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    Watch TED Talk on “How I beat stage fright”

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    All performers grapple with the anxieties of stage fright.  This is a Ted Talk tale of how one musician, Joe Kowan, found a remedy for his.

    Joe Kowan is a Boston-based musician and graphic designer who has been struggling with stage fright since he first started writing songs at age 27. Despite his adorably expressed fears, he charms audiences with his own style of quirky folk and acoustic hip-hop, by turns poignant, salacious and comical. In 2009 he released the gangsta’ arts and crafts video for his original song “Crafty,” and in 2011 he was a finalist in the USA Songwriting Competition.

    At the Music Junction, we coach our students to work through their stage fright in our two yearly recitals.  Joe is an adult who had never performed before he was 30, but we have the advantage of introducing young children to the idea of being on stage in front of people while they are young enough not to have imagined all of the adult fears that contribute to stage fright.  Encouraging your child to perform in front of an audience will integrate the experience into their development so that it feels more natural to them when they become adults.  Everyone still experiences stage fright no matter how used to performing they are, but it can be managed.

    The core reasons for stage fright are your inner fears – fear of failure, fear of being judged, fear of being vulnerable – so the main work for a performer is to address these fears.  First of all, practice, practice, practice!  If you know you’re extremely prepared, you’ll feel less likely to fail – and if you do, you’ll still know that you did your best.  Second, stop worrying about what other people think!  It’s a good idea to perform in settings where you know the audience has no expectations, so that you don’t feel pressured to be amazing right off the bat – like an open mic night, or a class or workshop.  You can even try performing in a small group before going on your own to ease yourself into the experience.  Lastly, perform often!  You need to prove to yourself that you can be successful on stage, and then you’ll know that there is nothing to fear – that takes time and lots of opportunities to succeed.

    We encourage all of our students, kids and adults alike, to participate in our Winter & Spring recitals.  We appreciate it when parents get on board with prioritizing the recitals and encourage their young family musicians to be prepared and excited for the experience.  Kids who have performance experience are learning a life skill that will help them in so many other ways – school presentations & leadership roles – and later, business presentations & job interviews.

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    Watch Sophia Grace & Rosie Perform ‘Girl on Fire’

    This is a favorite performance of Girl on Fire in a string of regular appearances on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” made by Sophia Grace and Rosie, the pint-sized British child duo.  Sophia Grace has a very developed voice for her age, and the confidence to belt it out even in front of a large intimidating audience.  That’s partly due to her best friend Rosie, according to Sophia, who performs along side her to provide moral support and great dance moves.

    In this performance of Girl on Fire, Sophia Grace shows a lot of vocal control.  The fast vocal riffs and runs are impressive in a child her age.  Although once in a while the runs slur together, mostly the pitch changes are very pronounced.  It’s rare to hear runs executed so clearly at this age.  Sophia also has a very focused, clear tone, without the “breathy” quality of most young singers.

    This kind of vocal development is definitely possibly for a 7-8 year old student who is taking regular weekly voice lessons, but there are different factors at play that can affect how long the development takes:

    1) How does the child speak?  If the child has a very soft and breathy speaking voice, then that vocal quality will be the initial sound of the singing voice when beginning lessons.  If the child has a very nasal quality – where the back of the tongue normally rests almost as high as the “ng” (as in “ring”) sound when they speak – then that will be the particular starting place for the singing voice when beginning lessons.   So these natural tendencies will create differences in what the focus of study should be in the voice lesson, and how long it takes to develop an impressive, mature tone.

    2)How focused is the child?  If the student has a hard time concentrating, it can take sometimes as much as 3 times longer, or more, to make achievements in each vocal concept.  It’s important to be a good listener to be able to understand what vocal concepts are being addressed, and to continue concentrating on the concept while trying it out.  It’s possible for the voice teacher to focus on vocal exercises that need less explanation, and that automatically give vocal benefts when executed, but it still will always improve the lesson if the student is focused on the purpose of each exercise as they execute it.

    3)How physically self aware is the child? Children develop at different rates, so one student may not be able to feel how to create specific movements with their mouth or their breath as well as another student.  A young voice student who will learn quickly has a lot of control over things like: being able to relax the jaw, relaxing the lips, exhaling at a steady rate, controlling how much air pressure to use to support a note, enunciating words, being able to adjust the tongue, etc.

