Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Saturday, January 5, 2019

What I Learned About Creative Courage In New Zealand

Me in the fantastic village of Hobbiton

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Do you ever get afraid to step out of your safe but boring artistic boundaries? Let me take you to a place where today (in Nashville) is already tomorrow, where tropical forests are just a few hundred feet from glaciers, where there are more sheep than people, more ways to fix coffee than anywhere else and where the arts they have created are powerfully unique and courageous. Let me take you to New Zealand!

New Zealand's strengths include multicultural communities who are willing to go beyond the usual, the expected, the safe clone of what's been done before. My husband John and I recently returned from our bucket-list vacation there and came back incredibly inspired by the fresh, brave, breathtaking land and people that we got to immerse ourselves in for a couple of weeks. Let me share some of what we experienced... and may it enlarge your own list of possibilities!

Earthquake? Do Art On The Healing

In February 2011 Christchurch, New Zealand experienced an earthquake that caused 30 million tons of ice to shear away from its largest (Tasman) glacier, damaged 100,000 homes, injured several thousand people and killed 185. Needless to say, it was catastrophically devastating financially, physically and emotionally. Some empathetic and courageous street artists got to work drawing beautiful pictures all over the city, to make people feel better and more hopeful during the continuing cleanup and rebuilding. Art for the heart!

Dance O-Mat In The Street 

The Dance-O-Mat was created by a company called Gap Filler in 2012 to bring 'people, life and energy back to the central city' in Christchurch after the loss of dance spaces due to the quake of 2011. To use it, people just bring any device that has a headphone jack, plug it in to the converted washing machine, and pop in $2 (NZ) to power it up ... and then start dancing! I saw it used by several people, right in the street in the heart of the city, between buildings being worked on. This is yet another example of the power of music to heal.

Create a new form of coffee

When you order coffee in New Zealand the next words out of your server's mouth is "What kind?" The list usually includes long black, Americano, latte, cappuccino, macchiato, espresso, and my favorite... flat white. My friend keyboardist Catherine Styron Marx told me she became addicted to flat white coffee while on tour in NZ, drinking 5 cups one morning! We commiserated on not finding it in the US so far, so if you know of a shop that serves it, please let me know! Without coffee, my first student in the morning would note a bit of brain fog from their coach:) (Yes, vocal health enthusiasts... I do have a glass of water along with that coffee!)

Grow your own sweet potato

I also became addicted to Kumara... New Zealand's unique sweet potato. I ate it in bread and as fries. I'm now trying to replicate the taste in recipes with our sweet potatoes... which have close but not quite that kumara flavor. This reminds me how lyrics and music have unique markers that make them seem to belong in certain countries, and we need to understand those nuances as we write for a certain market.

Create Shopping Malls out of Shipping Containers

'Start City Mall' was built out of shipping containers in the center of the Christchurch devastation. It was so successful and beloved it may turn from temporary into a permanent fixture. Think about it... how many lasting, beloved songs have been written in the middle of pain? It's an interesting parallel.

Eye language at work in a sheep dog

Creative eye language is used by dogs to herd sheep. New Zealand has more sheep than people, and they all need direction! Watching a sheep herding event reminded me of how creative a singer or speaker's eyes need to be in order to capture and corral our own audiences.

Sing In the Glow Worm Caves

The Waitomo glow worm caves in North island contains a glow worm unique to New Zealand. We took a bus trip there and met girl who is legally blind named Rachael Leahcar, who was a finalist 'The Voice' in Australia. Guided by her friend into the caves with us, our tour guide asked her to sing in the tallest section of the cave. As I listened to this brave angel sing "La Vie En Rose" in this beautiful echo chamber, I thought about the many opportunities we don't take as artists and performers because we're afraid. Oh, and then we got to see the glow worms, which for all the world looked like something out of the movie 'Avatar'! Breathtaking.

Celebrate Authentic Maori Culture

The Maori are the indigenous people who immigrated to Aotearoa (New Zealand) from Polynesia well before the Europeans. We were invited into their village to witness some of their rituals, dances and music. The Maori culture, art and language are highly respected and revered throughout the country, North and South islands. Their cultural symbol, the silver fern, has been adopted throughout New Zealand, including being painted on the tails of all the planes in New Zealand Airlines. Most public building names, instructions, restaurant menus and bathrooms include Maori language translation right beside the English words. I enjoyed learning and saying 'Kia Ora' to smiling strangers I met along the way. It reminds me... when we're performing, there are no strangers.

You know, musical genres are a lot like languages. Different people express the same emotion with different kinds of music. While we all have our own languages, we should respect all others - even possibly consider bravely listening and creating outside our musical norm!

Turn a beloved movie set into a permanent site

If you watched the Hobbit or Lord of the Rings movies, you may recognize this sign, which was in one of the scenes in a site they named 'the Shire'. In a lightbulb of creativity, Peter Jackson and company decided to turn the temporary hobbit hole houses into "Hobbiton"... a permanent site. They have a contract with the landowner there in New Zealand to keep the site groomed and guided and expanded for tourists that come from all over the globe. On the bus trip there, they of course played a song from the soundtrack. Between the music, the flower and vegetable gardens, the detail around the hole houses and the green dragon tavern we drank in, it really was a magical experience. It would be a good thing to turn our performances into experiences worthy of permanent memories!

Never take it for granted

The mountains, valleys, glaciers, forests, coasts and fiords of New Zealand are ever changing. Between earthquakes, volcanoes, floods and wildfires, the land is always making itself over. Therefore, part of the creative courage I see in New Zealand comes from not being able to take tomorrow for granted. One must learn to ride the roller skates and turn broken treasures into new dreams. So must we all.

I hope you've enjoyed this wider take on 'All Things Vocal'. If you'd like to see pictures from my vacation, you can check them out on my Facebook profile here.

Kia ora, dear readers and listeners... and don't forget if you are in New Zealand or anywhere else too far to get to Nashville, I teach online students across the globe! For more information on my lessons and courses, just leave me a message at my contact link.

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