A New Way To Think About Creativity

This is one of my favorite TED talks. Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) talks about creativity and creative genius. She reminds us of the many impossible things we expect from artists.

The ancient Greeks and Romans did not believe creativity came from human beings. Creativity was considered something spiritual, and creative ideas came to human beings through divine attendant spirits. But the times changed. And so did people’s views on creativity. Instead of believing in all of us “having” a genius, we adopted the idea of a (rare) person “being” a creative genius.

And I got to tell you, I think that was a huge error. You know, I think that allowing somebody, one mere person to believe that he or she is like, the vessel, you know, like the font and the essence and the source of all divine, creative, unknowable, eternal mystery is just a smidge too much responsibility to put on one fragile, human psyche. It’s like asking somebody to swallow the sun. It just completely warps and distorts egos, and it creates all these unmanageable expectations about performance. And I think the pressure of that has been killing off our artists for the last 500 years.

– Elizabeth Gilbert in her TED talk on creativity



Gilbert’s talk is funny and inspiring, and it reminds us about the importance of showing up at the page and doing our creative work no matter what. Because then at least you did your part of the job.



Burn For It, But Don’t Burn Out While Doing It!

Many of the singers and singing teachers that I coach want me to design practice programs for them. Mostly the focus is on aspects like singing technique, sound, healthy habits for the voice, musicianship, learning new tools and skills for teaching. Those are all important things for a singer or singing teacher. But today, I’d like you to consider the following:

How are you taking care of the singer / singing teacher you in terms of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being? What can you do to practice new habits in this area? All actions count, even the small ones – like reminding yourself to drink enough water!

Let me illustrate what I mean by sharing a repost of a blog I originally wrote for katjamariamusic in August 2012:

Back from a short but nice summer break in Bourgogne (Burgundy), France. In between enjoying the beautiful Burgundian countryside, strolling through lovely villages and towns, and indulging in delicious French food, I could not help but to think about how to maintain that feeling of being relaxed and calm even in the middle of ‘daily life’ which can get very busy and seem chaotic at times.

In a career in music, singing or teaching it is important to keep working on your craft, tend to networking, business or marketing skills, but if we only focus on these things we easily get off balance. Self-care and spiritual balance are equally important things for our career. Singing requires not only technique and musicianship skills, but also physical and mental fitness, well-being and inspiration. And so does teaching and coaching. It is our own responsibility to take care of ourselves. Nobody else will do it for us.



I have a lot of nice things coming up on the work front this fall, and I know things will get busy. So what I’ve done is, I have created a little self-care program for myself. Like one of my singer/singing teacher colleagues once told me: “I burn for this, but I don’t wanna burn out while doing it!”

This is what my self-care program looks like:

Health / physical

Go back to weekly yoga classes. I miss the yoga mat and I notice how difficult it seems to create a discipline of home practice. As an additional booster I signed up for Yoga Journal’s 21 day fitness challenge, starting September 9. If you’re curious about the challenge, check it out here.

Keep a jug of water on my desk to remind me of drinking enough water (yes, even vocal coaches who tell other singers about the importance of hydration can sometimes need a reminder!).

Inspiration and filling the well

Once each week, do one thing on my “inspiration list”. This list includes things like going to see a live concert, theater performance or movie, visit an art exhibition or museum, take a walk on the beach, buy a bunch of beautiful flowers for the house, cooking, eat in a restaurant that serves food made with passion and love…and many more things that make me feel inspired and happy.

Music time

This might sound redundant, because as a singer/pianist/vocal coach/singing teacher my weeks are already filled with a lot of music. But, here’s the thing: I have discovered that rehearsals and performances are not enough. I need time to “explore” music as well. Out of that time ideas for compositions, songs, arrangements and interpretations are born. Music-time might be anything from a 15 minute piano/vocals improvisation moment, to playing around with one of my iPad music gadgets including the EveryDay Looper and the Yamaha Tenori-On for iPad.

