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A Singer’s Inner Work: Calming the Mind

October 4, 2016

Stress is more than just an emotional reaction to stimuli. It also creates a physiological response. Singers put themselves in self-induced stress states on a regular basis. Auditions, masterclasses, performances, and even some rehearsals can trigger physiological changes in our bodies due to stress. For many of us, there is no choice in whether or not we pursue this career. It is a calling. However, we do have a choice when it comes to learning how calm our minds in spite of stressful situations.

A Singer's Inner Work | Calming Your Mind | Sybaritic Singer

Calm Your Brain

We have two amygdalae. They reside on each side of the brain behind the eyes and the optic nerves.  The brain releases adrenaline and cortisol into your system, due to the amygdalae triggers, when a threat is perceived. These hormones are incredibly important when our body goes into “fight or flight” mode. The increased heart rate, sweaty palms, and dry mouth are all immediate physical actions that result. Unfortunately, the amygdalae, when activated in this way, shuts down the neural pathway to your prefrontal cortex. That is why you may feel slightly disoriented during these intense stress events.

Good Singer Breathing

Singers already have one giant defense against stress conditions and that is good singer breathing! We are already committed to low, silent breaths which stimulate the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve is the largest nerve in your body. It runs from the brain into the abdomen and is the major channel of the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation—slowing the heart rate, facilitating digestion and generally calming the body. It counteracts the sympathetic nervous system, which rules the stress response—elevating heart rate, slowing digestion and sending blood to the muscles in preparation for fighting or fleeing. Unfortunately, modern life triggers the sympathetic nervous system much more than the parasympathetic. The all-too-frequent result of this imbalance is a body stuck in overdrive, triggering chronic inflammation, the precursor to numerous chronic diseases.¹

Stand Next to The River

Somewhere along the line, I picked up the notion that our emotions and feelings are a mighty, coursing river inside of our being. (I’m sure that this comes from some Zen or Buddhist teaching. But, I can’t seem to find the original source of it.) Experiencing intense emotions can be like standing in the middle of that dangerous river. If we continue to stay in the middle of the river, we are more likely to drown in the current. The way to de-escalate the situation is to stand next to that river of intense emotion and observe it. Some of the ways to exit the middle of the river are:

  • Remind yourself that you are not your thoughts.
  • Label the emotions that you are feeling.
    • You are not your thoughts because you can distance your identity from the emotion. Can you practice changing your thoughts from “I am jealous” to “I am feeling jealous”?
    • The intensity of the feelings begins to subside after labeling them so that you can start to observe them.
  • Let Your Curiosity Run
    • Now that you are observing your emotions, become more curious about them. Where does this emotion or feeling manifest in my body? How are my muscles or my breath holding on to this feeling?

Noticing, labeling, and dealing with emotional response helps us to settle our bodies into accepting the current situation for what it is instead of what we expected it to be. That allows us to get back into a clearer state of mind and make better decisions in the face of stress. Let the chill embody you, my little divas.

Show Your (Inner) Work + Free Calm-on-the-Go Infographic!

How do you handle stress in the moment? Do you have any favorite coping strategies? Make a list of things that help you stay calm. Or, create a calm-on-the-go kit that you can drop in your tote with your scores and character shoes. Need some inspiration? I made an infographic for you! If you like this Calm-0n-the-Go checklist, I hope you’ll take a moment and sign up for the Sybaritic Faithful email list for more helpful, exclusive content just like it.

I’d love to hear from you either in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter. I’m @mezzoihnen.

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  • Self-care for musicians
  • Discovering your multiple intelligences
  • Tackling your cognitive biases
  • Vulnerability in life and on stage
  • Blasting out of your thought ruts

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A Singer’s Inner Work: Explore Your Intuition

October 3, 2016

There is a voice inside of you
that whispers all day long,
‘I feel that this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.’
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
or wise man can decide
what’s right for you – just listen to
the voice that speaks inside.

You know that moment, when you’re on the subway and your phone stops working? It’s not because it’s dead or broken. You just don’t have signal anymore. The pros around you whip out their newspaper or kindle. If you happen to be in some god-forsaken karmic retribution state, someone pulls out nail clippers. Let’s assume it won’t be that dire. I consider this a gift of a moment. The gift is a chance to check in with my intuition. I hope you’ll take today’s post as a catalyst to find your own moments to check in with your intuition.
A Singer's Inner Work | Explore Your Intuition | Sybaritic Singer

Explore Your Intuition

Shel Silverstein is right, “there is a voice inside of you.” But, the ability to clearly hear it is a skill. Humans are undoubtedly impressive cognitive beings. Our ability to delude ourselves is one of those incredibly impressive aspects. But, self-delusion is the main cause of distrusting your intuition. You will have to build back that trust to effectively use your intuition in your daily activities.

