Sound Bites - Issue #11 / July 2014
Community Education's Premiere Online Magazine
In This Issue:
- Our Pursuit of Excellence: Instructors Forum
- What's New: The Magic of Andy House
- Excerpt: “My Blue Skin Lover”
- Heather Lyle: Unlocking the Joy of the Human Voice
Our Pursuit of Excellence: Instructors Forum
Career & Contract Ed.
At Community Education, we’ve been working hard to make your experience the best it can be, to be responsive to your wishes and our community’s needs.
That’s why this summer we just held two sessions of our 2nd Annual Instructors Forum, required of all our teachers.
What does the forum have to do with our pursuit of excellence? Everything. Our instructors are the heart of our program. And our forum seeks to elevate our expectations of our instructors and classes.
Our two-hour forum sessions this year were packed not only with information, they allowed plenty of time for socializing and – as we expected – some wonderful cross-pollination of ideas among instructors from many disciplines.
For the first time, we gave each instructor a handbook with detailed information and guidelines on everything from syllabi to new course proposals.
And Jeffrey Francis from SMC’s Small Business Development Center gave an excellent presentation on “Change Management.” We all know that the world is rapidly changing and we all need to be ahead of the curve to adapt to – and thrive from – the changes.
We look forward to continuing to do all we can to make your Community Ed experience the very best it can be. Please feel free to contact me with your ideas and suggestions on our journey to excellence. I can be reached at (310) 434-3323 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
Director of Career & Contract Education
What's New: The Magic of Andy House’s Photography
Community & Contract Education
One of the great pleasures of my work is to get to know our students, and Andy House is one such example. We did a story on Andy and his photography in May, and have since recruited him as a contributor for Sound Bites in the hopes that his passion for traveling around the world will be shared with our readers through colorful and deeply moving photographs – captured, oftentimes, through endless patience on Andy’s part.
When I met Andy in a tiny noodle shop on the Westside for the first time, I was struck by how dedicated he was to the art of photography when he told me stories of spending numerous wee hours of the day just to capture a particular sunrise. Andy’s dedication to his art showed in his work, which was the main reason that I asked him to share these impressions with us through an intermittent column of photo stories.
I had originally wanted to call it Where in the World is Andy House? But in typical Andy fashion, being the congenial photographer-next-door, he balked. After some haggling we finally settled on a mutually agreeable name, which couldn’t have been more suitable. Thus, Through the Viewfinder came into being and is making its debut this month.
The first location Andy takes us to is Mandalay, Myanmar, on the Irrawaddy River, the lifeline that traverses through the country from north to south and is its largest and most important commercial waterway. The time is March 2013, and as Andy tells the story, the guide had just taken his group into a village on the bank of the river at sunset. The shanty village was made up of workers who unloaded ships working the river and their families.
What you can’t see in the photos is the complete sensory overload created by the techno pop music blasting across the beach out of a cheap P.A. system. The odd combination of sweltering heat and humidity, the smells of spilled oil that permeated into the sandy river bank, the frenzy of activities around the men and trucks unloading the small ships, and the chaos of children running in circles around the travelers are at once exotic and disorienting.
At first, he was so overwhelmed he couldn't focus on what and how to photograph. But ultimately Andy’s ability to capture momentous images in seemingly insignificant human interactions came through, and these photographs are true testaments to his candid and unflinching observations of these faraway people, whose foreignness is rendered human and who resonate with some deep part inside of us across the ocean.
We look forward to more exciting photographs from Andy wherever he goes, and we thank him for generously sharing them with our readers. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.
|Selections from Myanmar [click on thumbnail to see larger version]|
See more of Andy's work at his Flicker page.
Excerpt: “My Blue Skin Lover”
Monona Wali’s new novel, My Blue Skin Lover, was launched in June at a packed reading at Diesel Bookstore in Brentwood. The memoir writing and short fiction instructor’s book is about a woman’s affair with the Hindu god Shiva that leads to an erotic and dangerous dissembling of her marriage and life.
The woman goes down like a building. She’s big, buxom, and moaning.
“Oh, ooh, oh, girl,” she says, looking at me, desperate. I’m not half a block from Indo-Pak. My arm flies out, but she is more than I can handle. Down she topples, onto her pile of cardboard, on top of the watches, scarves, handbags, windup robots, and whatever else she is selling that day. I go down with her; slow motion, my shoulder bag and purchases colliding with the sidewalk. She clutches her chest. I right myself and kneel down next to her. She grips my hand.
“Is it your heart?”
“Oh, oh, oh,” she says, with pain. She’s gasping, short of breath.