Growth and self-development

Keep up with my self-development and growth focus that I set for myself this spring. This summer I attended a couple of webinars with Gillyanne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher from Vocal Process, and I have been reading a lot of interesting books on vocal pedagogy and creativity. At the end of September, I am going to the Authorised CVT Teacher update seminar at Complete Vocal Institute in Copenhagen, for the latest updates on research and pedagogy (and to catch up with lovely colleagues!). In October I am attending the symposium of NVZ, the Nationale Vereniging voor Zangpedagogen (Dutch National Association for Singing Teachers), with lots of interesting topics on the psychology of singing. And in November, the Dutch CVT Teacher’s Association is having a study-day with a guest lecturer as well. The self-development focus is there also for myself as an artist. I’m now halfway through the Artists in Action program by Betsy Capes from Capes Coaching, an investment I did in my artistic career earlier this spring.


This is the part that seems to be very easy to forget. For me, gratitude includes moments of stillness, writing in my journal, lighting a candle, being thankful for the people and job opportunities that cross my path, calling a friend or a family member, smiling at someone or giving someone a hug. Remembering to say ‘Thank You’ to the people in our life and to life itself. Gratitude puts things into perspective and reminds us that no matter how important or ambitious our project or career might be (or seem), there are always more important things in life.

Hmm…sounds like a lot of good plans…but what about the time-management part?

I created a new calendar on my iCal in which I schedule all the things I am doing to take care of ME, MYSELF and I each week. Those things include music time, yoga classes, growth, moments for inspiration and gratitude. The calendar has a different color (magenta) than my work calendar (which is green). If I’m seeing too much green during my week I know I have to watch out, and take better care of myself!

…and now back to you!

How are you taking care of the singer / singing teacher you in terms of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being? What can you do to practice new habits in this area?

I think it would be great if we would inspire each other and share our ideas here, so feel free to leave a comment here!

Mini-Breaks and Oyster Moments

This weekend I had to think about the importance of rest and ‘oyster moments’ (let me explain that one later on). Rest for body and mind (emptying your head), and rest as in sleep (so underestimated!). For me, ‘rest’ can also mean a change of scenery, going away from daily life for a while and visiting places I have never been before. That kind of rest can include the two types of rest mentioned earlier, but also another aspect: the ‘retreat’ type of rest that is very necessary for every (creative) human being.

Creative Retreats And Mini-Breaks

I like to think of ‘creative retreats’ as any activity that fills your creative well. If you just keep taking out water from the well it will dry up at some point. Filling the well means you do things that inspire you. Filling the well also means resting, pampering and spoiling yourself.

Julia Cameron writes in ‘The Artist’s Way’:

Making art begins with making hay while the sun shines. It begins with getting into the now and enjoying your day. It begins with giving yourself some small treats and breaks.

A simple change of scenery can give you lots of new ideas and inspiration. It’s not always necessary to travel far in order to fill your well. Enjoying a good cup of coffee in a nice café close to your home can be a treat, and a long walk on a nearby beach can be a mini-break. But sometimes it’s good to get away from your daily routines. Exploring new places makes time pass by slower and empties your head.

Allowing yourself treats and taking mini-breaks sounds very simple, but actually doing it can sometimes be difficult. Being my own boss, I found one of the hardest things is actually to schedule my free time and allow myself to take (mini) breaks. I have even had to learn not to feel guilty about taking time off for myself (can you believe that!?). I never felt guilty about my free time when I had a so-called ‘normal job’. Isn’t that strange. I am getting better at being a much nicer boss for myself though, because I have learned that if I don’t take breaks my (creative) work suffers.

Last weekend I went for a mini-break to Ghent in Belgium, a town that had been on my list of nearby places to visit. I stayed in Bed & Breakfast Bel Etage, a studio apartment on the first floor of a neoclassical building very close to the historical center of Ghent. The apartment has been recently redecorated with good taste and attention of the authentic details. The hostess Sofia is very friendly and will give you lots of nice tips on cafés, restaurants, and shops. The street outside of the apartment is pretty busy, but I still slept like a baby!


There are signs like these all across town in Ghent. It made me think of how important it is to pause, even if it’s just for a little moment. The sign might as well say ‘mini break’!

