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in performance: Canadian Brass for Civic Music Association with Heartland Youth Choir

December 10, 2016

If you happen to be a fan of expertly executed dad jokes seamlessly mixed in with your chamber music, then you can do no better than seeing the Canadian Brass in their “Christmas Time is Here” program which recently made a stop at Drake University’s Sheslow Auditorium as part of the Des Moines’ Civic Music Association season. From tunes to tennis shoes, the performance was pitch-perfect.

Sybaritic Singer | Civic Music Association | Canadian Brass

It is clear that Canadian Brass has used it forty-six year history to not only present incredible brass quintet music but to study its audience intently. They know exactly what tickles the fancy of their true fans while holding up the tradition of the music like master craftsmen. From founding member Chuck Daellenbach squeezing through to the center of third row and asking an audience member to hold his iPad while he played his tuba to the friendly jabs trumpeter Christopher Coletti tossed his fellow trumpeter Caleb Hudson‘s way, the audience could not get enough.

Musically, the quintet is remarkable and stereotypically Canadian about it — humble to a fault. Early in the program, Hudson’s pianissimo dynamics on piccolo trumpet during one of the group’s arrangements titled “Bach’s Bells” was a foretaste of their nuanced and thoughtful connection to dynamics throughout the evening. Bernhard Scully‘s precision and sleek horn onsets were as impressive as Achilles Liarmakopoulos‘ warm, legato trombone tone. Their arrangements offer all the familiar tunes while deftly providing a maximum of musical interest. Flugelhorn solos from Hudson and Coletti during the “Glen Miller Christmas” medley were particularly compelling. It is clear that Canadian Brass has just as much commitment to excellent musicianship as to making sure their audiences enjoy their time together.

Both Canadian Brass and Civic Music Association have long-standing, devoted educational outreach programs. One of the highlights of their stop in Des Moines was the ensemble’s ability to partner with the Heartland Youth Choir to perform three selections. The choir was well-prepared by director Barbara Sletto and added a darling affectivity to the set of pieces including “O’ Christmas Tree”, “The Angel Choir and the Trumpeter”, and “Ding Dong Merrily on High”.

The final piece of the evening, “Tribute to the Ballet”, is the definition of an audience pleaser. A parody of Swan Lake and other tunes, complete with thoroughly choreographed “dance steps” for the quintet, is good, clean fun. Without any pretentiousness, they exhibit their memorization, ability to move while still creating fine sound and timbre, and good humor the whole while. Capped with a rousing encore of “Flight of the Bumblebee”, audiences could not have plunged back into the frigid night air more glowing and enlivened.

There are four concerts, featuring both classical and jazz artists, remaining in the 2016-2017 Civic Music Association Season. For more information or to buy tickets, visit:

A Singer’s Inner Work: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy A Tool Towards Balance

November 15, 2016

Would you like some help in balancing your emotional and mental state? Yearning to gain a new perspective? Or, looking to develop your sense of inner strength as a singer? We’re going to dive into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy a method for accomplishing reflection and personal growth in our singer lives. I know I certainly have benefitted from some of these techniques in the last week.

A Singer's Inner Work | Cognitive Behavior Therapy | Sybaritic Singer

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Creative Professionals

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a short-term method that is goal-driven. It is a very hands-on and practical method that you can use to reach emotional resilience and mental strength. The primary goal is to change our individual mindset and/or behavior. CBT asks us to put forth the difficulties we may be experiencing at any given time and reflect on those challenges for future gain. I want us, as divas, to feel like we can weather emotional storms and feel mentally strong in this long game.

Show Your (Inner) Work + Infographic!

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focuses primarily on principles, attitudes, dreams, and beliefs on a daily basis. Using CBT can provide insight on how your thinking process can be associated with your day-to-day emotional and mental state. Cognitive Restructuring is one exercise example that we’re going to focus on here. The purpose of this exercise is to focus on an individual’s pattern of thinking and find alternative ways to solve an existing problem. If you feel pulled toward primarily negative thinking, restructuring can really help change your perspective. By taking your unhelpful thoughts like “I’m bad at singing coloratura” or “my voice doesn’t move” and asking yourself things like “is there any evidence that contradicts these thoughts?” or “what would I tell a friend who brought me this same concern?” you can put a detour in that negative thought process spiral. Remember, you need to replace negative thoughts with valid, true positive thoughts. Rationalizations won’t help. Furthermore, rationalizations won’t help you see the fallacy in your negative thoughts. Need some help practicing? I made an infographic for you! If you like this CBT strategies helper, I hope you’ll take a moment and sign up for the Sybaritic Faithful email list for more helpful, exclusive content just like it.

More CBT Exercises for Singers

Active Scheduling encourages us to be more engaged towards going out of our comfort zones in order to gain a new perspective. Singers are usually pretty good at this. However, we may lose the drive to go outside of our comfort zones as we progress in our careers or start to gain recognition. It’s important for us to actively schedule things like lessons, auditions, masterclasses, coachings and more to gain insight which might feel like “getting negative feedback.” However, we can prepare our minds, using exercises like restructuring, to realize that we’re using each one of those events as growth opportunities.

Graded Exposure helps to decrease fear and anxiety by addressing what tends to be avoided and get to the root of psychological difficulties. Graded exposure is exactly the reason why I tell my younger students that doing auditions is like putting deposits into the bank account of your career no matter the outcome. You must do a lot of auditions to expose yourself to that situation so that you can do better with each outing. No one expects you to be great at it your first time. You get better. As you become more skilled, you can start to pinpoint the psychological difficulties you experience when gearing up for auditions. Then, start taking actions to work through those areas of difficulty as part of your practice sessions. Don’t wait to be blindsided during high-pressure events. Do the work now and take notes for next time.

