice shook.  And I got teared up.  It wasn't just singing in front of people, or singing the song from the kiddos' babyhood; it was also having discussed my hospice work beforehand.  "So," he asked, "yours is probably the last song they hear?" or something to that effect.  Yeah, I hadn't quite considered it that way.  But yes, I have sung in several cases the last music patients have heard, to the best of my knowledge (I'm rarely there at the very end.)  He said more than once that I did good, important work.  And immediately, a few of my class started tearing up (especially when I did, but several of us were cryers.)

Oddly, really oddly, I sang so much higher than I usually do.  I don't know if I started off to high or if it was the physiology of it--he suggested it was the energy of the moment, when I asked--but he said "the fragile thing" worked for my voice and needs.  Can't usually belt or jam out in a hospice setting, it's true.  And so I practiced gentleness, smoothness, tenderness.  He applauded that I sang right through the emotion, that I just kept going even when it made my voice unreliable.  He tried to get me to dispel my fears with some call-and-response, first loud (even with stomping my foot and belting) and then softly ("I have the voice of an angel.  I bring love.  I bring peace.")  It was all very emotional.  (Three people came up to me afterwards, two with hospice stories, and one with a bisexual daughter.  It meant a lot to me to talk to them.)

It was easier to listen to, learn from, and clap for everyone else once I was done!  He met each person where she or he was (we had let him know what we wanted--I wanted more confidence and skill to sing to my hospice patients), from beginner all the way to pro.  And he was always encouraging, even when he was fierce or funny or had us say "fuck!"  I learned so much just listening--and there was some great music and new songs and touching breakthroughs.

On Saturday night, many of the group met informally for karaoke.  We sang a lot of women's empowerment music--"I Will Survive," "Natural Woman," "These Boots were Made for Walking," etc.  I sang both "Cottonfields" and "Summertime" a cappella, just because I didn't want to have to chase the karaoke accompaniment.  And this time my voice was more like my regular singing voice, lower.  But with more resonance--all those low voice box and jaw exercises.  I liked it.  And these women were fun--we laughed and sang and cheered together for two hours.

I can already tell that I have more confidence in my singing, not because I'm that much better, but because I know I enjoy it and that there really isn't anything to be embarrassed about--even if I go higher than I'm used to, forget the lyrics, bottom out on the low notes, get off key, or forget the tune.  It's more about my passion and emotional expression.  And that is a priceless gift from this weekend.

Even better:  I signed up for weekly online exercises, particularly because I know I'll forget aspects of the ones we tried.  I've already practiced today!  (Don't laugh, but I think there have been two unexpected benefits:  singing exercises my core AND the jaw and throat exercises seem to have helped the ear pressure which contributed to my hearing loss issues!!!)  I've also made a Kripalu play list with some of the songs people sang this weekend, many of which were new to me--"How Can I Keep From Singing?," "Give Yourself to Love," "Moonshadow."  I love learning new songs.

We ended the weekend with a sing along, finishing with Kate Wolf's "Give Yourself to Love," which really encapsulated the weekend.

Kind friends all gathered 'round, there's something I would say:
That what brings us together here has blessed us all today.
Love has made a circle that holds us all inside.
Where strangers are as family, loneliness can't hide.
You must give yourself to love if love is what you're after;
Open up your hearts to the tears and laughter
And give yourself to love, give yourself to love.
I've walked these mountains in the rain and learned to love the wind;
I've been up before the sunrise to watch the day begin.
I've always knew I'd find you, though I never did know how;
Like sunshine on a cloudy day stand before me now.
So give yourself to love if love is what you're after;
Open up your hearts to the tears and laughter
And give yourself to love, give yourself to love.
Love is born in fire; it's planted like a seed.
Love can't give you everything, but it gives you what you need.
And love comes when you're ready, love comes when you're afraid;
It'll be your greatest teacher, the best friend you have made.
So give yourself to love if love is what you're after;
Open up your hearts to the tears and laughter
And give yourself to love, give yourself to love.
Give yourself to love if love is what you're after;
Open up your hearts to the tears and laughter
And give yourself to love, give yourself to love

And you know I love many aspects of Kripalu--the food, the labyrinth, the amazing mountain scenery, the gift shop!  Yeah, it's a little hard for me to be around all those extremely fit bodies in extremely revealing Lycra yoga clothes.  At least it was winter and they were more covered up--no mid-drifts or obvious camel-toes because of the long shirts.  If I didn't have body issues, being at Kripalu would probably give me some--though, no one treated me any differently.

Some of the food:

  • breakfast:  masala soy chai, steel cut oatmeal, quinoa or millet "cream," egg bakes with turkey bacon or kale and the like, buckwheat blueberry muffins, Kripalu granola, roasted potatoes.
  • lunch and dinner:  mixed greens with House Dressing, macaroni and cheese, squash "mac", pad thai, Sesame Tofu, chipotle chicken, sauteed kale, roasted roots, curried egg salad, vegan spread, chicken with green peppercorn sauce, white fish with fennel and onion, and others I can't recall now . . . 
  • Iced Moroccan Mint tea, vanilla cake, banana bread with whipped cream
And, for the first time, I did Yoga Dance (with teacher Michelle Dalbec.)  I'm not sure how to explain it.  It's more interpretive dance than yoga, in that there are no poses or choreography.  You respond to prompts--make a pattern with your feet or your arms, use your left side or your right mainly, dance to the rhythm, dance the spirit of forgiveness . . . I can't think of all the prompts.  She quoted Jewel Mathieson's poem about high-powered dance, referred to the 5Rhythms work of Gabrielle Roth, even quoted Stravinsky ("I haven't understood a bar of music in my life, but I have felt it.")  All these women dancing their dance to the music.  I found it all very freeing, especially a spoken word performance by John De Kadt called "I am" ("I am not healed.  I am not broken.  I am not my story.  I am not my pain. etc"  And I danced and danced.  And with all that arm waving and foot tapping, it was a bit of a workout, too.