Oyster Moments

Belgians enjoy the good life and eating out, and there are lots of good restaurants to choose from in Ghent. I think making a reservation is smart especially during the weekend. If your favorite restaurant is fully booked, you can perhaps still manage to have a culinary experience like I did, by scoring some fresh oysters and cava from the street vendor on the Groentenmarkt (opposite of the Yves Tierentyn Mustard Shop, which is a must visit for foodies). Having delicious oysters and cava on a Saturday afternoon get you in a perfect relaxed mood!


You might ask yourself, what do oysters and cava have to do with creative retreats? For me, they have everything to do with feeling alive and relaxed. These kind of ‘oyster moments’ also give me a sense of luxury and abundance, and feel like a reward for taking myself and my creative work seriously. If you don’t like oysters, you can invent your own ‘oyster moments’. And remember, luxury doesn’t even have to cost money.

When is the last time you took a mini-break or treated yourself for something special? How do you fill your creative well? What makes you feel inspired and rested?

©2012 Katja Maria Slotte


Originally published in my blog katjamariamusic in March 2012.

Everything In-Between

Today I wanted to write about a DVD that inspires me. Everything In-Between: The Story of Ellipse. It’s the story behind the scenes of the making of Imogen Heap’s Grammy Award winning album Ellipse. Imogen Heap is one of the artists whose work inspires me a lot. If you have never heard of her before, you might want to check out her website or read her biography (written and inspired by fans via Twitter). Perhaps your taste in music is different. That’s perfectly fine. Perhaps you’re not a musician. I still want to recommend the DVD to you, because it gives wonderful insight about the creative process. It is a very personal story of one woman and her music, about the process of songwriting and album-making with all its beautiful and tricky moments. Here is a little preview:


Here are some things that I have come to think of after watching the DVD:

The need to create comes from the inside and cannot be directed by outside things like the market.

An artist creates because of an inner need. If you worry about what people would like to hear or what kind of songs make it to the charts, before actually listening to what’s inside of you, you’re on the wrong track. If a song becomes a hit, is actually not in your power. Focus on the things that are in your power and the reason why you create (because it makes you happy, fills you with enthusiasm, and so on).

An artist needs time and space to create. 

In order to tap into the creative ideas inside of us, we need to tune in to our inner voice and the space where these ideas come from. It means creating ourselves the environment and the possibilities to get inspired and to do our creative work.

But there’s more to this ‘time and space thing’. When I watched the DVD together with students of mine, I got the reaction ‘yeah but she has the money to do whatever she wants’. Remember, this kind of talk is actually just your fear talking to you. That voice wants to tell you that ‘everyone else can do it but I can’t, because….’. It’s true that not everybody’s circumstances allow them to make extended songwriting trips to faraway countries, or to own a fancy home studio. Much too often though, we focus on these kinds of ‘outside things’ first. Then, concluding that we don’t have the money / possibilities etc. etc. to buy a certain item, or to take a big block of time and dedicate it on our creative process, we end up doing nothing at all. Does that sound familiar to you?

The fearful voice wants to create the perfect circumstances first. Why? Because if you’re busy trying to create the perfect circumstances, you actually don’t have the time to really get your hands dirty on your creative project, dream or idea! Getting your hands dirty, or actually just getting started (even if it’s just a baby step) can be very scary. So it feels safer to look for reasons why other people can do it and you cannot, than to actually get started.


Photo credit: Georgie Pauwels via Photopin

Creating the (minimum amount of) time and space that allows you to create, in your daily life as it is here and now, comes first. The bigger things (like for example an extended songwriting trip to some faraway destination, or some new gear, and so on) can happen later.

If I take myself as an example, I used to think of ‘creative time’ as big amounts of time. Preferably I would have a week, or a month, time to just focus on one creative idea or project. Drop everything else and just have time for me, myself and my ideas. This constant ‘looking for a big amount of time’ became like a block for me. I have learned that instead of looking for a big amount of time, I need to block a certain amount of time every day (or week, if every day is not possible) for my creative projects.

I have also learned (and I am still learning) that I really need to guard that time. Otherwise I tend to deal out my time to everyone else, and find out that I left myself with the smallest bit (or in the worst case: no time at all).

