My Plan

Although many people will probably assume that by “plan,” I mean my life plan-what I intend to do with music when I grow older-, when I refer to my plan, I am talking about my immediate plan. My first and most important plan at the moment is to continue to work hard and improve my vocal technique. When I came to study at Meadows here at SMU in August, I knew that I loved to sing but, to be honest, I still thought it was rather a fluke that I got accepted to the school. I am a good singer but I hadn’t had the intense formal training that many of my peers had had prior to coming to college and therefore, I felt very behind. At the start of the year, I felt overwhelmed. I admired my peers and thought that I would never catch up with them. I began to wonder if I really belonged in the music world at all.

But then, all of a sudden, things started clicking.  My voice teacher was very patient and kind to me. I always believed that I had a small voice. I had been told this by people I knew repeatedly throughout my life. But when I told my voice teacher that I believed I had a small voice, she said “Very few people actually have small voices once they really start to understand how to use their voices.” And she was right. I’m not saying that I had some huge revelation and am now the greatest singer ever (I’m not!) but my voice is a lot better and much, much bigger than I thought it was. Over the course of the semester, I developed countless new skills which have helped me to improve. There are styles and arias I previously believed that my voice simply couldn’t  manage that I can now sing just because my education here at Meadows has taught me how to approach them. I have gained more confidence in my ability and thus come to love singing even more than I used to.

But it took more than just attending lessons and acquiring helpful criticism in my studio class once a week to become a decent singer. I began to go to the practice rooms every day if I could. I never had a facility like the practice rooms here at Meadows in Little Rock, Arkansas where I am from and so the practice rooms were like a luxury to me. I make an effort to go when they are not terribly crowded (easier said than done) and I usually feel like I accomplish a lot when I go there. When I am in the practice rooms, I can try anything without worrying about what people will think. I can experiment. I am not a person who practices well in large “chunks” of time. I do better if I visit the practice rooms every day and stay for an hour or forty-five minutes rather than going twice a week for four hours (I know some people for whom this technique works….). My practicing is perhaps the most vital part of my “plan.” My plan for the moment is to become the very best vocalist that I can be and that is not possible without practice.  Every week in my studio class, I hear my peers singing and I get inspired by them. Their efforts and successes inspire me to practice even more, not to make myself just like them or better, but to make myself the best that I can possibly be. Since I don’t know yet exactly what role music will play in my life, I simply want to become the best artist I can be. I think that is the most crucial part of being an artist. Developing skills renders you versatile and that is exactly what I wish to be.

Skills

Skills are the most important part of being an artist. Developing good skills are what distinguish us from other artists. The more skills one learns and develops, the better he becomes at his craft. Skills are what keep an artist going. We are always on a quest to earn more skills. We listen attentively to our teachers in order to learn how to attain a higher skill level and then we practice and practice until that skill level is attained. Ultimately, the artist with the highest skill level is the most marketable. The person who develops the most skills isn’t necessarily the one with the most raw talented. He is most likely the hardest worker. The development of skills comes from a lot of hard work and effort. Some skills may come more easily to certain people and less easily to others.  I am by far and away not the most talented singer at Meadows. I have some skills, certainly, but I do not possess the most “raw talent.” What I do have is the tendency to work very, very hard to get what I want. I want to become the best singer that I personally can be. I don’t feel competition when I hear other singers and I don’t feel the need to “outperform” them. Perhaps this is a bit unusual. I only compete with myself, my last effort, my last solo, whatever the case is. I am going to keep working hard until I become that kind of singer. I am not the best and I probably will never be. I just want to be good and a powerful asset to the music world. I want to have something to offer to the audience when I perform for them, something that they will look back on and remember. I remember the first time I saw the musical Les Miserables live as a child. I was taken aback by the music and drawn in by the performers. Not all of them were outrageously talented but they had an air about them that made you feel connected to them and to the story they were telling. I want to be a performer like that, a performer who makes people feel connected to me and proud to say that they haves seen me. I want to make them feel something powerful and important. In order to do this, I must develop efficient skills and keep working hard here at Meadows. Skills are a crucial part of an artist’s life.

Motivation

All artists have to have something that motivates them to do their work. While it is true that we love what we do, there has to be something that keeps us going when “the going gets tough.” My motivation to keep trying when I am struggling comes from my family, teachers, and closest friends. I am a serious pleaser. I never want to disappoint anyone that I respect, admire, or care for. I know that, if I am having trouble with some part of music and I don’t at least make an effort to better understand what I am struggling with, my teachers and everyone else who has mentored me will probably be upset and disappointed and who could blame them? No one likes a lazy student. I am motivated to keep working hard so that I can make my teachers and family proud of my efforts. As much as I love singing, I don’t love it all the time. No one loves anything all of the time, no matter how great it is. There are some days I think, “Why did I ever start singing? This is so stressful, I get so nervous,” ect, ect and, on days like that, it takes a few words of encouragement from someone I admire that keep me going. The people I love and respect motivate me on the days when I can’t keep myself motivated. However, most of the time, I do succeed in motivating myself to finish things. I always tell myself that I will develop new skills if I just keep practicing and trying to improve  and the prospect of becoming better at singing, as corny as it sounds, gives me enough “drive” to keep going.  I know that, if  I just keep trying, it will eventually pay off. Things always pay off at least a little if one tries. The thought of becoming very skilled at my “craft” and the support I am lucky enough to receive from the people in my life are what keep me motivated.

Values

Values are a central part of who I am.  I use my values to help guide my choices.

