Natural voice network

Reclaim your voice. Anyone can sing. You don’t need to read music notation. Listen. You can make beautiful music with your voice.

These are the messages of the “natural voice network,” something I read in Caroline Bithell’s well-cited 2014 book “A Different Voice, A Different Song: Reclaiming Community through the Natural Voice and World Song.”

I had to experience it for myself. I googled “natural voice network” and found a website with details of upcoming events. There was a free rehearsal at St Margaret’s House in Bethnal Green. It’s a part of East London I knew well, for I had lived and worked near Victoria Park some thirty years ago.

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Review: Arpeggio Meditations for Ukulele

Daniel Ward’s 30-page “Arpeggio Meditations for Ukulele” for ukulele players reminds me of the Hanon exercises I played every day as a budding piano player. That’s how I built my technique, after playing the scales and arpeggios in the key I was assigned, I’d play one piece from Hanon for the entire week. This sort of repetitive finger exercise gets you into a trance. However, I daresay, Ward’s music is a lot more interesting and pleasing to the ear than Hanon’s.

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Imaginary obstacles

Just over a year ago, when I decided to move house, I mentally told myself that I’d probably never touch my barely-a-year-old mountain bike again. The sight of that very steep hill on the main road between my office and my new home presented a clear and present obstacle. I knew I would have to walk my bicycle up and down.

Similarly I dismissed walking up that hill.


During the day it gets too hot to walk under the naked sun. I’d have to get up early.

I’ve been warned not to walk through the park in the dark. This means having to leave the office before it gets dark.

When I got busy, taking the car was the easiest and most obvious thing to do. Even though I’d have to fire up the car, drive for 3 minutes, and spend another 3 minutes looking for parking, it was still quicker than the 30 minute walk.

Besides, I’d have to wear shorts and walking shoes and then change into working clothes and shoes. That’s more time wasted.

Too many constraints, I decided.

When I first moved to the cottage with the panoramic Pacific Ocean view, my next door neighbor invited me to walk on her flawless green lawn, around and in front of her house to get to a short-cut through the park to my office. I tried it a few times, always provoking her daughter’s pit-bull to loud barking fits.

That was another reason not to walk, I decided. I didn’t feel comfortable trespassing. And I did not like the attention from a leashed dog.

Recently I decided to revisit that decision not to walk to my office and back. After my long haul travels, I wanted to lose weight and get fit.

My mother has always preached the positive health effects of walking. There was a two page spread in a local London newspaper about how walking prevents various ailments such as heart disease and cancer. I’ve heard that it balances the mind: right, left, right, left.

I’ve long wanted to walk or cycle and be free of the car. I knew that regular exercise helps clear the brain. Walkers are slim as are yoga practitioners. I wanted to have that kind of body, mind, and spirit.

Given that I wanted to walk, why did I set up these obstacles to prevent myself from walking to work?

  • lack of time
  • too hot during day
  • no proper short cut

When I started thinking about it, I soon realized it was quite ridiculous. I just needed to make time. I had to get up early enough which meant going to bed early. I had to find a better short cut. Using the google map on my smart phone, I found a straight path that did not cut through private property. I timed the short cut. I changed my schedule so I could walk to and back from the office.

It’s less than 20 minutes to walk downhill to my office and less than 30 minutes to return. During that time I clear my head.

Moral of the story:
Ask yourself why you are not achieving the outcomes you want. Have you set up imaginary obstacles? What’s the payoff for not doing what you want? Is it worth figuring out how to remove those obstacles and get to where you want to be?

Routine to reduce stress and uncertainty

Routine is good to reduce stress and uncertainty.

I am trying to get back into a routine, after nearly a month of living out of a suitcase and traveling across two oceans and a continent.

Because my job has little structure, it makes even more sense to induce some routine or mantra into my daily life. Setting limits, goals, and rules is the first place to start regaining control.

Step One:

Set rules that are easy to follow.