As a freelancer, it can sometimes be tricky to ‘guard your time’, because very often there can be a fear that ‘if I now say no I will end up losing this (possible) client / contact’. But as some wise person once said, sometimes we have to say no to other people in order to say yes to ourselves. Because if we don’t say yes to ourselves, how can we expect our own dreams or creative ideas to grow at all? Find out what the minimum amount of time that you need for yourself is, and then learn to block that time in your weekly schedule. Think: “What is the 1 action I could do for my project today?”. One. That’s all it takes.


Photo credit: Hartwig HKG via Photopin

Your ‘inner artist’ needs to be fed with whatever s/he loves and finds beautiful or inspiring. (Even if some of it might seem a bit silly to the outside).

Julia Cameron refers in her book The Artist’s Way to your ‘inner artist’ as a child that we need to take care of. We need to feed that inner artist with inspiration. Watching Imogen Heap in the DVD and in her video blogs, I get reminded of how true this is. The whole renovation of her house is based on making it an inspiring working environment. Here again, remember the baby steps. You don’t have to rebuild your whole house in order to be able to create! But try to surround yourself with objects – or taking the time to visit places – that you find beautiful and inspiring. It can mean small things, like having flowers in a vase. Or a silly little object that inspires you or reminds you of something.

I bought a totally unnecessary thing last summer at the airport in Helsinki. A snowball. It’s a rubber ball filled with some crunchy material. You can shape it, and it feels and sounds like snow in your hands. This silly little thing made me think of building snowmen, and winters in Finland, and other things that make me happy and inspired. Places that I like to visit for inspiration include the beach and the bookstore. Or sitting in a café drinking a good cup of coffee and observing people (I don’t mean that in a creepy way 😉 ) I found long train rides to be inspiring too, provided that I have a window seat and can look at the places that I drive through. Anything related to traveling inspires me, really. Airports. Walking through the streets of a town I’ve never visited before. Going on a little adventure, and “getting a little bit lost” – even if it means visiting a place nearby, and not knowing in advance exactly where to eat, what to do, and so on. Going to the theater or an art exhibition. Doing something in your own town or country that usually only tourists do. These are just some of the things on my inspiration list.


Photo credit: Victor Bezrukov via Photopin


In every creative process, there comes a point when you doubt everything.

This happens to Imogen too during the making of her album. This part of the movie is actually one of my favorites, because it’s so honest. It’s good to remember that it’s part of the process and that it happens to everyone.

Every artist needs a network of people who supports them and believes in them.

You cannot do it just by yourself. Because remember those doubts will get to you at some point. Your support network should consist of people that bring out the best in you. It doesn’t have to consist of a big amount of people. It might consist of family members, but it doesn’t have to. Sometimes family members (although they love you and believe in you and support you) are not the right people to brainstorm your creative ideas or share your creative doubts and fears with. You might find support in a mentor, a coach, a colleague, or a friend. Just make sure you have a supportive team cheering for you during all the steps of the process!

What are your experiences with creating time and space for your creative projects? What works for you and what doesn’t? What kind of things are on your inspiration list? I’d love to hear from you!

©2012 Katja Maria Slotte

This blog post was originally posted in my blog katjamariamusic in January 2012

Singing – a love story

There is something that connects singers, regardless of level, technical skills, musical genre, or method they study. It is the love for singing, the need of expressing themselves and connecting with others, through singing and music. That love got its beginnings somewhere. Do you remember how it all began?

My own first memories of singing are from my childhood. I did not grow up in a “musical family”, but my mother did sing while she was cooking, my grandmother used to sing for me, and both my parents did their share of singing in choirs. Singing and music played a vital part of the community I grew up in. Every day, we would sing at school, I sang in choirs and played many musical instruments. At the age of 13, I saw my first opera, an experience that felt magical and deeply touching. I felt it was something that I wanted to keep experiencing for the rest of my life. I wanted to be part of creating that experience, and tell stories that could touch other people’s souls like that opera had touched mine. And so I auditioned for the youth choir that sang in the opera production. And my singing path, that I had set foot on in my childhood, took another turn. What brought me to where I am today, and to the songs I nowadays sing, is another story – a path with many turns, some obstacles and bumps. But above all, it is a path with plenty of discoveries.



