Welcome to the Songtaneous Blog

ProfileSongtaneous is where spontaneous singing happens. Once a month, singers (and other creative people) gather to share their voices and their selves while making beautiful, complex and fleeting music. I always learn something about singing and myself when I facilitate Songtaneous. In this blog, I'll share what I learn and experience while traveling in the intuitive, joyful, beautiful, expressive, challenging, abstract world of vocal improvisation.

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Art, Art-making & Artists

Posted by Sarah M. Greer on Aug 10 2014 | Songtaneous

My singer friend C visited this past week and during one of our many long chats, we began discussing art, art-making and artists. (I say began because the conversation was long and winding and, I think we’d both agree, far from finished.)

We asked each other questions. You know, simple questions like:

What is art?

Is art the creative process in and of itself? Or is art the song/painting/music/play/dance, etc. created?

Is it art if no one but the person who creates it interacts with it?

And what does it mean to make art? For the artist and for the audience.

How do/will I make my own art? What does art mean to me?

Does art need to be understood? How is it understood? Does it instruct? Educate? Enliven? Enrage? Entertain?

Does it have a primary purpose? Is its primary purpose social or individual (or both)? And, does its primary purpose depend on your perpective? (i.e. artist vs. audience)

In our conversation, we eventually focused on two perspectives — one based on the meaning of art and artmaking to society and another based on the meaning of art and artmaking to the artist. For me, my individual experience of art as the creator or maker of art is different from art as a social idea or concept. (It’s interesting that in my mind, the first of these is art and the second is Art.)

Perhaps that’s because, for me, holding the idea that I’m making Art with which society must interact is a bit paralyzing. It invites a whole host of editors, critics, fans and others into my head and can crowd out my individual perspective or impulse for creating.

Worrying about if it’s good art or important art (or if it actually is art) inhibits my artmaking.

That’s not to say that interaction and witnessing aren’t extremely important to the art I make.

After all, I am a performer. An improvising performer. Presention and interaction are huge parts of what much of my art is all about.

But, I also feel I’m making art when I improvise in my house for no one but me, with no plans for anyone but me to ever hear what I sing. When I sing simply for the joy of feeling my voice in my body and for the freedom of self-expression.

So at the moment, my social definition of art/-making is pretty broad (kind of like art itself):

Art and art-making are an attempt to share/outline/identify/crystallize/catalyze/unearth/discover a unique and often individual perspective or experience and in doing so reflect on themes that are universal.

My personal definition is much simpler.

Art is what an artist makes.

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Trying, Winning and Stopping

Posted by Sarah M. Greer on Jun 16 2014 | Songtaneous

I have been thinking about how we approach new things. By we, I mean me, myself and I, my students and people in general. How we learn and how we practice. And, what happens when we want to get good (or be good) at something.

In other words, what happens when we try (too hard).

What I noticed in singers is that trying too hard usually looks … hard.

When singers try too hard, they clench their jaws, overwork their tongues and tighten their throats. They may pull their hands into fists, jut out their chins and lean forward. I think many of us have convinced ourselves that if we don’t exert this kind of effort when we sing, then we’re not really emoting or communicating.

(I currently experience this phenom in my Pilates class. If it’s really hard then I must being doing it right. Right?)

But …

Trying too hard often creates the exact opposite of the result we’re aiming for.

My friend and former teacher Lori Dokken tells students to “try hard not to try hard.” That’s because free and easy singing can’t happen unless you’re feeling … well … free and easy. Clear, resonant tone and easy understandable diction comes when we relax into good technique not when we overwork or strain. Inventive and interesting solos and improvisations happen when we stand in the present moment, not when we plan.

In other words, not when we TRY.

I remember early on in my contemporary vocal training one of my teachers, Jill Diem, said to me “When you get this right, it will feel like you’re hardly singing.”

At the time, I didn’t really believe her. But, then I found the intersection of energy and technique and discovered she was right. Singing became effortless (and even more joyful). I now say this to my students all the time. (Thanks, Jill).

So. If working less works in singing, where else does it work?

What if we tried less?

I don’t mean in a lazy, don’t-care-about-anything way. I mean what if we attempted things in a relaxed and focused way?

What if when we were trying to learn new things or develop new skills, we weren’t, as my Pilates instructor says, “trying to win?”

What if we put the effort into the effort rather than the result?

Then there’s stopping.

I have talked many times about my trouble starting new projects on the Songtaneous Blog, but what I realized as I wind down from an incredibly full spring semester is that I often have trouble stopping, too. Trouble making time to sit on the porch and stare into space. Or read a trashy novel. Or listen to music that I don’t have to learn for a gig. Sometimes remembering to stop is equally important.

In the past couple of weeks I have had to consciously decide NOT to take on some things. It can be hard as a self-supervised person to build time to relax into my schedule.

I have to remind myself to get still. To stop the doing and the planning and the prepping and the performing (and, and, and …) to relax and recharge. Fortunately (?) the older I get, the more my body helps me remember to stop. (If I go too hard for too long, my body eventually stops me.)

It seems in our high-tech, high-speed lives, still has become the enemy. (You snooze, you lose. The early bird gets the worm.) However, still should not be confused with stiff or stagnant. Still is where rest and healing happen and creativity is restored.

Just as music needs space between the notes, we need stops and stillness between the activities in our lives.

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Wizard of Oz

Posted by Sarah M. Greer on Apr 14 2014 | Songtaneous

Come see the Wizard of Oz!

Two Shows
Thursday – 7 pm & Friday – 2:45 pm
Tickets: $5

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