Mindfulness Meditation is another exercise. The focus of Mindfulness Meditation is to take in fully what is happening in the present. What makes mindfulness meditation useful? The focus is on your current state. It is a practice in which we focus on the breath, bodily sensations, and mental relaxation. Mindfulness is one of the single most helpful aspects when it comes to making progress in singing. It changes everything: your ability to make technique changes, your ability to “see” yourself on stage as you are performing, your ability to let go of “noise” in your mind as you’re engaged in focused activity. Including a “body scan” at the beginning of your practice session can be transformative in your singing.

How Will You Incorporate CBT?

These exercises can be used on a daily basis to increase emotional resilience and mental strength. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help us explore and develop a new perspective. A new perspective can help emotions to be in tune and achieving mental strength possible. Finding alternate solutions can exercise the mind mentally. How can you incorporate CBT into your daily activities? What would a new perspective mean to your singing life now?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a great way to release and adapt to inner emotions without letting them derail your life. Our lives are full of mental and emotional complications. It is a cost of the job sometimes. But, we can take these steps to strengthening our resilience and having an overall better experience rather than feeling like “victims” to the career.

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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

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guest post: “I’m an opera singer and I need a wet suit” by Misha Penton

November 10, 2016

Media projects are an evolving progression of my creative practice. As any performing artist knows, documentation of live work is an absolute must. Over time, I became somewhat obsessed with documenting my live work, and this obsession led me to produce new music videos and short form media operas. Although voice via music is my primary practice, I’m an inter- and multidisciplinary artist and director, so working across disciplines and with moving images feels very natural to me.

A little background: I’m a classically trained singer and I’ve been spearheading new music projects for a number of years, including historical adaptations, new chamber opera monodramas, and media projects. I’ve worked extensively with composers as librettist, conceptualist, director, producer and singer. Currently, I’m stepping into more experimental vocal realms and working even more with media.

Misha Penton | Sybaritic Singer |

I’ve been involved with recording in one way or another for quite some time. When I became more interested in photography and film, and learned to use a “real” camera, I wanted that visual practice to be part of my work. As performer, director, and producer, I have four new music video projects in my portfolio and more in the chute. I’m more interested than ever in working with the camera myself, creating experimental visual work, and continuing to expand my experimental vocal compositions.

I’m drawn to this kind of work because I grew weary of “one-off,” live, large-scale performances projects. I love live performance and its unpredictable ephemerality, but there are drawbacks.Tweet:

Besides a love of the medium, I’m drawn to this kind of work because I grew weary of “one-off,” live, large-scale performances projects. I love live performance and its unpredictable ephemerality, but there are drawbacks, especially when creating new works. My live performance projects are enormously time-consuming, gobble resources like candy, and usually enjoy only a few performances— albeit, I’ve had the fortune of sharing my performance works in fantastic and engaging venues like the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Menil Collection Houston, and the Rothko Chapel. As much as I love live performance, I’m drawn to archival work and its ability to exist far beyond a live event.

As much as I love live performance, I’m drawn to archival work and its ability to exist far beyond a live event.Tweet:

For the Selkie music video I chose the coast of Oregon for the on-location shoot. I knew I wanted scenes of the tumultuous and desolate stormy ocean. It didn’t occur to me that filming on the beach in winter, in the Pacific Northwest, for my first video, might not be such a good idea. The Fool of the Tarot is a wonder-maker and a great teacher!

The Fool of the Tarot is a wonder-maker and a great teacher!Tweet:

My husband is a stellar photographer and a close pal of his, who happens to live across the street from us in Houston, is a pro cinematographer. They were both game to adventure with me and to help bring my vision to life.

I knew I needed a wetsuit for the 45-degree water of the wintry Pacific. Houston is a bustling port city where everything, and I mean everything, is readily available. I ventured out to one of several professional diving shops on Richmond Avenue.

I’m an opera singer and I need a wet suit.Tweet:

 I wanted to capture footage of me wading in, or being submerged and emerging from, the ocean’s surf. I managed the wading bit, but it quickly became apparent that being submerged was out! I wore my wetsuit under my long red taffeta Victorian coat, and most surprisingly, the winter Pacific Ocean felt warm. The wading scene closes the film and is a nod to Virginia Woolf, a literary hero of mine, whose text is featured in my next music video release, This is our universe.

Selkie was my first music video in a set of three. It’s a musical setting of my libretto by composer Elliot Cole. The other two video works, ravens & radishes and The Captured Goddess, feature music by composers George Heathco and Dominick DiOrio, respectively. ravens is a setting of my fairytale poetry, and Goddess is a work written for me by Dominick: a fierce setting of the poetry of early 20th century imagist, Amy Lowell. My fourth video, This is our universe,an experimental opera based on a Woolf text, is scheduled for online release on November 16.

Misha Penton | Sybaritic Singer |

My work is in a constant state of flux and that’s how I like it. I’m working on a new experimental vocal work, (Proto)Medusa— an iterative performance and media piece based on reimagining and redefining the Greco-Roman Gorgon, featuring live voice, video, audio, and guest improvising instrumentalists.

As an artist, I’m dedicated to transformation. That’s a challenge in a world that likes comfortable, predictable work— work which meets limiting expectations— but I’m ever-growing, metamorphosing, molting and expanding.

Part of my commitment to experimental vocal composition is a dedication to a Future Me— a me who is always open to change, new pathways, and fresh perspectives: “I am spacious, singing flesh, on which is grafted no one knows which I, more or less human, but alive because of transformation.”— Hélène Cixous, “The Laugh of Medusa.”

Misha PentonSoprano Misha Penton is a new music vocal artist and performance creator. She composes experimental vocal pieces, sings lots of cool new music and new opera, and invents and performs new solo and collaborative works. Find out more by visiting:


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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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

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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