Sunday, October 4, 2015

Full Body Vocal Performance

In March of this year, Drake Oranwood and I entered a student/teacher relationship. Drake is a talented and accomplished bard in the Society. He has learned a great deal on his own. However, he wanted further instruction to improve his technique. As such I offered to open my knowledge base to him.

Whenever I work with a student, no matter their skill level, I always start with the very basics. So often, the basics are left out in instruction, given that they are, well, basic, and should have been taught when the student was first learning about singing. From grade school and up, some very basic things are often left out of instruction, in order to work on more advanced technique.

So begins our first lesson.

I asked Drake about the warm-ups he does. He gave me a list of some vocal runs and mouth warm-ups he does. He said he spends about 5 minutes doing warm-ups. These are the warm-ups he's always done with the same results; they help to loosen his vocal chords and prepare him for singing.

Something most people don't realize is that vocal performance, particularly singing, is a full body performance. Singers don't just use their mouths and vocal chords; they use nearly every muscle in their body from the bottom of their feet to the top of their heads.

Drake's first assignment was to spend some time trying different full body warm-ups and seeing how they affected his singing. Each person is different. So, a warm-up that works for one might not work for another. Warm-ups can be anything from yoga to stationary stretches, as long as it gets your full body ready to move.

After trying out several different methods, Drake found one that he felt comfortable with. Even one day of a full body warm up made a noticeable difference in his voice.

If you are looking to improve your tone, support, and overall quality, start by trying out different warm-ups. I recommend doing a different one each day that you'll be singing, until you find one that works for you. Don't stop after one or two. Try at least 5 different exercises. The first one you find might improve your quality, but there might be a better one. Once you find your warm-up, use it! Remember to always do the warm-up before performing.

If you have any questions or would like any recommendations, I'm happy to help however I can. Happy vocalizing!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The First Cut

Five or so years ago, I was browsing through the clearance section of a big box fabric store. Now, when I browse through the clearance section of fabric, I don't simply walk by, looking at things. No, I dig around, move bolts, crawl on the floor in an effort to see the bottom shelf more clearly; all in an effort to find that gem. On the bottom shelf, buried under some rather okay looking upholstery fabric was a bolt of crimson red velvet. Mind you, not the highest quality velvet, but a nice medium quality, nonetheless. It had been marked down from $28.00/yard, to $6.00/yard. As I danced my way to the cutting counter, many of  the other patrons ogled my luscious find. As I was standing in line on this very busy holiday weekend, one lady behind me commented on my lovely fabric.
     "That's beautiful fabric! How much is it?"
     "$6.00/yard! I can't believe there's so much of it here!"
     "Wow! I'll take whatever you're not taking."
     "Oh, I'm sorry, I'll be taking it all."
     "What could you possibly do with that much red velvet?"
     "I create Elizabethan court gowns."
The woman at the counter starts to measure out the fabric. 
     "Are you sure you need all if it? I'd be fine with just a yard or two for some throw pillows." says the woman behind me, still staring at the velvety pool at the end of the cutting table.
     "I'm sure. I'll use most of it for the gown and the rest for accessories. It takes a lot of fabric to create a gown with a proper train."
The woman in line behind her chimes in. 
     "What about just 1/2 of a yard? I would love to use just a little of it as a trim. There's so much there!"
I stare, smiling, at the garden of fabric piled on the counter, envisioning the gown that will eventually blossom from this plush bed of rose. "I'm sorry, ladies." 

In all, there were just over 13 yards of fabric. When I went to pay, the new associate at the register allowed me to use a 50% off coupon, leaving me with balance of less than $40.00!

This rather large preface leads me to my actual purpose of this post: my new partlet. (Eventually I'll have a better picture.) I had been wanting to make a partlet for some time. I knew what I wanted, I just needed to get up the nerve to take scissors to the velvet. 

I pulled out The Tudor Tailor and turned to page 70, a page I had visited and read many times before. Having had very little experience with upscaling patterns (and not wanting to risk wasting any of my velvet), I decided to first make a 1:1 muslin of the pattern in the book. I held the muslin to myself and determined that it was far too small. I then took measurements and determined the scale I needed and again cut a muslin pattern. While I realize the first muslin was completely unnecessary, I also realize I was putting off that inevitable moment when the crimson threads would finally be broken. 

Then came the big moment; the one I had waited for, for 5 years: time to cut the velvet! Now, typically this moment in a blog post would say something like, "I cut the fabric." However, this is not a typical blog post. Nor is it typical fabric. I brought the bolt upstairs and laid it on the floor, gently unrolling it a few turns. I pinned the muslin and knelt in front of the fabric with my scissors. 

*deep breath* 

Then, I cut. 

Okay, it wasn't so bad. It was only a small bit of fabric. 

I cut the black linen for the lining and ties, then sewed it all together. I did make one small mistake. I forgot that velvet can't be ironed normally. Whoops! So, now the velvet is slightly crushed in a small area. Though, I'm told it's hardly noticeable. 

Overall, I'm satisfied with the outcome. The pattern was simple to follow & upscale. I've re-learned that you don't iron velvet the way you iron everything else. It will also be easier to upscale a pattern next time I need to. 

Next up: a linen partlet (or 4) for warmer weather. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Carpenter on the Go

Within the Society, one of the many things I dabble in is woodworking. I say "dabble," but I have been doing real woodworking (from plans to finished product) for more than 20 years. My most recent SCA project was a collapsible table that I had seen many people carrying around at events. I started by looking at my favorite woodworking site to find some plans to work from. I found these plans and went off running!
First, I had to pick out the wood. I found some oak from an old bed frame and an old broom for the structural pieces. I found this lovely piece of idunno wood for the table top. It's some kind of soft wood, which means it scratches easily, but it was what we had that fit the size (and we all know that free is better than $). It will also be easy to replace, when that time comes.

Next, I cut all the pieces out and did some light sanding The legs all needed to be rounded. This required a vice and a belt sander. Very exact work, here. 

Next up - routing the table top pieces and the brace pieces. After this, lots of sanding. And more sanding. And a little more sanding. Once all the sanding was done, I assembled the table, per the instructions in the plans, and generously applied five coats of linseed oil. 

Overall, the project was fairly easy to construct. The plans were well written and easy to follow. If I were to do it again, I would choose a better wood for the table tops. After just 2 uses, there are deep gouges in the tops. I did know this would happen, given the soft wood I used, but I was not expecting it to happen so quickly.