 

Personal values are, in a large part, acquired as a result of experiences and interactions you have throughout life.   My values guide me and following them causes me to feel content.  My values have been greatly influenced by my family.  I have a close relationship with my parents and younger brother and as a result, I value the unwavering love that comes from your family.   I also have a large extended family that spends time together on holidays and has certainly had an impact on my values.  I have ten first cousins who are all older than I am and have completed their college degrees and many have gone on to earn secondary degrees.  After watching them become professionals, I have learned to value hard work because I have seen that it is hard work-rather than natural talent in many cases-that has contributed greatly to their success.  Both my parents work and I know that they get a lot of positive self-worth from their accomplishments. I want to feel the same sense of accomplishment one day.

I value my belief in God also as it gives me a calming feeling when I need it.  I believe that one’s faith is very personal and not something that needs to be challenged.  I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to think about God.  For me, it is simply that I believe that there is something bigger than what we experience on earth.   I don’t believe that everything can be explained. It just comforting to me to think that I am not entirely alone. Sometimes, I really need to know that.

Another aspect of life which I value very much is recognition and respect from peers and the camaraderie  that can be achieved when I have worked together with others in productions. My friends opinions really matter to me and often, they give me very good advice which can improve my skill level. I always value friends who are honest and trustworthy because I would like to live by the “Golden Rule” and not treat others differently than I would want to be treated.   I think if you treat someone a certain way, they are likely to treat you the same way back, whether you like it or not. I actually value differences in the people that I know whether it be political, religious, and heritage. I think people should do their best to be tolerant of others, no matter our differences.

I value independence.  I am lucky to have had the support of my parents, however it is very important to me to be successful on my own. I say this because I really value self-respect and I gain my self respect by forming my own opinions and not being influenced by what is popular to believe.   It is nice to have everyone around you think like you do however, sometimes it just does not work that way and so I have to depend on my inner strength to point me in the direction that is right for me instead of trying to please others.

All of my beliefs and values have helped to create the person I am today and they all influence my art in some way or another. Art is a very personal thing and therefore, these personal values play a role in how I look at every aspect of my life, especially music which is one of the most personal, creative parts of it.

 

 

 

The Value of Forming Habits and Hard Work

I have always participated in many activities-often I have taken on too many only to become overwhelmed. While I don’t recommend this, I do think that a person ought to try his best in all situations and that he should try to work as hard as he can in order to improve his skills and learn more about himself.  It probably sounds crazy, but my work habits are basically crucial to my sanity. If I don’t have an organized work plan every day, I start to become very uncomfortable and nervous. I have a routine that makes me feel organized and successful, which is key for me. For example, I tend to practice the same time every day, then I return to my room and do the rest of my homework for a couple more hours. I like to practice first so that I can make certain I accomplish at least something. Practice is not the kind of thing one can put off. You can only improve if you do a little (or okay, sometimes more than a little…) every single day. The more you know a piece, the more confidence you have in being able to get creative with it. I, like most people, have to be in a quiet place when I practice. If there are many noises, I will quickly become distracted. I can, however, study with music in the background. The only time music proves to be a distraction is when I am trying to sing myself.  I motivate myself to study by telling myself that I will feel accomplished if I finish studying and also relieved because I will no longer have the pressure of work that must be completed hanging over my head. Aside from this, I really dislike burdening myself with unnecessary stress and I am not a person who learns well under pressure. As a result, I cannot “cram” at all. I must study for exams over a period of time in order to do well. These first two weeks at school were absolutely crazy because I had to alter some things in my schedule after I got here but I think that things will finally start to settle down. I am forming a routine and that is what makes me comfortable.

The Importance of Music in Everyday Life

Hello! My name is Mary Caitlin Mahaffy and, as you can no doubt tell from the title of my site, one of my greatest joys in life is singing. I have been singing since I was five years old. I never really knew if I was any good at it. I only knew that it made me happy. When I was very small, I would walk around my elementary school’s playground, talking to myself and singing. People always found me odd but I never minded. I had a bit of trouble making friends when I was younger so music became my friend. I would begin to sing whenever I became lonely or uncomfortable. However, even though I loved music so, so much, I never had the courage to sing anything in front of a group of people until I was twelve years old. After that, I couldn’t stop singing in front of people. Sure, I still get really nervous sometimes-especially during Voice Class/Master Class :( , but I enjoy sharing music with other people. Often, people ask me why I sing, what inspires me to do it. It is true that studying music and singing in general is not always easy and frequently people wonder if singing is really worth all of the complications that come with it. Singing is worth it to me because I would not be complete without it. I simply cannot imagine not being able to sing. It has been my escape and my refuge my entire life. But more important than that, it has been my connection to other people. Singing allows me to reach out to other people in a way that I can’t by just talking to them. Few things in life are as powerful as music. It is a universal language and people all over the world are connected by it. For example, last year, my family and I took a vacation to Austria. One day we spent there, I decided to hike up to the top of a hill with a group of other vacationers. When we got to the top of the hill, I was so inspired by the landscape and its beauty that I was tempted to sing. The other vacationers urged me on and so I sang a few pieces for them. As we hiked down that afternoon, people constantly walked up to me and thanked me for singing for them. They said that, by performing music for them to enjoy, I had made their hiking experience more memorable and exciting. A few people even became emotional and sang along with me. I had no connection to these people other than music but it brought us together that day. Music brings the emotions of people everywhere to life. Take the movies for example. Think of what a film would be like without music. Chances are, many of the dramatic sequences in films would lose their effect if there was no music to support them. Music defines films. It makes them what they are. I’ve also noticed that music has the power to make people feel better or worse in certain situations. For example, if you are having a bad day, and your favorite song comes on the radio, it often has the power to make you feel at least a little better. That is what I love about music. It encourages me to keep going when the going gets tough. I think music plays such an important role in society because it is a pivotal part of so many people’s lives. Music and other forms of art are what give the world color and character.