Katelyn Holub

blogging about music, art, and creativity


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Live With Your Heart on Your Sleeve

I used to live more freely. With my heart on my sleeve, I was all into life. As a young girl, I was passionate that I could change the world for the better. I could make a difference. But those feelings were slowly eroded away by incidents of pain. Over time, my confidence that good could prevail wavered and I built up walls to hide my heart from the pain of this world. Is this the way life should be? Should we go from being children full of hope and passion to being cynical adults turning our eyes from the seemingly hopeless cause that is our world?

*Photo Credit: ClickFlashPhotos / Nicki Varkevisser, Creative Commons

*Photo Credit: ClickFlashPhotos / Nicki Varkevisser, Creative Commons

I think the answer is no. It’s easy to let the world jade us into thinking we don’t matter and can’t make a dent in lessening the amount of darkness out there, but we must not let our heart slip away from us.

“Remember that kid with the quivering lip

Whose heart was on his sleeve like a first aid kit

Where are you now? Where are you now?” –“Slipping Away” by Switchfoot

This week, I’ve come to realize the beauty and truth in living with your heart on your sleeve. Yes, living this way is dangerous. It makes you vulnerable to experiencing pain. But it also fuels us to respond to those who are hurting and make that positive difference in the world we think we can’t make. There’s power behind true passion and emotional feeling—enough power to change history for the better.

*Photo Credit: Jenn Durfey, Creative Commons

*Photo Credit: Jenn Durfey, Creative Commons

And how does this relate to musicians and artists? As Seth Godin recently discussed on a podcast of The Portfolio Life with Jeff Goins, “art is born out of frustration.” Great artists live their emotions (rather than block them out) and let their feelings and tensions drive their creative process. By living with and responding to our hearts on our sleeves, we artists can positively impact the world by shining light on truths for the world to experience. How do you live with hope and passion for a better world? What drives your creative process?

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Can Musical Expression Be Taught?

It’s battle week on The Voice, and I’ve been excitedly watching pairs of singers duel over one song in order to stay in the competition.  Although I love watching the singers perform, I especially love watching their vocal coaching sessions leading up to the battle.  There is such a big transformation from their first rehearsal to their performance.

At this stage in the competition, everybody on the show has a good voice; it’s just a matter of who can make the most of their voice in the song they are given by their coach.  When Usher was counseling Biff Gore and T.J. Wilkins on singing “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” he emphasized the importance of conveying the begging, pleading, desperate emotion expressed in the lyrics.  Beyond giving them technical tips, Usher taught Biff and T.J. the importance of musical expression and being able to draw an audience into a performance, which made me realize . . .

What sets the best artists apart from the rest?  Their ability to emote.  You can hit all the right notes, but if you lack expression, people won’t listen. 

*Photo Credit: starmanseries

*Photo Credit: starmanseries, Creative Commons

Some people seem to be naturally expressive, but everyone else must be taught.  And unlike teaching technical skills, it can be really difficult to teach musical expression.

Can musical expression be taught? 

I think so.  And it starts with teaching and developing empathy.  Even if you haven’t experienced a situation first-hand, you can learn to put yourself in someone else’s shoes—vividly imagine how that person would feel, and get into their character.

*Photo Credit: AndyRobertsPhotos

*Photo Credit: AndyRobertsPhotos, Creative Commons

Once you establish what emotions are trying to be conveyed, there are limitless musical tools that can be used to embody an emotion.  For singers, think about how we intuitively use our speaking voice to convey different emotions—angry shouts, joyful exclamations, and heartfelt soft whispers.  Other expressive tools to think about:

  • Breath support.  Varying the amount of breath support given to a particular line can help convey a certain feeling.  Less support creates a more airy, weaker sound versus a fully-supported confident, powerful sound.
  • Phrase endings.  Should the line trail off or end in loud exclamation-point way
  • Special vocal effects.  You can sprinkle in different kind of tones—like raspy, gritty, vibrato, nasal-voice, chest-voice—for different expressive effects.

Alright, now I want to know: Have you ever had to teach someone musical expression?  What have you learned that’s helped you be more expressive? 


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Waiting on a Melody

Good composition can’t be forced.  I’ve learned this lesson well.  It’s a letdown to realize I can’t just write a song when I want to, when I have the time to devote to it.  Maybe if I were a more talented composer I could write music on command, but so far, composition creeps in when I least expect it.

For me, a song begins with melody.

Melodies come to me embodying an emotion that I’ve been carrying around either from my own life or from empathizing with others’ experiences.  It is that melodic expression of emotion that gives life to my songs—guides the backdrop chord structure, harmony, and rhythm.

Some of my most prolific melody writing has come to me upon waking, taking a shower, and cleaning the dishes.  At first, I was confused by the seemingly random time melody ideas pop in my head.  Then I thought perhaps it is in instances that I am more relaxed I am better able to receive musical inspiration, to allow emotion to surface.

Whatever the reason, when melody arrives, it waits for no one.  It can be so fleeting that I’ve learned to immediately record the idea on my phone or computer so that I can return to it later on when it is more convenient for me to sit down and compose.  I can’t tell you how many times I failed to record a melody line because I thought, “This is so great, there’s no way I’ll forget it.”  Ha ha ha.  Oh, irony.

These days, finals are near and I’m spending most of my time studying and hardly any time at my piano.  It is the least ideal time for me to spend composing, but if history is any example, it is exactly these inconvenient times a melody will drift into my life and demand my attention—at least for a little while.  So here’s to the season of finals!  May it bring unbelievably beautiful melodies to life!

How do you compose melodies?  Do they come to mind first for you when you write a song?