Ask the Question

Give yourself a way to practice listening to your intuition in low-level decision-making moments. Ask yourself simple questions to begin especially if you don’t have a long history of trusting yourself. You may want to spend more time here if you feel you regularly abdicate your decisions to other people. Then, begin turning your questions to larger subjects that do not have yes or no answers.
You may want to ask yourself things like:
  • What type of creative projects should I pursue next?
  • Is this the right performing ensemble to join?
  • How do I feel about going/going back to school?

First-Level Answers

When you ask the question, your logical brain kicks into action. It’s important to pay attention to those answers. Those first-level answers might give you important information on strategies and roadblocks after you make your intuitive decision. You can categorize these answers under: “this is what my logical mind thinks” or “this is how fear is responding.” You may notice that these are a lot of “what-if” answers. “Well, I won’t be able to keep performing with x ensemble if I decide to join y ensemble.” You don’t know those things for sure yet. That’s why these are troubleshooting answers.

Intuitive Answer

Once you’ve recognized your first level answers, bring yourself back to the present. You can do this by focusing on the breath or looking around and recognizing objects in the same space. Those “what-if” answers have a way of being rooted in either the unknowable future or your past. Then, complete the answer to your question by beginning: “My inner self says…” You’ll know you’re getting to the good stuff when the answer feels energizing and empowering — even if it means a difficult talk or decision is coming up.

Show Your (Inner) Work

Practice recognizing your intuition moments as regularly as possible. When you find yourself in a moment in which you can call on your intuition, begin to ask yourself questions in the seven areas of individual wellness. We’ll consider those seven areas to be:

  • Financial
    • Have I been spending money in accordance with my values?
  • Environmental
    • Does my practice space suit my needs?
  • Social
    • How am I being a supportive friend/sibling/partner?
    • Do my friends support my career ambitions?
  • Physical
    • Am I taking the best care of myself/my instrument that I can?
  • Intellectual
    • Are there missing aspects of my education?
    • Am I ready to pursue new training opportunities?
  • Emotional
    • Am I feeling emotionally sound to withstand an audition season?
    • Where do I need emotional support now?
  • Spiritual
    • In what ways can I reconnect with awe and wonder if my day-to-day life?

Aligning with your intuition often brings about more openness and authenticity in your life. You’re able to take responsibility for your decisions. You’re able to respond to others with integrity. All of that because you’ve decided to be more honest with yourself by checking in with your intuition instead of listening only to the troubleshooting mind or fear. We know our limitations and work to exceed them without promising things we can’t deliver. We can’t be superhuman; but we can be super humans.

(You’re right, I’m disappointed that I didn’t delete that last sentence too…)

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Let Me Be Your Diva Sidekick!

All this month I will be sending out exclusive content to the email list. Take a moment to sign up now so you can receive things like:

  • Self-care for musicians
  • Discovering your multiple intelligences
  • Tackling your cognitive biases
  • Vulnerability in life and on stage
  • Blasting out of your thought ruts

I hope you’ll sign up here or just click the image above. Make sure to select the “Sybaritic Singer” option under “pick your news.”

in performance: Des Moines Symphony Masterworks 1: Season Debut – Beethoven’s Ode to Joy!

September 28, 2016

A regional symphony orchestra, like the Des Moines Symphony, is often obligated, even if unwittingly, to be the main representative of large ensemble classical repertoire in their area. There is a beautiful balance in that when it comes to programming. There are instances of premieres and relatively recent works (not as many as I would personally like but that is a review for another day.) Then, there are concerts like the 2016-2017 Season Debut on Sunday, September 25th, which found the symphony performing Rossini’s Overture to William Tell, J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major (BWV 1050), and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125. A masterworks concert, indeed.

