Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Why I don't know what my voice sounds like ...

"Three deep breaths in, and out on a hiss" is how each singing lesson begins. Three deep breaths through pursed lips and exhale on a "hissssss". I think this is to act as a slight resistance so you're more aware of your breathing - or something like that. 

On a whim, well a whim I considered for many a week, I booked myself "Introducing Singing for Adults" in Waltons New School of Music. I think it was the "for adults" part of the title that scared me. 10 week course, group lessons, introducing you to breathing techniques, getting to know your range and what genres you like singing - with the world's most terrifying solo at the last class. The class itself was uneventful - I was happy to be exercising my vocal chords after years of neglect. 

From primary school I had sang in choirs, had the odd solo, short solos during mass. In secondary school I was in choir, again, and eventually built up the confidence to sing as part of music practicals. I was, still can be, cripplingly shy - singing draws too much attention to you, it was a practice I generally avoided. When I did it was along with a CD turned way up then when it came to the solo or having the house to myself - the sound coming out was almost uncontrollable, I didn't know what was going to come out now that the CD was gone, there was no choir around me to blend in with. Sometimes it was a pleasant surprise, sometimes it sounded nothing like it was supposed to and just came out as a generic sing-y voice.

Come fourth year and mandatory auditions for the musical most of my initial apprehension had melted away. I had sang for my music class, I'd done drama classes, I sang for my music exam in the Leaving Cert - a deep breath and hiding my flushed cheeks behind my hair I faced the back of the hall and bravely chose to sing my own song instead of a scale of Doh A Dear. To this day, I consider that a HUGE mistake. Strange as it may seem; but it went well - too well. But I was 15, I had worn a purple velvet gothic dress to a colours day and I was too cool for this musical. I never wanted to be in it, had it been any other musical maybe, or a different part - maybe I'd feel different; but to this day I hate that I never turned around and said I didn't want to do it. Before I knew what was happening I was in the thick of it and I couldn't cause the upheaval of walking out. For this reason I will forever hate anything and everything to do with the show Grease and I stopped singing.

This ban was only lifted for music exams and for car journeys when the radio bored me and once at a party when while playing Band Hero a guyfriend couldn't hit the notes during Paramore's Misery Business - but everyone was too drunk to remember. To even half-sing, hum a bit of a song someone is thinking of, sing along to a CD in the car (which Boyfriend takes very personally) is too much for me. I can't breath, my throat closes up, I blush - instantly, I look for an escape - I panic.

So now, group lessons over. I've paid for one-on-one lessons with my lovely teacher who wears comfy slouchy jumpers, can improv jazz riffs and has a way of teaching that doesn't make it seem like you're on the spot. Two lessons in, we're working on "clearing up the tone" - I have notes that say "Don't be afraid to push the notes" and "Be confident about the sound that's coming out" or "It's a frame of mind" - it's easier said than done, seeing as I'm still trying to grasp the concept that this sound is mine and it surprises me every time.

I'm so used to being quiet all the time ...

"Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice" - William Shakespeare

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Spring varnish

I has considered the title "Nailing Spring" or "Spring? Nailed, it!" (just game up with that there) but I was too ashamed to taint that poor innocent title box with such sub-par wit!

Anyhoo, on a more lighthearted note, nail varnish. Whoever it was who thought "let's paint these post-evolution claws we've got here" was definitely drinking their smart juice that day! It's too much fun. I've always had a few bottle of nail varnish in various colours when I was younger - I can trace my first clear memory back to a Sale-of-Work in school.

I'll set the scene.

I couldn't have been more than 9 or 10. A sale-of-work had been planned in school (primary school, the building to this day still smells like milk) but Irish weather, not wanting to act out of character, thought it would be better if it rained that day. So the event which usually took place along the edges of the bigger playground, yard as we called it (god, we had some odd words for things) was organised in the ground-floor classrooms of the senior block.

I remember it being really dark outside - like thundery dark. I can remember shadowy tables, buying bracelets with my friend make out of coloured wool; they were friendship bracelets as far as we were concerned! At one point we approached a table where a girl was offering nail painting as her trade. I distinctly remember picking a clear varnish with multicoloured glitter as my choice - I can still picture it on one of my fingernails; pink, red and gold glitter ... and maybe some blue, or silver. Honestly the memory is so hazy I can't remember much more. I think the girl herself had long, straight hair. I loved it. The colours especially; all of them, captured in the clear varnish. All the glitter the same size, equally balanced. Perfect. In my eyes.

I later searched the Poundshop in the Square in Tallaght for it - in fact to this day I haven't found it. I'm not constantly looking for it - I had a pang of nostalgia when I saw a picture of the Opi Nail Lacquer in Rainbow Connection from the Muppets Collection; that was the closest I've ever seen - yet still not quite there.

Over the years I collected my fair share of pearly lilacs, a horridly glamourous thick dark green and gold glitter concoction. A trio set of silver, magenta and electric blue all with thick silver glitter - just thinking back on them know is bringing the memories and the images flooding back. Somewhere along the line they've all dried out, been lost, used up - I had three tiny bottles from a toy set of some sort, a clear purple one went on as the most useless topcoat that could be obsessively peeled off afterwards. Then all I wore was black, then branched into reds and now my little box is over flowing and shows no signs of stopping. Trawling through fashion blogs and magazines is not helping the obsession. Oh how I hate that Pay Day is still a week away ...