A blond man wheeling a carry-on suitcase stops, flips the lid of his cell phone, dials 911. “A woman is having a heart attack on the street.” He barks the coordinates. “Ninety-sixth and Amsterdam.” He has a military-style crew cut and has the stocky build of a bulldog, all muscles and sinew. He could easily handle her, but he keeps his distance. Others walk by, hesitate, move on. Do they think I have the situation covered?
I know this woman. I have walked by her many times. I nicknamed her Jangles long ago because her arms are always covered with bracelets—thick silver ornaments—that run the length of her arm from wrist to bicep. She conducts business on Amsterdam Avenue not far from our apartment. She sits on a lawn chair with odd bits of merchandise spread about her, hammers and hairnets and maps of Yugoslavia and the USSR and other places that don’t exist anymore. I once bought a used Burmese–English dictionary from her. She is like discarded newspaper. Sprays of gray and black frizzy hair that looks like sheep fuzz spill forth between the cracks of her ill-wrapped turban. She has a boxy transistor radio, and out of it I hear the squawk of some minister preaching.
She grabs my arm. Even if her heart muscle is giving out, her hand isn’t. She has me like a vice, and she isn’t going to let go. She looks at me, and I see her eyes are cloudy with pain. Then she becomes still—her eyes open and shut in slow motion. I look around, panicked. Oh, please don’t die, I think. “Please, please, please,” I whisper. I invoke Shiva, god of life and death, god of my dead saints, to come to her aid. I pray to him. I have never prayed before. I feel an expansive love for Jangles as I stare into her pained face, this person I do not know except as a creature of the street. I want her to live.
Heather Lyle: Unlocking the Joy of the Human Voice
Heather Lyle sees the human voice as a divine instrument locked up in deep layers of tension. But by taking what is probably one of the most unusual – and wide-ranging – approaches to teaching, she turns that tension into pure joy.
Lyle, of Santa Monica, has taught singing classes at SMC Community Ed for nine years. Currently, she offers two classes – Contemporary Singing Techniques and Vocal Yoga. But her teaching is just one aspect of a career that has taken her all over the world as a singer, performer and recording artist. She has received acclaim as a composer, musical director and voice and speech coach. She has even worked as a tractor driver.
Her bio is so extensive and so dizzying in its breadth and depth of experience that it’s easier to list – and grasp – the highlights:
- She received her Bachelor and Master's Degrees in voice from California State University, Northridge, graduating summa cum laude.
- A winner of the prestigious California University Sally Casanova Doctoral Scholarship, she completed advanced doctoral voice research and a doctoral internship at the renowned Indiana University School of Music.
- Aside from SMC. she teaches singing and vocal technique for the University of Southern California's School of Dramatic Arts; has taught and conducted classes from L.A. to New York, both to singers and actors; and teaches speaking skills for the doctoral economics and finance students attending the UCLA Anderson School of Management.
- Many of Lyle's students have gone on to starring roles on television, film and in theater.
- She was born into the world of music and musical theatre. Her family’s involvement in the music business dates back to the Vaudeville era.
- She has sung every style of music from opera and musical theater to jazz and pop and has performed on every type of stage from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to the smoky caves of Paris to the Playboy Mansion. Lyle has even sung traditional Middle Eastern music for movie soundtracks.
- She has performed in more than 50 productions and recorded four original CDs.
“I create a safe, fun environment where the emphasis is on expression, not perfection,” Lyle says. “Perfection is death for the artist.”
She adds, “I tell the class that you have to hit all the wrong notes to find the right notes and sometimes the wrong notes work really well, as in jazz.”
You’ve had a fascinating international singing career that has taken you all over the world, sometimes to exotic locales. Tell us about one or two of your favorite experiences abroad.
The most interesting gig I ever had was when I went to Egypt with a film crew to shoot “The Mystery of the Sphinx” for an NBC television special. The project’s producer rented the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid to record and film me singing a Middle Eastern improvisation for the sound score. He thought it would be really cool to have the energy of a voice in the actual king’s chamber on the soundtrack. We spent most the night in the chamber filming and I got to hang out with the top Egyptologists in the world and the head of Egyptian Antiquities Zahi Hawass and have access to ancient sites that tourists were not allowed to visit.
Another unusual trip is I went down the Amazon River on a boat with 200 musicians from all over the world to give concerts in the churches of small villages along the Amazon. Sometimes the best part of a gig is not the actual gig but the opportunity to meet and hang out with other musicians. The best part of the trip was being on the boat with the San Paolo Percussion Orchestra. At night, winding up the Amazon, the percussionists would get out their instrument and play beats as we all danced and sang along.
What is Vocal Yoga and why did you develop it?
Vocal Yoga is a one-day workshop that is a holistic approach to voice training and prepares the body for singing or speech. It is also a sound healing workshop. The workshop is open to actors, singers, and anyone interested in expanding his or her vocal expression.
