Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Acid Reflux and Yoga for Singers

As singers, many of us struggle with acid reflux. It is often silent, and we don’t even notice the effects…until we try to sing. Bed wedges (upright pillows) are annoying, and we can’t travel with them.  Prescriptions are expensive and can actually make things worse. Changing our diet is a good option, but sometimes it is hard to maintain when we’re on the road so often. The good news is that there are some yoga asanas (postures) that can help!
Overall, twists are extremely helpful in preventing/treating acid reflux. The reason is (get ready for this!) that twisting asanas literally milks bile from our gallbladder. And, given that acid reflux has to do with an abundance of bile, this makes perfect sense! In addition, some supported relaxing postures can make a big difference.
Left-Side-Lying Relaxation Pose: Ayurveda (an Indian system of natural healing) suggests that laying on the right side of the body can actually aggravate heartburn, so instead, lay on the left side of the body with your knees comfortably bent. Place a pillow under your head and breathe for 5-10 minutes.
Supported Child’s Pose: Stack 2-3 blankets on a bolster (round pillow), or use an additional blanket. Open your knees about hip-width and kneel over the blankets. Lay the upper body flat on top of the blankets, turning your head to one side. Breathe for 5-10 minutes then repeat with your head turned in the other direction.
Supported Bound Angle Pose: Use a block (or similar object) to prop a bolster at a 45-degree angle. Sit in front of the bolster and lay back. Bring the soles of the feet together and let the knees fall out into a butterfly position. Put pillows or another form of support under the thighs and knees. Let your arms relax at your sides and breathe for 5-10 minutes.

Make sure to add these moves to your bag of tricks for the next time you are in need of relief.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Loving Your Leftovers!

We’re going to let you in on a little secret. What if we told you that there was a way for you to have days worth of meals for the price of one, allowing you to stretch your budget? What if we told you that you could enjoy flavorful, exciting dishes throughout the week with only one trip to the store, allowing you to save your time? What if we told you…it was easy? We’re talking leftovers. Don’t let that Tupperware full of possibilities in the corner of the fridge go to waste! In this edition of Sexi Soprano Cooks, we’re going to show you how to unlock your leftovers' full potential and create fun, fast, and tasty dishes that are so good, you’ll never guess they came from last night’s dinner!

This week, we will focus on a good old deli standard: the rotisserie chicken. These quick and convenient entrees are a great way to grab some delicious protein in a time crunch, while still maintaining the feel of a home-cooked meal.  They also yield quite a bit of meat that makes for the perfect base to create a variety of different dishes. With a little preparation, you can give your leftover chicken a full meal makeover!  By planning meals around your stock of chicken, you can save time and money while still creating healthy and diverse choices.  Next time you visit your deli section and pick up one of these yummy meals, pull all of the rest of the chicken off of the bone and store it in  Tupperware in the refrigerator. Then, come check out this list of ideas below to turn it into something totally new! Get ready to be creative!

Meal Ideas for Leftover Rotisserie Chicken

Cool Chicken Salad
1 cup leftover chicken, roughly chopped
½ cup finely chopped celery
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
2 TBSP low fat mayonnaise
½ tsp dill

Combine all ingredients in a bowl until evenly mixed. Store in the refrigerator.

Easy Chicken Fajitas
1 cup leftover chicken, shredded
2 TBSP vegetable oil
½ green bell pepper, cut into thin strips
½ sweet onion, cut into thin slices
½ packet taco seasoning
Tortilla wraps of your choice (we recommend low carb, high-protein tortilla wraps!) OR large lettuce leaves

In a large pan, heat vegetable oil over medium low heat. Add peppers and onions and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Add chicken and taco seasoning. Stir to combine and cook an additional 5 minutes. Serve with tortillas or lettuce leaves. 

Summer Salad with Chicken
2 cups mixed greens
½ cup leftover chicken, roughly chopped or shredded
½ apple, cut into chunks
½ cup grapes
¼ cup sunflower seeds 
¼ cup low-fat feta cheese
Dressing of choice (we recommend a low-fat poppy seed dressing!)

