Getting Ready for Spring Sports: Take Things Slowly

April 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Fitness, Health

You must walk before you can run: Throughout our lives, this age-old mantra reminds us of the importance of attaining basic knowledge and skills before attempting something more challenging. Now, with spring upon us, maybe it’s time we take this metaphor a bit more literally.

The sunshine has an undeniable effect on our desire to be outside. For many, this means  a morning walk in the park, and for others it’s a regular game of tennis or the extra motivation to train for that end-of-summer triathlon.  Regardless of the degree of exercise, take it slowly! Overdoing it now can lead to injury later, and being stuck inside with an injury is the last way to lead off spring and summer.

There are many ways to ease into your preferred sports this spring. First, always make sure to set aside time to stretch before heading outside. Not just your legs, but your arms, your back, and your neck—everything. Like it or not, our bodies stiffen as we age, our flexibility wanes, our muscles tighten. Stretching appropriately not only loosens our limbs but generates blood flow as well, consequently improving our circulation. And increased circulation means the added bonus of more energy for that fun outdoor activity!

With some practice, you may even start to find stretching relaxing—both a way to improve flexibility and a calming way to start your day. Even five minutes of stretching a day is enough to feel improvement.  Take a look at this video for ideas on how to begin a new stretching routine each morning.


No matter what sport you choose, you need to stretch all parts of your body. For example, you use your legs just as much as your arms when playing tennis. Here’s a great video, by the Stretching Institute, that can guide you through a set of stretches most appropriate for tennis.

Drink up! It’s probably best to save that glass of wine for after your workout . . . but drinking enough fluids throughout the day is essential to maintaining a healthy and fit existence. Water is the most effective option for staying hydrated. The added sugars in juices, sports drinks, and soda are not necessarily our friends, even though they do taste good.

The more energy you plan to expend through exercise, the more water you are going to need to drink to maintain your hydration. As the temperatures rise, staying hydrated becomes ever more important, since it allows our bodies to cool ourselves through sweat. A dehydrated “athlete” (yes, that includes you women who like your morning walk!) becomes lackluster, dizzy, and weak;  this significantly increases the likelihood of injury. And remember that hydration needs to occur before as well as during exercise. By the time you feel thirsty—or, worse, dizzy—it is most often too late. A simple glass of water with your breakfast and coffee is a great way to kick off the day on the right foot; it might even get you musing about the fun outdoor fitness session to come, adding motivation to that inner athlete you didn’t even realize existed.

Once you’re out on that tennis court, be sure to take breaks often, and always drink water during the breaks. And if you’re playing nine holes with your friends, make sure to pack plenty of water in the cart. Most courses have water on every few holes, so you will have plenty of opportunity to refill as needed. It’s always a good idea to pack small snacks in your bag as well. Something as simple as a banana, trail mix, or a granola bar can go a long way towards to keeping your energy up and your muscles happy. A body filled with energy is less likely to get injured and more likely to enjoy your weekly game.

Lastly, take things slowly.  Just because you ended last summer playing tennis on Monday, golf on Wednesday, and jogging all weekend doesn’t mean you should start there. Ease into your ultimate, desired activity level gradually. Let your body be your guide. Even the greatest athletes in the world have to work relentlessly to build up to the regimen they deem acceptable. We all have different goals for ourselves athletically; getting there methodically will be rewarding, for you’ll be avoiding injury while you’re having fun.

Now that it’s sunny, I’m heading outside. After I finish this water.


A Revolutionary Idea: Exercise = Fun

February 5, 2012 by  
Filed under Emotional Wellbeing, Fitness, Health

So…how are those New Year’s resolutions going?

As we embark on the second month of the year, maybe you feel like a million bucks. After all, you’ve gotten four productive weeks under your belt, fulfilling your resolutions to eat healthier, exercise more, save money and improve yourself across the board.


If you’re anything like the rest of us, your resolve has not only begun to fade, it’s starting to sit like that last glass of eggnog on Christmas, weighing you down literally and metaphorically. Studies show that by March, over 50% of us will have abandoned our New Year’s resolutions entirely. And it may be cynical of me, but I’d venture that the number would be even higher if people were truly being honest about it.

So maybe it’s time for a February resolution. Rather than make these winter months more dreary than short days and cold nights already do, why not find a way to make this year different—not simply enduring, but embracing.

It’s about having some fun.

There’s no shortage of emotional and physical benefits to exercise. And there’s no shortage of books, magazines, and people that want to tell us all about them. The problem isn’t a lack of information, it’s finding the time, energy, and essential motivation to gear up for the dreaded word we so badly want to love and enjoy: exercise.

Here are a few suggestions to make it more fun, especially at this time of year.

Do it with friends. Exercising with friends is a lot more fun than exercising alone. Everyone’s time is precious, and all too often we end up canceling on our pals as life gets in the way. But catching up doesn’t have to be over coffee, lunch, or wine—maybe it’s a weekly tennis game or a line of bowling, even if you’ve never played the sport regularly. Friendships forged through sport often last a lifetime, since shared hobbies and passions can intertwine lives in a wholly unique way.