Why dance? 
This dance floor, my canvass, my playground
my therapist, my lover, my meditation, my church
The keys to the kingdom are rattling in my chest
the breath, lifeline to the divine
I come here for the caress of holy spirit thru my body
to feel the beloved in my blood, for a transfusion of light
I come here for the higher powered dance
To feel God's love blazing in my body
salvation from my small self
this body, kindling for this fire, this rhythm refuge
every beat and rest of one heart
this is my tribal church, my communion
this monastery of mind
this holy place in my heart
this pagoda in my palm alms
this sanctuary in my spine a sacrifice
this temple in my torso testifying
this shrine in chakra number three freeing
this higher powered dance
this, this is why I'm here
this is why we're here
for THIS dance
Jewel Mathieson

I also attended an evening Yoga Nidra, or sleepy yoga, session.  I'd done a bit of yoga nidra at another retreat.  You pretty much fall asleep for a short nap, complete with a warm blanket (and, this time, and eye cover) to the gentle voice of the teacher doing a guided meditation in a room with lots of other people.  They say you don't actually fall asleep--something about theta waves or whatever.  But some people were snoring and I definitely checked out awhile.  It is extremely relaxing, so that you have this heavy calmness afterwards.  I got a CD for Mama to use when she can't sleep (though, it didn't work on Bud last night!) I went to sleep not long afterwards.  

And the labyrinth--I walked it twice!  Even with the overcast, drippy but not actually chilly (until the last day) weather (besides, I like looking at lots of gray cloud layers.)  I just love walking labyrinths.  And this is a good one, with neat, even paths and nice shrubs; no wildflowers this time of year.  Nor did I see the mama bear and cub that apparently hibernate on the property (and who have been seen recently.)  On my first walk, I introduced a woman to labyrinths who was walking for the first time--she was confusing it with a maze and was afraid she would get lost.  I told her she wouldn't and that there were only two real guidelines--step out of the way if you pass someone and walk in quiet if not silence (yeah, she was chatting with me a lot, but we were the only two there so I helped.)  Otherwise, I told her it could be seen as a metaphor for life and that she just had to walk her own path.  I forgot to tell her about leaving an offering/trinket in the middle, but I know she stood and stared at the collection.  I had an art rock for each visit.  After she left, I sang my metta meditation chant as I walked:
May all beings be happy,
all beings be at peace.
May all beings be happy,
all beings be at peace.
All free from suffering,
all free from suffering.
All beings be happy,
all beings be at peace.
(Kristopher Lindquist)

My second walk was with Mama, who joined me on Monday for lunch and a few hours on site before driving home.   We always walk separately, but I still love sharing labyrinths with her.  She liked it and the food and the view.  I know she'd never take the singing workshop, but maybe we can go to Kripalu together sometime.

And I know there will be lots of singing before that.


Thai Sesame Tofu--approximation of Kripalu recipe
l package firm tofu
6 TBS each of: tamari, brown rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup water
1-2 TBS white wine
2 TBS chopped ginger
2 TBS chopped garlic
1 1/2-2 TBS honey
Toasted sesame seeds
Canola or other flavorless oil for greasing the pan                      

Dice the tofu into approximately 1″ squares. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Add the tofu and marinate for 30-60 minutes. Drain tofu and place the cubes on lightly oiled baking pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

(Alternative:  1/2-1 cup extra firm tofu in 1/2" cubes,  marinated in 1 tsp soy sauce for approx. ten minutes.   Bake at 350 degrees for 45 min)

Kripalu House Dressing
Makes about 2 cups

1 cup sunflower oil or grape seed oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
¼ cup tamari (natural soy sauce)
¼ cup lemon juice
1/3 cup sesame tahini
2 cloves garlic
½ tablespoon dry mustard powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon chili powder
pinch cayenne
½ cup water

Combine all ingredients and blend using a standard blender or immersion blender.

Kripalu Moroccan Mint Tea
Makes 6 cups

6½ cups water
½ cup fresh mint (stems and all), washed
2 tablespoons or 6 tea bags green tea
1 to 2 tablespoons sweetener of choice (organic sugar, agave, or honey)

Bring water to a boil. Turn off heat, add mint, and allow to steep for five minutes. Return to a boil, turn off heat, and add tea. Allow tea to steep no more than three minutes. (Green tea becomes bitter when steeped too long.) Remove tea and mint; sweeten to taste. Serve hot, or make iced tea by refrigerating until cold, or pouring cooled tea over ice.

Masala Chai
Makes about 4 cups.

2 tablespoons whole cardamom
2 teaspoons whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 whole stars of anise
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon slice fresh ginger
4 black tea bags
2 cups milk (or substitute soy milk)
2 cups water
1 to 3 tablespoons sweetener of choice

Combine all spices and tie them in a cheesecloth. Using a rolling pin or other heavy utensil, lightly pound the spices to crush them slightly. Place milk, water, and spices in the cheesecloth in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. Bring water back to a boil, turn off, and add black tea. Let steep for 5 minutes, then strain. Add sweetener of choice and stir to dissolve. Serve warm, or chill over ice for a cooling afternoon treat.

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