A couple weeks ago, an opportunity I've dreamed of for a long time came to fruition: the chance to audition to be a featured vocal soloist with a local symphony. I made it through the first round of auditions (video) and was invited a few days later to do the second round (in person) along with 4 other female vocalists.
Upon arrival it quickly became clear that the other women knew as little as I did about what, exactly, the conductor was looking for, how many soloists they'd pick, etc., so we chatted nervously as we warmed up in the hallway.
One of the ladies had brought her aunt along for moral support, and as I struck up conversation (in part to keep my nerves at bay), she mentioned two striking things to me: first, that her dad had played with Louis Prima (a fixture of New Orleans jazz and one of my biggest swing music influences), and second, that she wished she had picked up an instrument as a kid but didn't think it was in the cards for her now.
I shared with her my own story of putting music aside, then learning the ukulele and eventually finding so much more of my voice vocally, and let her know that it wasn't too late for her to connect with music!
Then it was my turn to audition and we parted ways.
A few days later I received word from the symphony that I was not selected as one of the finalists this year, but they highly encouraged me to audition again in the future.
This news was disappointing, of course--I was SO CLOSE--but at the same time, I was truly proud of getting that far. All those who were chosen were more operatic singers than me, and all had vocal performance degrees (two of them even had vocal masters degrees!).
Additionally, one of the finalists messaged me on Instagram a few days later: "When we left," she wrote, "one of the first things my aunt said (and I have to agree) was that it was so nice talking to you and she felt uplifted when you mentioned that she could still learn to play an instrument!"
So even though that audition story didn't end with me singing with the symphony this Christmas as I'd hoped, this unexpected interaction with a stranger brought a bit of joy and possibility to her life.
That is a true gift in my eyes :)
I hope this story inspires you to share a bit of your own joy with others during this busy holiday season. You never know what positive effect you might have on people, so make it count!
A few days ago a friend of mine gave me tickets to the Baton Rouge symphony. We ended up sitting just a few rows away from the stage with a great view of the front line of musicians.
As the concert began, the first thing I noticed was the special guest conductor. He was young and not very imposing in stature but projected such energy through his movements and body language (even with his back to the audience) that you could feel his presence and leadership of the orchestra as it played.
I loved that he wasn't afraid to hold us in silence with his gestures at the end of one particularly poignant piece until the whole orchestra (and room) was silent, too. For a few brief moments, you really could hear a pin drop. Then as his arms and posture relaxed, so did we.
But what most endeared him to me was his impromptu interaction with the audience. Usual symphony tradition says you should NOT clap between movements of a longer piece of music, and I wouldn't be surprised if a few conductors throughout history have scolded audiences at times for breaking this rule. This conductor, however, embraced those who didn't know about that tradition, even turning around after one movement when a few VERY hesitant claps echoed throughout the hall to let us know with a welcoming gesture that it was perfectly "OK" to clap at that point, too.
This experience demonstrates one of my favorite tenants of charismatic communication--that oftentimes, HOW we say something is more important than WHAT we say, because it's our tone, body language and facial expressions that most affect how people FEEL in our presence.
That conductor took a moment when we as a collective group were hesitant, unsure, nervous even, and he connected with us (even for a second) to reassure us and "make us right."
Similarly, the musical genius and performer Jacob Collier, who is known around the world for turning his audiences into impromptu choirs, uses his charismatic communication and leadership skills to get everyone in the room to "go out on a limb" for him. You TRUST that he will lead you through an incredible musical experience, that he won't lead you astray, and so you follow him. But once you're there--singing in a concert hall among hundreds of other strangers--his #1 JOB as a leader is to make sure you feel safe and to GUIDE you to be RIGHT along with everyone else in the room. And he does. THAT is the root of his magical connection with the audience.
Find a way to make YOUR audience (even an audience of 1) feel OK, reassured, laugh or at least less awkward in the moment. It can have a huge impact on their overall perception of you and open new doors for collaboration together.
Do you sometimes feel like you've bitten off more than you can chew?
I feel like that some days with music.
Since moving back to Louisiana, I have basically started adding an entire new subgenre of songs (traditional jazz) to my repertoire, which means a lot of practice and occasional baptism by fire.
It's exciting AND equally terrifying :)
On the days when I'm feeling more overwhelm than enthusiasm for extra work I'm putting in to prepare, it's important to pause and look back at how far I've come.
You can do this, too, for anything you're currently working on.
Incorporating this practice into life regularly can put things into perspective and help you not only ACCEPT where you are in that moment (or even feel joy for it) but also recognize just how far you've come (and celebrate that).
It's a simple technique that works wonders. Try it and let me know what you think!
Have you ever been in a one-sided (or severely lopsided) conversation?
One where the other person talks and talks, and when you finally get a moment to chime in, you don’t feel like they truly listened to what you said?