The Des Moines Symphony’s performance of William Tell Overture was precise and resonant. This excellent cohesiveness in the ensemble was reassuring since it is likely many of these players have been acquainted with this piece since their supposed youth symphony days. Julie Sturm, Principal Cellist and holder of The Robert & Gloria Burnett Endowed Chair, played the opening cello solo with grace fully exploiting the richly gilded sounds of her instrument. It was truly a pleasure to hear the audience members nearby react when familiar melodies appeared. The listeners were clearly less familiar with the Brandenburg, but the smaller chamber ensemble of players did an equally fine job with its performance. A trio of soloists; Kayla Burggraf, Jonathan Sturm, and Gregory Hand, were excellent guides to the elegance and refinement of their individual and ensemble musical line. Burggraf deserves special mention for a number of magnificent and skillfully played solos throughout the afternoon’s performance.

The expectations raised after the first two performances were not as keenly met in the final performance of the afternoon, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125. I stopped short of the “wows” elicited by some of my fellow audience members following the final cutoff by the noticeable aspects of disjointed entrances and tempo changes. There were some special moments of note. Dashon Burton, the bass soloist, overcame the difficult stage position in which the soloists were placed with his impressively clear and abundant tone. The tenor soloist, Scott Ramsay, demonstrated a lovely bloom in the voice during his marcato solo. There were also shining moments of second violin and viola soli sections in the Adagio molto e cantabile. While the over-singing was clearly an attempt to compete with the heavy-handed orchestral sound looming in front of them, the Drake Choir, Simpson College Chamber Singers, and Des Moines Vocal Arts Ensemble sounded well-prepared.

One would hope that along with the obligation to perform masterworks, the Des Moines Symphony would continue to endeavor to celebrate why these compositions are considered masterworks. It isn’t, as they aptly demonstrated earlier in the concert, simply because they are loud. The work of all involved to uphold the musical integrity of these giants of the canon does not go unnoticed.

let’s discuss: There’s a New Music Party in Chicago!

September 23, 2016


If that doesn’t get your blood pumping, you may want to see a doctor. That’s right, folks! Ear Taxi Festival 2016 is almost here! If you are even slightly in the vicinity of Chicago, or you love new music enough to get yourself there, you should think about purchasing your tickets today.

In 2008 the Alice M. Ditson Fund at Columbia University generously instituted a biennial festival supporting emerging composers of classical contemporary music.

Spearheaded by Ditson Advisory Committee member and University of Chicago Professor Augusta Read Thomas, the Ear Taxi Festival – October 5-10, 2016 – is a celebration of Chicago’s thriving contemporary music scene with concerts, lectures, marathons, webcasts and artist receptions featuring New Music Chicago and New Music USA. Co-curated by Augusta Read Thomas and conductor Stephen Burns and a curatorial committee of Chicago’s leadingartists and intellectuals the festival is a joy-ride through Chicago’s new music scene. From Mana Contemporary and the University of Chicago on the south-side to the Harris Theater for Music and Dance and The Chicago Cultural Center in the loop, to Constellation on the north-side, the whole city will be humming with the sounds of creativity and innovation.

Ear Taxi Festival 2016

A Singer’s Inner Work: Multiple Intelligences

September 21, 2016

Did you know that there is Sybaritic Singer content that is exclusive to the email list I affectionately call, “The Sybaritic Faithful”? Well, there is. If you are on the list, then you would have already received today’s post in your inbox. If not, you may want to take a moment to sign up or update your settings now! Click on the image below to go to the sign-up form. After you enter your information, make sure to select “Sybaritic Singer” under the “Pick Your News!” heading.

A Singer's Inner Work | Multiple Intelligences | Sybaritic Singer

A Singer’s Inner Work: Learn Your Action Style

September 20, 2016

Two days ago, we did some deep inner work by working through our Enneagram assessment which helped us understand our core needs and personality traits. Yesterday, we devoted our time to deciphering our learning style. With those in mind, today we are going to figure out our action style and how that can help or hinder our ability to work toward our goals as singers and musicians.

A Singer's Inner Work | Learn Your Action Style | Sybaritic Singer

Your Diva Action Styles

Kathy Caprino, of Career Bliss fame, has an excellent article for Forbes called, “The 6 Dominant Action Styles: Why You Need To Know Yours To Be Happy And Successful.” We are going to use her excellent advice gleaned from 11 years of coaching professionals, five years as a therapist, and 18 years in corporate life to help us with our singer small businesses and distinguishing our action styles.

You’ll probably want to read her full article and sign up for her email list to get the most out of today’s post. All the block quotes in this post come from her article. (I am not an affiliate and not connected to Kathy’s work – just trying to send some good vibes her way for sharing her incredible knowledge.)