Stake out the time and protect it. If you commit to a weekly time slot with a friend or two, you’ll find it much more difficult to cancel. Book a racqet court at a regular time, or sign up together for an exercise class. Once you actually work it into your schedule, you’ll probably find it much easier to keep it going.

Add a touch of competition. Many of us were raised to be “nice,” and a healthy sense of competition wasn’t always part of that definition. Instead, it was something we’ve had to nurture in ourselves. Now that we’ve finally managed to acquire it, why not have some fun with it? Don’t underestimate the zing that a little competitive adrenaline can add to your sport or workout.

Consider joining a sports league. I know—chances are, you’re scoffing at the mere notion of such a thing. But not so fast. As the world has gotten used to the idea of healthier living—and strong, independent women—an abundance of women’s sports leagues have popped up across the country, in tennis, soccer, golf, running, volleyball, and even ice hockey, to name just a few. They’re out there, and probably closer than you think. They welcome beginners young and old who are willing to get out there, get some exercise, and to play to the best of their abilities, whatever that might be.

I recently joined a women’s soccer league that plays every Sunday morning. The athletic level is moderate, but the enjoyment is outstanding. Many of our players are well into their 40s, and all of us are committed to that hour out of the house, doing something for ourselves, and enjoying every second of it. Every week I’m astounded at how good it feels, even though it’s only an hour. In addition to the fun of the game itself, there’s the added benefit of an entire new group of friends, with a shared enthusiasm to boot.

Whether you’re an independent working woman, devoted wife, caring mom, or some combination of the three, we all know how hard it can be to find time for ourselves. But there are many ways to make exercise more fun. Maybe this approach can help you find the motivation to keep moving through these cold, dark days until spring finally kicks in and lures us all outside. And when it does, perhaps this way of thinking will find you embracing this special time for yourself each week, discovering that a little innocent competition can be utterly invigorating, and getting acquainted with the inner athlete you may have forgotten—or never knew.




Melodia Combines Poet Laureate’s Words, Women’s Vocal Power

November 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Music, Poetry

cynthia-powellThirty years ago, as the 1970s were coming to a close, a young pianist named Cynthia Powell had an impulse not so common among accompanists. “I started to look into women composers, women’s music — I wasn’t yet sure why,” Powell told WFC last week.

melodia_groupThat impulse, then sort of perpendicular to most of Powell’s gigs accompanying church choirs and opera companies, feels prescient now to Powell, the founding music director of the Melodia Women’s Choir in Manhattan, a 32-voice ensemble that has performed repertory from Bach to Meredith Monk, from Merkin Concert Hall and Symphony Space to Citicorp Center and St. Peter’s Church in Chelsea.

Now, Powell and the five-year-old chorus, brainchild of arts management consultant Jennifer Clarke, are rehearsing for a milestone concert: the November 14 premiere of a new work commissioned specially for Melodia, based on text by U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan. Overall, Powell told WVFC, she feels blessed every time she shows up for rehearsal. (Below, watch Melodia sing Allison Sniffon’s “Hear Me With Your Eyes,” Melodia’s first commissioned work,  at Merkin Concert Hall in November 2006.)

Cynthia Powell’s career feels inevitable to her now, but the build was slow. Joining the faculty at Sarah Lawrence College, she spent more than 10 years working with her colleague and fellow alum Meredith Monk, traveling with Monk’s multidisciplinary ensembles, helping Monk take her titanic opera “Atlas”  on tour around the world. That collaboration has never ended; when she spoke to WVFC last week, she had just performed with Monk at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, leading Monk’s vocal ensemble and 40 other singers in “Songs of Ascension” (a collaboration with the video artist Lee-Ann Hamilton),  which The New York Times tagged as “bending melodies on the way to an otherworldly quest.”

Such a quest is not for amateurs, and Monk did not deploy them. In addition to Monk’s own ensembles, Powell led a carefully chosen group of 40 singers drawn from her own Stonewall Chorale, which welcomed Powell as music director in 2002. By then, Powell had left Sarah Lawrence and become both Organist/Choirmaster of Temple Sinai in Tenafly, N.J., and Music Director of West End Collegiate on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The latter is the closest Powell has to a “day job,” complete with a small set of professional singers used to demanding repertoire. At Stonewall, Powell found something different: the voice of a sometimes-beleaguered community.

Founded in 1977, Stonewall had weathered “many of the ups and downs of the gay rights movement,” Powell said. “During the 1980s, and the AIDS crisis, they were losing people all the time — so many funerals. But we also sang at the 1987  March on Washington,” and many similar events since. Powell said she loves the chorale for its “real community feeling,” adding quickly that this has not compromised quality: “I expect excellence from all my ensembles.”

As Powell’s career moved from the keyboards to the podium, she never forgot about the folder of women’s names, ideas and sheet music by women. And as she kept conducting vocal ensembles, she kept noticing why: There was something about the vocal register in which the women sang, something she really loved.