Well, my ramblings are nothing without pictures. Cracked nailvarnish like Barry M's Graffiti nails was big  for all of a month a while back - now that the word is out any and every brand are doing their own versions and branching into an array colours. Frankly I'm not completely sold on cracked polish is washy pastels but while in Penneys I did grab a trio of own-brand nail varnishes on my way to the till. A dark blue base-coat, silver crackle and a top coat. For €4, I thought it was worth a try. I was wrong - I HATED it. The silver came out mostly chalkly white, no sparkle - but I had to leave it and go out anyway! A friend of mine remarked they looked like denim - which, considering she didn't know how it was supposed to look, she thought looked cool.

The next day I learned my sister had used them while I was out - her results were much better than mine -

I let mine chip away for a while before swapping them for some seasonal pastels I'm much happier with :) The blue is Models Own in Blooboo, it's really lovely colour and the coverage is nice and solid once you give it two good coats. The green is from Urban Outfitters W.I.P in Peppermint - quite thin going on but builds up and lasts really well. And the yellow is Lemoncello (love the name) from Angelica (I know, I know - I swore off buying nail varnish in Penneys, but this time it'll be different - right?)

I'll be quiet now. Loves.

"...until everything was rainbowrainbow,rainbow!" - The Fish, Elizabeth Bishop

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Why are we mean to each other?

Today I had to go to the doctor - long story short I thought I lost my prescription, turns out I never got one and now I have one again. Huzzah! In any case, after I left the surgery I started walking in the direction of home thinking "I'll get a bit of a walk in, and get a bus at some point along the way." Clever, eh? Well, two buses passed me as I was on this "clever" walk of mine, so my bit of a walk got a bit long. I finally settled on a bus stop and waited, as you do.

Upon the bus's arrival myself and the only other passenger stepped forward to the curb. This other passenger was an older man, maybe 60, and possible a little shorter than me. The bus door opened and, not wanting to be rude, I held back to let him on ahead of me seeing as he was closer; he, however, simply gestured towards the open doors as if to say "After you". I smiled. I thanked him. I boarded the bus, beeped my beepycard and went to find a seat - that, you would think is the end of the story.

Instead I heard a voice behind me, the driver, speaking to the polite passenger who had boarded after me. "Chivalry will never dead!" he remarked. I smiled more.

So I got to thinking - chivalry. My iDictionary tells me, is a "medieval knightly system with its (...) moral and social code" or more to the point "courteous behavior, especially that of a man towards women". It's things like, in my case, letting someone go first through the door, holding doors open, giving up a seat, bowing - all that jazz. Feminists everywhere are curling their toes, I know. But before we get carried - it was the "courteous behavior" element that struck me more than anything else.

Something about a stranger doing something nice for you is so uplifting it can turn your day upside down.  Strangers interacting with you is enough to catch you off guard - but they're only people, what's so shocking? We're surrounded by people all the time, we're always communicating - yes, this is another "How social media is ruining us" piece. But not only that, we don't expect much of each other either.

First take how much easier, and addictive, it is to talk to people online. Not only that, it's so much easier to talk AT people online. Trolling being the most obvious example. We've got very good and very comfortable with our fluffy, superficial relationships we conduct online. Our screens actings as shields against, what? Reality? I've personally always liked having the security of not having to think on the spot when it came to communicating online. "Lisa is typing..." buys you time when replying in conversations, you can go back and change something before you say it - and not only that, it doesn't even have to be "Lisa" typing, no-one has to know who we are online. It's the height of escapism - the masquerade ball of modern times.

The second hurdle is our expectation of those around us. This may be a city thing, or a recession thing, but people are wary - they don't trust people they don't know, some people don't trust people they do know. In thinking about this I couldn't settle on just one reason why this may be. Anything from TV programs about street crime or glamorous homicide investigators, to graphic newspaper reports and sensationalized tabloid stories; to mean and horrible people, trolls, on the internet - this has all shed light on what has always been the darker side of humanity. Bare with me here. We're more aware of how mean people can be, maybe we always knew this, but it's as if we're reminded of it more often - and that's not because there's more bad people than good out there, it's because scandal sells - a story isn't a story without the shock factor. Bad news is good news.

Ask anyone who was bullied in school; it only takes one person to put you off school. To protect ourselves we won't repeat a situation that got us hurt before - so one person in school is mean, may as well write everyone in school off as mean. Okay, maybe that's my bad school days talking - but hopefully it's making sense. It only takes one person out of a hundred to do something that leaves us wary of the other ninety-nine.

So that's my theory on strangers - in a strange, roundabout way. My perspective on the world hasn't been drastically changed because someone let me ahead of them on the bus - but it did draw my attention to the bizarre change social interaction has taken. We've protected ourselves against invisible enemies with earphones, smart phones and laptops - blocking out the real world around us and dealing only with a world in front of us which we see as something we can control, manage.

When, really, it just takes a second to realise - people are nice, people are polite and people do still talk to each other. Maybe not all the time, maybe not enough and maybe sometimes it doesn't happen - but there's hope yet.

... and while we're on the topic of mean people - (",) where was Taylor Swift when I was 14?

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. -Plato