Plenty of people in the world claim to have no problem talking to anyone, about anything, anywhere. They have a voice and they use it a lot.
But QUANTITY of words (and VOLUME LEVEL) does not beat INTENT and how you make people FEEL when they’re in conversation with you.
What over-talkers don’t realize is that they’re swinging their voice wildly like an unruly sword. At best, this way of communicating keeps others at a distance (or silent). At worst, it cuts off deep connection with others and possibilities for collaboration.
Learning to be a better listener can change your world, your life, and your relationships.
I’ve been working on my listening skills my whole life--first as a shy kid who didn’t talk much. Then as a public relations professional and second-language learner. And now I love diving even deeper as a musician and coach.
That’s why a peer review like the one below means a lot to me. Start LISTENING to others like your life depends on it. Because it does.
“Overall Ashley is a shining example of a great PQ (Positive Intelligence) coach. I believe she brings much radiance and energy to her sessions with the client. She is truly present with excellent 3rd level listening (intuition) when interacting with the client.”
- Peer Coach Reviewer
I'm starting my next round of coaching this month. If you'd like to learn how to improve your performance, reduce stress in your life, and deepen your relationships by using your OWN voice more powerfully and effectively, email me for details!
When the delivery man carried it in, I could see the surprised look on his face.
“That is ONE ORANGE COUCH…,” he said.
"Yeah, we've been impatiently waiting to see if we'll like it," I added as a sense of both dread and relief washed over me.
We bought an orange couch sight unseen (apart from a couple pictures online)...and we like it!
But the relief of the wait being over is because this large piece of furniture is not just a couch. It's so much more than that.
It’s a place for relaxation after a long day and an opportunity for daily connection and conversation with my husband.
It’s a dream realized—I tried to picture this pop of color in my house so many times but couldn’t be sure it would work well until I saw it today in place.
It’s a feeling of completion—for weeks our living room felt and looked strangely empty…unfinished.
And let’s not forget the BOLDNESS of the color (how could we?!?)! That’s a side-effect of the new level of boldness I have stepped into in my own life.
Although we weren’t expecting to wait 1.5 months to get it (and especially didn’t realize how much we’d MISS having a couch), it was worth the wait.
This fun piece of furniture is so much more than “just a couch.”
It’s a symbol of comfort and family and fresh beginnings. It’s a symbol of home.
Now to pick out a new rug to go with it!
With gratitude and from my orange couch,
When my husband received word a few months ago that his job was transferring us back to Louisiana after 5 years in Texas, it wasn't a surprise. In fact, this was one of the aspects of life I had thought about very carefully and knew I'd need to accept before we got married.
When we heard the news, we were excited to be close to family again, but that also meant starting over for me just as steady gigs were coming back and fun musical projects were getting off the ground.
So to make the transition as smooth as possible (I'd never actually been a "jazz musician" in Louisiana), I did what countless moves overseas have taught me to do: hit the ground running.
And while establishing myself here hasn't been ALL sunshine and rainbows (I still get in my own way plenty of the time :p), it has been amazing to start planting new seeds and see them produce lovely opportunities that, in some cases, I hadn't imagined before.
They say, "Bloom where you're planted." And I like to add to that: "Start planting NOW!"
With that being said, there's a concert I've been nurturing for a couple months that I would love you to be a part of!
Please join me tomorrow, Oct. 5, from 8pm to 10pm at the beautiful Marigny Opera House in New Orleans for "Coming Home: Live from the Marigny Opera House." This show will feature some of my favorite jazz standards and traditional jazz songs as I celebrate what "home" means to me through music.
I hope to see you there!
Last week I was looking out the window of my home office when I noticed a little kid in a baseball helmet walking slowly down the sidewalk past my house. Since we live near the dead-end of an already pretty quiet street, I knew this was likely one of my new neighbors and paused to see what he was doing.
The boy gradually slowed down more and more until he stopped in front of our driveway and looked longingly at my house.
"He wants to ring the doorbell," I thought, and, having already found a handful of baseballs in our backyard, I was willing to bet he had knocked another one over the fence.
I continued to watch as the boy wavered for a few seconds near my driveway, started toward my house, then paused, stepped back, then paused again, and finally slugged off home.
In the moment when he finally turned around and walked off, my heart went out to the kid.
I KNEW first-hand how he felt.
He KNEW what he wanted. He STARTED to take action and use his voice to ASK for it. But ultimately, his THOUGHTS got in the way of his ACTIONS and he chickened out.
A little while later, I went into the backyard to learn that my guess was right. A worm baseball sat motionless in the grass.
The boy was long gone by then, so I threw it over the fence for him to find later.
Now, in this rare instance, I could very easily help the boy get what he wanted..
But most times in life, we don't have a perceptive neighbor or fairy godmother who can read our mind/body language and magically get us what we need.