    4)How verbal is the child?  Children who speak articulately and with confidence will have an advantage in their voice lessons.  This skill will affect the student’s ability to memorize words to a song and enunciate them well.  Students who are shy and soft-spoken, who do not often speak in full sentences, or possibly mispronounce words,  may find it more difficult to learn the words to a song.  This is not a reason to forgo voice lessons – to the contrary – in this type of situation, voice lessons are an excellent tool to improving speech skills.  Often, young students feel empowered when they are given words to say, when they might feel more insecure being as verbal on their own.

    Regardless of how fast or slow a child shows vocal development from their voice lessons, it is still an extremely beneficial activity for any type of student.  Students who need more development in the areas mentioned above, will be able to practicing developing those skills in their lessons.  Every student should compare their progress against themselves, not against others, because the point is to find improvement in yourself, not compete against the improvements of others.

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    Jenny Lind – Americas first “Rock Star”

    Some refer to the 19th Century Opera star, Jenny Lind, as the world’s first Rock Star.  This recording from Nate DiMeo’s podcast, The Memory Palace, is a beautiful story about a beautiful singer, and what it was like to be a music fan in the 1800’s.  Before recordings could be obtained of your favorite artists, enjoying music was constrained to once-in-a-lifetime live performances.  I (Charissa) found it captivating to listen to how the music industry functioned during that time period, and the differences and surprising similarities compared to today.

    Looking at the past, it’s easy to see how universal the love of music and musicians is during all time periods.  We can’t deny the fascination we have with artists and their art.

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    Stevie Wonder performs “Songs in the Key of Life” album at Nokia Center

    Stevie Wonder has been performing wonderful holiday shows annually in Los Angeles for 18 years now to raise funds for the collection of toys for needy children in the Southland.  These holiday performances are a great musical event for families to attend, and always include special guest celebrities and well-known local talent to flesh out the fun program.

    For this year’s show at the Nokia Center in LA, however, Stevie decided to do something special and perform the entire song collection from his hit album, Songs in the Key of Life.  Cited by Elton John as the greatest album of all time, this album includes well-known Stevie Wonder songs like “Isn’t She Lovely,” “I Wish,” and “Sir Duke.”  I recommend listening frequently to this album – it’s addictive!  “Village Ghetto Land” is one of my favorites, for how musically beautiful the song is, and how poignant the lyrics are.

    The show began with Stevie Wonder coming onto the stage with his family to introduce the program, and his son and grandsons made a reappearance in some of his later performances.  Special guests this year included John Mayer, Chick Corea, & Herbie Hancock among others.  The show opened with five male singers performing the beautiful a cappella introduction of “Love’s in Need of Love Today.”  Other highlights included the West Angeles Church of God in Christ Gospel Choir directed by Jason White, who also kicked off the show, singing their hearts outs on traditional gospel repertoire.

    This was an overall wonderful performance and I highly recommend it as must-do family event every year!

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    Music and Your Brain

    The New York Times reports on a study showing that children who took music lessons at a young age had advanced development in their brain waves – even if they had discontinued lessons!  This is a neat finding because it shows us that even when a student wains in their commitment to lessons over the years, and maybe does not end up achieving a sophisticated understanding of their instrument, that just the act of taking lessons has forever improved them!

    After recording brain responses, Northwestern University found that “the group of students who reported musical training in childhood had more robust responses — their brains were better able to pick out essential elements, like pitch, in the complex sounds when they were tested.  And this was true even if the lessons had ended years ago.”

    It might seem like increasing the brain’s understanding of sound would have little impact on overall development, but actually it directly affects how well a child can decipher language – improving their reading and listening skills.  And when you consider that reading and listening skills are a gateway to all learning, well, you could see how that would have a pretty large impact!

    One of the sound advancements for the brain is the ability to decipher sounds in the foreground versus sounds in the background – which can help everyone in focusing on the right sounds in their environment, but also be of help specifically for those with hearing loss.

    Brain waves of musicians are obvious to scientists who are looking at them. Ms. Parbery-Clark from Northwestern University remarks ““One of my lab mates can look at the computer and say, ‘Oh, you’re recording from a musician!’ ”

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    Introducing the classical comedy duo “Igudesman and Joo”

    This comedy duo from Great Britain combines their incredible concert musician skills with a sense of humor, creating an amazing and impressive routine that makes classical music more accessible to audiences while entertaining the heck out of them.  This video is just an exceptional, amazing performance that personally makes me (Charissa) so happy!  Please make sure to watch it to the end because each segment gets bigger and more ridiculous.  Just when you think they can’t top themselves, they do!

