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Monday, February 22, 2016

Get Ready

When someone walks out on stage and performs, hopefully it looks effortless. At least that's what we want you to think. We're entertainers and we're there to entertain you. What you don't see are the hours of practice and preparation that make what you see possible. I sing in a band called Church Hill Music Co., in case you didn't know, and I thought it would be fun to give you glimpse into the process we go through to get ready for a show. Well, at least how I get ready. The boys spend about four hours in hair and makeup before a show and I figured they wouldn't want photographs of that flying around on the Internet. Just kidding! They only spend three hours. They're gonna kill me....

Step 1: Practice

Being in a band is a huge time commitment. The boys and I practice for about 3 hours once a week to make sure old songs stay tight, new songs get polished and new-new songs get learned. It entails juggling the schedules of four people who have careers and families that also need our attention. Not easy. But, I hope I speak for them, when I say we love it so we make it work. When we're not practicing together, we also practice separately at home. For me, this means at least three to four additional hours a week of vocal exercises and running through songs. My voice is a muscle, like any other in my body, and to function at a high level during a three hour show it needs to be worked out. When I was performing earlier in my life, I relied on the techniques and exercises I'd learned from music and vocal teachers. Nowadays there's this thing called the world-wide Internet and this other awesome thing called YouTube, so finding vocal exercise videos is super easy.

Step 2: Sleep

I'm famous for thinking that I can accomplish more than I actually can in a given time frame, as well as saying....oh, I'll be fine. That often translates into me not getting enough sleep on a regular basis. Last spring I was feeling not so great and a lack of good sleep was part of it. When I started to look at ways I could be healthier and take better care of myself, that was obviously high on the list. If I'm not healthy, the show can't happen. So I made a commitment to getting more sleep, balancing late nights out with cozy nights in and making sure the night before a show I go to bed as early as I can. It's helped a lot.

 Step 3: Exercise

I exercise on a regular basis for overall health, but I think it helps my singing as well. On show days I like to do about half an hour of cardio (like running on the treadmill). I don't want to overdue it because I need enough energy to do a three hour show, but it helps get my body warmed up. This is especially helpful for my lungs and diaphragm. I'll also listen to songs that I'm still trying to remember the lyrics for while I'm running. Two birds and all.

Step 4: Eat

On show days I generally eat a really large breakfast, heavy on the good carbs, and then several lighter meals throughout the day. On this particular day, lunch was leftover trout with black-eyed peas and sunchokes and roasted broccoli and butternut squash. Big meals = diverted energy, so light and small works well for me. 

Step 5: Crisis Management

The Thursday evening before this particular Saturday night show, I started feeling a lot of general discomfort and swelling in my sinuses. Sexy, I know. I think it was due to allergies and the temperature swings we'd had during and after the snow storm. I overdosed on vitamin c and tried to will it away, but by Saturday morning I knew I was on the road to a cold. Sickness can affect your voice even if your throat isn't yet involved. The sound that comes out of me is a combination of my vocal chords, lungs, diaphragm, nose and, frankly, the shape of my skull all working in concert, no pun intended. If any one of those isn't functioning correctly, or in this case is swollen, it affects the way I sound.

Because I wasn't bad off enough that I couldn't sing, I didn't feel the need to cancel the concert, but it did mean a bit of crisis management. Hot tea is always a comfort, but the trick is it can't be too hot. In order not to "shock" my vocal chords, everything needs to be at room temperature. I also stayed home all day which was good, but all I did was stew about the fact that I wasn't going to sound my best that night which wasn't so good for my nerves. Oh well.

Step 6: Gettin My Hair Did

That's a joke. I would love to have a team of hair and makeup people come to my house and get me ready for every show. Heaven. But since I'm not Beyonce, I have to do it myself. I've gotten better at it, especially the makeup piece. I actually don't wear that much makeup, so I've had to hearken back to my theater days and remember how to put on enough so that I don't look like a pale Irish ghost from the audience. What I'm wearing is important too. I need to wear something I feel great in that also looks good in photographs and on stage. I really try and tailor it to the venue as well and the feel of the show. When in doubt, I wear the sexiest shoe I can find and I always feel amazing.

As I'm getting ready at home I generally do a final lyrics run through in my head and a small vocal warm up. Then I do a larger one before I leave the house. Unfortunately, we rarely (never) have a dressing room to get ready in so my throat is always a bit colder before I show than I'd like it to be. Please refer to the earlier reference of me not being Beyonce and just having to deal with the fact that I'm doing a final hair and makeup check in a bathroom at the venue that's smaller than my closet. Not exactly glamorous, but I make the best of it.

Step 7: Venue and Sound Check

We like to get to a venue at least an hour ahead of time to set up the sound system and do a sound check. Every venue is completely different and acoustically some are a challenge. We do our best to adapt and hope the end product is as good as it can be. We'll do a couple songs to warm up and then before you know it the show has started!

Step 8: Assess

That particular night was not my best due to my impending cold, but I made it through the show. The middle hour was the best because I had fully warmed up, but then things started going downhill the last hour and I was struggling. The boys were great about giving me breaks when I needed them and they would do an instrumental or Jon would do a number. That helped a lot.

After a show we talk about what went well and what didn't. What could be tighter, should we change the set list, did I come in too late, etc. We're always looking for ways to make it better. I hope this little glimpse into what it takes to pull off a show has been fun. If you'd like to come check us out you can find us on Facebook here for all of our dates. Hope to see you soon at a show!


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