Day 10: Every Time I Sing, An Angel Loses Its Wings

Jonelle Mosser is an older woman in her early 50s with a heart still in her 20s. Full of passion for life, music, and signing, Jonelle brings us much more than vocal lessons, but has caused most of us to be able to truly appreciate music in being a human demonstration of the kind of life it gives. I’ve particularly enjoyed her affinity for old gospel from the 20s, 30s, and 40s, and negro spirituals. The wakening of the soul is just as important as the wakening of the heart in making music. Without a soul full of live, music is sterile and without hope.

Jonelle taught us basic breathing technique today for singing. Think of a balloon in a bottle filled with air. As much air as you need to sustain the note, but don’t take huge deep breaths. Lean against a wall with both hands on it and make a plank out of your body – like you were doing pushups on the wall. Breathe bottom to top as you’re headed towards the wall, exhaling. Breathing is one of the most important things needed to phrase properly. As bass players, it’s easy to become detached from our instrument. Don’t be detached from it, and don’t be detached from your audience. Everything has its place and time… including breathing.

Jonelle got us warmed up with a simple A440. It took me several minutes to figure out where that was. I am such a bad singer, I was singing about a fifth or sixth higher than everyone else. Think dying cat. In fact, Jonelle asked us to sing a song we were familiar with. When it came my turn, I insisted that the following not leave this room… and so I sang… babies cried far off in the distance. Cicadas stopped chirping thinking the world was coming to an impending end. Large animals bolted in fear, thinking they were being hunted by a ferocious predator. When it was all over, nobody in the room felt like they were a bad singer anymore… except me. I was commended for my courage… but definitely not for my singing.

Music in any form is more than just notes. Music is prayer. This might be hard to understand if you’re not a spiritual person, but when you play your own music, your spirit is praying through it. This is more evident the farther back you go – before music was an industry. So perhaps I should say: REAL music is prayer.

What we hear sonically and what we hear internally are two different things. Jonelle believes thats one of the reasons I can’t sing: because I’m still hearing the song in the key is was sung in, and not the key I can sing it in. Know your own voice. We should hear the music as how we interpret it and would sing it or play it. If Bob Dylan sings a song, we should hear it in our own voice and visualize it as us singing it. This is often referred to as “making it our own”. Nobody cares if you can reproduce it. What’s the Mona Lisa worth? What’s your copy of the Mona Lisa worth? Good wisdom. When you sing or play, hear it in your own voice.

Jonelle recommended a few exercises to help us hopeless singers learn to achieve tone. Start by singing long tones and relax. Be relaxed like you’re relaxed after three shots of tequila. I recommend trying the tequila method and save the metaphors. Don’t breathe so hard when you sing. You shouldn’t be so tense that you raise your shoulders. Don’t belt it out – just sing nice and relaxed. Your voice should come out naturally.

Next up was Shanon Pable teaching us all about wild flowers and plants. She taught us what to observe in these green things and how to follow Newcomb’s Wild Flower Guide. The first thing to observe is the arrangement of the leaves. Basal leaves gather at the base. Alternating leaves alternate on each side. Opposite leaves are opposite each other on both sides, and whorled leaves are opposite each other, but more than two sets of leaves. In addition to this, leaf shape comes into play. Some leaf shapes are arrows, hearts, stars (like a maple or tulip), etc. Next is simple vs. compound. A compound lead has leaflets; the branch itself is the leaf. On simple plants, the leaf is the leaf itself and not the branch. Compound leaves have a bud placed at the base of branches. When it comes to flowers, regular flowers are symmetrical both vertically and horizontally. Irregular flowers aren’t. Armed with this knowledge, one can look at the very front of the book to determine what species of plant or flower they’re looking at, and find it in the book. Schweet. Something new I’ll never likely ever use again. w00t!

Classes ended with Bob Franceschini teaching us about linear playing and motivity. Linear playing creates motion in the rhythm section, whereas motivity creates melody and gives us something to develop. If you’re in a major key, try adding the 2. If you’re in a minor key, try adding the 4. This will give you something new as a springboard. Bob also said there’s a time and a place for everything – even the “wrong” notes. Doing the wrong thing at the wrong time can mess up the big things in life, and so what makes you think it won’t mess up your music just the same?

The day ended with a duet of Victor Wooten and guitar legend Murial Anderson. Murial brought both her guitar (with which she did some amazing things), as well as her harp-guitar, which is half harp and half guitar. Murial serenaded us to several songs of hers, one of which was a bluegrass song to which she emulated every single instrument in a bluegrass band. She was the first standing ovation at camp thus far. That’s right, she got more recognition than even Victor.

After classes, we got our tails handed to us by the staff at the camp in an intense volleyball match.

Other highlights today were a visit by Mike Pope, who I suspect will be instructing us later on in the week. I also had breakfast at the ranch I’m staying at this morning. It was nom.

Tomorrow is Yoga. This stuff is better than sex. I can’t begin to describe how it makes my body feel.