Yoga for your face

So I’ve taken my love for yoga (which I’ve blogged about before) to a new level. My inspiration is a book I got for Chrstimas: The Yoga Face: Eliminate Wrinkles with the Ultimate Natural Facelift by Annelise Hagen. Of course, I didn’t get it to zap wrinkles, but to warm up my face for singing.

The author is a yoga instructor and teaches a class called Yoga Face at the New York Health and Raquet Club. See her class in action on this video clip from NBC Today. Her book is full of specific exercises for toning and relaxing the facial muscles. Many of them teach you how to isolate tiny muscles that we don’t usually activate alone, a skill singers can use for refining vocal technique and for building a wider range of facial expressions.

One of the things that sets this book apart is that it’s not entirely focused on the face. Unlike a lot of similar works, Yoga Face also includes basic exercises that are generally relaxing, including a lot of inverted poses and poses that free up the breath. This is ideal for singers, who can turn to it to warm up body, mind, and breath. Plus, the emphasis on basic postures makes the book accessible to beginners and advanced yogis alike.

If you’re interested in facial exercises, here’s a list of additional resources, including books, website, and YouTube clips.

A guide to "Creating a Successful Career in Music"

In music and in the movies, we’re often more aware of the glamorous lives of the biggest stars than of the hard work it took them to get there. And we may know next to nothing about the career of the musician who plays in a small town symphony or the actor who performs at a local dinner theater.

For anyone who wants to know more about the many variations of musical careers, I highly recommend Angela Myles Beeching’s book Beyond Talent: Creating a Successful Career in Music.

I have never encountered a more thorough or realistic book on creating a musical career.  Ms. Beeching covers everything, from how to get an agent to how to create your own performing opportunities to what to wear for an audition.  Her advice includes tips on marketing, finances, fundraising, and time management.

My favorite aspect of the book, however, is its emphasis on a varied, even shifting, idea of success.  Many of us establish career dreams early on, like playing in a major orchestra, singing at the Met, or making a professional recording; but everyone encounters rejection at some point. 

Ms. Beeching cautions wisely that each musician must define - and constantly refine - his or her own vision of success.

"The Song of the Lark," a classic novel about artistic growth

Willa Cather’s novel The Song of the Lark is a book I return to every few years.  The somewhat autobiographical story follows the life of a fictional opera singer, Thea Kronborg, as she develops her musical and interpretive gifts.  

Thea is not an entirely lovable character, but I deeply identify with her passion, ambition, and – most of all – her fierce struggle to protect and nurture her talent.

Throughout the work, Cather brings up questions about what it means to be an artist and how the process of becoming one affects the artist herself and those around her. And singers will appreciate her accurate descriptions of the intense work it takes to train the voice.

I also enjoyed the depiction of musical training in 19th-century America. No symphony orchestras on the prairie? Only one decent voice teacher in the Midwest? How far we’ve come since then!

If you aren’t familiar with Cather’s work, I highly recommend them. She is best known for My Antonia, O Pioneers, and her volumes of short stories.

The themes of friendship, perseverance, and the joys of music run throughout Cather’s works. She expresses a love for all things cultural and artistic - in a world where such things were hard to find. (The book’s title is taken from the name of an 1884 painting by Jules Bréton, pictured above.) And her language is beautifully descriptive, especially when she writes about the land - the vast, untamed American Midwest - often both a metaphor and a character in its own right.