    Richard Hyung-ki Joo (pianist) and Alek­sey Igudes­man (violinist) worked together to create their show, “A Lit­tle Night­mare Music,” which had an American debut in 2009. “We always had a dream to make clas­si­cal music acces­si­ble to a wider and younger audi­ence, to take out the snob­bism and elit­ism, and to cre­ate an envi­ron­ment where peo­ple are not afraid to go to con­certs,” Joo says. “We were also fas­ci­nated by humor or the­ater within music, and we real­ized that (com­edy in the con­cert hall) was an art form that doesn’t exist in the dic­tio­nary but cer­tainly works.”

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    Health Benefits of Singing

    Barbershop.org published a great article outlining what the scientific and academic community have discovered about the benefits of singing.  Here’s a list of some of their findings:

    • Scientists say singing boosts immune system, helping to fight disease and prolonging life expectancy
    • Singing releases endorphins into your system and makes you feel energized and uplifted. People who sing are healthier than people who don’t.
    • Singing improves your mood. It releases the same feel-good brain chemicals as sex and chocolate!
    • Singing makes us breathe more deeply than many forms of strenuous exercise, so we take in more oxygen, improve aerobic capacity and experience a release of muscle tension as well.” — Professor Graham Welch, Director of Educational Research, University of Surrey, Roehampton, UK
    • Singing releases pain-relieving endorphins, helping you to forget that painful tooth/knee/whatever
    • Singing tones abdominal and intercostal muscles and the diaphragm, and stimulates circulation.
    • It is very effective as a stress reliever and improves sleep
    • Your posture improves, which affects how you are perceived by others at crucial times like job interviews, school reports, or first dates.
    • Singing gives the lungs a workout and increases your lung capacity
    • Singing clears sinuses and respiratory tubes
    • Your mental alertness improves
    • Singing increases your confidence

    Singing is the most organic form of music that the human body can create.  And yet, often we are afraid to sing, or consider ourselves non-singers altogether.  But singing is built in to our body.  It uses the same muscles that we speak with.  If you can speak, you can sing.  Voice lessons can help create a structured approach to accessing the voice so that, with a little guidance, we can feel more confident connecting with our natural musicality.

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    Why Music Education Rocks! – 10 Ways music benefits children

    As music opportunities in the schools systems dwindle, parents are taking matters into their own hands for their children’s music education – looking for ways to compensate for the experiences that are not always built into school life anymore.  But why is it so important to initiate musical experiences for our kids?  We all know a little about the benefits of studying music, but  SheKnows has put together a great  list, fleshing out 10 different ways music can affect a young persons life:

    1. It will boost their brain power

    Want to give your child a mental advantage? Music can do that. “More and more studies show a correlation between higher academic achievement with children who are exposed to music,” says children’s music specialist Meredith LeVande of MonkeyMonkeyMusic.com. “Music simply stimulates parts of the brain that are related to reading, math, and emotional development.”

    2. It will improve their memory

    Where did that shoe go? That’s a question asked far too many times in far too many households with kids. Help your kids remember more (and learn more!) with music. “Further research has shown that participation in music at an early age can help improve a child’s learning ability and memory by stimulating different patterns of brain development,” says Maestro Eduardo Marturet, a conductor, composer and musical director for the Miami Symphony Orchestra.

    3. It helps them socially

    Picking up an instrument can also help your child break out of their social shell too, experts say. “Socially, children who become involved in a musical group or ensemble learn important life skills, such as how to relate to others, how to work as a team and appreciate the rewards that come from working together, and the development of leadership skills and discipline,” says Marturet, who also oversees the MISO Young Artist program in South Florida, which allows young musicians to hone their musical skills as part of a professional orchestra.

    4. It’s a confidence builder

    Are there any areas of life that aren’t enhanced by having good confidence? Probably not. And if you want your child to develop their confidence, learning to play a musical instrument can help.

    “They find that they can develop a skill by themselves, that they can get better and better,” says Elizabeth Dotson-Westphalen, a music teacher and performer.

    5. It teaches patience

    We live in a world of instant gratification, but real life demands having patience. When you are playing in a band or orchestra (and most musicians do), you have to be willing to wait your turn to play otherwise the sound is a mess. That inadvertently teaches patience. “You need to work together in a group to make music,” says Dotson-Westphalen.