Asked to describe the quality that compels her, Powell pauses. “There’s a … a purity of sound that women’s voices can have, a clarity sort of dwelling in that treble world. A bit more ethereal, perhaps.”

jennifer-clarkeHer love for that sound made her answer easy when Jennifer Clarke, after a 2003 performance of Mozart’s Requiem, came up to Powell and asked, “What would you think about starting a women’s chorus?”

“Well,” Powell said, “I don’t know much about women’s choral music, but I do have a box of scores….”

Melodia Women’s Choir premiered the following year, with 18 carefully recruited singers, Clarke as president of the board of directors, and an advisory board that included Monk and Kathleen Chalfant (lauded at WVFC last spring for her star turn in Duplicity). It was soon a hit with audiences: After their Merkin Hall concert “Visions of Eternity, one audience member called it “sublime,” writing to Clarke: “I felt like I traveled from the sky with the birds to the depths of the human hearts and its mysteries in this triad of work.”

While gaining note for their excellence singing Bach and Messaien, Melodia under Powell and Clarke has tried to include as many women composers as possible, with one barrier: a shortage of women composers. “It’s kind of stunning,” said Melodia board member Cynthia Cooper, who has worked with Powell and Clarke on commissioning new works.

Clarke pointed out that “in 2006-’07, only 2 percent of repertoire performed by 300 orchestras was by women composers.  The League of American Orchestra members reported that out of 160 works presented that year that were composed during the past 25 years, only 19 were by women composers,” she lamented. “Of 562 Guggenheim Fellowships awarded in music since 1925, only 59 were awarded to women, 30 of those since 1994. Only three Pulitzer Prizes have ever been awarded to women composers — none in the last decade. And Contemporary Music Festivals, featuring music for the 20th and 21st centuries, has included little or no music by women composers.”

Lacking a deep well of work by women, Melodia began to commission them, starting with the Snifflin work above. But last year they took the search for new works national, with the first-ever Women Composers Commissioning Competition. “We had 65 submissions from all over the United States,” Powell said. “We even got a few major women composers sending in their most recent work — and tons of students, all ages.” One submission even came from an 8-year-old girl. “It was quite good, actually, and very sweet.” A three -judge panel, including Clarke and two other composers, listened to the recordings that had been sent along with the scores, and “we came to a consensus pretty quickly…. The winner was a young woman from Albany who had had some work with New York City Opera, but this was a big boost for her.”

Chris-LastovickaThat “young woman” was Chris Lastovicka, 36. A graduate of the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, her music was described by Powell on program notes for her chamber music CD, Hypnotically Repetitious, as “dealing primarily with psychological and metaphysical subjects.” When Powell called her to tell her the news, Kay Ryan had just been appointed poet laureate, and Melodia contacted her to ask if she’d contribute some verses they could set to music.

“That came back affirmative,” Powell grinned.

Ryan’s poems for the piece are short, she added, and Lastovicka’s settings “have a kind of minimal quality to them.” The resulting piece, Notes on a Breeze, combines Melodia’s 32 voices with string quintet (a  string quartet + piano), which will be entrusted to Stephanie Griffin and the Transfiguration String Quartet at the  November 14 concert at St. Peter’s Church in the Citigroup Center.

Thinking about the concert at St. Peter’s — a recently renovated 1970s modernist building that feels bigger inside than it appears from the street — Powell was also excited about the program that will surround Lastovicka’s work. “We made Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater more of a choral and soloist work, and we have  a fantastic work for strings and treble voices by Canadian composer Imant Raminsch, using  Native American texts, with one of our Melodians, Lyndsey Haughton, on the glockenspiel. And finally we have The Princess, by Gustav Holst. Boy does he know how to write for women’s voices!”

When the lights go down on November 14, the ensembles will disperse and Powell will move on, going back to  juggling among her four choral commitments while making time to take care of her mother, who lives alone in the family house in Westchester County. Not a bad life, she said, her voice suddenly as air-filled as the ones she loves to conduct.

“My life couldnt be more blessed — 
there’s nothing better,” Powell said. “

Every concert is like going to heaven.”

With 1,000 Victories, Pat Summitt Powers Us All

February 6, 2009 by  
Filed under Newsmakers, Sports

(We know National Women’s Sports Day was two days ago. But tonight, when University of Tennessee coach Pat Summitt’s Lady Vols secured for their coach her 1,000th win, we knew we just had to keep the celebration going. – Ed.)

by Elizabeth Willse, Contributing Editor

When I watch women’s college basketball, I cheer the loudest for a team
from a state I’ve never visited.  It’s because I’ve learned to love the
fierce, driven energy and sheer presence of their coach.  Pat Summitt
paces the sidelines, watching plays unfold with a raptor’s intense eye,
shouting to her players and slicing her hands through the air
vehemently.   When the Tennessee Lady Vols plays get disorganized or
sloppy, or a ref makes a bad call, blood rushes to her face as she
rages.  It’s impressive, admirable (makes me glad I’m safely watching
from a TV screen or the cheap bleacher seats!) and tremendous fun to

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