  • Go to bed by 9 pm so that it’s possible to wake up at dawn.
  • Walk to the office. Don’t drive.
    Today I finally found a short cut. I don’t have to trespass my neighbor’s yard anymore.
  • Get to the 7:30 am workout class on time. Do it 4 days a week: M, T, W, F.
  • Attend yoga classes 3 days a week: T, W, Th
  • Whenever I drive to the office and on weekends, go swim laps: Th, Sa, Su.
  • Practise piano.
  • Water the lawn at sunset everyday

Step Two:

Stick to the rules. Reward yourself when you do.

  • Call an old friend on the phone, skype, or Facetime
  • Write a blog post about something frivolous
  • Attend an event you’ve never been to before

Step Three:

Ward off temptation.

If you stick to the rules, you won’t get sidetracked by temptation or distraction.

Getting ready for a concert

How do you react if one makes a mistake, such as playing a wrong note, a wrong chord, playing something too early or skipping a beat? There is no “undo button” to correct the situation. It’s all moving too fast. Not only do you have to anticipate the next move and prevent a wrong move, you have to cover up a wrong move if it happens.

Revised from “Getting ready for a concert” Facebook Notes, Monday 8 December 2008

Why is it necessary to be in shape (physically and mentally) to perform in a concert?

A concert is a real-time experience. In a duo situation, a performer not only has to be alert to his/own movements but also that of the other musician. It’s necessary to hear well and anticipate because performing chamber music is not only about making a sound from your instrument but mixing the sound with other(s).

How do you react if one makes a mistake, such as playing a wrong note, a wrong chord, playing something too early or skipping a beat? There is no “undo button” to correct the situation. It’s all moving too fast. Not only do you have to anticipate the next move and prevent a wrong move, you have to cover up a wrong move if it happens.

It’s a dead giveaway to show you have made a mistake by your facial expression. I didn’t know this until a few ladies in the audience told me they enjoyed my performance but felt that perhaps I didn’t because of the way I frowned. I learned afterwards never to show that I made a mistake or that my duo partner made a mistake.

How do you get yourself prepared for such a real-time “battle”? I say battle because it’s like fighting the chance of imperfectly executing your prepared moves. How do you get totally alert and stay focussed when you’re on stage?

A good night’s sleep helps. I have seen the detrimental effects of a late night’s sleep and jetlag. You can only stay 100% focussed for so long, and it becomes extremely hard when you’re fighting a lack of sleep. There is enough to battle on stage without having to fight the desire to fall asleep. It’s happened to me when I’ve “blacked out” in seconds to a dream-like state simply from lack of sleep. That’s toxic for the other performer.

Keeping in shape is another way to be prepared. I take regular exercises in aerobics, weight-lifting, yoga, and pilates. The guitarist is training for a marathon. In the Netherlands where there are safe cycle paths everywhere, cycling is THE way to travel from A to B. Cycling is tough in dark, wet, windy, gloomy winter weather. I still don’t know how the Dutch manage to carry things in the rain on their bicycles without getting wet. But they certainly stay trim and fit.

The relationship between the performers has to be clear and good. Misunderstandings, resentment, and other unspoken disagreement all get in the way of a good performance. Long ago I used to get stressed out before a major performance, and I’d argue with the guitarist and get mad. After awhile, he figured out that I was just nervous. With better preparation, good night’s sleep, physical exercise, better communication, and getting to the venue with plenty of time to spare, we now avoid such stressful confrontations.

Finally, a good diet and regular routine helps. My father always preached the Chinese way of walking the middle road and achieving balance in life. As impetuous a risk-taker as I am, I have learned that “extreme” living requires compensation at some point. If I eat too much, I feel uncomfortable. If I eat the wrong thing, I react. There is comfort in knowing the certainty of routine, as boring and predictable as it may be.

One more thing — a very important one: Don’t overeat before a concert, for digestion takes away concentration. I once cooked and ate a huge meal just before giving a full moon concert in North Wales. Not sure how the guitarist fared, but I will never forget that bloated feeling of fighting to focus on the music and finish before my stomach takes over everything else. Musicians are naturally hungry after a concert. And hungry musicians are eager to play.

Related stories:
Preparing for a concert, March 2004 Bussum

Competing against the weather, June 2004 Den Haag

The second set and Schumann’s Traumerei, June 2004 Bussum