Place greens in a bowl. Top with chicken, apples, grapes, seeds, cheese, and dressing. Enjoy!

Sweet Chili Chicken with Snow Peas
1 cup leftover chicken, shredded
2 tsp soy sauce 
1 TBSP sweet chili sauce
½ cup snow peas
Cooked brown rice

In a large sauté pan, combine chicken, soy sauce, and sweet chili sauce. Saute for about 5 minutes, until combined. Add snow peas and sauté another 2 minutes. Serve over brown rice.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

So You Want to Move to New York Part Two- Surviving and Thriving

I made the big move to New York. Now what? What if I don’t have enough gigs lined up this year to pay my rent and living expenses yet?

Girl, you need a survival job, a lifeline. And by lifeline, I don’t mean a line of credit. New York City is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Your overhead may be even higher if you have student loans to pay on top of your living expenses. While it may not be your dream to do anything other than sing, how many famous actors and opera singers do you know who haven’t had to lift a finger to do something else but sing or act at some point in their lives? While there may be a small percentage, those people are in the minority. Most aspiring opera singers who make the big move to New York are doing so in hopes of gaining more performance experience and audition opportunities. It’s normal to move to the Big Apple when you don’t have a full calendar of gigs on your plate already, unless you are lucky enough to be moving for a full-time singing job that you have already acquired. 

Where do I look for a job?
Just like finding a place to live, the first thing you need to do is reach out to your friends, friends of friends, and friends of their friends. I have had quite a few side jobs since moving to New York. All of them came from personal contacts. Employers just feel safer hiring a referral, regardless of the industry. The hours I spent looking on Craigslist and sending out inquiries never got the response that simply asking a personal contact did. 

What if I don’t know anyone?
Trust me, you know people. And if you don’t, you know people who do. Get their contact information and ask if they would like to meet over coffee to see if they have any leads or advice. Most people would be happy and willing to meet with you, even if you don’t know them very well.  We’ve all been there!

What I am actually qualified to do with a music degree?
You’d be surprised at how many things you’re qualified for and knowledgeable about. Even if you don’t have a lot of experience in the workforce, quite a few aspiring opera singers have master’s degrees. That means we are proficient in writing, computers, technology, multi-tasking, and have the tenacity to follow through with getting a higher education. We also tend to be very outgoing and skilled at interacting with different types of people on a regular basis. Opera singers are expert multi-taskers. We sing four-hour operas in languages we don’t even speak while wearing a heavy costume under blinding lights, acting and remembering blocking all the way though while simultaneously watching a conductor and singing with proper technique. We can deliver under pressure. These are valuable qualities in almost any industry — sell these skills!

What industries should I work in? Which ones are flexible for singers?
Some jobs start out as very flexible. Others become flexible over time if you become a valuable employee. Here are just a few ideas to get you started. 

Church Gigs & Choral Contracts
This is a no-brainer. If you can sight-read and blend in with a choir, you can get a church job. The most common way to obtain a church job is through networking. Most of these jobs allow you to get a sub during weeks you are away for a gig. There are also many choral contracts to be had in New York if your sight-reading and blending skills are strong. 

Food Service
Catering is probably the most flexible of food service jobs. And then of course, there is waitressing and bartending, which can be very flexible, depending on the restaurant. Beware that many restaurants in the city won’t hire without lots of New York experience, which is why it also helps to go through someone you know.

It is common to find opera singers working as administrative professionals or executive assistants throughout the city. Many just do temporary assignments through employment agencies between gigs, while some secure full-time positions that offer flexibility to do gigs and auditions, with the benefit of health insurance.  A higher education, as well as writing, computer, organizational, and people skills makes opera singers attractive to many employers.  We also tend to be easier to plan around than musical theater actors, as we usually know about our auditions and contracts far in advance.