Kathy’s 6 Dominant Action Styles include: The Striver, The Seeker, The Researcher, The Pacer, The Challenger, and The Advocator.

The Striver

The Striver in music will obsessively choose large goals that are based on perceived victory and success. She will work tirelessly to realize those goals sometimes to the detriment of making lasting relationships, having a musical/artistic voice, and her ultimate whole body health.

This individual is motivated keenly by achievement and accomplishment – by setting goals and doing what’s required to clear the pathway to achieve those goals. Strivers work hard consistently to overcome their challenges, and won’t hesitate to get outside help, advice and support from others to achieve their visions. They are deeply driven by accomplishment and by getting to the other side of their goal as expeditiously and efficiently as possible, as if to make a “check mark” on their to-do list that represents “Done.”

The Seeker

Our divas of the seeker type follow their little beagle noses to whatever interests them, or encourages their personal growth, along the way. They may enter a MM degree program and feel totally comfortable using that experience to transform into a stage director or agent in the next iteration of their goals. They aren’t tied to the end-all-be-all goal. Their true goal is to keep pursuing their intuition and internal guidance. I gently remind Seeker Types in the musical freelance world to remember that “hope is not a strategy.” Positive thinking is powerful but not the only way of achieving goals.

The Seeker is motivated by expansion, learning and growth, and sees evolving and learning as the key objectives of experience. Seekers may change directions frequently, embracing the idea of “going with the flow,” and are more than fine with modifying their dreams and visions based on what new “material” shows up in their lives at any given time.

The Researcher

Researcher Divas love school. They love the whole process of really digging into each facet of the singing life. They want to listen to all of the recordings. They want to speak all the languages fluently. They have a never-ending mountain of potential repertoire. Divas of The Researcher persuasion, do not get so busy learning about how to sing that you find yourself without time to do the actual verb. If you notice your diva friends agonizing over researching every aspect of the audition process and failing to actually sign up to audition, encourage them to take the leap and try out their research.

The Researcher is deeply motivated by the process of study, research, exploration and evaluation – assuming a wide range of angles and perspectives in order to understand the best goals to pursue, and the best avenues to achieve these goals. The researcher needs to turn an idea or concept over and “peel the onion” to investigate, dig deep, explore and uncover as many alternative approaches and options in order to arrive at the best plan.

The Pacer

Divas with a strong Pacer vibe will be resolute in their goals but can get bogged down in their own methodology and understanding. There are times in the singing life that you need to be able to move quickly and take advantage of opportunities on the fly. This could be intimidating to a pacer type who wants to apply for gigs, grants, schools, etc on their own time and in their own way. Be aware of when your Pacer action style can help and when it might be preventing you from new opportunities.

Pacers will get to their goal, but they’ll approach the process very slowly, methodically, and often in a plodding way. The Pacer is like a great giant turtle with a hard, protective shell. When events or situations emerge that threaten the Pacer, s/he will submerge under the shell until the threat has passed. The Pacer will reliably plod to the goal, but often others have to move around the Pacer if they wish to speed up the process or take the most expedient route.

The Challenger

“The whole YAP pyramid scheme is a joke and an effort to prey on young, naïve singers! We should abolish the system! We should create our own opera company! We will dismantle the audition process!” If you’ve heard some of these statements before, chances are you’re friends with a Challenger. We should look at the ways the system can be better for everyone involved. Perhaps some of us do need to create our own opera companies. But, sometimes a diva of the challenger variety can run out of energy and other resources before accomplishing the goal they set out to achieve.

The Challenger feels the urge to challenge everything – asking questions, disrupting conventional thinking, and not taking any advice, authority or direction given as definitive. The Challenger thrives on being able to turn a goal or a belief over on its head, and questioning why it exists. He is motivated by following his own, authentic answers to deep questions, and views himself as the highest authority on what is the right, or wrong, way to approach a situation or goal.

The Advocator

Finally, our Diva Advocators are out in the field doing work that they can believe in. They need something larger than themselves to spur them on. They like their goals to be community-focused or service oriented. Advocators get shizz done because they are deeply committed to the idea of “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Our musical advocator action types can find themselves not getting along with others who do not share the same vision. If this is you, diva, remember that not everyone has to share the same goal that you do to make a project successful. Know your goals and needs and know other’s goals and needs. You don’t have to make them the same thing.