Photo credit: F-L-E-X via Photopin


Every person who loves to sing has a different path. Along that path, we all encounter obstacles. It is especially when that happens, that it is so important to connect to the love for singing that put us on that path in the first place. During my journey on my singing path, I have many times reached to connect to that “Inner Singer”(1) that I discovered in my early teens. Sometimes I lost that connection, and had to find it back. The ways of connecting back have been various, from finding meaning in my artistic work, to expanding my comfort zones vocally and musically, or even through gaining more technical knowledge and understanding of my instrument. Another aspect that has proven helpful, is learning to let go of too many expectations. It has got something to do with accepting things the way they are now, and learning to love the process instead of being fixed on an end destination. Maintaining a balance between “work” and “joy” has been equally important. Thanks to all the bumps on my own path I have learned the importance of treating that “Inner Singer” with a lot of care.

Some obstacles are related to growth. In a singing lesson, many singers tend to mostly focus on what they want to change or still need to learn. Learning new things, changing habits, building new muscle memory, and expanding your comfort zone takes time, and it can sometimes be a quite frustrating process. While working on our craft, we need to not lose sight of the joy of singing. To quote an unknown singer: “I have learned that exercises aren’t enough. Souls need to sing beautiful songs.”(2)



Photo credit: Andre w Stawarz via Photopin


Exercises are important for building our craft, though, and if you want to grow as a singer you will need to accept – and welcome – the obstacles that go paired with expanding your comfort zone. In the lessons it is not always possible to only focus on “singing for the joy of singing”. That is why I keep encouraging the singers I teach, regardless of their level, to also seek out other opportunities to sing and have fun with their voices.

For surprisingly many people, the singing lesson is the only environment in which they sing. Though the lesson can fulfill this function, it is in my opinion not desirable – or that function should at least be questioned. If a singing lesson is the only environment for singing, it means all aspects including growth and learning, joy for singing, expression and communication, and so on, have to take place in one single environment. This puts a lot of expectations on the situation, and you can also question whether it is desirable that the teacher-student relationship would be the only environment for musical communication.



Photo credit: Shavar Ross via Photopin


You could perhaps think that connecting to the joy of singing is not important for people who are singing professionally. They are already doing what they love, right? Sadly, many professionals risk falling out of love with singing, because of the various external and internal challenges that come with making your living from singing. Those challenges often take a big toll on creative inspiration, and at some point, many professional singers find themselves feeling uninspired. Some even stop singing all together because they have lost the sense of meaning in their work. Others give up professional careers because of personal or family reasons, finding themselves having to adjust to a new framework for their “Inner Singer” to operate within. For if you are a singer, you will always remain a singer, even though you would not earn your living from singing.



Photo Credit: Armando G Alonso via Photopin


Finally, connecting to your own inspiration is extremely important if you are teaching singing. Without creative inspiration and a feeling of connection with their own “Inner Singer”, teachers run the risk of falling into habits and mindless repetition, starting to dislike their work, or in the worst case even become envious of their students’ progress. There are also plenty of stories of teachers, who have tried to satisfy their own need of communicating and performing within the framework of the lesson. Such situations lead to frustration not only in the teacher – who is clearly missing another output for their artistic expression – but also in the student, who payed for a lesson and not for a concert.

I will wrap up my thoughts by quoting the famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin: “I would hate to think I am not an amateur. An amateur is one who loves what he is doing. Very often, I’m afraid, the professional hates what he is doing. So I’d rather be an amateur.” (3) Did you know that “amateur” comes from the Latin word “amare” (to love)? Perhaps that “Inner Singer” in us is an eternal amateur. Connecting with that amateur over and over again, is a lifelong pursuit for all singers, no matter what path they are on.

©2013 Katja Maria Slotte


Originally published in Vocalisten.nl

1 Marilyn McCarthy uses the term “Inner singer” to describe the core identity, or the soul of the singer in Janice L. Chapman’s book “Singing and Teaching Singing: A Holistic Approach to Classical Voice” (Chapter 10: “The Teaching and Learning Partnership Part 2. The H-Factor”), 2012.

2 Originally quoted in “Singing and Teaching Singing: A Holistic Approach to Classical Voice” by Janice L. Chapman, 2012.

3 Yehudi Menuhin: Life Class (1986)