Real Estate
You can become a Licensed Real Estate Sales Person by taking an online or in-person course. The course takes 75 hours to complete, costs anywhere from 400-600 dollars, and is followed by a final exam. After that you need to pick a real estate agency to work with. There are too many to list, but once you are on board, you are paid by commission only for every apartment you rent or sell. The pros of this industry are that you can take time off whenever you want. It is one of the most flexible jobs in the city. The cons are that, like singing, you may have good months and bad months, and if you aren’t working, you aren’t making money.

While the city is pretty saturated with teachers, with time and effort, it is not impossible to build a voice or piano studio. Many singers teach in their home, or rent a studio by the hour if teaching from home is not an option.

I have personally always been worried to take on this kind of work. For almost every other job listed so far, the sky is not going to fall if you need to cancel last minute for an audition or gig. But it will fall if there are human lives in your hands! Those singers I know with these jobs tend to have flexible situations with the parents, share the job with another person, or have approved backups to call upon when needed. 

Well, not exactly. But if you have a small spare room in your apartment, a loft space, a living area that you can easily close off, then you may be able to rent that space out to other singers or actors coming into town for auditions in order to earn extra income. Landlords may have varying policies on this, but I know a handful of singers and actors who have successfully supplemented their income this way.

If you know and love clothing, retail may be an option for you. It is not uncommon to get a shift covered while you take an audition, or to take a leave of absence for a contract, depending on the store. Just don’t go spending all your money on clothes, whatever you do!

Massage therapists, yoga instructors, personal trainers — I’ve encountered opera singers who also run their own business in these industries. While it is not usually a guaranteed extra source of income for someone just moving to the city needing a lifeline, they are careers that can offer some flexibility for performers, especially those who are passionate about wellness. 

And Remember…
While these aren’t all the options at your fingertips, hopefully some of these ideas are enough to get you started with surviving and thriving once you make the big move to the city so that you can start auditioning for opera companies and agents. Remember, your survival job is not a life sentence- — it’s a lifeline. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Refreshing Detox Water

Summer is upon us, and we know what that means…heat! We all know the importance of hydration on a daily basis, but it is even more important in this warm, even sweltering, season.  Hydration is important for your overall health and well-being, as well as your vocal health, and also helps control hunger and appetite. With your busy schedule, it can be hard to remember to get your daily water intake. Stopping at the store to buy bottles of water can get pricey, if you’re on the run (although that is one investment that is totally worth it!).  This refreshing detox water is the perfect way for you to prepare ahead, save your money, and stay hydrated and healthy! Another benefit of this recipe is that it is perfect for those of you who don’t particularly enjoy plain water, or find it “boring”. With a few simple ingredients, you can create a crisp, refreshing beverage that will cool you down and leave you feeling energized! 

So why do we call this detox water? When you hydrate, you give your body what it needs to cycle properly and cleanse itself, giving you more energy and allowing your body to function at its best. The addition of lemon, lime, cucumber, and mint contribute to this hydration, and make for a tasty and refreshing way to get in your water, especially in the heat of summer! Try a glass first thing in the morning to start your day hydrated, and to help control hunger all day in a healthy way! The best part is, you can fill up your favorite pitcher and keep this in the fridge for a few days-the flavors will get better as the mixture sits, and you will always have it ready to go when you need it! Just grab your favorite water bottle, fill ‘er up, and you’re ready to go! Give this a try this summer, and stay deliciously hydrated!

Refreshing Detox Water
5 thin slices lemon
5 thin slices lime
8-10 thin slices cucumber
1 handful (about ½ cup) fresh mint leaves
water (As much as you see fit)

Add lemon, lime, cucumber, and mint into a pitcher. Fill with water. Store in the fridge for up to 3 days, refilling with water as necessary. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Balance Your EGO: Gratitude Versus Entitlement

We are all in pursuit of excellence — excellence within ourselves and our talent, which is so personal, individual and powerful.  We are striving for excellence within our industry, to achieve the unachievable, to grasp that unattainable stardom. 

You become what you believe.  If you can’t imagine yourself at the MET, you probably won’t reach it. In theater, the audience believes what we tell them to believe.  Why would it be any different with us within the world?  After all, isn’t all the world a stage?