    6. It can help them connect

    Who doesn’t sometimes feel a little disconnected from their lives? Music can be a much-needed connection for kids (and adults too!). “It can satisfy the need to unwind from the worries of life, but unlike the other things people often use for this purpose, such as excessive eating, drinking, or TV or aimless web browsing, it makes people more alive and connected with one another,” says Michael Jolkovski, a psychologist who specializes in musicians.

    7. It’s constant learning

    In some pursuits, you can never truly learn everything there is to know. Music is like that. “It is inexhaustible — there is always more to learn,” says Jolkovski.

    8. It’s a great form of expression

    People pay a lot of lip-service to expressing yourself. But how can kids really do that? One great way is through the arts — like music. “It gives pleasure and expresses nuances of emotional life for which there are no words,” says Jolkovski.

    9. It teaches discipline

    There’s this old joke that begins “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer? “Practice, practice, practice.” To improve in music, you have to not only do well in classes, but devote time to practicing outside of the lessons too. That requires discipline. “Exposing kids to musical instruments is the key. They are naturally curious and excited about them — and the discipline that parents AND kids learn by sticking with it is a lesson in itself,” says Mira Stulberg-Halpert of 3D Learner Inc., who works with children who have ADHD.

    10. It fosters creativity

    Above all, playing music — particularly as kids get to more advanced levels in it — is a creative pursuit. Creatively is good for the mind, body and soul.

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    Songs for Friendship – Bonding Through Music

    We all remember childhood songs that bonded us with our peers.  It might have been a song from camp, a song sung every school football game, or something from your girl or boy scouts group.   Songs can bring people together and are a great way to bond a group together.

    This effect can also be explained by science.  According to Psychologytoday.com, it is author David Huron’s theory (after studying Peretz and Zatorre’s (2003) The Cognitive Neuroscience of Music) that “there is evidence of some hormone-based music and social bonding connections. Listening to music can lower testosterone, resulting in less aggression and, subsequently, more group cohesion. There is also evidence that music can cause oxytocin release, which is also implicated in both infant-caregiver and peer-group bonding.

    Here are some great bonding songs we might all remember:

    Girl/Boy scouts: “Make New Friends” – “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other’s gold…”

    Childhood: “The More we Get Together” – “The more we get together, together, together, the more we get together, the happier we’ll be…”  or “You Are my Sunshine” – “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy, when skies are gray…”

    Sports events: “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, “Star Spangled Banner”

    For many of us, these songs remind us of groups we’ve been in and group events we remember.  One thing that can enhance these bonding experiences for children is to understand how to use their voice properly, and to not be too shy to sing their hearts out.  Private vocal coaching is a great way for children to have the encouragement and skill building exercises they need to feel confident joining in on a song with a group.  Your voice instructor will address building vocal strength, pitch accuracy, tone and breath control, as well as self-confidence, to enhance singing experiences wherever and whenever they come up.  Voice instructors are there to support these experiences, so use them when you can!

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    Watch Learning Matters – Harmony Program: an After School Music Program for Under-Privileged Kids

    This aired on PBS NewsHour on February 24, 2012; it was produced by the Learning Matters group, specifically Cat McGrath and John Merrow. It looks at the Harmony Program out of CUNY in NYC, which provides after-school music education to under-privileged children. That program is modeled off El Sistema, a famed Venezuelan program of the same nature. For more resources on all this, consult learningmatters.tv.

    The Harmony program consists of a 2 hour after school group class on their instrument every day, plus practice on nights and weekends.  That’s about 500 hours of practice during the school year, and 300 hours of group instruction.  This could cost the family thousands of dollars a year, but is provided for free through private donations.   Students are given donated instruments to use for their instruction.

    Having daily reinforcement of the music concepts is a brilliant approach, because with that much support it is impossible for a student to fail.  With our normal piano lesson or voice lesson program, students meet with their teacher once per week.  It is up to the student and parent’s motivation at home to touch back in on their studies each day in between lessons.  Since practice schedules very, students can progress at very different speeds.  A program like this one, that makes sure students are working on their instruments every day, can really ensure consistent success.

    Students in the Harmony program are more likely to attend school regularly, and perform better in school, compared to their peers.  “Sometimes it’s hard not to smile,” says Julianne, a 5th grader in the Harmony program, “Every day after school when I come into Harmony, when I play that first note it makes me smile.”

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