When I began teaching I noticed that most adults have deep layers of tension that can be hindering their voices from creative expression. We all hold tensions that have imprinted on our bodies that create a protective armor. Vocal Yoga uses techniques from Fitzmaurice Voicework®, bioenergetics, shiatsu, chi gong, Reiki, yoga and more to release body armor, unblock the breath and open the voice. We first do exercises that reveal how the autonomic (unconscious) nervous system affects our breath and body and then through the use of a variety of physical postures, the autonomic nervous system is stimulated to unlock the breath from different parts of the body previously blocked, returning the body to its natural, organic way of breathing. Once the body is fully open to breathe, we add sound to the exercises and the students experience the voice inhabiting their whole being. The newfound freedom of the voice can then be further explored through primal sounding. We then learn to support the sound by activating the support muscles of the voice in the core of the body. Once the body is free from blocks and the voice supported, the student discovers his or her true authentic voice (sometimes for the first time) and experiences the greatest healing tool that he or she has at all times, the voice.
Briefly describe your Contemporary Techniques Singing Class.
Beginners learn to build technique from vocal power to resonance. More advanced singers finally understand how their voices work and eliminate tension and bad habits. The class covers vocal anatomy and physiology of the voice and techniques for healthy singing. My class is a synthesis of 35 years of singing experience with techniques from yoga, chi gong, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, The Bel Canto School of Singing, Roy Hart Extended Voice Work, Fitzmaurice Voicework, circle singing, Sanskrit chanting, gospel and jazz improvisation and classical speech training. Breathing, range, intonation, vocal power, blending with registers, gaining confidence, and overcoming performance anxiety are just some of the topics covered in the class
I’ve studied many different forms of voice, breath and sound healing work and taken from each of them something that can help the voice. One student referred to my class as the best methods from the East and the West to free the voice.
Heather Lyle’s class
Each class I focus on a particular technique for singing and I like to say, “We will build technique, like building a wedding cake, one layer at a time and each layer affects the next.”
What do your students get out of your classes, particularly compared to other voice classes?
The class is different than a normal singing class. In most traditional singing classes the group starts with technique and a warm-up and then each singer gets up alone and sings in front of the class. I don’t teach this class that way. I have found that most people in a community singing class are terrified to sing alone and that they would be too nervous to get anything out of the master class format used in traditional singing classes. Since I am also a theatre voice teacher, I teach this class more like a voice class for actors, it is all- experiential. Everyone is participating at all times and exploring different techniques together each week. There is an opportunity for those who want to sing solos to do so as well. The repertoire we use is all from contemporary styles, pop, rock, jazz, blues and R&B.
I create a safe, fun environment where the emphasis is on expression, not perfection. Perfection is death for the artist. It puts the artist into a small box that gets smaller and smaller the more perfect the artist tries to be. A big part of singing is learning to be free. It is not uncommon for the class to break out and dance! If the class gets excited and is having fun, they get braver and braver and eventually find themselves jumping in to sing a solo part.
Give us an example of how a student overcame fear.
There was one student in class who said that she would never sing alone, that it was her greatest fear in the world. The last class I brought in a particularly fun old blues song by Jimmy Reed and after a few times singing it as a group, each student wanted to have a try at it as a solo. In the center of the chorus there is a line that goes “yah, yah yah.” Each person sang the song and when it came time to sing the “yah, yah yah” chorus, I had the whole class look at the person singing solo and send them love and positive vibes. It was a really fun way to explore solo singing in a positive, affirming manner. The student who was particularly scared sang fantastically. She came up to me at the end of class to hug me and say that she couldn’t believe that she sang alone and actually had fun doing it. It was a huge win for her! Helping people break through their blocks is probably the greatest reward in teaching this class.
What are the rewards of teaching these classes at Community Ed?
I like to say that I’m trying to change the world, one voice at a time. Singing creates community. There is nothing more beautiful than a group of people listening and sounding together. I get a wide variety of types of people and all ages. Some are singers and have had training and some are beginners who have always wanted to sing. There are always a few people who show up with wide bewildered eyes. They were flipping through the catalog and saw my class and before they knew it they were signing up for it and don’t know what happened.
I especially love turning people on to singing who think that they can’t and having them realize that their voices are beautiful and worth training. At the first class everyone is a little shy, but as the class progresses, everyone discovers that they have a beautiful voice. As a result, the music we create is stunning! In one class we did Pharell’s “Happy” with the entire vocal parts, including the choir parts!
Friendships have been forged in class. Students find other students with the same interest of singing and they continue to see each other out of class. My last class that just finished is meeting for Karaoke on Thursday nights now.
The Santa Monica class also led to a book titled, Vocal Yoga, The Joy of Breathing, Singing and Sounding. I have always tried to write down all the techniques we use in class so that the student will not have to take notes and can fully participate.