And what if that thing is IMPORTANT, like sharing our opinion in a board meeting, connecting with our teenage kid, asking for a raise, or learning to stay present to truly LISTEN to what others are saying?
It's important to be able to take more control over our lives in critical moments. But to do that, we have SPEAK up (or sometimes be quiet and help OTHERS speak up), especially when we're uncomfortable.
In what area of your life are you acting RIGHT NOW like the little boy?
How are your thoughts getting in the way of your actions, your deep listening skills, and your powerful voice?
And what's one way you can change that today?
We all know people who seem to have a master's degree in worrying. For me, this was my maw maw. On any given day, she could write an epic about all the things she was currently worrying about and how much pain and suffering everything was causing her.
I was very close to my maw maw as a child and loved her tremendously. But guess what? Even back then I recognized that a lot of the pain and suffering she experienced on a daily basis was self-inflicted.
“The man who says he can, and the man who says he can't are both correct.”
I've seen this quote attributed to Henry Ford, Confucius, and probably numerous other famous people. But regardless of who said it, the message rings true: "The man who BELIEVES he can and the man who BELIEVES he can't are both correct." How we THINK about something (or ourselves) determines our realm of possibility and impossibility.
Most of the things we "worry" about regularly are not actually worth stressing over. But by dwelling on them, labeling them as negative and/or putting them off for an extended period of time, we turn them into boogie monsters in our heads.
Just this week while I was singing for a funeral, I started feeling some significant discomfort in my body from a health issue that has been nagging me. This now familiar, unwelcome feeling can easily make me spiral into "woe is me" mode if I'm not careful. But instead of letting my saboteurs take over, that day I paused to notice my thoughts and feelings in the moment. I noticed the discomfort. I recognized its existence. I heard my inner critic trying to label it as bad--why did I have to deal with this??? But I also recognized that I could not do anything about it in that moment. I knew that no immediate action needed to be taken health-wise. And while I couldn't make it go away, I COULD lesson my pain and suffering in that moment by choosing not to label it as "bad," but to just let it be.
So I did. I experienced the discomfort, but significantly lessoned the momentary pain and suffering that I felt.
If you'd like to strengthen your own mental fitness, I'll be starting a new round of Positive Intelligence coaching in October. Get in touch if you'd like to learn more!
As I write this I'm packing up to perform a solo gig at the Residence de France--the French Consul General's residence--in New Orleans (eek)!
It's pretty exciting to be visiting and reconnecting with the local Francophone community again considering that I have been to quite a few receptions at this house over the years, but not as a musician (my background is in public relations and tourism as a representative of the French American Chamber of Commerce-Gulf Coast Chapter and the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism).
I'll admit that after 5 years in Texas, my French is a bit rusty, so I'll be out of my comfort zone once again, but it's a good push.
Speaking of comfort zones...
I recently stepped out of mine in a new way--a way that I swore I would never do.
I've started giving voice lessons :)
Over the years many people have asked me to teach them to sing, and I always quickly shut them down. I never wanted to be a teacher.
But this time things are different. In the past few years I have gained a whole new level of understanding about my own musical voice, how to use it to its full potential, and how to EXPLAIN that to other people. And I've learned that I really do enjoy coaching others on their vocal skills! Learning how to sing was the first key to unlocking my own voice and stepping out of extreme shyness years ago.
I already love coaching people find their speaking voice, their creative voice, and their musical voice through the ukulele. Now we can also tackle the singing component together!
I have a limited number of spots available for in-person and virtual voice lessons, so let me know if you're interested.
When I was little—probably 3rd or 4th grade—I remember waiting for my mom in the carpool line at school.
Back then I’d watch the 8th graders walk down the hallway and daydream—it seemed like getting to that “cool, confident age” would take FOREVER!
Alas, I did eventually get to 8th grade, then 12th grade, then college and grad school. And while that “cool, confident age” STILL eludes me, somewhere along the way, time started speeding up…a lot.
Now it’s to the point where I want it to SLOW DOWN to savor all the beautiful moments that pass by too quickly!
Thankfully, over the years I’ve learned we’re all in control of our perception of time and can savor the present whenever we choose to. Here’s to continuing to get better at that this year.
I normally love birthdays, but to be honest, I’ve approached this one with a bit of trepidation since it means crossing the invisible “over 35” threshold. Thank y’all so much for all your support and birthday wishes! You sure know how to make a girl feel special.
P.S. If you're in Louisiana, I'd love to see you Sunday, Sept. 11, at the Big Swing Big Band Concert in Covington. I'm honored to be a guest vocalists for this event. Come join us for great music, dinner and dancing!
Ashley Orlando is a jazz vocalist/ukulele artist and coach who helps growth-focused leaders find their voice, grow their presence & amplify their impact.