A few months ago, a friend of mine introduced me to the performance artist, Marina Abramovic. You might know her from the famous clip circulating the internet of her and her former lover, Ulay, meeting again for the first time in years during her exhibit, "The Artist is Present" at the MOMA.
Marina uses the body as a subject and medium to explore physical limitations and the relationship between performer/audience. Although I find her work to be violent and at times downright disturbing, I do appreciate her emphasis on ritual and meditation even in the presence of pain. So you're probably asking, why Marina? What does she have to do with singing?
For many years, I dreaded practice because I was impatient. I wanted immediate results, but honestly, who doesn't nowadays? Who wants to do the dirty work when we're accustomed to instant gratification? Patience has become sort of a thing of the past, but we cannot approach art in this way.
Expertise requires hours and hours of practice, dedication and tons of failure. Failing can be painful, and yeah, it totally sucks and makes us want to turn our backs on our work sometimes. But, we have to acknowledge and address it in order to get better and move on up.
How do we do this? Let's go back to ritual and meditation, which is my reason for using Marina as an example. To prep her students for creativity at the MAI (Marina Abramovic Institute), Marina has her students separate colorful marbles or tally items for meditation, awareness and focus. See the video below of James Franco eating - gold - and working through one of Marina's processes. It's pretty entertaining and somewhat useful, however I personally probably wouldn't eat the gold.
The perspective: practice as a ritual and form of meditation.
To give you an idea, I typically practice five days a week, for 30 minute spurts twice a day. I think it's most effective to dedicate little bouts of time to practice rather than hours on end (unless we're doing show prep, in that case, we need much more time). We have lives and short attention spans, people!
Here's my process:
Awareness and acceptance of physical and emotional state upon start of practice. Meditating into any difficulties that arise. Choosing a purpose for practice and a focal point. Varies day by day (one day I could focus on my cat, the next, maybe revenge on an ex! Hey, whatever inspires you.)
Stretches for alignment, blood flow and circulation. Awakening the lungs and diaphragm while gently engaging the cords.
3. Awareness of Breath
First Phase: deep, relaxed diaphragmatic breaths. Expansion of lungs and diaphragm. Second Phase: active pendulum breathing - breath flows into the phrase, phrase into the breath. No stoppage or constriction.
Absolutely no distractions! No phones, no social media, full on focus and concentration of material. Digest bit by bit!
5. Self Expression
Communicating your purpose musically. Having an awareness and understanding of your own voice and it's limitations, as well as how it harmonizes with other instrumentation.
24 hour self awareness challenge. I've drafted a chart for use called "Physical State As It Correlates to Emotional Disposition" (see below). It was a journal I kept for a month to become aware of my habits, examine how external factors contributed to my execution and assess what I might've been ailed or affected by. I know, it's pretty intense like Abramovic, but I promise we won't be jumping through rings of fire anytime soon!