So, if  it’s necessary to have an unbelievable amount of confidence in yourself to achieve the greatness you desire, then how do you keep your ego at bay and maintain a sense of gratitude?  This is a very important conversation. 

Think for a moment: When was the last time you told your voice teacher thank you? When was the last time you thought about how many people have helped you get where you are right now?  We spend most of our time thinking about where we want to be and how we can get there and who should be making that happen for us.  Well, that finger should be pointed at ourselves. Take a look in the mirror when thinking about who should make it happen.

What does it mean to deserve something, and when does that feeling turn into entitlement? Do we all deserve to become stars?  Maybe, but if reality proves over and over that not all of us become stars even though we may deserve it, doesn’t it do us all justice to humble ourselves and admit that maybe, just maybe, our success was a joint effort and a gift?

Performers probably have the hardest time balancing their egos. There is an inner conflict and dilemma we all face. On one hand, we put on airs, thinking we’re better than maybe we are.  On the other hand, we cope with fears of failure and our insecurities that we’re never good enough.   

So, let’s talk about the power of thinking for a minute.  Because, it’s true, we need to overcome our insecurities. It’s okay to have things to work on.  Everyone has things to work on. If we didn’t, we would put the critics out of a job. They would never have anything to criticize — wouldn’t that be nice? But, in reality, we will never be perfect, and that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for excellence. It does mean, however, that when we practice and listen to ourselves, we should ask ourselves questions in order to maintain a healthy self-assessment.

“What can I do better?  How can I make it better?”  Follow those questions when  actively pursuing improvement. Then you are doing everything in your power to achieve greatness, and you can find peace in that.
Here’s an example:
Singer A asks: “What can I do better?”
Answer: “My Italian isn’t very good.”
Singer A asks: “How can I make it better?” 
Answer:  “By studying Italian, singing Italian arias and practicing it with the best coaches.” 

After coming up with a solution, Singer A must follow through with coaching and becoming more proficient in Italian.  If she doesn’t, then she will probably feel even more insecure than before. Most of the time, our insecurities come from a place of knowledge and standards.  If Singer A were naïve and didn’t know her Italian was lacking, then she might not feel as insecure about it. 

If you’re feeling not quite up to par, the reality is that you probably know how to fix it.  You should take the action that you keep ignoring. Do something about it.  Don’t mask your insecurities with false confidence. 

When we mask our insecurities with false confidence, it can come across as vain, egotistical, and entitled.  If you overcompensate in this way, you’re sure to fall on your face. People are much more forgiving to others who are humble and gracious. The best advice is this: When you are feeling insecure, figure out why and take action. In the meantime, while you’re fixing what you want to work on, be gracious. You will find that people genuinely want to help you.  The elders, the more experienced, in our industry want us to succeed, but they tend to help those who appreciate it more than those who don't.  Appreciate the opportunities you are given instead of always thinking it should be something bigger and better.  

 Take a minute every day to think about all the people who have helped you get where you are, and thank one of them today!  You are the source of your talent, but they have helped you realize it and improve upon it.  

Don’t let your insecurities destroy you.   Do something about it. Change your state of mind and become what you believe! 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Soprano at the Front Desk

Congratulations, Graduate! Your proud family is just heading back from whence they came. You’ve returned your rented cap and gown. You’re holding your diploma, hot off the presses (or more likely, you’re holding the ceremonial diploma cover and your real diploma will arrive at your parent’s house in six-eight weeks). Now what?

Some of you are bound for graduate programs, DMA programs, certificate programs or YAPs. The rest are probably starting to think about how to pay the rent. The world is your oyster right now in the employment department, but all of those options might make the decision-making process seem incredibly overwhelming.

Assuming that you want to keep on taking lessons, coaching regularly, traveling to auditions and beefing up your resume with local opera productions, you need to weigh the options carefully.

Some of your options are:

Advantages: It is a great way to apply what you’ve learned and keep your artistic side thriving.

Challenges: It can take a while to build up a studio; lesson cancellations can wreak havoc on your schedule and finances; most of the times students are available to be taught are times you need to be available for rehearsals and long stretches of teaching can be tiring for the voice.