Finally, the Advocator drives to a goal only when it has “juice” and excitement for her – when it holds a deeper meaning and purpose, usually around advocating for some desired transformation – for herself, others, her community or the world. Advocators need to have deeper meaning and purpose in their work and in their goals, and long for outcomes that will bring forth positive benefit to everyone involved.

Show Your (Inner) Work

Have you already determined which action style best describes you? I definitely know what mine are. I bet you can probably guess them too if you’ve been a longtime Sybaritic Faithful. Put this inner work knowledge into practice by thinking about a current project or goal you’re pursuing.

  • What is your overall action style?
  • Do you have a different action style when it comes to micro goals along the way to the larger goal?
  • Do you notice yourself having different action styles at different points along the timeline?
  • Who are the people directly connected to this project and what are their action styles?

I hope this post has helped you bring some clarity to how your Action Style, as described by Kathy Caprino, affects your diva life. Share with me your thoughts in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter. I’m @mezzoihnen.

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Let Me Be Your Diva Sidekick!

All this month I will be sending out exclusive content to the email list. Take a moment to sign up now so you can receive things like:

  • Self-care for musicians
  • Discovering your multiple intelligences
  • Tackling your cognitive biases
  • Vulnerability in life and on stage
  • Blasting out of your thought ruts

I hope you’ll sign up here or just click the image above. Make sure to select the “Sybaritic Singer” option under “pick your news.”

A Singer’s Inner Work: Find Your Learning Style

September 19, 2016

I have never met people more obsessed with continuing education and life-long learning than singers and other musicians. You can almost hear the cry from their souls, “I want to know MORE!” We love masterclasses and bootcamps and lessons and coachings and lectures and workshops andandand… The list goes on. With all this pursuit of knowledge, it makes sense that we should have a better understanding of the learning styles that help us retain that wisdom. That’s where our inner work comes into play again.

A Singer's Inner Work | Find Your Learning Style | Sybaritic Singer

Finding Your Learning Style

Your learning style impacts the way you understand information and solve problems. Knowing the percentage to which you lean on a certain learning style can help when you are learning new repertoire, absorbing information about theory and practice, and considering ways to grow your singer small business.

For the purposes of this post, we’ll break it down into three areas: auditory, visual, and tactile.


We all know those musicians who can listen to a song and then immediately sing it back note-for-note. Or, those friends who never needed to take notes in class because they were able to remember the lecture perfectly. Those learners store information by the way it sounds. Auditory learning style adherents take very well to spoken instructions.

In music, auditory learning can take the form of listening to recordings, vocal modeling, reading the text of a piece out loud, countsinging, and having your instructors speak through objectives. Can you add to this list?


One would assume that all musicians are auditory learners. While musicians are more auditorily skilled, that may not always be their primary or preferred learning style.

As it pertains to music, I’ve always thought of myself as much more of a visual learner. Scat-singing in jazz, harmonic dictation, and rote learning songs have been difficult in my past. However, hand me the lead sheet, show me the orchestral score, or put some Curwen hand signs to the song and I’m right back in the game. The visual element helps us see what we are learning.

Visual learners in music use flashcards to memorize historical facts or theory concepts, create mental imagery for their repertoire, write notes in lessons and lectures, and love to color code. Musical visual learners need to see things, not just hear things, to learn.


As singers, most of our daily lives is a mixture of the auditory, visual, and tactile. Even in just one part of a voice lesson we hear our starting pitch, see the music in front of us, and feel the sensations of healthy technique. However, being a primarily tactile learner is more than just focusing on sensations while singing.

Tactile learners understand and remember information through physical movement. Think of your friend who always has to take apart and put back together the entire engine to understand how it works. Communication through touch or understanding the physical movement of something without retaining what was seen or heard are classic tactile learner mannerisms.

Musically inclined tactile learners feel most secure in their music once they’ve blocked the whole show, really respond to Dalcroze Eurhythmics, enjoy learning music with hand signs, memorize vocal lines quicker by being able to play it on the piano or another instrument, and more. What are your favorite ways to incorporate tactile learning into your work or studio?

Show Your (Inner) Work

Take a short, 20 question, self-assessment to determine your learning style. Do your results ring true?

Bonus points: brainstorm more strategies for each type of learning style when it comes to learning technique, concepts, and repertoire for yourself or your students. Write them onto popsicle sticks like we did in our Revolutionize Your Studio post or come up with another way to incorporate them into your daily routine.

Now, that obsessive pursuit of knowledge can be processed in an even more efficient way because of your commitment to knowing yourself. Onward!

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