Advantages: If you’re good with kids, you can get paid to blow bubbles and watch Frozen on repeat.

Challenges:  There isn’t a lot of flexibility if a family is relying on you for full-time childcare; running around after/picking up children is exhausting and if you’re not cool with kids, this is a non-starter.

Waiting Tables:
Advantages: You can make good money and find a flexible schedule. 

Challenges: The work can be physically exhausting and the best money-making shifts are times you need to be available for rehearsals; talking over noisy restaurant crowds can be murder on the voice.

Marrying Rich:
If this is an option available to you, GO FOR IT. :)

The Office Job: The office job goes by many names—Receptionist, Administrative Assistant, Executive Assistant, Office Manager—whatever the title, this is (in my humble opinion) a great option for the young singer. Why?

Advantages: You can make good money; it’s easy on the voice; it can be less physically demanding; an office is a great place to develop a network of non-singing supporters as well as skills you might use in your career; you have access to a printer (this one is in a moral gray area, but most of the singers I know take advantage of the printer access for resumes, contracts and the occasional PDF score).

Challenges:  Finding the right office job for you can be tricky.

Here are my dos and don’ts for finding the right office job for you:

Do start early. Any college students out there reading this, get a student worker position in one of your college’s office, stat! If you graduate without any office experience, it can be hard to keep your resume out of recycling bins. Entry-level jobs don’t really exist in offices anymore; these days, they are called internships. So even if you can’t hop in your time machine and speed back to your sophomore year of college, consider taking a paid internship for a summer. Worst-case scenario, you’ll gain important skills and be able to talk about your experience in subsequent interviews. Best case, they offer you a job!

Don’t downplay your singing. You are instantly 100 times more interesting and memorable than someone who got a super safe degree in communications or finance. You are exotic and have an easy starting point for interview small talk. Start the dialogue in your cover letter by pointing out that part of your resume and affirming that you are a passionate, driven human being who knows how to perform well under pressure (I don’t know many singers who aren’t). Be prepared with an aria snippet to bust out in the interview. They almost always ask.

Do spin your skills. You took music history, theory, ear training and diction in school, but you also learned how to perform and how to multitask. These are two incredibly valuable skills in an office. Your average non-singing civilian can have a hard time being “on” at the reception desk eight hours a day. Singers know how to do “on.” They also have a great phone voice. Singers can sing an aria in a foreign language from memory while watching a conductor, acting their faces off and executing complex blocking. Do you really think that transferring a client to voicemail while preparing a FedEx slip and ordering lunch for a meeting is going to faze them?

Don’t forget about temping. If you’re looking for more flexible work, get hooked up with a temp agency. You can set the terms of what kind of assignments you’re looking for. If you find a place you really love, they may have something temp-to-perm open  — that’s an excellent foot in the door!

Do try out part time. While things like health insurance and a full-time paycheck are awesome, a singer does need to place a premium on her time and flexibility. When you try to combine an eight- or nine-hour day in the office with night and weekend rehearsals, you’re not left with a lot of time to practice or grocery shop. Luckily, you can bring in a little bit of income elsewhere (from church gigs, some light teaching, etc.) to make the budget work out. Having the freedom to dedicate a portion of every day to your craft is pivotal in moving your career to the next level.

Don’t work for anyone who doesn’t get onboard with the singing thing. You don’t have time in your life for people who belittle what you do. Pursuing a singing career is hard enough without naysayers in your life. So in your interview, pay attention to whether the hiring manager and your supervisor speaks in an opera-positive and supportive manner. Admin jobs are not meant to be forever, but if you can find a solid place to spend a couple of audition seasons, you’ll be golden. 

Wherever you land after graduation, make a commitment to yourself that you are going use the experience to feed you creatively. Pick up new skills (the kind they don’t teach you in school) in business, marketing, and money management. Observe the people around you and store their quirks and physicality for character studies later. Talk to people about opera and invite them to your performances. Every singer who goes out into the world needs to be an evangelist for the art form and should be spreading the good word to win new supporters and fans.